Pork Carnitas is a classic Mexican dish made from braised and shredded pork. This recipe is simple to follow and results in succulent, delicious carnitas every time. Serve them as part of a taco platter or enjoy them on their own – either way, they’re sure to be a hit!
This recipe is easy to make in the oven or a slow cooker. Crispy carnitas meat is the perfect filling for carnitas tacos, burritos, and nachos. The best part is that you can freeze leftover carnitas for next week’s dinner.
What is carnitas?
Carnitas is Mexican pulled pork. This authentic Mexican recipe is traditionally made by slow-cooking a pork butt until it falls apart and is browned under the broiler to achieve its signature falling apart tender but crispy texture. You can serve this pulled pork in burritos, or tacos, or with a side of Mexican rice and beans.
Ingredient List For Carnitas
- Pork butt
- Spices: cumin, oregano, bay leaves, and salt and pepper.
- Orange juice
Pork Butt vs. Pork Shoulder
If you’re wondering what kind of meat is carnitas? Let me break it down for you.
Pork butt and pork shoulder are different cuts of pork. Many people believe that they are the same. I’m here to set the story straight.
While both of these cuts are from the shoulder of the pig, the pork butt is taken from the upper part of the shoulder or back. This cut is fattier because it is used less.
The pork shoulder is a cut taken from the low part of the shoulder near the working part of the shoulder. This cut is leaner.
The best carnitas recipe is made with pork butt. This well-marbled cut of pork gives carnitas their signature texture. I usually chose a a boneless pork butt for this recipe.
How to Make Carnitas
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the oven rack in the middle position.
- Cut the pork butt into large chunks—approximately 2-inch pieces.
- Add all ingredients to a dutch oven and place it on the stovetop. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.
- Braise: Place the cover on the dutch oven and place it into the oven. Cook for 2 hours, or until the pork pieces can be pulled apart with a fork. You can also cook the meat in a slow cooker on high for 6 to 7 hours. [note 1]
- Remove the meat from the dutch oven using a slotted spoon and place it on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Let it cool while you reduce the sauce.
- Reduce the sauce. Strain the cooking liquid and then place it back into the dutch oven over high heat on the stovetop. Reduce the liquid until you have about 1 cup left. It will become thick and slightly syrupy. This should take about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Shred pork. While the sauce is reducing, shred the carnitas. You want a chunky shred. Pull the pieces of pork apart into a few pieces. Once the sauce is thickened, add it to the meat and toss to coat the meat in the juices.
- Broil the meat. Set the oven to broil. Evenly spread the chunks of meat on the sheet pan so that you have a single layer. Place the baking pan into the oven on the middle rack and broil until the top of the meat is well browned and is has crispy edges—about 5 to 8 minutes. Flip over the meat and the broil on the second side for another 5 to 8 minutes.
- Serve with fresh tortillas and your favorite toppings.
Pork Carnitas Recipe Tips
- Use a fatty cut of meat. Traditional carnitas is cooked with a confit method. Confit is a method of cooking in fat or oil for a long time at a low temperature.
- Cook it slow and low. Cooking meat for a long time at a low temperature allows the collagens to break down. As this process happens, the collagen proteins in the meat impart flavor and a silky texture to the meat.
- Don’t skip the broiler. Broiling the chunks of meat gives carnitas the signature crispy edges.
Storing + Freezing Tips
How to store carnitas in the fridge
Store leftover carnitas in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.
How to freeze carnitas
Place the carnitas in an airtight container and store them in the freezer. I like to freeze portions of meat in a vacuum-sealed bag.
How to reheat carnitas
When you are ready to eat frozen carnitas, thaw them before reheating. Once thawed, preheat the oven to 300℉. Reheat them on a sheet pan in the oven.
What to make with leftover carnitas
Leftover carnitas is perfect for making a quesadilla or grilled Cuban sandwich. I also love using leftovers to make a burrito bowl with rice, beans, and a big scoop of pico de Gallo.
What To Serve With Carnitas
Check out our Mexican side dishes – perfect for serving with your carnitas tacos.
- Fresh cilantro and diced onions.
- Pico de Gallo or your favorite salsa.
- Cotija cheese.
- Homemade tortillas. Corn tortillas or flour tortillas
- Mexican Rice.
More Mexican Recipes
We have a ton of other Mexican Recipes on the blog. Find a few classics like Shredded Beef Tacos, Carne Asada Tacos, or Fish Tacos.
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- 4 pounds pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ medium white onion, cut into slices
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the oven rack in the middle postion.
- Add all of the ingredients to a dutch oven. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.4 pounds pork butt, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 2 bay leaves, ½ medium white onion, 2 cloves garlic, 2 cups water, ½ cup orange juice, ½ cup milk
- Braise: Place the cover on the dutch oven and place it into the oven. Cook for 2 hours. Or until the meat can be pulled apart with a fork. You can also cook the meat in a slow cooker on high for 6 to 7 hours. [note 1]
- Remove the meat from the dutch oven and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet. Let it cool while you reduce the sauce.
- Reduce the sauce. Strain the cooking liquid and then place it back into the dutch oven over high heat. Reduce the liquid until you have about 1 cup left. It will become thick and slightly syrupy. This should take about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Shred the meat. While the sauce is reducing, shred the carnitas. You want a chunky shred. Pull each piece of meat apart into a few pieces. Once the sauce is reduced add it over the meat and toss to coat the meat in the juices.
- Broil the meat. Set the oven to broil. Evenly spread the meat on the baking dish so that you have a single layer. Place the baking pan into the oven on the middle rack and broil until the top of the meat is well browned and crispy. About 5 to 8 minutes. Flip over the meat and the broil on the second side for another 5 to 8 minutes.
- Serve with fresh tortillas and your favorite toppings.
Laura’s Tips + Notes
- Slow cooker instructions for carnitas. Add all ingredients to a slow cooker and cook on high for 6 to 7 hours. You follow the instruction for shredding the meat and braising the meat as they are listed above. The sauce will take longer to reduce in the slow cooker. If desired you can reduce the sauce in a saucepan.
Lo siento, but this is NOT how you make carnitas! Carnitas are slowly braised in manteca (lard) and water with an orange and spices until the water is cooked out and the outside of the pork is crisp.
Matt, If you read the recipe, this pork is braised in a mixture of water, orange juice, milk, and spices. The pork shoulder is boiled first to render out the pork fat (Manteca). I’ve found that this method produced amazingly delicious pork carnitas that rank in flavor among the best I have ever tried. Being from San Diego, I’ve tried a lot of carnitas in my life and have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with friends and family that know how to cook Mexican food. These recipes are family recipes that I’ve acquired over the years. I’m glad that you have your favorite method for cooking carnitas. Maybe try this method and then leave a review that reflects a recipe you’ve cooked.
OMG Laura…this carnitas is delicious! I had tried making carnitas for the first time a while back and was so disappointed. The flavor was flat and not at all what I was expecting. Thank goodness I decided to give it another try using your recipe this time. DID NOT disappoint! Thanks so much for all the wonderful recipes you’ve shared.💕😋🌮