This perfectly seasoned pulled pork is slow cooked in the oven to make it incredibly tender and juicy, then finished off under the broiler for a crispy finish. The prep is minimal and you can do it ahead of time, making it great for serving a crowd.
Carnitas means “little meats,” and is the Mexican version of pulled pork. The basic idea is to braise some pork with some aromatics for several hours. It turns out being incredibly flavorful and tender, making it a great filler for just about anything. I went the traditional route and made tacos out of my carnitas, but you can use it for so many different things – burritos, quesadillas, nachos, enchiladas, loaded tater tots, etc…you get the point.
In my opinion, the thing that gave these carnitas that distinct flavor was the orange. When you think of Mexican seasoning/flavors, usually things like cumin, lime, chili, garlic and chipotle peppers come to mind. I almost left the orange out of this recipe because I didn’t have one, but I’m so glad I went out to get one. It adds an interesting taste element to the pork, complementing the citrus aspect of the lime while rounding out the other flavors with a natural brightness and sweetness.
What if you don’t had a big pot that is oven safe? Sorry to say, I’m not really sure, but here’s my suggestion: after browning your meat, just add all the ingredients to a large casserole dish, cover tightly with foil, and bake. Full disclosure, I really can’t speak to how this will affect the cooking process because I haven’t actually tried it. But I imagine it should be at least similar.
Here’s a quick run through on the the directions. Preheat your oven to 300F and adjust the rack to the lower middle position. Cut your pork into 2″ cubes. Salt and pepper the meat. In a large dutch oven, heat some oil and brown the meat in batches. Once all the meat is browned, discard excess oil and add all your meat back into the pot with all the other ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a simmer (without the lid on). Once it’s simmering, put the lid on and transfer to the oven. Let it go for about 3 hours. It should be fork tender and falling apart at this point. If it’s not quite there, cook it for a little longer.
When it’s done, transfer the meat to a 9×13 baking dish using a slotted spoon and shred with 2 forks. Skim excess fat off the liquid and pour over the shredded meat. If you’re making this ahead of time, here’s your stopping point – cover it with foil and it can hang out in the fridge until about 40 minutes before serving time (you can leave it in the fridge for up to 2 days). The time in the fridge will allow the pork to sit in that braising liquid and absorb extra moisture and flavor. When you’re ready, turn your oven on to 350F, remove the foil, and heat your dish up for 30 minutes. Then turn the broiler on and keep the meat under the broiler for 6-8 minutes. This step creates that brown and crispy top that makes it all the more appetizing and delicious. Keep an eye on it, and when it’s nice and brown, take it out and serve it however you’d like!
I made and served my carnitas on the same day, so I skipped the 350F for 30 minutes and went straight to the broiler. According to the recipe that I followed (this one from Dinner at the Zoo), it tastes better if you let it sit overnight in the braising liquid. I totally believe it, and I’ll probably try that the next time I make this. And trust me, there will be a next time (and probably in the very near future).
I made tacos with the carnitas and topped it with some mango salsa, avocados, onion & cilantro and some radishes. The pork was so tender I found myself scooping it up with tortilla chips for the textural contrast- next time I’ll probably go for some nachos! Again, this recipe is great for feeding a bunch of people, but you can definitely make a big batch, freeze the leftovers, and just have carnitas available for consumption whenever you desire (what more could you ask for?).
- 4 pound boneless pork butt or boneless country ribs, fat trimmed & cut into 2 inch cubes
- 2 tsp oil
- 1.5 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 onion, peeled & quartered
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 medium orange, quartered and juiced (keep the rinds)
- Adjust oven rack to lower middle and preheat to 300F.
- Season meat with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat and brown meat in batches. Transfer to a plate.
- Once all the meat is browned, combine the rest of the ingredients back in the pot with the browned meat. Bring everything to a simmer over medium-high heat, uncovered. Transfer entire pot with lid on it to the oven. Cook for about 3 hours, or until meat is tender and falls apart and is easily shredded with a fork.
- Transfer meat to a 9x13 baking dish using a slotted spoon and shred with a fork. Degrease braising liquid and pour remaining liquid over the meat. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight if making one day in advance*.
- The next day, preheat oven to 350F. Bake meat uncovered for 30 minutes.
- Switch your oven to broil and broil meat for 6-8 minutes, or until top is brown and slightly crisp.
- Serve however you'd like - in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, taquitos, tortas, etc.
- *If you're doing everything on the same day, skip the refrigeration part and baking for 30 minutes. Once your meat and braising liquid is in the 9x13 dish, broil for 6-8 minutes.