Carnitas {Mexican Pulled Pork}

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I’ve done a fair amount of hunting for the perfect carnitas recipes throughout the years. I’m not sure what’s so hard about getting a great recipe for carnitas, but everything I tried came out mushy or flavorless or one-note or too spicy or too fatty and I was frustrated.

In a last-ditch attempt, I checked my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated Cookbookto see if they had a carnitas recipe. And they did, but honestly, after all my unfortunate carnitas experiences, I was nervous. See, the ingredients they used really weren’t all that different than the other recipes I’d tried.

As I picked a piece of flavorful, crispy meat off the pan, I felt all sorts of guilt for my crisis of faith–they had not failed me.

As I’ve made it again and again, I’ve tweaked a few things here and there (I added a little red wine vinegar to brighten it up a little and a few cloves of garlic because I’m Kate and that’s what I do) and it’s become one of our family’s favorite meals.

Ingredient Notes

  • Classic Flavors – You’ll need a white or yellow onion, some fresh garlic, fresh lime juice, red wine vinegar, dry oregano, ground cumin, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and an orange.
  • Pork – You’ll also need 3 1/2 – 4 pounds of boneless pork butt roast (sometimes called boneless pork shoulder or boneless picnic roast).
boneless pork shoulder roast

Instructions

  1. To start, place the oven rack in the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Now, pork shoulder can be pretty fatty, and that fat’s going to come into play later. But I still like to trim the pork of excess fat (mostly the big globs on the outside) before I cut it into 2″ chunks.
  2. Place the pork in a heavy lidded pot like a Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the pork and then add onion, garlic, lime juice, red wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, and the juice from the orange.
  3. After squeezing the juice from the orange, toss the rinds into the pork mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 2 hours or until the pork falls apart when poked with a fork.
  1. When the pork is fork-tender, remove the pot from the oven. Remove the orange rinds, onion, and bay leaves. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork from the liquid to the foil-lined baking sheet. It’s pretty much not appetizing at ALL. Have no fear.
  2. Return the pot to the stovetop and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Boil for 8-15 minutes (longer or shorter if necessary) until the liquid is thickened and glaze-y and, when stirred, the spoon leaves a trail in the liquid (you should have about 1 cup of liquid).
  1. Use your fingers to pull apart the pork pieces, discarding any particularly fatty pieces (or removing the fat from them). Drizzle with the cooking liquid.
  2. Turn your oven broiler on high and place the pork in the oven for 5-8 minutes or until the pork starts to brown and the edges become crispy. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a spatula to flip the pork. Return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes, broiling until the pork is browned and crispy (but not charred, unless that’s your thing). Mine got a little blacker than I planned on, but it was still delicious.
  1. Serve in warmed tortillas with desired toppings. Makes about 12 servings.
Pork carnitas from Our Best Bites!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I make this ahead of time? Yes! Cook the pork one day, and make your sauce. Store separately and then combine and broil when ready to eat.
  • Can I make this a freezer meal? While I have not personally frozen this pork, slow cooked meats tend to freeze pretty well. I would recommend cooking the carnitas all the way through as instructed and then freezing in food saver bags with as much air removed as possible.

Serving Suggestions

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Carnitas {Mexican Pulled Pork}

A Mexican classic featuring tender pork shoulder, braised and boiled. Perfect for tacos, huevos rancheros or burritos.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 35 minutes
Servings12 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ - 4 pounds boneless pork butt roast sometimes called boneless pork shoulder or boneless picnic roast
  • 2 cups water enough to cover the pork in the pot
  • 1 onion (white or yellow) peeled and halved
  • 4-6 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice about 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon oregano dry
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 orange
  • For serving: Small corn or flour tortillas grated cheese (I like cotija cheese), pico de gallo, mango pico de gallo, mint-pineapple pico de gallo, guacamole, sliced avocado, sliced white onion, sprigs of cilantro, fresh lime wedges, etc.

Instructions

  • Place the oven rack in the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 300℉.
  • Trim the pork of excess fat and cut into 2" chunks. Place the pork in a heavy lidded pot like a Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the pork and then add onion, garlic, lime juice, red wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, and the juice from the orange. After squeezing the juice from the orange, toss the rinds into the pork mixture and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 2 hours or until the pork falls apart when poked with a fork. When the pork is fork-tender, remove the pot from the oven.
  • Remove the orange rinds, onion, and bay leaves. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pork from the liquid to the foil-lined baking sheet. Set aside.
  • Return the pot to the stovetop and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Boil for 8-15 minutes (longer or shorter if necessary) until the liquid is thickened and glaze-y and, when stirred, the spoon leaves a trail in the liquid (you should have about 1 cup of liquid).
  • Use your fingers to pull apart the pork pieces, discarding any particularly fatty pieces (or removing the fat from them). Drizzle with the cooking liquid. Turn your oven broiler on high and place the pork in the oven for 5-8 minutes or until the pork starts to brown and the edges become crispy.
  • Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a spatula to flip the pork. Return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes, broiling until the pork is browned and crispy (but not charred, unless that's your thing). Serve in warmed tortillas with desired toppings.

Notes

Tortillas and toppings not included in nutritional value. 

Nutrition

Calories: 187kcal, Carbohydrates: 3g, Protein: 25g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Trans Fat: 0.05g, Cholesterol: 79mg, Sodium: 89mg, Potassium: 495mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin A: 32IU, Vitamin C: 8mg, Calcium: 33mg, Iron: 2mg
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: carnitas, mexican pulled pork
Calories: 187kcal
Author: Kate Jones
Cost: $8
Did You Make This Recipe?Snap a picture, and hashtag it #ourbestbites. We love to see your creations on our Instagram @ourbestbites!
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Meet The Author

Sara Wells

Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

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Questions & Reviews

  1. Am super excited to try this recipe….once fluked a pork dish with very similar flavours, but they’re not ones I use often, and when I tried to fluke it again, was an epic fail. Trust you guys, and love the ease and versatility of “pulled pork”, so looking forward to giving this one a go.
    Might try it in the slow cooker, as others have mentioned 🙂

  2. Thanks, this was Awesome! Added some extra o.j., a fat jalepeno and a pinch of allspice and clove to the cooking liquid. Also, a light sprinkling of ancho powder before broiling.

  3. Made this last night, following your directions but without measuring (had to say that) … it was the epitome of DELiCIOUS (words fail me for the sauce). This a recipe to be treasured and tripled. Thank you.

  4. I made this today and it was wonderful. I found “country style boneless ribs” made from pork shoulder at Costco. I thought they would be faster to cut up. Put it all in the crockpot. When the meat was tender, I followed the rest of the instructions exactly. They were a hit!

    1. For those of us who cannot find “boneless” pork shoulder, I bought a bone-in roast and cut it up as directed, until I got to the bone – almost impossible to get all that great meat next to the bone, so I tossed the bone in the pot too. I think cooking with the bone actually adds a little flavor and the meat fell off easily! GREAT recipe, I’ve been searching for the “right” Carnitas recipe for some time, now I have it!

  5. Made this last night and it was delicious! I only used 2 1/2 lbs of meat with regular seasoning amounts, and I’d definitely do it the same next time, but I like my meat flavorful. Also just left it on the stove since I didn’t have a oven safe pan and lid.

  6. We love carnitas and usually the recipe I make is all slow cooked on the crock-pot. I love that this takes the extra step to broil the meat to add a crispy finish to it. I must try this!

  7. Kate, how big is your dutch oven? I want to purchase one in the near future and am tempted to get the biggest one they have. Any suggestions?

    1. Juli, I have the 7 1/4 quart Le Creuset and then a smaller (much cheaper!) knock-off in the 5-quart range. They’re both actually very good, versatile sizes, but I pretty much use the 7 1/4 quart now for almost everything. 5 quarts is really too small for a decent-sized batch of soup, a big roast, etc. I love the 7 1/4 for pretty much everything!

  8. I made these tonight and they were so delicious! Better than pork tacos at a certain restaurant that everyone raves about but I think are too sweet.
    I didn’t have red wine vinegar so I used balsamic vinegar. Was that the right substitution??

    1. Lindsay, I just finished mine. I too had no wine vinegar and used Balsamic. I don’t know if it’s better with the wine vinegar, but that’s hard to imagine 😉 This turned out wonderful. Took a while to pull together, but I think it will be well worth the effort. I’ll reheat the meat right before dinner. We are having it with refried beans, rice and “fixin’s” for our Cinco De Mayo dinner..oh and desert is a flan custard. YUMMY I can hardly wait.
      Thanks so much Kate for posting this recipe. A little time consuming, but really, really worth the effort. Even hubby is impressed!

  9. I’ve made this exact same recipe from Cook’s Illustrated from when it first came out. It’s an awesome recipe! We love it for nachos, too. Just stick that meat on a wire rack and broil until crispy.

  10. I loved this recipe! I have been an ardent follower of your blog and own both of your cookbooks and this is the BEST recipe I have made of yours. I loved the citrus undertones. Thanks so much for sharing this great recipe.

  11. I made this for dinner Monday night – it was great! I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take me to cut up the pork roast and didn’t have enough time to cook it for as long as suggested. It still turned out great, but I imagine it would have been even more tender. The kids (3 & 5) loved it, even the leftovers. Definite winner and I’ll be making it again!

  12. Any suggestions on allowing the meat to sit for a while after it has slow cooked but before you broil it? Logistics rarely work in my favor in the evening. Would love to be able to have the meat broiler ready so my kids (who LOVE both cooking and eating your foods!) can finish up dinner while I’m driving evening carpools.

    1. Go for it! Because pork shoulder is fattier and the fat helps with the crispy moistness, this recipe is pretty dang forgiving. I would have it ready to go on the pan in the fridge, either reserving the liquid or you could even drizzle it on there before you stick it in the fridge. Then just pop it under the broiler right before you eat.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

  13. Kate, Do you ever use a pressure cooker. I bought one yet don’t use it. Do you have any tips. A recipe like this might work good? Thanks for your great site and recipes!

    1. heartwings, I prepared this recipe in my 6 qt. pressure cooker last night, and it turned out amazing! I only changed a few things… I reduced the amount of water to 1 cup, and increased the red wine vinegar to 4 T. I pressured it for 45 minutes, and then let the pressure reduce naturally. Then I followed the rest of the instructions for browning in the oven. Turned out delicious! I love using my pressure cooker for recipes like this all the time. The only things that typically need changing are the liquid amounts, as a pressure cooker doesn’t need as much. Hope this helps!

  14. I’ve tried the Cook’s Illustrated Carnitas recipe…YUMMY! So so SO good. Thanks for the reminder. I need to put pork on my shopping list.

  15. This sounds and looks delicious. It never occurred to me to finish the meat off in the broiler, or to stick an orange in there.

  16. I was flipping through a magazine this weekend and almost decided to buy it because it had a Carnitas recipe, then a thought came to mind “I can go online and find one.” SURPRISE! it came to me…thank you soooo much!

  17. What would be a good substitute for a dutch oven if you don’t have one? Slow cooker, maybe?

    1. I actually use just the crock and lid of my crockpot in the oven all the time for recipes like this. If you don’t have a “crockpot” brand one, then check your user’s manual, but mine is oven safe up to 350*. I use it just like if I had a dutch oven or Le Crueset dish or whatever. Pot roast, OBB’s sunday beef stew, pulled pork…it all goes in there and in the oven.

      1. Why hasn’t that idea ever occurred to me??? So many times I’ve skipped over dutch oven recipes when all the time I’ve had a crock pot. Thank you for your comment!

  18. Would it be possible to do the first part in a slow cooker? Then finish it off in the oven?

    1. Yes! I do a very similar recipe just like this in the slow cooker. then shred it and broil it in the oven.

    2. I would like to know about slow-cooker too. Do you think the orange would become bitter if left all day?

      1. IMO I think if the pot is left on low and most of the orange bits are near the top, probably not. Could add the orange half-way through so it’s not in there the whole time if you’re still concerned…

  19. Everyone we know raves about the cafe rio pulled pork (and many copycat recipes with dr. pepper and 15 pounds of brown sugar), but both my husband and I think it’s too sweet. This sounds like it would be more what we are looking for. I’ll have to give it a try. Thanks!

  20. Can the Cooks Illustrated Cookbook do no wrong?! I love that cookbook and given it as a gift many times.
    I haven’t tried the carnitas, they look wonderful though! I’ll have to try them soon!

  21. Oh my gosh! I know just the person I’m going to make this recipe for! He lived in Honduras for two years and says the authentic carnitas with the super-crispy edges are just sooooo good! Thanks for posting this!

  22. This looks so awesome. Pulled pork is probably my favorite Mexican meat taco/burrito/whatever filler. I get excited when you post a Cook’s Illustrated recipe; I love watching America’s Test Kitchen! Thanks for the recipe. 🙂

  23. I love carnitas! Although I don’t like doing the broiling step because I like mine soft and not crunchy. I suppose that’s just glorified pulled pork. 😉

    And it’s great that you gave it another try after so many not-so-successful attempts!