Carnitas {Mexican Pulled Pork}

carnitas square1A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe where I mentioned carnitas and we got a bunch of requests for the recipe. And I totally get it because 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.

You’ll need 3 1/2-4 pounds of boneless pork butt roast (sometimes called boneless pork shoulder or boneless picnic roast)… boneless pork shoulder roast 1 white or yellow onion, peeled and halved, 4-6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, lime juice, red wine vinegar, dry oregano, ground cumin, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper, and an orange.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. Place the pork in a heavy lidded pot like a Dutch oven. IMG_1559 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. IMG_1568 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. It’s pretty much not appetizing at ALL. Have no fear. IMG_1572 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).

Reduced carnitas cooking 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. pulled pork in cooking glaze 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. meat for carnitas in pan Serve in warmed tortillas with desired toppings. Makes about 12 servings. Pork carnitas from Our Best Bites!  

96 comments

    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. 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…

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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. 🙂

  5. 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!

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