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 wasย frustrated.

In a last-ditch attempt, I checked my cooking bible, Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook,ย to 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 ofย 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! ย 


  1. 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. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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

  2. 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

  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. 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!

  5. 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!

      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. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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!

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Just bought half a pig from a neighbor… was looking for a carnitas recipe because when I’ve tried it before it was just too greasy. And really, what else do you do with a shoulder roast? Perfect timing!!!! Thanks!!!!!

  21. SO good! SO easy! SO happy I found/tried this recipe! Pairs perfectly with the Cafe Rio copycat Cilantro-Lime ranch dressing over a salad! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Oh my! This was the best carnitas I have ever made! I have tried many different recipes, but this one is definitely a keeper. Instead of using water, I used gluten free beer and chicken broth. I will have to say reducing the cooking liquid and drizzling that over the meat before browning was the ticket. So much flavor – so delicious! Keeping this one for sure! Thank you so much!

  23. I love carnitas. I make them in the crock pot. I put the whole pork butt in with a jar of whatever kind of salsa and chicken broth plus salt, pepper, oregano, chili powder and cumin. Cook till tender then shred and put in the oven like your recipe.

  24. Our family just ate this for our Cinco de Mayo dinner. It was the best Mexican food we’ve ever made ourselves at home. Thank you!

  25. I just made this, and it was so amazingly awesome. My husband said, “well you can’t make steak anymore.” Because now he will only want pork with his tacos! And for the first time ever, my kids (8 and 10) finally ate the meat INSIDE the tortillas as opposed to eating each component of the meal separately. And they loved it. They kept saying, this is the best ever, and can I have another one? Thank you!!

    1. I cooked mine in a crockpot for 6-8 hours on high, using the ingredients listed above. Then I transferred the liquid to a pot and cooked it down on the stove. It turned out great!

  26. I love taco truck carnitas and have not quite been able to get the taste right in the meat. When I saw this recipe I was very hopeful but very disappointed. I don’t know what the weird taste was (I suspect the orange) but the meat was sweet…yuk! Try this instead…fix the pork by browning it with garlic salt and pepper, add the water, garlic cloves, 2 Serrano peppers and onion and put in the oven for 2-3 hours until fork tender, taking the lid off in the last 20 min in oven. Drain remaining juice, shred and pan fry in a hot skillet with oil until some pieces are brown. Serve with onion, cilantro, & lime. Much better!

  27. Kate – This doesn’t really relate to your yummy carnitas, but I have your yummy cookbook and I want to take the Mexican-Style Sweet Shredded Pork to Lake Powell for a family dinner. I have a question for you.

    Would you cook it at home and freeze it then thaw it in a slow cooker down there or sear the meat at home and add all the other ingredients and freeze and THEN thaw and cook down there in a crock pot?

    Does that make sense?

    1. If it will be traveling out of the freezer at all, I would make it completely, and then just thaw it there. Enjoy!

    1. Yep, definitely! Pull it out of the fridge and transfer it to a crockpot (or place it in the crockpot after shredding/broiling and then refrigerate it) and cook on low for a few hours until reheated. Not totally sure how long it would take to get up to serving temperature, but my guess would be in the 3-4 hour range on low.

  28. i just made this and found it to have an extremely bitter and unpleasant aftertaste due to the orange rind. anyone else have this problem?

  29. well i must say,i cooked my pull pork on my new Big Boss infrared fryer, pork came out soooo good,.. i cooked it and fryed it at the same time,..Big Boss cooker is out of this world,try it people you’ll like it,…

  30. Kate, you’re a hero in my family thanks to this recipe. I am a Mexican food snob and carnitas is my favorite meal of all. This recipe produces such an authentic and outrageously good result – you would be hard pressed to find its equal in a fancy Mexican restaurant in New York or San Francisco, even Tucson. Thank you!

    1. I do a lot of pulled pork/bbq and carnitas is my favorite Mexican meal. Followed this recipe with 6 lbs of bone-in country ribs instead of boneless butt chunks except threw more sliced onion and jalapeno in the liquid I boiled down. I had tried a couple recipes where pork was “boiled” in lard and swore off trying again till I ran across this. Best recipe I have tried in a LONG time. Thank you very much.

  31. I made this yesterday and the reviews were “delicious!” – so much better than the way I made it previously. My pork shoulder was a bit bigger so I had to use more water to cover, and then it took longer to cook it down into the glazing sauce, so I got tripped up by not waiting long enough and started to use it too watery. But figured out to just wait and let it cook off longer and it was so worth it – so my advice on cooking down the glaze part is to be patient and it will pay off!

    Thanks so much for your detailed directions!

  32. Oh, I’ve tried Carnitas in Mรฉxico and obviously this is not the traditional way to do it, right? I understood that they were fried into the lard.. My mom used to do it by first boiling the pork with some lemon and sal, then she fried this pork and theen she add the sauce that is made with Serrano (A type of chilli), the kind of carnitas that sell into the little tends are moreless the same, but I found this recipe delicious but they’re not carnitas.
    Just the opinnion from a Mexican girl

  33. Ever since I tried Carnitas at my local mexican restaurant, I have been hooked. I crave them. Often! I never wanted to make them myself because I imagined it would have to be a complicated, several day long process to get such wonderful flavor and texture from pork. I finally decided to try it this weekend and began searching the internet for recipes…why did I not come here first?? I know better, just a momentary lapse I am sure. Your recipe was about the 4th hit down on Google and when I saw it, I smacked my own forehead! I’m not usually recipe adventurous on the first attempt, but I needed something that I could set and forget this weekend so I combined this recipe with one of my favorites of yours (kalua pork) and did it in the crockpot and then broiled the meat after it was done. I used half the liquid since it was in the crockpot and I added in the liquid smoke from the Kalua Pork recipe (couldn’t help myself bc that recipe ROCKS!). I still had to boil the crockpot liquid for about 15min, but it turned out AMAZING!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This is going to make it into the regular rotation along side many of your other yummy recipes!

  34. These were awesome. Squeezed some fresh lime juice over the finished pork, on the warm soft shell, with cilantro sprigs, white onion, avocado and a bit of sour creme. My partner had 4! So good, and will make them again for sure.

  35. This recipe for carnitas is fabulous! I’m from Southern California and currently live in Minnesota and crave authentic Mexican food. I’ve tried a number of recipes for carnitas (authentic ones) and this is, hands down, the best. I was worried that the meat was initially “boiled” but was drawn by the the crisping in the oven vs. starting by frying in lard (tasty but fattening). Wow!! These delivered. I used a 6 lb. bone-in Boston pork butt but used the same quantity of everything according to directions otherwise. The “sauce” did not cook down all the way (too much water for the larger cut of meat?) so I added a small amount of Wondra and also added three chiles in adobo sauce that I had in the fridge, just to try to thicken. These crisped up wonderfully in the oven! Soooo good! For condiments, I used queso fresco, red onion, cilantro, and Chuck and Don’s salsa from Sam’s Club with a squeeze of lime on corn tortillas that were warmed/slightly crisped in a cast iron skillet after half was dunked in water. I’m in heaven. Thank you for this wonderful recipe!

  36. We looove this pork! The crispy outside is just the BEST. We have frozen leftovers and reheated them in the oven and it’s great the second time around, too. Thanks for the recipe!

  37. Oh my goodness, this was SO stinkin’ good! I’ve never had carnitas, but I don’t care. This was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time. I went big and made pico, guac, black beans, cilantro-lime vinagrette (all from your cookbook), and spanish rice. Oh man, I was dying of deliciousness! I had our neighbor come over and try it–he is a major food snob, particularly a Mexican food snob, and he couldn’t get enough! My husband loved it, too! The only disappointment was that I had to kind of rush to eat it because I was trying to get out the door for a play. I thought I had planned better, but it took a bit to boil the liquid down. I knew better than to rush that step, though. So I didn’t have time to broil the meat as long as I should have, but it was still so completely awesome! Thanks for sharing! My mind has been on this all day and after eating it I can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow!

  38. I tried this recipe tonight and followed it exact and my pork came out very dry. Almost inedible. I have tried other carnitas recipes and haven’t had a this problem. I love the orange in this, and would like I try it again. Any suggestions?
    Thank you

  39. Thank you, Kate I have been using your recipe for carnitas. My six year old daughter and I have made this about once a month since dec. 13. Kathleen has been making dishes on her own (with help cutting and the stove) using her own recipes. Some good some not so good, but she’s off and running. Thank you again, ACD

  40. I just made this for my annual Cinco De Mayo celebration, and I have to say, I don’t think we could have gotten a better meal at any Mexican restaurant. I followed the recipe exactly and even doubled it with no problems, and I’m glad I did! I woke up this morning looking forward to Carnitas for breakfast!

  41. Wow, this is so good. I left mine stove top vs putting in oven , then moved it to the pan for broiling. Very good , tender and flavorful. I did not have the vinegar so that was omitted. Still yummy!

  42. I’ve made this several times, and it always gets rave reviews. It’s on the menu for our Memorial Day gathering tomorrow.

  43. This recipe is a KEEPER! I doubled the recipe and followed the exact directions, and it came out perfectly. I want to mention that it is okay to delay the broiling until before you are ready to serve. I shredded the pork by hand into a container the morning before and kept it in the fridge. I put the reduction into a mason jar and set aside. About 30 minutes before I was ready to serve, I broiled the meat in the juices as instructed. I used the corn tortillas from Trader Joes and put them over the open flame on our stove top and flipped with tongs. I covered with a kitchen towel to stay warm. I served with crumbled Mexican cheese, homemade tomatillo salsa and lime wedges. I loved the idea of boiling the meat first so that meal was much leaner. I also enjoyed the citrus accents. Thank you!!!

  44. wow – we must think alike! I made this on Sunday, but didn’t broil until last night (Tuesday) It was absolutely perfect. Great for a make ahead week night meal. While the meat was broiling I quickly made a salsa fresco and guacamole.

  45. I tryed this today and didn’t like it… I think I messed up not with the roast but with the ingredients it just didn’t taste right the meat was perfect just everything else was not.

  46. I made these yesterday (with some minor adjustments. I was out of Bay so omitted it. I didn’t have an orange, but I did have fresh squeezed OJ so I added about a 1/4 cup of that. I also added 6 smashed cloves of garlic & some paprika. My husband pretty much thinks everything in the world needs to be doused in hot sauce but he gobbled this up and asked for it again ASAP. This will be a new regular for us. Thank you so much!

  47. the broiling step technically makes it al pastor.
    i do my Carnitas in a pressure cooker. Put the roast in a stainless bowl so it sits in all the pork fat as it cooks, with 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp dark chili powder. 3 lb roast done in about 2.5 hours.
    Mash it up in the bowl and serve it right from the bowl to the tortillas dripping with pig fat.. the pig fat in the bowl will stay hot for about 1.5/2 hours perfect for serving.

  48. I just wanted to know about the original recipe in the “Our Best Bites” cookbook in regards to the salsa. Are talking like a bottled salsa such as Pace or something else. Just wanted to get the recipe right!

  49. Wow – having a Mexican fiesta for my family and just made this recipe. First time ever. Just fantastic. Cannot wait to serve it. Thank you.

  50. My kids are finicky eaters and they loved it. My wife and I lived in San Diego for three years and she’s kind for saying it was the best she ever had. I loved it but I have to say the Tortilla Salsa Market on West Chase Blvd in El Cajon has the absolutely best Carnitas I have ever had. If only I could get their recipe.

  51. I wanted to thank you again for this recipe. Whenever I’m too sick to manage the house we always make it because it’s so easy and everyone loves it. My teens even know it by heart so they can pitch in and prepare a great meal without much fuss.

  52. I’ve used this recipe at least a dozen times. Usually with a whole butt which weighs more than 3 lbs after boning. I increase both the citrus content and red wine vinegar as well as garlic and onions. you can never use too much garlic in this recipe. Finishing it under the broiler as directed is absolutely necessary, giving it a nice crust. In a taco, usually soft, or over rice is an excellent dinner. Ive tried other carnitas recipes, but I’ve found this one to be the one I like most by far.

  53. This turned out very tender, but not very flavorful ๐Ÿ™ Perhaps it needed more orange or lime, I don’t know. Maybe my fruits weren’t very acidic because they’re not in season. More salt, for sure. The good thing is that I can always squeeze a little extra orange/lime mixture over the carnitas before putting them under the broiler. I think that’ll help. Either way, they’re pretty good, but I have had better. Next time I’ll try it in the pressure cooker. That seems to ramp up flavors.

  54. This has been a long time favorite recipe. Tonight I tried it in the instant pot. Yum!!! I thought the flavors were a lot more intense and it turned out great in half the time!!!

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