Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Jan

Crispy Carnitas

Step 2As if slow-cooked, tender, succulent pork wasn’t tempting enough, carnitas takes it one step further by caramelizing the pork in its own fat until the outside is perfectly browned and crisp. The crispy, tender morsels of pork that come out of the oven are hard to resist; it’s not unusual to eat so much meat right out of the pan that you’re full before the carnitas make it to the table.

Cooking meat that is both tender and crispy might sound tricky but the only trick to making carnitas is getting out of the way so the meat can cook itself. The less you intervene, the better. Seasoned pork is braised in a pot of water until the meat is tender and the water is gone. Then the pork fat takes over, essentially frying the meat into a crispy, fatty, salty masterpiece.

Carnitas is a great dish to cook ahead of time for quick weeknight dinners or large parties. Served with avocado, salsa or sautéed peppers it’s a meal that satisfies every time.

Servings: 6

Time in the Kitchen: 20 minutes active cooking time, 3 to 4 hours in the oven


  • 3 to 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder/butt cut into five pieces. You can trim off a little bit of the fat or leave it all on. (1.4 to 1.8 kg)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (7 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (5 ml)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (5 ml)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped or thinly sliced
  • Water, for braising


Preheat the oven to 350 ºF (177 ºC).

Mix together the salt, cumin and chili powder and rub all over the meat.

Place the meat in a large, heavy pot with the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, garlic and onion. Ideally, the pot is large enough so that the meat is in a single layer. Add enough water to almost, but not entirely, cover the meat.

Step 1

Put the pot in the oven, uncovered, and braise for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Stir the meat just a few times while it cooks. You’ll know the pork is done when it’s really tender, slightly browned and most of the liquid is gone.

Step 2

Remove the pork from the oven. Put the meat on a cutting board and cut or shred it with your hands into thin strips.

Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf from the pot. Add the shredded meat back to the pot and return it to the oven.

Step 3

Roast the meat, mixing occasionally, until the meat is as dark and crispy as you like it. (This process will go even faster if the meat is spread out on a roasting pan or baking sheet with any remaining liquid that was left in the pot. If time is tight, you can also put the meat under a broiler).

If you’re making carnitas ahead of time, cook the meat for 3 hours until tender. The final crisping up in the oven can be done right before serving the meat.

The entire cooking process for carnitas can also be done on a stovetop but the oven is a little easier. A slow cooker can also be used to cook the meat until tender (add only about 1/2 cup of water). The meat can then be transferred to the oven to brown.


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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Looks really good!

    Violet wrote on January 5th, 2013
  2. I hate the taste of pork normally – but this looks like a great way of cooking it!! Will have to try!

    Liesel wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • If you don’t like pork, you will probably hate carnitas. The pork flavor is intensified in the cooking process. Some of the seasonings might mask that a little, but the best carnitas have minimal seasoning. I’d just find the best quality pork shoulder possible and then have at it. You may find that you like pork more than you thought.

      Mark A wrote on January 7th, 2013
    • I wouldn’t shy away even if you don’t like pork.. I made this for dinner tonight and I put a pinch of extra cinnamon and it was reeeallly good. Sweet and it didn’t have a very distinct pork taste. Everyone loved it, my 17 month old twins cleaned their plates and even ate their tomatoes 😀

      Jennapher wrote on March 20th, 2013
  3. This is just what I have been looking for!

    Onge wrote on January 5th, 2013
  4. I absolutely love carnitas. Thanks for this awesome recipe!

    George Mounce wrote on January 5th, 2013
  5. I’ve been waiting for this all my life… well, since I went to Vallarta last and I saw those CARNITAS. But of course, avoided since they’re probably cooked in corn oil or something…

    Ugh, so EXCITED to make this.

    SugarKill wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • Good Mexican food is usually cooked in lard.

      Nancy wrote on January 5th, 2013
  6. I do something like this with my slow cooker. No water necessary — I just throw in the spice-rubbed meat with some onions and cook it overnight. It cooks in its own fat. Then I wrap it up in small packages that i freeze for later use. For taco nights wit my son, I just thaw a packet and cook it on the stovetop in my cast iron pan. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside.

    tb wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • Ditto here – a pork shoulder has more than enough water in it so that you don’t have to add more in a mostly-sealed environment like a slow cooker.

      I always felt a little WRONG making “pulled pork” sandwiches out of slow-braised pork – pulled pork is barbecue, it’s smoked, not braised, etc. – but no such conundrum with carnitas :-)

      Bob Geary wrote on January 8th, 2013
    • How long do you cook it for in a slow cooker and at what tempature?

      Adrianna wrote on May 9th, 2013
  7. There are so many recipes out there, it’s hard to fine one that stands out…

    Well until this one!

    Paleo App wrote on January 5th, 2013
  8. Hmm. I’ve always cooked my pork roasts in the slow cooker, then transferred to the broiler for crisping. I never knew that’s what made carnitas. I just knew that crispy bits are better than non.

    Todd S. wrote on January 5th, 2013
  9. MMMmmm sounds supper yummy!Thanks :)

    Lucy wrote on January 5th, 2013
  10. I love carnitas and all Mexican dishes which is just one reason why primal is so easy and happy for me. Just got a large iron skillet and this will be the first dish to be done in it. Thanks.

    Bayrider wrote on January 5th, 2013
  11. I love carnitas, and this looks amazing. However, does anyone have some ideas on to serve it with (especially for leftovers) for someone avoiding tortillas or carbs in general? What else does it go well with, besides just eating it on it’s own (which I am not opposed to)

    Alex wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • *on what to serve it with

      Alex wrote on January 5th, 2013
      • Try making cauliflower rice and using that as a bed for the carnitas.

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • I eat mine like a taco with no tortilla – I add black olives, avocado, sour cream, a bit of cheese, salsa or tomatoes, lettuce – or you could put it on a bed of lettuce, like a taco salad… Or throw a bit in some vegetable soup… Or add some Paleo barbeque sauce for pulled pork and wrap it in a lettuce leaf… Or stand at the stove and gobble it up with your fingers!!!

      Pat wrote on January 5th, 2013
      • What a great idea! I’m always looking for quick and tasty meals to take to work. Now that you mention it, this would be perfect!

        Shamra wrote on January 5th, 2013
      • +1

        Allison wrote on January 5th, 2013
      • I use a lettuce leaf to make the taco or a steamed cabbage leaf and make a roll by turning the sides in and filling with your ingredients like a burrito.

        Alice wrote on January 6th, 2013
    • grill some peppers & onions, toss it on a big ass salad, serve it next to the Brussels sprout dish from a couple weeks ago, or maybe the sweet potato/bacon dip from his new recipe book, or just any mixed veggies!!!! The world is your oyster!

      jrVegantoPrimal wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • I make a different carnitas (from that has citrus, and it’s really good over mashed sweet potatoes. I bet this one would be, too.

      Stacey K wrote on January 5th, 2013
      • Ahh yes I’ve made those and they are delicious!! Seeing this post made me think of her recipe (:

        Alyssa Luck wrote on January 6th, 2013
    • I bet it’d be good with some steamed cabbage (sliced so that it’s in strips) tossed in olive oil (or cabbage made into a tangy slaw!), or even with some roasted + mashed sweet winter squash. Or on a salad with a lot of fresh cilantro and a lime dressing…

      Elizabeth wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • I put it on salads with pumpkin seeds, guac, and salsa.

      Or on a cabbage slaw.

      With eggs, scrambled or frittata.

      Lettuce wraps.

      You could get some PureWraps (made only with coconut) and wrap it up.

      On top of crispy plantains fried in coconut oil.

      I lurve carnitas, if you couldn’t tell. 😉

      Karen P. wrote on January 5th, 2013
    • We use large romaine leaves as taco shells.

      I would love to make this but sourcing clean pastured non-antiobiotic-fed pork butt or shoulder is very pricey! May try this technique with beef instead.

      mars wrote on January 6th, 2013
      • Make sure to use a very gristly piece. And fatty of course but that should go without saying. The miracle in carnitas is the collagen that melts into gelatin and bastes the meat from the inside. Plus it’s pork.

        Joshua wrote on January 7th, 2013
    • You can make a “tortilla” by thinly slicing rounds of jicama. If you have a mandoline, you can slice the jicama very thin so that the slices are flexible. If not, slice them thicker to they are stiff enough to act as a “tostada.” (Disclaimer: I stole this idea from Richard Blais on Top Chef.)

      Mark A wrote on January 7th, 2013
    • Try cutting a large red bell pepper in half and either roasting it or grilling it. i love to put carnitas in each half (add salsa, cheese, sour cream… avocado… whatever you like) or I’ll use big pieces of romaine. I personally love carnitas on lettuce with lime and home made hot sauce.

      Pearl wrote on January 9th, 2013
    • there is a recipe on here for a primal version of tortillas made with coconut flour, very yummy. look for Primal Tex Mex Tortillas and Taco Seasoning. otherwise, yes I agree with Ron, cauliflower rice.
      You could make a kind of paella with it; crisp it up in a LG skillet, remove from pan, add some peppers, onions, a cubed sweet potato, chicken stock and then cauliflower rice (add some saffron if you like), cook thru and then add the meat back in, then reduce so it thickens. I do that with lots of left over meats. the sweet potatoes help to thicken it as it disintegrates, but if you want a different texture you cook dry roast them first.

      the cats mother wrote on January 17th, 2013
      • oh, you could use it in the cassoulet recipe that was on here (think it’s the one before this one) that would give that dish an interesting flavour.

        the cats mother wrote on January 17th, 2013
  12. Just made this last night using a different recipe. It is amazingly simple and really delicious! There’s just one problem… Make two times as much because you will love it so much, you’ll want to tuck some in the freezer for when you are busy and you need an amazing meal! We used the leftovers in omelettes this morning with a bit of colby-jack cheese and salsa on top!

    Pat wrote on January 5th, 2013
  13. Making my own (as planned yesterday) for tonight. Really very easy to do. I tend to cook mine in the crock pot first, then shred and put in the oven in a deep dish stirring as parts get brown.

    I use left overs for all sorts of Mexican style dishes, as well as curries for meals during the week.

    CrazyCatLady wrote on January 5th, 2013
  14. Second on serving it on a bed of cauliflower rice, and topping that with some salsa and guacamole, maybe some sour cream too (if you do dairy) or plain Greek yogurt.

    Jessica wrote on January 5th, 2013
  15. Sounds very tasty!

    JD wrote on January 5th, 2013
  16. Making it now…got a late start, so we’ll be eating dinner at around 10:00pm…oh well. Will report back. Great ideas for side dishes too. Thanks!

    Dano wrote on January 5th, 2013
  17. I like it hot on a salad….

    Bruce wrote on January 5th, 2013
  18. I can’t believe that I’ve lived in New Mexico for 35 years and have never made this. The recipe looks so easy! Pork Shoulder is now on my grocery list for tomorrow.

    Thanks Mark!

    NMCynthia wrote on January 5th, 2013
  19. OH..MY..GROK! So easy and so delicious. Carnitas has always been our favorite food when we’ve gone to Mexico and this recipe rocks! Will be making a lot of this.

    Dano wrote on January 5th, 2013
  20. I LOVE carnitas, I can’t wait to try these

    Melissa wrote on January 5th, 2013
  21. The way that looks, 4 lbs would only serve one!

    Rob wrote on January 5th, 2013
  22. This looks a lot like pork bbq. Pork that is cooked for hours over low heat preferably over a wood fire. It’s wonderful and is my favorite thing to eat. But I’d be certainly willing to try crispy carnitas.

    Harold Crews wrote on January 6th, 2013
  23. That is happening this week!!!

    Mike Mahoney wrote on January 6th, 2013
  24. This looks like a great recipe. I love Carnitas, but have been limiting my pork consumption because of a few sources I have recently read about the connection of cancer to pork. Apparently, cancer cells happily grow with the presence of pork that has not been cured or processed in a traditional manner. For example, the Okinawans traditionally soak pork in an acidic brine overnight before preparing. We can replicate this with apple cider vinegar. Studies have shown this process to reduce the cancer-cell growth. Any thoughts?

    Patrick wrote on January 6th, 2013
    • I’ve heard that, too. I have a good cookbook, and because of the connection, they don’t offer any pork recipes. Maybe try that. At worst, it’ll just make it more tender.

      Joelle Bonifacio wrote on January 8th, 2013
  25. I am so making this!!!

    Debra wrote on January 6th, 2013
  26. My favorite Mexican restaurant in Houston didn’t shred the pork. It was just served in big chunks with sides of guacamole, sour cream, and such. This was back in the 60’s so they’re probably not there any more. If you wanted to wrap it in tortillas you could, but most people just ate it as is. Shredding it turns it into pulled pork. But……..either way, it’s delicious!

    Adrienne wrote on January 6th, 2013
  27. I’m surprised that nobody else commented on the cinnamon stick. Does that make it taste cinnamony? I have a friend that makes spaghetti sauce with cinnamon and it’s terrible so I’m afraid to put it in a savory dish.

    karen wrote on January 6th, 2013
    • We didn’t notice a cinnamon flavor at all; cumin took center stage I think. (and I am gagging at the idea of cinnamon in spaghetti sauce! :-&)

      Tonixtonix wrote on January 7th, 2013
      • yeah, EWWWWWWWW!!!! My father in law (had an Italian restaurant for 37 years) would have a conniption at the thought of that!

        the cats mother wrote on January 17th, 2013
  28. I am making them right now and my house smells incredible!!!

    Julia wrote on January 6th, 2013
  29. Hey all!

    Long time lurker, first time poster. Had an unfortunate run in with bad Mexifood last night (fajitas totally drenched in bad oil :-( Needless to say, I was really happy to stumble upon this recipe! It was so easy and turned out fantastically. I used chipotle for the chili. I’m with Julia – the house smells awesome (could have something to do with the lard I just rendered too 😉

    Jen wrote on January 6th, 2013
  30. Made this today, it is delicious. My house smells amazing.

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned the cinnamon stick, not because of the taste, but because generally sticks are considered to be lower quality cinnamon than a good ground cinnamon. I don’t have the time or the will to do research on this presently, but I will say that I used ground cinnamon and it was great. Use very little as it goes a long way in a recipe like this. I used approximately 1/4 tsp and it just adds a little complexity, not an identifiable cinnamon taste. You can certainly leave it out, the carnitas will still be wonderful.

    Siobhan wrote on January 6th, 2013
    • I did ask about the cinnamon up further and was also surprised that there wasn’t any mention of it. Glad to know that it doesn’t leave a strong cinnamon taste. I’m still afraid to put it in, though. I plan on making this next week and may leave it out.

      karen wrote on January 7th, 2013
      • Go ahead and leave the cinnamon in. IF you have cinnamon and not cassia. The cassia sticks are the hard thick dark colored ones. Real cinnamon (Ceylon) sticks are light-colored, somewhat fragile, and a much rounder, gentler, almost floral flavor.
        Regarding the quality of stick vs powdered cinnamon. You may have that backward practically if not technically. Once ground, the volatile oils are much less protected. Even if the higher quality stuff is chosen for grinding, by the time it gets to you, and you actually use it, the quality is of course markedly lower.
        Carnitas, because of all the amazing porky lardy goodness can be a bit heavy on the palate. The addition of cinnamon as well as a dash of key lime juice on top before eating lightens it up and balances it.

        Joshua wrote on January 8th, 2013
  31. Just pulled my carnitas out of oven. Looks and tastes GREAT. Yes, you can smell the cinnamon. There is a faint hint of cinnamon, but in my opinion it is the perfect hint. The flavor of the meat is much more pronounced!! Thanks for posting this recipe.

    Leannne wrote on January 6th, 2013
  32. Made this today and it was hard to stop picking at it. It’s everything I love about pork ribs without the bones.

    Suzanne wrote on January 6th, 2013
  33. I’ve never had carnitas, but this sounds pretty amazing!

    Jenny wrote on January 6th, 2013
  34. Well I went for it tonight, it was great and even my two kids 10 and 13 ate it with no complaints. I loved that the onions disappeared so I didn’t have to apologize for their being there. I could go either way on the cinnamon, I used about 1/4 tsp. and might consider 1/8th tsp. next time, otherwise yum.

    Vanessa wrote on January 6th, 2013
  35. Has anyone made this with beef, say with chuck?

    Pea wrote on January 7th, 2013
  36. We used the same recipe last night but used grass fed chuck roast and round roast instead. Used the crock pot, and then pulled all the meat apart, spread out on baking sheet and broiled it to add the crispiness. Used the juice from the crockpot to pour over the meat before eating. It was stupid good.

    Kyle46N wrote on January 7th, 2013
  37. How important is the cut of meat in this recipe? I have pork loin in my freezer, can I use that?


    Rebecca wrote on January 7th, 2013
    • I wouldn’t use loin. It doesn’t have as much connective tissue or fat so doesn’t do as well slow-cooked.

      Mark A wrote on January 7th, 2013

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