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:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Making this Saturday. My whole family is excited to try it.

    Casey wrote on January 7th, 2013
  2. This looks amazing, I can’t wait to try it! Only lousy thing is I’ll be making a nightshade-free version…

    Sara wrote on January 7th, 2013
  3. Made this yesterday and it was super easy and yummy!!!!

    Laura wrote on January 7th, 2013
  4. How long would you cook the final crisping up part if it is on a baking sheet?

    Tee wrote on January 7th, 2013
    • I cooked mine for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. That gave them a good amount of crisp with no drying of the meat.

      Tonixtonix wrote on January 7th, 2013
  5. These were AMAZING! I made them in the crockpot with 1/2 cup beef broth instead of water then cooked two hours on high, then about 3-4 hours on low. I removed the meat with a slotted spoon and used my kitchen aid mixer with the paddle attachment to shred the meat; added one cup of the liquid back into the meat and baked till crispy on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven. Served over mashed plantains.

    Tonixtonix wrote on January 7th, 2013
  6. I don’t eat much pork but this recipe looks great, Mark. Of course it’s even better if you can find humanely-raised, pasture fed pork. Support your local farmers people!

    Scott wrote on January 7th, 2013
  7. Nom nom! This looks delightful.

    Amber wrote on January 8th, 2013
  8. I have a major heart-on for this recipe. Can’t wait to try it out & fill my mouth with meat. Thanks for making me HORNGRY!

    Ronron wrote on January 8th, 2013
  9. This would probably go so good with mashed green plantains…or as we dominicans call it..mangú! Yummm!

    Mcintyreknox wrote on January 8th, 2013
  10. Loved it, really tasty, really satisfying and fulfilling. I’ve now learnt a new way to cook pork :)

    Keith wrote on January 8th, 2013
  11. I would like to try this recipe as it is completely different from the carnitas recipe that I’ve been taught by a Mexican friend.
    If somebody wants to try it, I just write it down! Mexicans usually cook carnitas outside in huge pots over a fire so I cut pork meat in big chunks to avoid letting the meat to dry too much (meat from the shoulder, neck, belly and the fatty/juicy cuts). Right after adding the spices, you need to marinate with some drops of vinegar for one night (in my recipe there is no cinnamon and a lot of bay leaves).
    Next take some rendered lard, melt it in a deep frypan and use it to fry the meat. Yo can add the meat all together if you have room for that to allow more lard to melt down and increase the frying effect.
    When the meat is brown and crispy it can be taken out and eaten (time changes from chunk to chunk depending on size). Doing it this way you end up with a crispy and juicy pork fry.

    voingiappone wrote on January 9th, 2013
  12. Wow, this looks and sounds delicious! I know what I’ll be making next week. *drools*

    LisaL wrote on January 9th, 2013
  13. Wow, is this good! I got lucky at our food co-op today; they had the perfect fatty pastured huge pork chop. I got to eat the carnitas and chew on the crispy bone too.

    Shalimar wrote on January 9th, 2013
  14. Also, it cooks well in a convection toaster oven.

    Shalimar wrote on January 9th, 2013
  15. Made this today, just tried it out and it came out really nice. I thought I had cinnamon sticks but couldn’t find them, so I ended up just adding some ground cinnamon to the rub and it works fine. Great recipe!

    josh wrote on January 10th, 2013
  16. This is AMAZING – the cinnamon stick gives it just the right touch. I added some cloves to complement the cinnamon and add to the aroma. Topped with avocado and spicy salsa – nom nom!

    your mom wrote on January 10th, 2013
  17. I made the carnitas and they were super easy and incredibly tasty! I served them with guacamole & dry jack cheese in purple cabbage wraps & a side of roasted carrots. I’m making them again this weekend!

    Sam wrote on January 11th, 2013
  18. So, I made this last night. We ate it over romaine lettuce with guacamole as a topping. It was delicious!! However, it was pretty dang salty, using 1 1/2 tsp from the recipe. Next time, I’ll cut it to 1 tsp. Great recipe, can’t wait to make it again!

    Jenny Gaines wrote on January 14th, 2013
    • I agree about the salt comment and I love salt and typically use it liberally when I cook. I just made these carnitas for the second time and used less salt than called for. Can’t wait to pull it out of the oven in three hours.

      Vanessa wrote on January 20th, 2013
  19. I just wanted to thank you for posting this recipe. Super easy and turned out amazing. I ended up adding more spices, especially salt, after shredding. I usually stick to quick, grilled meats but this will be added to the rotation. Thank you!

    Raj wrote on January 20th, 2013
  20. Made this tonight and it was AMAZING. The meat was flavorful and delicious. I did sub in 1/4 tsp cinnamon for the cinnamon stick due to what I had on hand. The flavor combo was simple and delicious. Will be making this again and again!

    Ashley wrote on January 27th, 2013
  21. Thanks for this incredible recipe!!

    I usually don’t reply to posts, but this one compelled me to do so! I just finished eating and it was plain magnificent! I ended up eating 2 pounds of meat all by myself and just ordered a huge stewpot to make this in deserving quantities.

    Thanks again! Highly recommended.

    For all the cinnamon skeptics and after being doubtful myself: I used a huge ceylon stick and it wasn’t at all cinnamony!

    Stefan wrote on January 28th, 2013
  22. I made this recipe last week, and my house smelled incredible from the time I started cooking. The meat was tender and delicious, and while it did not taste “cinnamony”, the cinnamon definitely gave it a unique layer of flavor. I am making this again for a Super Bowl party, and will serve it like I did the first round, with some homemade guacamole, salsa and pico de gallo. Apart from, maybe, some salad greens, the above accompaniments are enough! Soooo good!

    Jennifer wrote on January 29th, 2013
  23. Made this last night. Easy and delicious. Added 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon because the store was out of cinnamon sticks- not strong at all. Next time will try the sticks!

    Sab wrote on February 1st, 2013
  24. Just made this for the first time and it was amazing! I love carnitas, ordered them regularly when dining out even before I went primal. Used a bone in cut and it worked fine. My only issue was too much water. I’ll reduce it quite a bit next time. Served it with diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, avocado, and lime juice salsa, with a dab of ghost chili hot sauce. Will be making it again, and like others pointed out, it made the house smell great on a very cold winter day.

    Craig wrote on February 1st, 2013
  25. These are amazing. I just browned the meat in my pressure cooker with some oil for about 40 minutes. Then added all the other ingredients plus some home canned honey jalapenos. Absolutely fabulous!! I can’t wait to do this again.

    Bradford wrote on February 12th, 2013
  26. Made this again today, with a twist. I brine all the pork I put on my smoker, so I decided to do the same with this batch of carnitas. Overnight in a brine of 1/2 C each of pickling salt and brown sugar, with generous additions of cumin, cayenne,garlic, and ground cinnamon, i just enough water to cover it well. The meat came out even more tender and juicy than last time.

    Craig wrote on February 24th, 2013
  27. This might be one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. And yes, you can taste the cinnamon. And it’s wonderful. I’m Italian and my parents are from Italy and they cooked sauce with cinnamon in it and so did their grandparents. Cinnamon isn’t just for french toast, guys. It’s used sparingly as an accent. It’s a wonderful complement to savory foods as well, and is widely used in many cultures as a meat and savory spice. Sheesh.

    meat with a side of meat wrote on March 1st, 2013
  28. I am not a pork fan, but wow, this recipe blew me away! i was a huge hit with the whole family! I could happily eat this weekly.

    ck wrote on March 25th, 2013
  29. Made this today and it is delicious. I’ve made another recipe for carnitas but this one is better. Now I will make some guacamole to serve with it.

    Kathleen wrote on April 27th, 2013
  30. Another way to make them is to marinate the cubes of pork in mojo, then they’re simmered in pork fat in a heavy pot on the stovetop for a couple of hours. Then turn the heat up so the pork starts to deep fry for 30 minutes. Now you’ve got crunchy all the way around!

    After shredding, I serve the carnitas on individual romaine lettuce leaves (cut across the rib), served like a taco with house salsa and sour cream.

    It will blow your mind.

    Render your own pork fat by getting fat scraps (usually for free) from your local grocery store.

    A.M. Priestas wrote on May 2nd, 2013
  31. My wife and I like to consider ourselves carnitas connoisseurs. This recipe is phenomenal! I’ve tried many other carnitas recipes, and none of them turn out as well as this one. I do add the juice of one largish orange, but other than that, I follow the recipe exactly. Thanks Mark!

    Quinn wrote on December 6th, 2013
  32. I’m new to paleo so this may be a silly question but here it goes…. I have a ton of leftover cook pork. Can I make this recipe with already cooked pork or will it be super dry? Any suggestions on what to do with my leftover pork loin?

    Paula wrote on January 3rd, 2014
  33. I made this tonight. One of the best dishes I’ve ever cooked!

    k. scott wrote on April 26th, 2014
  34. I’ve been coming back to this recipe many times. Just love it. 😀 Always a hit!

    Tanja wrote on November 6th, 2014
  35. Just incredible. Really. It was so flavorful and tender. I was worried that the last step of shredding it and putting it under the broiler (I was rushed to get it done) would dry it out, but it didn’t. The extra liquid kept it moist. I ate it over cauliflower rice with avocado, tomatoes, cilantro, salsa and sour cream. My kids made it into burritos. It was so easy, but just required some time management. I loved it and can’t wait to make it again. It would be great for a dinner party.

    Susan wrote on December 17th, 2014
  36. It was really good. I added a bell pepper, sliced, a chili pepper, de-seeded and sliced, and a couple of cloves of garlic, chopped. I also added three chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, from a can, chopped.

    Cooked it for four hours in a Dutch oven pot over hot coals in my barbecue until it was dry and soft enough for shredding. Then put it under a broiler for 15 minutes until smoking and crispy.

    It was glorious.

    JB3 wrote on May 23rd, 2015
  37. Making this for after church lunch tomorrow. Got it all ready tonight, will get up early and get it started.

    Jeff wrote on June 13th, 2015

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