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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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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. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. I made this tonight. One of the best dishes I’ve ever cooked!

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

    Tanja wrote on November 6th, 2014
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. This looks really good! I have never heard of Carnitis before, but intend to try it soon. The only way I ever cook pork is in a pressure cooker so it comes out real tender. I will see if this way is better. Thank you!

    katlupe wrote on January 25th, 2016
  13. Thank you so much for this….I Loved this recipe just added another cinnamon stick, my side dish was chunks of Mango and Pineapple. I wrapped the meat in Lettuce rolls. Yum.

    Debi wrote on July 12th, 2016

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