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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 05 2013

Crispy Carnitas

By Worker Bee
113 Comments

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

Ingredients:

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions:

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.

Carnitas

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113 thoughts on “Crispy Carnitas”

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  1. I hate the taste of pork normally – but this looks like a great way of cooking it!! Will have to try!

    1. 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.

    2. 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 😀

  2. I absolutely love carnitas. Thanks for this awesome recipe!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

    2. How long do you cook it for in a slow cooker and at what tempature?

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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)

    1. 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!!!

      1. 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!

      2. 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.

    2. 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!

    3. I make a different carnitas (from clothesmakethegirl.com) that has citrus, and it’s really good over mashed sweet potatoes. I bet this one would be, too.

    4. 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…

    5. 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. 😉

    6. 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.

      1. 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.

    7. 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.)

    8. 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.

    9. 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.

      1. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

    1. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

    1. 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! :-&)

      1. yeah, EWWWWWWWW!!!! My father in law (had an Italian restaurant for 37 years) would have a conniption at the thought of that!

  18. 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 😉

  19. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. Made this today and it was hard to stop picking at it. It’s everything I love about pork ribs without the bones.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. How important is the cut of meat in this recipe? I have pork loin in my freezer, can I use that?

    Thanks!

    1. I wouldn’t use loin. It doesn’t have as much connective tissue or fat so doesn’t do as well slow-cooked.

  25. I am using a crockpot and it is currently cooking away at home to be ready for dinner. I am also going to try and make Marks tortillas to go with it.

  26. I made carnitas this weekend, and would highly recommend it! I like to add a red cabbage slaw with it: shredded red cabbage, shredded carrots, cilantro, garlic, lime and a touch of white wine vinegar. It adds some wonderful crunch to the slow cooked pork.

  27. This looks amazing, I can’t wait to try it! Only lousy thing is I’ll be making a nightshade-free version…

  28. How long would you cook the final crisping up part if it is on a baking sheet?

    1. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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!

  32. This would probably go so good with mashed green plantains…or as we dominicans call it..mangú! Yummm!

  33. Loved it, really tasty, really satisfying and fulfilling. I’ve now learnt a new way to cook pork 🙂

  34. 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.

  35. Wow, this looks and sounds delicious! I know what I’ll be making next week. *drools*

  36. 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.
    Thanks!

  37. 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!

  38. 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!

  39. 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!

  40. 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!

    1. 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.

  41. 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!

  42. 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!

  43. 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!

  44. 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!

  45. 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!

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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!

  54. 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?

  55. I made this tonight. One of the best dishes I’ve ever cooked!

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. Making this for after church lunch tomorrow. Got it all ready tonight, will get up early and get it started.

  59. 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!

  60. 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.

  61. Have this recipe in the oven as I type this. Have the cauliflower crumbled and onions chopped, ready for the pan to make broccoli rice. I will follow-up after dinner. .