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Crispy Pork Carnitas Recipe

As if slow-cooked, succulent pork wasn’t tempting enough, carnitas takes it one step further by caramelizing the pork in its own fat [1] until the outside is perfectly browned and crisp. It’s difficult to resist the crispy, tender morsels of pork that come out of the oven. Try not to eat so much meat right out of the pan that you’re full before the carnitas makes it to the table!

Cooking meat that is both tender and crispy might sound tricky, but the only secret is getting out of the way so the meat can cook slowly. The less you intervene, the better. Let seasoned pork braise in a pot of water until the meat is tender and the water is gone. Then the rendered pork fat takes over, essentially frying the meat into a crispy, fatty, salty masterpiece. Voila, perfect crispy pork carnitas!

The recipe below describes how to make braised carnitas in the oven. You can also cook the carnitas on the stovetop. For Instant Pot or slow cooker directions, check out the FAQs at the bottom of the post.

Dutch Oven Crispy Pork Carnitas Recipe

Servings: 6+ depending on size of roast

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

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF (175ºC).

Mix together the salt, cumin, and chili powder in a small bowl. You can trim off a little bit of the fat off the pork or leave it all on.  Rub the spice mix all over the meat.

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

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 very tender and slightly browned and most of the liquid is gone.

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

Turn Up the Crispiness on Your Crispy Pork Carnitas

Option one for crisping up the shredded pork: Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf from the pot. Add the meat back to the pot and return it to the oven. Roast the meat, mixing occasionally, until the meat is as dark and crispy as you like it.

Alternately, to speed up the crisping process and develop even more scrumptious crunchy bits, spread the shredded pork evenly in a roasting pan along with the braising liquid. Allow it to continue roasting in the oven until it’s done to your liking.

When you’re crunched for time, place the shredded meat in a thin layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Turn your broiler to low, and place the meat about 6 inches below the heating element. Keep your eye on it to prevent it from burning.

If you’re making the carnitas ahead of time, wait to do the final crisping step until right before serving the meat.

How to Serve Pork Carnitas

Now that you’ve prepared all this delicious meat, what do you do with it? Here are a few crowd-pleasing options:

Authentic Carnitas Street Tacos (Tacos de Carnitas)

Street tacos are generally small and perfect in their simplicity. While most Primal folks will probably choose not to use the traditional soft corn tortillas, we have a Primal-friendly tortilla recipe here [2] that serves as a worthy approximation of the real thing. You can use any store-bought grain-free tortillas, cabbage, or lettuce, too.

Here are the toppings you need to make authentic street tacos:

Build a Carnitas Plate (Plato de Carnitas)

If you order a carnitas plate in a restaurant, you’ll probably get a hefty serving of crispy carnitas served with rice and beans, plus tortillas, avocado or guacamole [4], salsa or pico de gallo, sour cream, and lime wedges. To make a Primal version of plato de carnitas:

Make a Carnitas Burrito Bowl

Start with a base of cauliflower rice and/or your favorite greens, then layer carnitas and your favorite burrito fillings on top. For example, substitute crispy carnitas for the shrimp in this Shrimp and Cauli-rice Bowl [6] recipe.

What to Do with Leftover Pork Carnitas: Recipe Ideas

Use leftover carnitas in any of the following recipes:

Crispy Pork Carnitas FAQs

Q: What type or cut of pork is best for making carnitas?

Carnitas is made with a pork roast, either pork butt or pork shoulder (they mean the same thing). You never want to use pork loin or pork chops for carnitas. They are too lean. You need the fattier pork shoulder to keep the meat moist during slow cooking.

Q: What is the difference between carnitas and pulled pork?

Both involve slow-cooking a pork roast until the meat is very tender. Pulled pork is often smoked, whereas carnitas is traditionally braised or simmered with lard. In practice, though, the terms are often used interchangeably. The biggest difference is that you finish carnitas by crisping it up.

Q: How do you make carnitas in the Instant Pot or pressure cooker?

Sear the outside of the pork shoulder using the sauté function on the Instant Pot, then cook it on high pressure for 90 minutes. Remove the meat from the Instant Pot and follow the directions in the recipe above to make it crispy. Here is a recipe to follow [10].

Q: How do you make carnitas in a slow cooker?

For the first stage of the cooking process, add the above ingredients to your slow cooker, plus 1 cup of water or broth. Cook on low for about 8 hours, until the meat is very tender. Remove the meat and follow the directions above to make it crispy.

Q: What sides go well with pork carnitas?

Any vegetables or a large side salad go great with pork carnitas. We especially like cole slaw, like this Keto Cole Slaw [11] or Easy Citrus Slaw [12]. For a delicious and refreshing summer treat, pair crispy carnitas with Summer Watermelon Salad [13].

Print [14]
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Crispy Pork Carnitas Recipe


  • Author: Mark's Daily Apple [15]
  • Total Time: About 4 hours
  • Yield: 6 or more servings 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

This crispy, savory shredded pork is a staple of Mexican cooking. Enjoy carnitas in tacos, burrito bowls, casseroles, or even soup. Leftover carnitas freeze beautifully, so go ahead and make a double batch!


Ingredients

Scale

3 to 4 pounds (1.4 to 1.8 kg) boneless pork shoulder or pork butt cut into five pieces

1 1/2  teaspoons (7 ml) salt

1 teaspoon (5 ml) cumin

1 teaspoon (5 ml) chili powder

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 350ºF (175ºC).

Mix together the salt, cumin, and chili powder in a small bowl. You can trim off a little bit of the fat off the pork or leave it all on.  Rub the spice mix all over the meat.

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

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 and slightly browned, and most of the liquid is gone.

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

Crisp the meat using one of the following methods:

  • Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaf from the pot. Add the shredded meat back to the pot and return it to the oven. Roast the meat, mixing occasionally, until the meat is as dark and crispy as you like it.
  • Spread the shredded pork evenly in a roasting pan along with the braising liquid. Allow it to continue roasting in the oven until it’s done to your liking.
  • Place the shredded meat in a thin layer on a heavy rimmed baking sheet. Turn your broiler to low, and place the meat about 6 inches below the heating element. Keep your eye on it to prevent it from burning.

Notes

If you’re making the carnitas ahead of time, wait to do the final crisping step until right before serving the meat.

Nutrition info calculated using Cronometer. Nutrition info is for a 4-ounce serving of carnitas (about 1 cup shredded).

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 3 to 4 hours
  • Category: Main dish
  • Method: Braising, oven
  • Cuisine: Mexican

Nutrition

  • Fat: 21 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Protein: 26 grams

Keywords: Crispy pork carnitas, Pulled pork, Braised pork carnitas, Oven-cooked carnitas