It was high time we made the BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe and this is it. A hint of citrus, juicy meat with those classic crispy bits!
What Are Carnitas?
There’s a local restaurant here called Oteos, and I’m — actually WE — are obsessed with their tacos. Cade usually goes for the steak tacos, but I always get the carnitas. Their pork carnitas is the best I’ve ever had. The carnitas are magnificently juicy and tender and there’s just the tiniest hint of citrus in them. You may not even catch it except they throw little bits of orange and pickled red onions on the taco with the pork. And that’s it. No crazy sauces and messes, just a clean, amazing taco.
So what are carnitas? Carnitas are the Mexican version of pulled pork and can be used for tacos, burritos, nachos, enchiladas, tostadas or just to eat plain. The meat is cooked low and slow and is so tender that it practically melts in your mouth.
I have some Spanish abilities but even someone with minimal Spanish knowledge will know that carnitas literally means “little meats.” It originated in state of Michoacán, Mexico. Carnitas are most often made using pork and braising it in lard until super tender. I’ve heard of people making beef carnitas, but when I hear carnitas, I automatically think pork.
What’s Needed for This Pork Carnitas Recipe?
To make the best pork carnitas, you need to be sure to use the right mixture of carnitas seasonings. Lucky for you, we’ve done the legwork for you! Here’s what we used to make this authentic carnitas recipe (note that there are three parts to this recipe — the brine, the pork rub, and the cooking ingredients):
- Orange juice
- Apple cider vinegar
- Bay leaves
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Spices (there are lots, but all are pantry staples!)
- Bone-in pork butt
- Canola oil
- Lime juice
- Chicken broth
What’s the Best Meat for Carnitas?
Pork butt is what you’re after when it comes to carnitas. It has a higher fat content, which makes the meat super juicy and tender.
What’s the Difference Between Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt?
Did you know that pork shoulder and pork butt are the same thing? Pork shoulder actually comes from the pig’s shoulder, so why is it also called pork butt if it’s not coming from the pig’s toosh? This name dates back to Colonial times when Boston butchers would pack the pork shoulder in barrels that they called butts.
Here are some other names that you might see tossed around for pork shoulder:
- Picnic shoulder
- Pork butt
- Boston butt
- Boston shoulder
- Fresh pork butt
- Boston butt roast
- Shoulder roast
How to Make Carnitas at Home
1. Brine the pork. The first step to making these BEST pork carnitas is to make the brine. For this brine, we use OJ, water, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, brown sugar, salt and a whole host of spices.
2. Flavor the meat. The next step to making our BEST pork carnitas is the dry rub. It packs this pork with the best flavor! After the pork has brined, pull it out of the liquid and pat it dry with paper towels. Then rub that butt completely with the dry rub (salt, oregano, dried orange peel, onion powder, garlic powder and ground coriander).
3. Cook low and slow. The dry rub is the key to getting that crusty exterior that is to die for! Set that butt in a roasting pan with the roasting liquids and it cooks low and slow at 225 degrees F for 12-14 hours. I always check the internal temperature at 12 hours and it has almost always been done. An internal temp of 200 degrees is the magic number you are looking for. That is the temp where pork shoulder becomes perfectly shreddable!
4. Crisp up the meat. Add the shredded pork to a well oiled skillet and toss as it begins to crisp. Remove to a pan and repeat until all batches are done!
read more: If you love this pork carnitas recipe, you’ll also love our Carolina Pulled Pork!
Do I Have to Brine Pork for Carnitas?
In short, YES! Brining is the process of adding moisture to muscle fibers within food and dissolving the proteins most often using high concentrations of salt. When pork is brined, flavors and moisture content are enhanced. Our BEST pork carnitas should be brined for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight. Brining is an absolute must!
Can I Make Pork Carnitas in a CrockPot?
Absolutely! These pork carnitas can definitely be done in the slow cooker. Follow the instructions below as written, then cook them on low in the slow cooker for 8 – 10 hours. After the meat has rested, you will still want to crisp the meat in a pan on the stove-top before serving.
Can I Make Pork Carnitas in an Instant Pot?
Yep! We have an Instant Pot Carnitas recipe on our blog that I recommend using instead.
Can Pork Carnitas Be Frozen?
Yes, carnitas make a great freezer meal! To freeze them, allow the meat to cool completely and transfer to a freezer bag. Leave a little bit of extra room in the bag since the meat will expand when freezing. Frozen carnitas should be eaten within 2-3 months.
How to Serve Pork Carnitas
The beauty of this pork carnitas recipe is that you can use the meat so many different ways! We love making pork carnitas tacos, but here are a few more ways to repurpose the carnitas meat:
- Burrito bowls
- Taco salads
Our Favorite Taco Toppings
We like to keep the toppings simple on these pork carnitas tacos just like Oteo’s because the meat is so dang good. But feel free to do as much or as little as you want for toppings. A few taco topping ideas are:
- Fresh pico de gallo
- Shredded cheese
- Fresh cilantro
- Pickled red onions
- Fresh orange
- Shredded lettuce
- Hot sauce
Tips for Making the BEST Pork Carnitas
We prefer using a bone-in pork butt for this recipe because the bone adds more flavor to the dish. If you use a boneless or cubed pork shoulder, it will most likely be done sooner. Just keep your eye on it — I would start checking around 9-10 hours.
Note that meat likes to rest after it comes out of the oven. I get it, meat! I love me a good rest too! Resting allows the juices to redistribute and reabsorb back into the meat, which then makes the meat more tender and juicy. We allow our pork to rest for up to 2 hours before shredding it to make our favorite pork carnitas tacos.
If you know you’ll be freezing some of the pork carnitas, I recommend waiting to fry the meat in the oil until you thaw and reheat it. This way you’ll still have crispy pork carnitas even though the meat was first frozen!
More EASY MEXICAN RECIPES:
Looking for more outrageously good Mexican recipes? Here are a few of our faves:
- Restaurant Style Salsa
- Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Pineapple Mexican Shredded Chicken
- Smothered Honey Lime Chicken Burritos
- Instant Pot or Slow Cooker Smothered BBQ Beef Burritos
- Crock Pot Cafe Rio Chicken Copycat
- Our Favorite Steak Fajitas Marinade
- Authentic Carne Asada Tacos
- Crisp Black Bean Vegetarian Tacos
- One-Skillet Enchilada Ground Beef Casserole
- Instant Pot Ground Beef Burrito Bowls
- ALL OF OUR MEXICAN RECIPES!
The BEST Pork Carnitas
- 2 Cups Orange Juice
- 4 Cups Water
- 2 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
- 1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Cumin
- 1 Tablespoon Oregano
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Orange Peel
- 1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
- 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
- 3-4 Lb Pork Butt , bone-in * (see notes for using boneless or cubed pork shoulder)
- 2 Tablespoons Cumin
- 1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
- 1 Tablespoon Oregano
- 1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Orange Peel
- 2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
- 2 Teaspoons Garlic Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Ground Coriander
- Canola Oil , for final crisping
- 1/2 Cup Orange Juice
- 1/4 Cup Lime Juice
- 1/4 Cup Chicken Broth
For the Brine
- Combine all brine ingredients in a large pot and stir to combine.
- Add the pork and place a lid on then stick it in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight.
For the Pork
- Heat the oven to 225 degrees F.
- Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
- Mix the rub together and rub all over the pork.
- Mix together the liquids and pour in the bottom of the roasting pan.
- Add the pork.
- Cook for 12-14 hours or until internal temperature reaches 200 degrees F.
- Remove the meat and let rest for up 2 hours.
- Shred the meat and place the liquids in a fat separator.
- Heat some oil in a pan over medium high heat.
- Add the shredded pork in small amounts and toss as it begins to crisp. Remove to a pan and repeat until all batches are done.
- Toss with a little of the juices from the fat separator and serve!
- If you use a boneless or cubed pork shoulder, it will most likely be done sooner. Keep your eye on it. I would start checking around 9-10 hours.
- To make this dish in a slow cooker, follow the same instructions except cook on low for 8 - 10 hours. You will still want to crisp them up in a pan on the stove after the meat has rested.
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