We have the World’s Best Carolina Pulled Pork but 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!
There’s a local restaurant here called, Oteos and I’m, in fact 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. It’s magnificently juicy and tender and there’s just the tiniest hint of citrus. 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.
What are Carnitas?
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.
Where Do Carnitas Come From?
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 oil lard until super tender. I’ve heard of people making beef carnitas, but when I hear carnitas, I automatically think pork.
He Touched the Butt
You know that scene in Finding Nemo where Nemo is in his rebellious stage and swims off to touch the boat in spite of his dad’s warning? The 8-year-old child in me always giggles when his friend whispers to his other friend in total dismay, “he touched the butt”.
What Kind of Pork for Carnitas?
Pork butt is what you are after when it comes to carnitas. It has a higher fat content which makes the meat super juicy and tender.
What is the Difference Between Pork Shoulder and Pork Butt?
Did you know what 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 time when Boston butchers would pack the pork shoulder in barrels that they called butts. So in this case, touch the butt all you want Nemo because it’s the best for these amazing carnitas!
Other Names for Pork Shoulder
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
What is a Brine and Why Do It?
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 (cumin, oregano, dried orange peel, smoked paprika and chili powder).
Is Brining Important?
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!
Dry Rub for Pork Carnitas
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).
Why Dry Rub?
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 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!
Why is it Important to Let Meat Rest?
Meat likes to rest after it comes out of the oven or off the grill. I get it, meat! I love me a good rest too! Resting allows the juices to redistribute and reabsorb back into the meat. It makes the meat more tender and juicy. We allow our pork to rest for up to 2 hours before shredding it.
Toppings for Tacos
We like to keep the toppings simple on these pork carnitas tacos just like Oteo’s because the meat is so dang good. Feel free to do as much or as little as you want for toppings. Some fresh pico de gallo would be delicious on these! My kids like to load them up with cheese, of course! What is it with kids and cheese? Oh, I know…it’s because cheese is delicious! But seriously, just a little cilantro, some pickled red onions and little bits of fresh orange is all these need.
Can Carnitas be Frozen?
Yes, carnitas make a great freezer meal! To freeze them, allow them to cool completely and transfer them 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.
Pork Carnitas in the Slow Cooker
These pork carnitas can definitely be done in the slow cooker. Follow the instructions as written and 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.
Looking for more outrageously good Mexican recipes?
- 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
The BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe
- 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.
- 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 200 degrees.
- 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!
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