The BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe

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!

 

A photo of three pork carnitas tacos in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh jalapeno slices, diced red onions, and cilantro with a squeezed lime on the side.

 

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.

 

A photo of a mound of shredded pork carnitas in a cast iron skillet and topped with fresh cilantro, red onions, slices of fresh jalapenos and lime wedges.

 

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!

 

A photo of a mound of shredded pork carnitas in a cast iron skillet and topped with fresh cilantro, red onions, slices of fresh jalapenos and lime wedges.

 

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

 

A photo of three pork carnitas tacos in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh jalapeno slices, diced red onions, and cilantro with a squeezed lime on the side.

 

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!

 

A photo of a mound of shredded pork carnitas on a dark gray plate and topped with fresh cilantro, red onions, slices of fresh jalapenos and lime wedges.

 

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!

 

A photo of three pork carnitas tacos in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh jalapeno slices, diced red onions, and cilantro with a squeezed lime and a halved avocado on the side.

 

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.

 

A photo of a mound of shredded pork carnitas on a dark gray plate and topped with fresh cilantro, red onions, slices of fresh jalapenos and lime wedges.

 

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.

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Yield: 16

The BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe

The BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe
The most flavorful, perfect pork carnitas recipe for tacos!
Prep Time 8 hours
Cook Time 12 hours
Total Time 20 hours

Ingredients

Brine

  • 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

Pork Rub

  • 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

Cooking

  • Canola Oil for Final Crisping
  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Lime Juice
  • 1/4 Cup Chicken Broth

Instructions

For the Brine

  1. Combine all brine ingredients in a large pot and stir to combine.
  2. Add the pork and place a lid on then stick it in the fridge for 8 hours or overnight.

For the Pork

  1. Heat the oven to 225.
  2. Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Mix the rub together and rub all over the pork.
  4. Mix together the liquids and pour in the bottom of the roasting pan.
  5. Add the pork.
  6. Cook for 12-14 hours or until 200 degrees.
  7. Remove the meat and let rest for up 2 hours.
  8. Shred the meat and place the liquids in a fat separator.
  9. Heat some oil in a pan over medium high heat.
  10. 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.
  11. Toss with a little of the juices from the fat separator and serve!

Notes

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.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

16

Serving Size:

1/2 Cup

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 644 Total Fat: 43g Saturated Fat: 16g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 23g Cholesterol: 192mg Sodium: 2691mg Carbohydrates: 8g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 6g Protein: 52g
A photo of three pork carnitas tacos in a cast iron skillet topped with fresh jalapeno slices, diced red onions, and cilantro with a squeezed lime on the side.

 

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Carrian Cheney

Lover of all things beautiful, good and delicious. Wife, mother, friend, foodie.

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8 comments on “The BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe”

  1. I didn’t see the note about using bone-in bs boneless pork, is there much difference in prepping/cooking them?

    • Dang, our notes keep disappearing on us! Ugh! I’ll add it back in. thank you Serena! he only difference is that it will probably be done sooner so keep your eye on it!

  2. Going to have to try this! Curious about the crisping process as well. Also there’s a bit of discrepancy between the instructions up top and in the actual recipe. Is the cooking temperature 200 or 225 degrees? And I’m assuming the meat is done when it reaches 145 degrees like you say above and not 200 degrees as stated in the recipe? 

    • Hey Stephanie! Sorry for the confusion! The internal temp should be 200…that is when it is ready to be shredded. We have updated the instruction to clear up the crisping process too! Thank you for the feedback so we could get that all clarified!

  3. I love Carnitas but have never made it at home. Your list of ingredients calls for oil for final crisping but your instructions don’t mention a final crisping. Also, unless one gets up at 2am to put this in the oven, it won’t be ready for dinner. Do you think the meat could be refrigerated and then before serving have the final crisping, which would also reheat it? Looking forward to trying this.

    • I also wondered about the oil mentioned as “final crisping”.

      • Hey Amy! We have updated the instructions to clarify this! Let us know if you have any further questions! Thank you for letting us know!

    • Hey Denise! We usually throw the pork into the oven right before going to bed at night…like at 11pm or so. Then if it cooks for 12-14 hours, rests for 2 and then you do the final crisping, it’s ready right in time for dinner. You’re going to love these carnitas! We have updated the instructions to clarify the final crisping too!