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The BEST Pork Carnitas Recipe

23 Reviews

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.

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.

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.

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
  • Water
  • 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

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.

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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: 

  • Tacos
  • Burrito bowls
  • Soups 
  • Taco salads
  • Burritos
  • Quesadillas 
  • Sandwiches

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 
  • Salsa
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Hot sauce

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.

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: 

The BEST Pork Carnitas

4.44 from 23 votes
Prep Time: 8 hours
Cook Time: 12 hours
Total Time: 20 hours
Servings: 16
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!

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

  • 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!

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.
  • 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.
Nutrition Facts
The BEST Pork Carnitas
Amount Per Serving (1 /2 Cup)
Calories 644 Calories from Fat 387
% Daily Value*
Fat 43g66%
Saturated Fat 16g100%
Polyunsaturated Fat 23g
Cholesterol 192mg64%
Sodium 2691mg117%
Carbohydrates 8g3%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 52g104%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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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About the authors

carrian feik cheney oh sweet basil

Cade and Carrian have three children and love to spend time together whether it’s vacationing or snuggled up on the couch for a good movie.

And this family especially loves to eat.

They love everything from the keep you fit and healthy to the get out your sweat pants indulgent and everything in between.

But most of all, they love the memories made, shared and treasured and it’s all thanks to a meal shared together with loved ones.

Leave a comment






34 comments

  • It won’t be done in time for dinner tonight. Can I put it in the fridge and let it come to room temp tomorrow? Crisp it tomorrow? Smells delicious.

    • Reply
    • Yeah absolutely!

      • Reply
  • Mmm this looks amazing! Thanks so much for bringing this to us. I have it in the brine now. My delivery company sent me a larger (5.5lb) bone in pork butt. Do you still recommend 10 hours in the slow cooker?

    • Reply
    • I would give it a little longer in the slow cooker. Check it after 10 hours, but it might need up to 12. Enjoy!

      • Reply
  • Making this today! I’m letting the meat rest (used the crockpot for 8 hrs) but wondered if I keep it out on a plate or put in the fridge? Currently keeping out. Will them crisp on the stovetop. Hope they turn out good!!!

    • Reply
    • So sorry for the late reply! How did it turn out??

      • Reply
  • Made this today on a rainy Sunday. Used the crock pot (husband not interested in using the smoker in the rain). I thought it would be a mistake and I was wrong. DELICIOUS! Followed directions exactly – placed brined roast in the crock on low. It was falling apart at about the 7 1/2 hour mark so I took out and shredded. Then placed the shredded meat back in and added some of the reserved juice in there, and kept the meat In the crock pot until ready to crisp in the skillet. Served with pineapple coleslaw and picked red onions. Also served with homemade flour tortillas. Looking forward to leftovers this week.

    • Reply
    • Yum! That sounds like the perfect meal! So glad you enjoyed it!

      • Reply
  • Hi! I made these carnitas yesterday, and they were to die for. I’m so happy to have a good shredded pork recipe. The only thing is that the meat wasn’t quite as tender as I envisioned it was going to be, and I was hoping you could give me some insight on that. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I realized I didn’t have 12-14 hours, so I did 8 hours in the crockpot. At the end of the 8 hours, I made sure the meat was at 200 degrees. Why wasn’t it super tender (some parts were, others were a little hard to shred)? Was it the meat quality? Or because I did it in the crockpot instead of the oven? Or cooking too long or too short?

    I find so much joy in cooking, and you are one of my all-time favorite food bloggers. You always provide so much great information about cooking in your blog–I am legitimately becoming a better cook when I read your posts. Thank you!

    • Reply
    • Thank you so much Lexi for the support and feedback!
      Ok a few things…did you brine it before cooking it? 8 hours in the crockpot was the perfect amount of time, so it shouldn’t be the cooking method. Did you let it rest after cooking? Was your meat bone-in?

      • Reply
      • Yes, I brined it overnight, let it rest afternoon cooking, and it was bone in. 🤷

      • I’m so sorry! I’m not sure what happened!

  • Hi there! I’m cooking carnitas for the first time and decided on your recipe, it looks amazing and I started the brine tonight. I was hoping you could give me a tip on speeding up the cook time a little, hopefully somewhere within 6-8 hours. I am using a boneless 4 pounder and would still like to slow cook it but I was looking to use my Dutch oven and crank up the heat a bit. Any suggestions on a higher temperature and time? Thanks so much!

    • Reply
    • Hey Jennifer! You could do 8 hours in a slow cooker on low and it should still fall apart and be delicious!

      • Reply
    • Making these today! Smells amazing! Question though, do you have the meat rest out or in the fridge? Cannot wait to eat this tonight!

      • Reply
      • It should rest just out on the counter. Enjoy!

  • Hi guys, 

    I’m planing to make this recipe this weekend. So I wanted to reach and get your opinion about using a pressure cooker. 

    We have a family recipes for barbacoa that we make in the pressure cooker. We normally do about 1.5hrs at constant high heat.  We normally do large chunks of boneless meat; combo of fatty meat and lean. So I couldn’t tell you the total weight.

    Do you think the recipe will work with the pressure cooker? If so, about how much time do you think will Be enough? For a 3-4lb shoulder. 

    I don’t mind doing the recipe in the oven or slow cooker. But I figured I’d ask about the pressure cooker if it saved me some time. 

    Thanks, looking forward to your response. 

    • Reply
  • I am planning on putting this in the slow cooker tomorrow (in brine tonight). Should the meat be dry when it is in the slow cooker?

    • Reply
    • You will want to dry it off after you take it out of the brine and then add the dry rub to it. Place it in the slow cooker and then add the mixture of orange juice, lime juice and chicken broth to the slow cooker around the bottom of the pork butt. Don’t pour it on top of the pork so you don’t wash off the dry rub. Does that make sense? Enjoy!

      • Reply
  • Any tips for time and setting to convert for slow-cooker

    • Reply
    • Absolutely! I’ll add a section in the post. Such a great question! Do the exact same process and cook on low in the slow cooker for 8-10 hours. You will still want to crisp them up in on the stove top at the end. enjoy!

      • Reply
  • I’m sorry, but this pork did not have a good flavor. It was actually quite bizarre. I tasted the rub prior to using it and it was delicious and it smelled wonderful while it was cooking. I’m thinking maybe the brine is the reason for the bad taste after the pork had cooked. I had made this for a family dinner and it tasted so bad that we had to order a pizza instead. I’m Cuban and have made many pork butts in my life. I was in the mood to try a different recipe, however this one, unfortunately is not a good one. I really wanted to love this but something is very wrong with this recipe.

    • Reply
    • Did you drain the brine before cooking it? There’s no way it had a bad flavor if you followed the brine recipe and cooking instructions correctly. It is so tasty!

      • Reply
  • Hi!

    I have been cooking for over 30 years and I LOVE your recipes.  I have never made carnitas at home before and my husband and I are excited to try this recipe.   It is cooking in the oven as we speak.   As this is my first time making this I am a little unsure if things are going correctly!    I would love your feedback when convenient.
    Two questions:
    1. Should the roast be covered?
    2. I was unsure if the roast should sit above the liquid (on a rack) while in the pan.   I ended up using my turkey roasting pan with a small rack to keep above the liquid.    I have had to refill liquid twice after 6 hours of cooking because it had evaporated and burned slightly.

    Thank you!!!

    • Reply
    • Hi Faith! Great questions! I’m probably too late now, but I hope they turned out well. For the next time you make them, it should be uncovered and it can sit right in the juices in the roasting pan.

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

    • Reply
    • 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!

      • Reply
  • 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? 

    • Reply
    • 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!

      • Reply
  • 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.

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

      • Reply
      • 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!

      • Reply

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