Carnitas are little bits of crispy delicious pork that make the best tacos. These are taqueria style carnitas you can make at home.
Pork poached in lard. What is better than that? Sound crazy to you? Consider this. Duck confit is duck poached in duck fat. And duck confit is probably the second greatest thing you can put in your mouth.
The concept is not exclusive to the French. They may not have invented it. It could be Mayan. I don’t know. I do know carnitas are pork poached in lard until meltingly tender. Low and slow. Like BBQ. But in your oven. This is pork heaven.
In Mexico they make carnitas in giant pots of barely simmering pork lard. They don’t change the lard. It just gets more and more flavourful as literally tons of pork shoulder pass through it.
It’s perfect. The pork seasons the lard and the lard seasons the pork. Pure pig goodness.
Carnitas you can make at home
This is a scaled down version. No giant pots. No cooking tons of pork a week. But a little bit of pure pork goodness nonetheless.
I like this version a lot. I like my sous vide carnitas approach too. The sous vide approach gives you a really meltingly tender carnitas.
This is toothier but it’s big on crispy pork carnitas flavour. I think this one edges out the sous vide version. My wife thinks the opposite.
Slow cookers just don’t compare
This isn’t a slow cooker recipe. I don’t think you can get the pork right using a slow cooker.
I’m not saying you can’t get something wonderful from your slow cooker if you keep the liquid to an absolute minimum.
But I am saying I don’t think slow cooker carnitas are like like stuff they make in Mexico.
This one doesn’t quite do it either but it’s a lot closer. I bet this is the technique used in restaurants serving carnitas as one of many things on the menu.
Watch the video
Carnitas like they make in taquerias – but scaled down
Think of this as a scaled down restaurant version. I’m guessing they do it in a low oven in big insert pans. Two or three pork butts at a time.
Here it’s an oven safe baking dish. But it’s pork lard. Not a lot of pork lard. But pork lard.
Everybody should have some pork lard next to the duck fat in the fridge. Doesn’t take up a lot of room. And it’s so good.
This recipe is based on the Serious Eats recipe with some glebekitchen twists. There’s a dry brine. Pork lard instead of vegetable oil. The pork was crisped up a little using a sturdy cookie sheet. The mix of crispy and meltingly tender adds a bit of wow.
But at it’s heart this is an easy recipe. Take some pork. Add some onions and orange. Don’t be afraid of the orange. Sounds strange but it’s a background flavour. Pour in some fat. Cook. Shred. Broil. It’s just as straight forward as that.
Pork carnitas are some of my favourite taco fixings. Awesome nacho topping. The secret to crazy good grilled cheese. Or in killer mac and cheese.
But they are best shovelled into your mouth as they come out of the oven. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve done that. Seriously addictive stuff.
- 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder cut into 2-3 inch cubes
- 1 orange halved
- 2 onions quartered
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 cloves garlic split
- 1 cup rendered pork lard melted vegetable oil can be substituted if you can't get lard
Dry-brine the pork
- One or two days before you want to serve the carnitas, slice the pork shoulder in half (for a 3 lbs roast).
- Salt liberally.
- Wrap and refrigerate.
Make the carnitas
- Pre-heat your oven to 275F.
- Cut the pork into large 2-3 inch cubes.
- Place the pork, bay and quartered onions in an oven proof dish just barely big enough to hold the ingredients. Make sure there's a bit of extra height so you don't spill hot oil onto your floor (yes, I did that the first time I made these)
- Squeeze the juice of the orange over the pork then nestle the two rinds in with the pork and onions.
- Pour enough pork lard overtop to just cover the meat.
- Cover tightly with foil and cook until the pork is fork tender. This takes about 3-5 hours. This step will vary from oven to oven and the size of the pork chunks. Temperature control in ovens is not all that precise. Start checking it after about 2 1/2 hours.
- When the meat is fork tender use tongs to remove the pork. Shred the pork. A couple forks works well for this.
- Pour 6-7 Tbsp of the pork lard over the top of the shredded pork. Save the rest to do other things. It's now become about the best thing there is on the planet for frying eggs FWIW.
- The pork will give off some liquid as well. Use a fat separator. Serious eats suggested making a cooked salsa with this leftover liquid. Not a bad idea at all.
- When you are ready to serve, set your oven to broil with the rack about 4 inches from the element. Place the pork and fat on a sturdy cookie sheet. Broil until a bit of the pork starts to crisp (2-4 minutes). You want a mix of crispy bits and tender bits. Just a little crunch. Don't go crazy.
- Taste and season. Depending on how much salt you added for the dry-brine you may or may not need more salt.
- Serve with pico de gallo or salsa of your choice. A little squeeze of lime adds a nice bright flavour. A bit of cilantro works nicely.