Easy Pork Carnitas Recipe
This Pork Carnitas recipe is slow-cooked to perfection, yielding flavorful, fork-tender bites of pure taco awesomeness. We like to serve this with some sautéed sweet peppers – it’s one of my family’s favorite taco meals!
Slow Cooked Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos
When it comes to our family’s favorite recipes, this one is a top contender. Because who can resist slow-cooked pork that’s crazy delicious and fall-apart tender?!
We’ve been making this carnitas recipe for almost as long as Blake and I have been married (more than 21 years!), and our family just never tires of it! It yields flavorful, juicy, fork-tender pork that’s great for weeknight carnitas tacos as well as taco bar gatherings with friends. I always tuck some away in the freezer, too, for super-easy taco meals and fun platters of cheesy carnitas nachos!
What Are Carnitas?
We get used to seeing the word “carnitas” on Mexican restaurant menus, but what does it really mean?
Carnitas, literally “little meats”, is braised or roasted pork – the pulled pork version of Mexican cuisine.
It is essentially pork pot roast by Midwest standards. A chunk of inexpensive, heavily marbled shoulder meat that is braised in a heavy Dutch oven until it’s fall-apart, fork-tender.
When done right, carnitas meat is flavorful enough to eat all on its own. But you’ll most likely find it added to tacos, taco salad and rice bowls, and nachos. And if you’re a breakfast person, it’s fantastic with huevos rancheros!
A great meal of carnitas requires just a few ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need. Be sure to scroll down to the recipe card for specific amounts.
- Bone-in pork shoulder – This is also called Boston butt. The bone will lend more flavor, but if you can’t find bone-in, that’s A-ok!
- Salt & Pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Low sodium chicken broth – You can also use beef or vegetable broth.
- Onion – White or yellow onion works.
- Dried oregano leaves
- Ground cumin – One of my favorite spices, and a classic in this carnitas seasoning!
- Paprika – I used regular paprika, but smoked paprika would also be tasty!
You’ll also see sweet bells peppers in the photo above. We like to cut them into strips and sautée them – and then add them to our taco meals. I’ll show you how we do that in just a bit!
What kind of meat is best for carnitas?
For me, the best meat for pulled pork will always be pork shoulder, aka pork butt. I like to use bone-in for extra flavor, but can’t always find it. Boneless works great, too. Both will give you that juicy, tender pulled pork you’re craving!
How to Make Pork Carnitas
“Carnitas Night” is one of my family’s all-time favorite home-cooked meals. And, yes, we really do refer to it as Carnitas Night!
When our oldest daughter was very young, she used to beg to stay home from school on days when I was making carnitas. She would plead her case, saying she wanted to smell it cooking all afternoon. Which, if you’ve ever made carnitas, is a very convincing argument!
Here’s how to make crispy pork carnitas!
- Prep pork: Remove pork from refrigerator one hour before cooking. Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper, fairly generously.
- Sear pork: Heat oil in a 5 to 7 quart Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add pork and sear until all sides are browned.
- Add broth & seasonings: Add chicken broth, onion, oregano, cumin, and paprika. Bring liquid to a boil and spoon some of it over the top of the meat.
- Slow cook: Put the cover on and slide the pot into a 350° F oven. Cook until meat is literally falling apart, about 4 hours.
- Crisp & shred: Remove pot from oven to stovetop. Transfer meat to a large platter or cutting board with a rim to catch juices. With a large spoon, push meat off the bone in chunks; discard bone and any large pieces of fat. Transfer pork back to Dutch oven and turn heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring with a large wooden spoon to break up pork, until liquid has nearly evaporated. The carnitas meat will sizzle and caramelize, and will pull into shreds very easily as you work.
Do you like Mexican pulled pork, but without the traditional pieces of crispy texture? If so, simply skip the crisping in Step 5. Just add the pork back to the liquid after deboning and removing the fat – and then use a wooden spoon to break up the pork right in the juice. I recommend turning the burner on to medium-low to keep everything hot.
Add Color & Flavor with Sautéed Peppers
Our family loves sweet peppers, so we always make sautéed peppers to serve with our pork carnitas. The peppers add elements of flavor, color, and texture that we can’t live without!
How to Saute Peppers for Carnitas
It’s super easy to sauté peppers!
- Cut the peppers into long slices, about 1/4″ wide or so. And then, about half an hour before the meat is done cooking, heat a wide skillet over medium heat. I like to use a large cast iron skillet.
- Add butter and olive oil to the skillet & cook the peppers. When the butter has melted, add the peppers and stir to coat. Cook until softened, and then turn up the heat to medium-high. Let the peppers start to darken and char, stirring every couple minutes.
They’re beautiful. And so yummy! I love that charred texture and flavor!
More Taco Fixings to Consider
When it comes to topping these pulled pork tacos, just think about it like you’d be making any other kind of taco. Here are some of my family’s favorite toppings:
- Sautéed peppers (of course!)
- Pickled red onions – my absolute FAVORITE topping!!!
- Sliced or chopped onion – use red, yellow or white
- Fresh cilantro
- Fresh sliced or chopped tomato
- Sour cream or Mexican crema
- Shredded Mexican cheese or crumbled cotija cheese
- Guacamole or avocado slices
- Your favorite taco sauce, hot sauce
- Pico de gallo or watermelon jicama salsa
- Fresh lime – another “must” for our family, we always serve carnitas with fresh lime wedges for squeezing over the top!
Tips for Success
- Carnitas seasoning – This recipe has a very simple seasoning, just oregano, cumin, and paprika along with fresh onion. When seasoning the pork with salt and pepper before searing, I sprinkle it on fairly heavily. This gives enough flavor to eat the finished pork plain (you won’t be able to resist it!), while still being subtle enough to add to any Mexican dish.
- Cook until absolutely tender – The biggest mistake you could possibly make with carnitas is to not cook the pork until it is absolutely fork-tender. That wonderfully tender meat is the JOY of carnitas!
- Crisp the pork for added texture – The carnitas will be fabulous without the crisping step, but I think it’s over-the-top fabulous with those crispy edges!
Carnitas Night with family and friends is always a special treat, as this recipe is excellent for larger gatherings. And it works great if you want to make it ahead of time!
When we set out a tacos bar, we like to offer a variety of ways for guests to enjoy carnitas. You’ll find soft taco shells, tortilla chips, a pot of rice, and a big bowl of small-chopped Romaine lettuce. This way, people can construct a traditional soft shell taco, a plate of taco-covered chips, a rice and taco bowl, or a loaded taco salad. It makes EVERYONE happy!
And for the adults, margaritas are always, always, ALWAYS a good idea! I make a Classic Margarita most often, but these are delicious as well:
- Orange Margarita – extra wonderful during the winter citrus season
- Rhubarb Margarita – a springtime favorite!
- Prosecco Margarita – for all you bubbly lovers
- Jalapeno Mezcal Margarita – a little spicy, a little smoky, a lot yummy!
- Pink Lemonade Margarita – pretty in pink and super summery
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
- In the fridge – Let your extras cool than transfer them to an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can reheat leftovers in the microwave or on the stove top.
- To freeze – Simply let pork cool to room temperature and then transfer to freezer-safe bags or containers. Place in freezer for up to 3 months.
Ideas For Using Up Extra Carnitas
This recipe is perfect for leftovers and freezing, so I always buy a larger piece of pork to make sure I have extras to use later. In addition to making more tacos, you can also use leftovers to make:
- Burritos – Wrap carnitas in a warm tortilla with rice, beans, lots of cheese and maybe add some guacamole for good measure.
- Quesadillas – Place the carnitas on one side of a tortilla, top with cheese, then fold the tortilla in half and heat until the cheese is melty.
- Soups – You can add carnitas to minestrone, lasagna soup and even tomato soup. It’s really good!
- Huevos rancheros – Add carnitas over a warm corn tortilla topped with refried beans, melty cheese and a fried egg. Don’t forget the salsa and guacamole.
- Nachos – There’s nothing like a pile of crunchy chips topped with cheese and carnitas. In fact, I like to freeze leftover carnitas in smaller containers just so I have some when we’re hungry for nachos!
- Grilled Cheese – My family thinks goes crazy for grilled cheese. And when I add delicious carnitas to that crispy, golden sandwich, it really kicks it up a notch!
- Salads – Add carnitas to your favorite salad for an added bite of tasty protein – I like to warm it slightly before topping my salad.
- 5 lb. bone-in pork shoulder (aka Boston butt)
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 T. vegetable oil
- 3 c. low sodium chicken broth
- 1 white or yellow onion, peeled & quartered
- 1 T. dried oregano leaves
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 3 to 4 sweet bell peppers – I like to use a colorful variety
- 1 T. butter
- 1 T. olive oil
for the pork:
- Remove pork from refrigerator one hour before starting to cook. Rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper, fairly generously.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- Heat a 5 to 7 quart Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add oil. When oil is hot and starts to shimmer, add pork. Cook until nicely browned and then turn, repeating that same process until all sides are browned. Add broth, onion, oregano, cumin, and paprika. Turn heat up a bit to bring liquid to a boil. Then spoon some of the hot liquid over the top of the meat.
- Place the cover on and transfer to preheated oven. Cook until meat is literally falling apart, about 4 hours, spooning liquid over meat once or twice during cooking.
for the sautéed sweet peppers:
- About half an hour before the meat is done, prepare the sweet peppers. Cut into long slices, about 1/4″ wide or so. Heat a wide skillet over medium heat - I like to use a large cast iron skillet.
- Add butter and olive oil. When the butter has melted, add the peppers, stirring to coat. Cook for about 10 minutes, letting them soften up.
- Then turn up the heat to medium-high. Let the peppers start to darken and char, stirring every couple minutes. Transfer peppers to serving dish.
to crisp the pork:
- When the pork has finished cooking, remove pot from the oven and place on stove top. Transfer meat to a platter. With a large spoon, push meat off the bone in chunks; discard bone and any large pieces of fat.
- Transfer pork back to French oven and turn on heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring with a large wooden spoon to break up pork, until liquid in French oven has almost entirely evaporated and meat begins to sizzle and caramelize, 5 to 10 minutes. The meat should pull into shreds very easily.
To serve: Serve with small warmed tortillas, the sauteed peppers, and your choice of taco toppings. Also great served over tortilla chips, in rice bowls, or with a taco salad.
Adapted from Braises and Stews by Tori Ritchie (a really great overall cookbook, by the way!)
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 459Total Fat: 33gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 129mgSodium: 153mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 34g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix. I am not a nutritionist and cannot guarantee accuracy. If your health depends on nutrition information, please calculate again with your own favorite calculator.
This post was previously published May 2010, one of the first recipes on the blog, and a tried and true reader favorite. Photographs and some of the text were updated 2021.
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