Pork Carnitas

published Apr 24, 2024
Pork Carnitas Recipe

Good things take time, and I promise these pork carnitas are definitely worth the wait.

Serves8 to 10

Prep10 minutes

Cook3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
overhead shot of carnitas in a large pot
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Good things often take time, and the wait for pork carnitas is a testament to this universal truth. These carnitas are prepared in a manner similar to those found in certain regions of Mexico. They are cooked over low-to-medium heat with minimal spices to produce carnitas that are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, with a rich, delicious pork flavor that your taste buds will adore. This 2-ingredient recipe relies on just pork shoulder and lard (not including water and salt as well as pork leg and skin, both of which are optional).

Because these pork carnitas are cooked in a stainless steel pot, they will not have the caramel color of those cooked in a copper pot. Many add Coca-Cola or other comparable colas to add that color to the carnitas, but this “ruins” the lard, as it cannot be reused. Instead, this method is preferred for those who wish to save the lard and reuse it for their carnitas, and produce what is called “manteca madre” (lard starter). This practice of reusing manteca for carnitas is common in Michoacan.  

When served in Quiroga, Michoacan, the carnitas capital, it’s traditional to serve the bowl with carnitas and a basket on the side with corn tortillas loosely wrapped in a white cloth. On the side, there are small salsa and condiment bowls that include onion, cilantro, lemon, and different salsas. And, of course, some guacamole

Why You’ll Love It

  • This recipe provides simple ingredients and easy instructions, resulting in tender and flavorful carnitas. It’s the key to delicious carnitas tacos. 
  • While many other methods call for cooking at a higher heat to produce carnitas in 2 hours, they often result in dry carnitas that are crisp outside, but dry inside. By cooking the carnitas low and slow on the stovetop, my recipe produces the most tender, flavorful, and juiciest carnitas.

Key Ingredients in Pork Carnitas

  • Pork: You’ll want to use quality cuts here. Although carnitas in Michoacan include many different pieces, I keep it simple here with pork shoulder and make pork leg and skin optional. You can solely use pork shoulder if that is all that is available, but if you can locate pork leg and skin, try them. 
  • Lard: The key ingredient that makes for the most tender, flavorful pork carnitas. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

How to Make Pork Carnitas

  1. Sear the meat. Working in batches, cut and brown the pork all over, then add back to the pot with lard.
  2. Cook on low heat. Maintain a low simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 2 hours.
  3. Add salt towards the end of the cooking process. Dissolve salt in water, then continue to cook until pork is fork-tender and the outside is lightly browned and crisp. Cut into bite-size pieces.

Helpful Swaps

  • Although a mix of pork shoulder, leg, and skin is recommended, you can still make these carnitas with just pork shoulder.
  • You can use Mexican sea salt in place of the kosher salt; you will need 1 ounce.

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

To store carnitas I recommend using glass food containers, as they make it easier to remove excess fat when washing them. Carnitas can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

What to Serve with Pork Carnitas

Pork Carnitas Recipe

Good things take time, and I promise these pork carnitas are definitely worth the wait.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 3 hours 30 minutes to 4 hours

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    (4-pound) boneless pork shoulder

  • 1 pound

    pork leg (optional)

  • 4 pounds

    lard, divided

  • 1 cup

    water

  • 2 tablespoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 pound

    pork skin (optional)

  • Warmed tortillas and salsas (such as red chile de arbol salsa or roasted green salsa), for serving

Instructions

  1. Cut 4 pounds pork shoulder and 1 pound pork leg if using into pieces about 5 inches long and at least 2 inches thick. You don’t have to be too precise — you want larger pieces so they don’t cook quickly and get dry.

  2. Melt about 1 pound of the lard in a large pot (at least 8 quarts) over medium heat (about 250ºF). Working in 2 to 3 batches so as to not crowd the pot, add the pork shoulder and leg and cook until browned all over, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer to a baking sheet as each batch is ready.

  3. Add the remaining 3 pounds lard to the pot. Return the pork shoulder and leg to the pot. When the lard is melted, reduce the heat as needed to maintain a low simmer (between 140°F and 197°F). Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for 2 hours.

  4. Mix 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons kosher salt together until the salt is mostly dissolved. Add the salt water and 1 pound pork skin if using to the pot and stir to combine. Cook for 30 minutes more.

  5. Pinch a piece of pork shoulder with tongs; it should have some bounce to it and start to shred a little. (If the pork shoulder shreds easily, transfer a piece to a plate and check to see if it is fork-tender. If it is fork-tender, stop cooking.) Continue to cook until the pork shoulder is fork-tender and the outside is lightly browned and crisp, 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours more. (If the meat is tender before the outside is browned and crisp, increase the heat to medium high and cook just until the outside is browned. Do not cook for too long or the inside will dry out.)

  6. Transfer the pork with tongs to a strainer and drain well. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and place the pork on it in a single layer to drain further. If using pork leg, remove the meat from the leg and discard the bones. Cut the meat and pork shoulder into bite-size pieces. Cut the skin into thin shreds. Taste the meat and skin and season with more kosher salt as needed. Serve in tortillas topped with salsa.

Recipe Notes

Salt: You can use Mexican sea salt in place of the kosher salt; you will need 1 ounce.

Leftover cooking fat and liquid: The leftover lard is very flavorful and can be reused again for carnitas. Strain out any solids while lukewarm and let cool completely. Refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to 2 months.

Storage: Leftover carnitas can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.