I’ve sung the praises of Mexican food many times before and these pork carnitas are no different. Made from a slow-cooked pork shoulder simmered in delicious spices it’s a family favorite. My version is a twist on traditional pork carnitas recipes and it’s delicious in tacos, Chipotle-style burrito bowls, and more.
What Are Pork Carnitas?
Simply put it’s the Mexican version of pulled pork. But instead of just slow-cooking the meat and serving it as is there are a few additional steps. Traditional Mexican pulled pork carnitas meat is cooked in orange juice or lime juice along with seasonings like oregano, bay leaves, black pepper, and ground cumin.
Other traditional recipes cook the pork meat in a huge vat of lard along with some spices. While I have nothing against lard and other healthy animal fats, it can get messy! Not to mention dangerous if you have kids running around.
You’ll find a few unconventional ingredients in my version, including barbecue sauce and mustard.
Different Ways to Cook Pork Carnitas
For the best carnitas, I prefer using my pressure cooker since it’s fast, easy, and low fuss. A slow cooker (ie crock pot) or even braising in a Dutch oven will also work. Once the pork has fully cooked and is fall-apart tender, it goes under the broiler to caramelize.
How to Finish Pork Carnitas Meat
There are a few different options when it comes to getting yummy crispy bits on that juicy pork roast. I do mine in the broiler because it’s quick and easy. Another option is to saute the meat in olive oil or lard in a skillet. You can also use some of the leftover cooking liquid to keep the meat moist while it’s frying/broiling. The juices concentrate during the last cooking step and add even more flavor!
How to Use Pork Carnitas Meat
There are so many options here for delicious meals. I like to cook my proteins in bulk for easy use in lunch and dinner recipes. Try this carnitas recipe on top of nachos, in carnitas tacos, or stuffed into quesadillas. Here are a few topping options to finish off the dish:
- Pico de Gallo
- Pickled red onions
- Sour cream or Greek yogurt
- Chopped onion
The meat is also great on salads or rice bowls. You could even use it on sauteed veggies and eggs for breakfast.
The Best Meat for Carnitas
Either a boneless or bone-in pork butt will work in this recipe. You may find pork shoulder which is essentially the same thing. I don’t recommend pork tenderloin in this recipe though. Pork butt is a fattier piece of meat and holds up to the longer cook time better than pork loin. The fat is also essential for the tender, juicy results!
Can I Freeze This?
Yes! Anything that I can make ahead of time and reheat for later is a win-win in my book. It doesn’t work that great if you complete the whole recipe and freeze the finished results though. The best way to store pork carnitas long term is to slow-cook the meat, skip the broiler, and freeze the shredded meat. You can also save some of the cooking juices in the freezer for reheating.
When you’re ready for pork carnitas thaw the meat, add some broth, and reheat in the skillet. Either finish it with some hot oil in the skillet or under the broiler. Be sure to store any leftovers in an airtight container.
Pork Carnitas Recipe
- Cut the pork into 3-inch chunks and place them in a large bowl.
- Rub the mustard all over the pieces of pork.
- In a small bowl, mix together the coconut sugar, chili powder, paprika, cumin, kosher salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.
- Season pork with the seasoning mixture, turning to coat all sides.
- Slice the onion and add it to the Instant Pot with the broth, apple cider vinegar, and barbecue sauce.
- Stir to combine.
- Add the seasoned meat to the Instant Pot.
- Put on the lid, set the valve to seal, and cook at high pressure for 65 minutes, followed by a natural pressure release.
- Remove the pork to a large baking sheet and allow it to cool enough to handle.
- When cooled, shred the meat and spread it evenly over the baking sheet, discarding the bone if there is one.
- Broil the meat for 5-10 minutes until the top and edges are slightly crispy. Work in batches if there’s too much for one baking sheet.
- Serve in tortillas, over salad, or on top of rice bowls.
- The leftover cooking liquid from the Instant Pot makes a great soup base.
- For a larger pork butt, double the seasoning ingredients.
- To cook in a slow cooker, cook on low for 8 hours.
- To cook in a Dutch oven, cook at 300° for 4-5 hours.
Have you ever had pork carnitas before? What’s your favorite way to serve it? Leave a comment and share below!