If you bothered to read the whole title – I really didn’t want to stop there, to be honest. I wanted to say this meal can also be paleo! vegetarian! gluten-free! perfect for meat-lovers! kid-approved! and lends itself well to having people over, transporting a meal to someone, and even a themed potluck. In other words, you can (and should!) make carnitas for anyone and everyone you know and love. (And read Part 2: Burrito Bowls – that’s where the vegetarian part comes in!)
Carnitas are Mexican pulled pork, made from a slow-cooked pork shoulder (aka Boston butt or pork butt). I found this recipe on Our Best Bites, and it’s originally from Cook’s Illustrated, so I was prepared for it to be good – but it’s awesome. Here’s what you do:
Trim the fat a little and cut your roast into 2-inch chunks (or have the lovely person at the meat counter at the grocery store do it for you!) and put the pieces into a Dutch oven (a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid). Add water to barely cover the meat, and add the components that will give the meat its amazing flavor – onion halves, smashed garlic cloves, lime juice, red wine vinegar, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, salt and pepper, and the juice and peels of an orange.
Bring to a boil on the stove, stirring occasionally, then cover and put the whole thing in a preheated 300 degree oven for 2 hours. Transfer the meat (if you’re making ahead, any container will do; if you’re eating right away, use a foil-lined sheet pan) – it will be super tender and already tasty. But things are about to get much, much more delicious!
You’re going to reduce the cooking liquid until it’s thick – almost a glaze. Remove and discard the onions, bay leaves, and orange rinds, and bring the liquid to a rolling boil on high heat. Supposedly this should take about 10-15 minutes; in my experience it can take up to 30. You’ll end up with about a cup of liquid.
Here’s the pork with the glaze drizzled over it – it’s ready for the broiler!
While the liquid reduces, you can shred the pork – it should be cool enough to handle. Be sure to remove any big pieces of fat or gristle. Once you have shredded pork and reduced cooking liquid/glaze, you can Choose Your Own Adventure! Will you
A) Package some of your carnitas for the freezer? If so, portion cooled shredded meat into freezer bags, along with a small container filled with a proportional amount of glaze. From a 4-lb roast, I can make two freezer meals and have one portion to eat right away. To enjoy your freezer meal, thaw the meat and glaze in the fridge and then continue to C) below.
B) Put it all in the fridge to cook for a party the next day? If so, store your carnitas and glaze separately until about 20 minutes before you’re ready to eat! At that point, continue to C) below.
C) Proceed straight to carnitas bliss? If so, your shredded pork should be on a foil-lined baking sheet with sides. Drizzle it with the glaze and broil on high for 5-8 minutes, until it begins to brown and get crispy edges. Using a spatula, flip the carnitas and broil the other side for another 5-8 minutes, watching carefully. Now your carnitas are beautiful, crispy, and ready to eat – see Part 2 for serving suggestions!Print
Carnitas (The Ultimate Crowd-Pleasing, Make-Ahead, Freezer-Friendly Party Meal – Part 1).
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 2 hours, 50 minutes
- Total Time: 3 hours
- Yield: about 12 servings
- 3.5 – 4 lb boneless pork shoulder (aka pork butt or Boston butt), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-inch chunks
- 2+ cups of water (enough to barely cover pork)
- 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice (1 lime)
- 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 orange, cut in half (you will use the juice and the rind)
- Make sure oven rack is in lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300. Place pork in Dutch oven and add water to barely cover. Add onion, garlic, lime juice, vinegar, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, juice from orange, and orange rind. Stir to combine and bring contents to a boil over medium.
- Cover pot and transfer to oven for 2 hours, stirring once halfway through. Remove and discard onions, bay leaves, and orange rinds. Line a baking sheet with sides with foil and transfer pork to sheet with a slotted spoon.
- Boil the liquid in the pot on high heat to reduce – it should be thick, like a glaze, and you will have about 1 cup (this will take anywhere from about 10 to more than 30 minutes, depending how much liquid you started with). Don’t skim the fat off of the glaze – it helps the pork get crispy when you broil it.
- Shred pork, removing any excess fat or gristle. To cook immediately, drizzle with glaze. Broil on high 5-8 minutes or until brown and crisp. Flip pork, then broil other side 5-8 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn.
- To freeze: Put a portion of unglazed shredded pork in a freezer bag, and include a portion of glaze in a separate container. To cook, thaw meat and glaze and broil as directed above.
- To make ahead: Refrigerate unglazed shredded pork and glaze separately. To serve, glaze and broil as directed above.
Serve with your favorite fixings – rice, beans, sautéed onions and peppers, corn, salsa, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, avocado or guacamole, lime, cilantro, tortillas, chips…it doesn’t need all the adornment, but it sure is good!
I have often made the carnitas with a larger piece of pork, since that’s what was available at the store. In the photos, I used a 6 lb roast and used 1.5 times the additional ingredients. I also ended up with about 1.5 cups of glaze.
To make carnitas in the Instant Pot, add all ingredients to the pot BUT use 1/2 cup of water only. Cook on the Manual setting for 60 minutes at high pressure. When it beeps to let you know it’s done, turn it OFF. Allow the pressure to naturally release for 5 minutes, then manually release the pressure. I use a [dedicated] kitchen towel over the valve to absorb the steam. When the pressure is released, transfer the pork to the pan as described above. Use the Saute setting on the Instant Pot to reduce the cooking liquid (let it boil until thick and glaze-y as described above). Then continue with step 4!
I feel certain this could be made in a slow cooker, but I haven’t tried it since that would involve using another pot for the reduction. Please let me know if you try it that way!
Recipe from Our Best Bites, originally from Cook’s Illustrated
Once again, thanks for meal planning for me!! This is exciting! I might double and choose to take all the adventures at once:)!
Yessss! Happy adventuring!!! :o)
Hey Bet! Would you say that in lieu of a Dutch oven (which I don’t have), I could cook it in a glass dish, covered with foil or do it in a crock pot? 🙂 Excited to try it!
I definitely think the crockpot would work! You would just need to put the liquid in another pot that could go on the stove to reduce it. My mom just commented that she cooked it on low on the stovetop rather than the oven so you could use any large pot to do that if you don’t have an oven safe one!! Let me know what you do and how it works out!
Barb (Bet's Mom) says
I cooked the pork tonight and didn’t use the oven — just simmered it on low on the stovetop — so that’s an option, too. Question: I poured the glaze into a jar, and there’s about 1 cup of the thickened liquid with another 1/4 fat that rose to the top. To use, do I incorporate the fat into the glaze, or skim it off and discard? Thanks!
Incorporate it back in – that’s what helps the pork get crispy during the broiling step. I think traditional carnitas are made by frying the pork in a skillet with the fat and this is less spatter-y and let’s you do a lot at once!
Marcia Snyder says
Well, if I can’t get the hubby to spend 13 hours of his life doing this in the Big Green Egg, I’m trying the slow cooker. I’ll let you know how it comes out!
Ooh, a Green Egg version intrigues me! Please report back either way! 😀
THIS is the carnitas recipe I have been searching for!!! Thank you so much!!! I’ve cooked it twice now in the Instant Pot. The first time using a 5lb pork butt shoulder, the second using a 9lb, and just estimated the increase of all the ingredients. The flavor of the meat is amazing. It’s perfect for my people that don’t like spicy food, and the ones that do like to top their tacos with a little fresh jalapeño or salsa.
Thee juice doesn’t seem to thicken for me when I reduce it, but it hasn’t really posed a problem. I still drizzle it over before putting it under the broiler, and it still comes out great! We’re thinking about trying it on the grill to add a bit more smokey flavor. Thank you again!!! This recipe is a big winner with our whole family!!!
Karen! Yay! So glad this is a winner for everyone. You’ll have to report back if you try the grill – sounds amazing to add that smokiness!