You are currently viewing How to Make Carnitas

How to Make Carnitas

Carnitas is a classic Mexican dish originating from the state of Michoacán. It consists of pork that’s been slow-cooked until tender, resulting in flavorful, succulent, and often crispy pieces of meat.

Texture-wise, Carnitas are characterized by their tender, juicy interior and crispy exterior. Traditionally, pork cuts such as shoulder or butt are used, seasoned with a combination of herbs and spices, including salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, and sometimes citrus juices like orange or lime.

The cooking process for Carnitas involves simmering the pork in lard or its rendered fat (manteca) or occasionally in its juices until it becomes incredibly tender and starts to crisp up. This slow-cooking method helps break down the tough connective tissues in the pork, rendering it incredibly flavorful and moist while allowing the outer layers to develop a crispy texture.

Once cooked, the pork is shredded or pulled apart into smaller pieces. Some cooks might place the shredded pork under a broiler or back in the cooking vessel to create an additional layer of crispiness on the edges.

Carnitas are typically served in various ways, such as in tacos, burritos, or as a main dish accompanied by tortillas, salsa, diced onions, cilantro, guacamole, and lime wedges. The dish is cherished for its balance of textures—tender and succulent meat combined with crispy, caramelized edges—that offer a burst of flavors in every bite, making it a beloved and popular dish in Mexican cuisine.

Key Takeaways

  • Who this meal appeals to: Pork enthusiasts, comfort food lovers, those seeking a taste of authentic Mexican slow-cooked goodness.
  • Estimated duration: A delectable creation ready in about 8 hours of slow-cooking, making it a perfect dish for a lazy Sunday or special occasion.
  • Nutrition facts: A protein-packed dish with irresistible savory flavors.

About this Recipe

Carnitas, translating to “little meats,” is a classic Mexican dish where pork is slow-cooked until tender, resulting in flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth goodness. Whether enjoyed in tacos, burritos, or on its own, Carnitas is a true celebration of comfort food.

Equipment Required

  • Slow cooker or Dutch oven
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Large skillet


  • 3-4 pounds pork shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Prepare the pork: Cut the pork shoulder into chunks, removing excess fat.
  2. Marinate the pork: In a bowl, mix orange juice, lime juice, minced garlic, cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper. Coat the pork chunks with the marinade, ensuring each piece is well-covered. Marinate for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Sear the pork: In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Sear the marinated pork chunks until browned on all sides. Transfer to the slow cooker or Dutch oven.
  4. Slow cook: Pour any remaining marinade over the pork. Cook on low for 8 hours in the slow cooker or in a 275°F (135°C) oven if using a Dutch oven. The pork should be tender and easily pull apart.
  5. Shred and crisp: Remove the pork from the slow cooker or Dutch oven. Shred the meat using two forks. For added texture, crisp the shredded pork in a hot oven or skillet for 10-15 minutes.
  6. Serve: Enjoy Carnitas in tacos, burritos, or as a flavorful topping for rice.

Side Dishes

  • Chopped onions and cilantro
  • Salsa verde
  • Sliced radishes

Storage Options

Carnitas can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a skillet or oven to maintain the crispy texture.

Ingredient Substitutes

  • Pork: Substitute with boneless pork butt or pork loin for a leaner option.
  • Citrus juices: Experiment with grapefruit or pineapple juice for a unique twist.

Alternatives to this Meal

Transform your Carnitas into a hearty bowl by serving it over rice or beans. Alternatively, use the flavorful shredded pork in enchiladas or quesadillas.


Carnitas brings the slow-cooked, savory goodness of pork to your table, offering a taste of authentic Mexican comfort food. Whether shared with friends or enjoyed as a family meal, this recipe promises a fiesta of flavors. ¡Buen provecho!