Easy Carnitas Recipe (2024)

This Easy Carnitas Recipe makes amazing carnitas: rich, tender shredded pork with crispy, crunchy edges, perfect for tacos, burritos, or just eating by the forkful. The post includes step-by-step instructions and everything you ever wanted to know about making carnitas.

Okay, you all know that I love every recipe I share here, but there are some that I get extra excited about sharing. My Oven-roasted Tri-tipwas one (and it has been incredibly pop

ular). MyFreezer Meatballswere another (these have not been popular at all, people, go fall in love with them!!), and today I have another recipe I’m really excited about:carnitas!!!

Have you ever made carnitas? Have you ever eaten carnitas? Because, friend, They. Are. So. Good.

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What are carnitas?

Carnitas translates literally as “little meats.” It’s a Mexican dish made by braising pork until it yields fall-apart tender meat which is then cooked over high heat to make the outside crispy and delicious.

The result is fantastically rich shredded pork that manages to be both tender and have all sorts of crispy, crunchy bits. It’s the type of meal you’re going to want to share, not just because it tastes great (and makes a ton), but because it makes you look like a genius cook.

You bring these carnitas to one potluck or serve them at one party, and I *guarantee* you will have people asking you for the recipe and talking wistfully about them months later.


  • Vegetable oil: Traditional carnitas recipes use lard as their cooking fat, but we’ll use vegetable or canola oil today.
  • Pork shoulder roast: The best cut of meat for carnitas is pork shoulder AKA pork butt AKA Boston butt because it is well-marbled with fat and cooks up incredibly tender with a long braise.
  • Large onion: A yellow, white, or red onion all work here.
  • Lime juice: Just a bit of lime juice gives the pork a slightly tangy flavor.
  • Garlic and spices: Garlic and a mix of chili powder, oregano, and cumin help to flavor the pork as it braises.
  • Chicken broth: Using chicken broth as our braising liquid instead of water also helps boost the flavor of the pork as it cooks.

A Note on Bone-in vs Boneless Pork Shoulder Roasts: You’ll probably find both bone-in and boneless pork shoulder roasts at your grocery store. Either one works just fine for carnitas, but if you have a choice between the two at a comparable price, go with the boneless roast. The bone-in roasts have a Y-shaped bone that is a bit of a pain to get out cleanly.

If you do end up with a bone-in roast, the good thing is that they are so large and inexpensive that you don’t have to worry too much about getting every single last piece of meat off the bone. Just use a sharp knife (a boning knife if you own one) and slice the meat away from the bone as best you can until you are able to remove it. Don’t stress too much about it.Here’s a good video of someone doing a much nicer job of removing the bone than I usually manage.

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Preparing Pork Shoulder for Carnitas

As mentioned, pork shoulder is a pretty fatty piece of meat. Before cooking, you’ll want to remove the large fat cap (the thick layer of fat on one side of your roast) and cut away any silver skin (the thin, silvery blue membrane that sticks closely to the meat). Don’t worry about the smaller bits of fat marbled throughout the meat. Any fat that remains after braising can be picked out while shredding.

Then you just cut your roast into large chunks about the size of a lady’s fist, and you’re ready to start cooking.

PS: Don’t worry if your chunks don’t look pretty or are not completely even in size. You’re going to shred that pork so no one is ever going to know.

How to Make Carnitas

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There are three stages to making carnitas. Stages two and three are pretty hands-off, but step one will require your full attention, so make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you begin.

  1. Salt and brown the meat. Depending on how large your roast and Dutch oven are (this is the Dutch oven I always use for carnitas), you might need to do this in batches. You’ll want to brown all sides of your meat, so don’t crowd the pan too much, and this may take up to 15 minutes.
  2. Long, slow cooking time. After your meat is browned, you’ll add the onions, garlic, spices, lime juice, and enough chicken broth to mostly cover the meat. That all simmers covered for about two and a half hours, until your meat is tender enough to pull apart with a fork.
  3. Make it crispy. This is my favorite part. Now that your meat is nice and tender, you get to make it crispy too. You shred the meat, transfer it to a sheet pan, and let it crisp up in the oven at a high temp for 30 minutes, occasionally adding a little cooking liquid to keep it from drying out. As soon as you’ve got enough crispy edges for your liking, it’s done and you get to eat!


What to serve with pork carnitas?

Carnitas are super versatile. You can serve them inCarnitas Tacos, tostadas, or make sliders with them. Adding them to nachos, a salad, or made into Carnitas Enchiladasis also highly recommended.

For sides, as with something likeBeef StroganofforBraised Short Ribs, Carnitas are so rich that you probably want to stick to sides that aren’t too heavy. Something like Cilantro Rice, Skillet Mexican Zucchini,Mexican Coleslaw,Corn and Black Bean SaladorMexican Street Corn Salad would be perfect. And when in doubt, you can never go wrong with simple universal sides likeGreen BeansorSteamed Broccoli.

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What to do with leftover carnitas?

Store leftover carnitas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Drizzle with a couple extra tablespoons of the cooking liquid to help keep them moist before storing. Reheat in the microwave. Second-day carnitas are fantastic in quesadillas, burritos, and burrito bowls.

And not going to lie, it’s also pretty satisfying to stand in the refrigerator and eat cold carnitas leftovers plain the day after a party (they get better on day two!).

Can I freeze carnitas?

Yes! Because carnitas are a real time commitment and the cut of meat you need comes as a pretty large roast, even if you’re part of a small household and not cooking for guests, I still recommend making the full-size carnitas recipe rather than trying to cut it down because carnitas freeze really well.

Just freeze meal-sized batches with a few spoonfuls of the cooking liquid in freezer-safe plastic bags. When you’re ready for more carnitas, defrost in the refrigerator. To reheat, microwave until warm or spread on a baking sheet and bake, loosely covered with foil at 350°F until heated through (usually 10-15 minutes).

Remove the foil and broil on high for just a minute or two until the edges are crisp. (Heads up: If you’ve just cleaned your oven, you might want to skip this step. The carnitas pop and sizzle quite a bit as they broil.)

What kind of meat are carnitas?

Pork! Carnitas are made from nice, marbled (with fat) chunks of pork shoulder, which when braised over a long period of time become incredibly tender.

The nice thing about pork shoulder is that it’s readily available, and it’s usually very cheap. Here is Southern California, I often see it as low .99/ pound. So for parties, feeding a crowd, or even stocking your freezer with leftovers, this is a very low-cost meal option.

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You Might Also Enjoy

  • Homemade Carne Asada
  • Barbacoa Beef
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Salsa Chicken
  • Awesome Steak Fajitas

Carnitas Recipe Notes

If you’re making carnitas for an event, make sure to give yourself enough time to cook them. Between prepping the meat (especially if it’s bone-in), browning, the long, low simmer, and crisping time, carnitas always take longer than you expect, so allow yourself that time.

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Easy Carnitas Recipe

This Easy Carnitas Recipe makes amazing carnitas: rich, tender shredded pork with crispy, crunchy edges, perfect for tacos, burritos, or just eating by the forkful. Post includes step-by-step instructions and everything you ever wanted to know about making carnitas.

4.98 from 48 votes

Print Pin

Course: Dinner

Cuisine: Mexican

Prep Time: 45 minutes minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours hours

Total Time: 3 hours hours 45 minutes minutes

Servings (Hover or Click to Change Yield): 8 to 12 cups

Calories: 179kcal

Author: Tracy


Special Equipment


  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 4-6 pound pork shoulder roast boneless or bone-in, trimmed of fat cap and cut into fist-sized chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6-8 cups (3-4 14.5 ounce cans) chicken broth


  • Pre-measure all your ingredients, dice your onion, and prep your garlic. Once you get started cooking, things move fast.

  • Generously salt and pepper pork chunks on all sides.

  • In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, brown meat on all sides, in batches if necessary. This will take 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Add onion, garlic, lime juice, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and enough chicken broth so the meat is mostly covered. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until meat is tender and can be easily pulled apart with a fork.

  • Preheat oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with foil for easier cleanup. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer meat to a cutting board (reserve the broth) and use two forks to shred the meat. Transfer shredded meat to the baking sheet and spread it in an even layer over the surface. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid over the meat, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 10 minutes.

  • Drizzle a little more broth over the meat, cook 10 minutes more, and repeat for a total of 30 minutes, until edges are crispy and browned.

  • Serve and enjoy.


Approximate nutritional information is for 1/2 cup meat and assumes 25% braising liquid consumption.

Did you make this recipe?I'd love to see it! Tag @BakingMischief or hashtag it #BakingMischief.

Recipe Adapted From AllRecipes

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using them. There is absolutely no additional cost to you.

Easy Carnitas Recipe (2024)


What is the secret to good carnitas? ›

I've made carnitas many times using a completely different method and it turned out pretty good. But it is important to note that the traditional way to make carnitas is by slow cooking it in lard. I think it also gives it a more authentic taste. Seasoning- Salt, Mexican oregano, cumin, & black pepper.

What is carnitas seasoning made of? ›

Pork Carnitas Seasoning

Pork shoulder is extra flavorful thanks to kosher salt, a chopped onion, fresh garlic, lime juice, chili powder, dried oregano, and ground cumin.

What is the best meat to use for carnitas? ›

Pork shoulder: Traditionally, carnitas is made with pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) because of its higher fat content. The fat helps to keep the meat extremely juicy and tender while cooking.

What's the difference between pulled pork and carnitas? ›

Pulled Pork. Both carnitas and pulled pork are cooked slowly for several hours, and great to make in the slow cooker or instant pot. Unlike pulled pork, however, carnitas are finished by roasting the meat in the oven until browned and crisp.

Why do you add milk to carnitas? ›

Adding the oranges is very much like braising pork Cuban-style for the traditional cubano sandwich. The milk acts as a tenderizer, a secret I learned while growing up watching dad make his carnitas which, by the way, were always exceptionally tender.

Why do you put orange juice in carnitas? ›

The orange juice in the cooking liquid provides acidity that helps break down the meat so it's extra tender and juicy.

How do you add flavor to cooked carnitas? ›

Add Onion, Garlic and Citrus: Place the seasoned pork in the bottom of the slow cooker then add garlic, chopped onions, orange juice, and lime juice around it.

Why do Mexicans eat carnitas? ›

Carnitas is associated with festive occasions, and it's usually consumed during weekends, particularly on Sundays, the traditional “mercado”, or marketplace, day in Mexico. Carnitas vendors are a common, some would even say indispensable, sight at any tianguis (another word for marketplace!) in all states.

How do you keep pork carnitas moist? ›

However, to make our carnitas recipe a little more home-friendly, we slow-cook our pork with a few aromatics and a few tablespoons of oil to keep it moist. Our method produces moist and tender pork that's not quite as rich as the traditional lard-cooked version but is still quite delicious.

Is carnitas or al pastor better? ›

In short, if your goal is to prepare something yourself, carne al pastor is your best bet. It's easier to prepare than carnitas and just as flavorful. If, on the other hand, you are trying to decide what to order at El Pollo Norteno, the choice comes down to your personal preference.

What can I use instead of pork in carnitas? ›

Beef: You can use beef chuck roast or brisket to make carnitas. The beef will need to be cooked low and slow until it is tender and easy to shred. Chicken: You can also make carnitas using chicken thighs or legs. This is a great option if you prefer a lighter meat or if you don't eat pork.

Is barbacoa the same as Carnita? ›

Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish made with pork.

This is in contrast to barbacoa, which is made with beef. Carnitas means "little meats" in Spanish. It's a slow-cooked pork dish that is simmered until it becomes tender and juicy.

Do you drain carnitas? ›

Occasionally turn the pork pieces with a spatula, so that they brown evenly. Add the milk to the pot and continue to cook the pork for another 20 minutes, until the carnitas are golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the carnitas from the cooking pot and drain on paper towels.

Which is better barbacoa or carnitas? ›

Both types offer slowly braised and shredded meat, but carnitas are made from pork and a bit sweeter while barbacoa is made from beef and is spicier. One of the main flavor differences in Chipotle's carnitas recipe is a rather unexpected ingredient — juniper berries.

How do you keep pork carnitas from drying out? ›

Oven temps for perfect carnitas

For our carnitas, we want the temperature of the confit cooking fat to be about 200°F (93°C) or a little higher. At this temperature, we won't be drying out the surface of the meat cubes while we heat their centers.

How do you keep carnitas from drying out? ›

Just go for water, then. Water and a touch of neutral flavoured vegetable oil or lard or suet if you have any of those. And don't overdo the water, just sprinkle a few spoonsful and keep the meat covered. Another alternative is to add a bit extra water and then cook off the water when you're ready to serve.

How do restaurants cook carnitas? ›

They are braised until they are fall apart tender. Then they get roasted in the oven to make the outside crisp. So part of them should be soft, and part of the outside should be crusty. Some recipes don't crisp up the meat at the end but authentic carnitas should be crispped.

Should you sear carnitas before cooking? ›

Step One: The trick to getting the most flavorful carnitas, is to sear the pork before allowing it to braise for hours. First, season the pork with a liberal sprinkle of salt and then sear the pork pieces on both sides until golden brown in avocado oil. Browning the meat helps to develop a rich deep flavor.

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