Well, now you can enjoy your own Carnitas Tacos (or burritos) in the comfort of your abode. Just check out the video halfway down below to see my recipe directions presented in an easy-to-follow and fun stop motion animated style.
Carnitas are easy to prepare with minimum ingredients. I'm sure every Taqueria has it's own recipe, so feel free to change mine to suit the ingredients you can find. Mainly you need a hunk of pork, onion, garlic, bay leaves, dried or fresh oregano and water. I also added orange juice and a bottle of Mexican coke.
You can use any cola really, but I would stay away from diet - what you are looking for is the cola flavor with real sugar sweetness. And fresh squeezed, pasteurized or frozen orange juice is fine. (To strip the Carnitas recipe down even more, it's okay to leave out these flavorful liquids.)
My local Latin markets sell their own cooked Carnitas in heated deli cases for more than $7 per pound. But I have a new Latin market (Superior Grocers) within walking distance that has been selling freshly butchered pork shoulder for less than 99 cent per pound. It comes partially wrapped in skin, that you cut away -- although I use a big piece of it for extra flavor in my simmering one-pot recipe. And pork shoulder comes in large 5-8 pound hunk, so you can make enough for a party - I got about 20 tacos out of this recipe.
The trickiest part is prepping a shoulder of pork. It takes a bit of work and you need a sharp knife. An easy substitution is a large package of sliced meaty pork Country-Style ribs. (Don't use spareribs as they are skimpy with the meat.) And at the end of this post under Hindsight, I also have directions for cooking a whole pork shoulder - the easy way.
If you don't want to toss out and waste the skin, you can fry it up for chicharrones (my recipe for Chicharron Tacos is up next) -- or what they call it in the South: Fried Pork Cracklins. I also cut the meat off the bone and added the bone to the pot as well. (To get a crispy exterior on the meat, you do need to have enough fat so the meat slow fries during the last hour of simmering.) Of course, you can drain the pork and skim off the fat when you are done cooking.
I included a couple of techniques to make extra crispy Carnitas. All it takes is baking some of the larger cooked pieces for 15 minutes. Unfortunately, the most tasty way to crisp up cooked Carnitas is by deep frying some of it - but you don't need fry it all up, just a few big pieces. Of course, you can serve it right from the pot, chop it up, and make your tacos and/or burritos.
For the typical street Carnitas Taco all you add is a sprinkling of chopped onion, cilantro and some salsa. I also have a tasty Pico de Gallo salsa (click here) you can easily make. For an Americano version just top with shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, American cheese, and your favorite cheapie jar of gringo salsa.
If you are burrito bound, then go all out and cook up my Mom's Mexican Rice (recipe here,) and simply heat up a can of pinto beans to stuff into the burrito. (My Breakfast Burrito recipe breaks it all down for you, just click here.) Now most markets carry flour tortillas as well as whole wheat.
My Carnitas recipe uses humble and cheap ingredients slow-cooked together. You do have to have patience though, it takes about 3 hours of simmering, but it's worth the wait. And you'll have enough Carnitas for a Taco Party!
20 Tacos, Carnitas Recipe - Video
Play it here, video runs 3 minutes, 29 seconds.
And check back for plenty of taco blogging and recipes during my March Taco Month, including: part 2 of my Carnitas recipe, Chicharron Tacos, and a cautionary taco tale video with the most outrageous ending I've come up with yet !
To view video or embed from YouTube, click here.
- 1 pork shoulder (or butt) - about 4 to 7 pounds. Remove meat from around bone. Cut into large chunks - anywhere from 3 to 6 inch pieces. Thick and meaty pork country style ribs (not the thinner short ribs) are a "no chopping needed" substitution.
- 1 onion - roughly chopped
- 1 head of garlic - about 8 whole peeled cloves.
- 1/2 cup of orange juice - optional. Fresh squeezed or frozen.
- Juice of one lemon - about a 1/4 cup, fresh or from plastic bottle. (Not included in the video, but I've been adding it lately.)
- 1 12 ounce bottle of Mexican cola - optional. Okay to use a regular cola (but not diet.) If you don't use a coke then add a tablespoon of sugar, or a favorite sweetener like honey.
- 3 cups of water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Sharpen your knife and cut off meat from bone of the pork butt. Cut into approximately six inch (or smaller) pieces - this will help pork tenderize quicker and gives more surface area for browning. Don't worry about trimming off the fat at this stage -- you can remove any offending fat chunks just before serving. (Personally, I like me some small pieces of pork fat.)
If you don't want to deal with butchery, then substitute pork shoulder with a large package of country style sliced pork ribs. They have plenty of meat, bone and a bit of fat (but don't trim it all off ). So they are ready to cook right out of the package!
In a large pot add meat and bone. You can add or discard skin. I added a 6 inch piece of skin to the pot for the flavor of it. (For the final cooking stage you will remove the pork and bake it or fry it -- so the fat rendered from the skin is not used.) You could also use a crock pot and let it slow cook all day, like you would a pot roast.
Roughly chop one whole onion. Peel one whole head of garlic - you want at least 8 whole cloves of garlic.
Add veggies to pot. Pour in 3 cups of water, one cup of orange juice, and a bottle or can of coke. Sprinkle on a tablespoon of dried oregano, plus 2 whole bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
On your stovetop, bring the cooking pot to a boil. Once it's boiling, reduce heat to a low simmer (low/medium heat) and cook covered for 2 hours, then uncovered for about another hour until meat seperates easily with a fork.
You are cooking the Carnitas uncovered for the last hour so the broth reduces and intensifies and the meat becomes more flavorful.
The meat will contract and shrink as the broth cooks down by half, so you shouldn't have to add more liquid. Just make sure to rotate the meat and bone a few times during simmering so all sides evenly cook through.
After 3 hours take out a large-sized piece of boiled pork, let it cool for a minute, then see if it shreds apart easily with a fork and knife. If not then keep cooking in half hour increments until fall-apart tender. When Carnitas are tender turn off the heat and allow the meat to just sit in the broth for 5-10 minutes, so the meat softens even more while soaking up all the delicious pot-liquor deliciousness.
You can drizzle on some of the "pot liquor" or broth if you are storing the Carnitas to serve later. Or if you are keeping it warm in the oven, make sure to drizzle on plenty and cover, so Carnitas don't dry out. (Save the chopping until the last minute.) And save a couple cups of pot liquor. It's great drizzled over Mexican Rice.
The above method is the easiest way to make Carnitas. This is the way I've seen it done by outdoor sidewalk vendors -- just a vat of pork, intestines, stomach, chorizo and other parts, slow cooking for hours in the rendered fat and broth. Under Hindsight below, I write about how to closer follow the way they do it on the street.
You can top Carnitas Tacos with my Pico de Gallo (recipe here); or simply with chopped onion and cilantro. For a Carnitas Burrito, my Mom's Mexican Rice (here) and a heated can of pinto beans, along with the above mentioned chopped veggies, is the classic taco stand method. If you have a favorite salsa then use that...and don't forget the hot sauce!
I've also had Carnitas with a crispy crust. You can deep-fry or roast the largest chunks of braised pork. And here's how I do it.
This is a lean way. Just add the larger chunks of tender braised pork to a roasting pan and bake about 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees. To keep the pork extra moist add some of the pork broth to the roasting pan, just enough to barely cover the bottom. You just want to lightly brown some of the pork pieces for crunch. Don't worry about all the small boiled bits, just add them to the larger roasted pieces and chop them up all together, just before serving.
I hate to say it, but this is the tastiest method, and also the most greasy. You want a wide pan to add oil an inch deep. Heat oil until hot over a medium/high heat. Carefully add the larger pieces of boiled (braised) pork to the hot oil (you can add the pork then heat the oil, to reduce splattering.) Watch carefully as the pieces brown along the bottom edges. Turn pieces as they brown on a couple of sides. It takes about 3-5 minutes for each side to brown.
For safer deep frying it's okay to slow fry pork over a low/medium heat, it just takes longer, about 10 minutes each side.
You don't have to fry it all, just some of the larger pieces. I like the mix of tender and crunchy fried pieces -- all chopped together. And don't forget to drizzle-on some of the pungent broth for extra flavor.
In my recipe above I cut the meat from the bone, but if you have a large enough pot you can boil the pork butt (or shoulder) whole, with the skin on. Just add another hour or two of extra cooking time. It takes longer to tenderize the meat all the way to the bone. If the outer pieces of meat break off, or are tender, it's okay to remove pieces and set them aside, until all the meat is tender.
When you hangout at a Taqueria or a makeshift taco stand, Carnitas are usually mixed with other meats in a large caldero (extra-wide metal skillet) and slow-cooked in liquid for hours. The liquid is lard or pork fat, and seasoned marinade.
For my version above, I break the recipe into two steps. First cooking the meat in a marinade, then crisping on the stove top in oil, or baking the meat in the oven.
I've made this recipe a few times so here's a refined version. Go ahead and follow the boiling directions above. And make sure to add the pork skin so there is rendered fat.
But when it comes to crisping the meat, I like to spoon out the fat from the pot into a wide skillet, and add a couple cups of the marinade into the skillet, too. That means you don't have to add any other oil, just from the boiling skin and meat. You just need enough fat and marinade to half-cover the meat. Half oil and marinade keeps the meat moist, and the hot fat crisps it up.
Now, over a low/medium heat, you slow cook the Carnitas for another half hour or more, turning the chunks of meat a few times to braise/fry all the sides. This liquid mixture keeps the meat moist. Add more marinade from the pot as it cooks down - if needed.
If you are cooking for a taco party this is a good method because you can have the meat braising slowly until ready to serve.
For storing any leftover Carnitas, make sure to add a cup or two of cooked marinade to container, so the meat stays moist and you have some liquid to heat it up with.