This authentic carnitas recipe brings rich Mexican flavors to your dinner table. The ultra-tender and juicy pork meat is perfect to make tacos, tortas, and burritos!
Pork carnitas, also known as carnitas Michoacanas, is a traditional Mexican dish made with pork meat slowly cooked in pork lard. The name means in Spanish “little meats”.
The cooking process involves first searing the pork in hot lard. Then, the heat is reduced, and the pork is slowly cooked in the lard until it becomes tender and easily shreds apart.
Once the pork is cooked, it is traditionally served by chopping the tender meat into smaller pieces, including crispy bits and caramelized edges, and then serving on a large platter with various sides such as salsa, chiles en vinagre (pickled chiles), and corn tortillas.
- Pork Meat: The best meat to use for carnitas is fat cuts such as pork belly, pork shoulder, ribs, and pork rinds. Lean cuts such as pork tenderloin are also good for balance.
- Manteca: The authentic carnitas recipe is always made with pork lard, a.k.a. manteca. That’s the way is made in Michoacán and in all states in Mexico!
- Aromatics: You’ll need only garlic cloves and a few bay leaves.
- Salt: Dissolve in water to make the brine.
- Piloncillo (optional): I used a bit of ground piloncillo to add color and a little bit of sweetness to the meat. It also adds a slightly smoky taste to the final dish. Or feel free to substitute 1 and a half cups of Coke.
- Orange (optional): Orange gives a sweet kick and wonderful aroma to the homemade recipe. The peel and juice of a medium orange will be enough.
How To Make Authentic Carnitas Recipe
Wash thoroughly the pork meat under cold water. Dry it well with kitchen paper towels and cut it into large chunks of the same size.
Heat the lard in a large heavy pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Then carefully, add the pork meat, orange peel, bay leaves, and garlic cloves. Mix well.
TOP TIP: Don’t worry if the meat is not fully submerged in the lard, it will be after it cooks a bit and shrink.
Bring lard to a gentle boil over medium heat and allow the meat to cook for about 20 minutes mixing from time to time.
Meanwhile, mix salt and water in a large cup.
Set heat to low and carefully, add the water mixture to the pot. Mix well and allow everything to cook for 30 minutes.
After that time, add the pork rinds in batches to the pot (if you want to add some), and use a wooden spoon to submerge them into the hot lard.
Mix the ground piloncillo (or brown sugar) and orange juice in a small cup and pour the mixture into the pot.
Keep cooking gently mixing from time to time and pushing the meat into the liquid. This is how they look after cooking for 1 hour:
Continue the cooking until the meat is nicely browned and lightly crispy on the outside, and super tender on the inside.
This will take from 1 to 2 hours in total. Keep an eye on the pot so the meat won’t stick to the bottom and burn.
Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon and place it in a large strainer over a baking sheet or tray to remove excess fat.
Your authentic carnitas recipe is ready! Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board. Chop the meat using a large chopper butcher knife or shred it using two forks.
Place the shredded pork on a large serving platter and bring it to the table along with tortillas, salsa of choice, lime wedges, and pickled chilies.
Expert Tips & Notes
To achieve the perfect and authentic carnitas recipe, follow those simple tips…
- I strongly recommend using some fat cuts to make this recipe. pork shoulder (pork butt), ribs, or pork belly are all perfect. The fat helps keep the meat moist and flavorful during the slow cooking process.
- For an authentic carnitas recipe, use pork lard. You can also use bacon drippings for added flavor.
- This traditional Mexican recipe requires slow cooking to achieve the desired meat tenderness. Low and slow is the key. Simmer the pork over low heat in a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot, allowing it to cook slowly and absorb flavors. This can take several hours, but the result is worth it.
- The cooking time will vary and depends on factors such as the size of the pork cuts you added, the heat, and even the type of pot you’re using. Keep an eye on the meat while cooking and control the heat temperature, never let the lard smoke!
- You can add other spices and aromatics to the authentic carnitas recipe. Think of a teaspoon of dried oregano, ground cumin, black pepper, or chili powder.
What To Serve With Pork Carnitas
The authentic carnitas recipe can be served in various ways, depending on personal preferences and regional culinary traditions. Here are my recommended sides and garnishes for serving it:
- Tortillas: Tortillas are a must for serving this traditional dish. You can choose corn or flour tortillas. In central and south Mexico, blue corn tortillas are a popular choice.
- Salsa: You have so many choices here! I recommend a salsa taquera or guacamole salsa, but feel free to browse our collection of Mexican salsas and go with your favorite.
- Garnishes: Pico de gallo and pickled chilies are common garnishes for this dish. Some people like to add chopped onions and cilantro for freshness.
- Limes: A squeeze of fresh lime juice is mandatory!
Store & Reheat
Now that you know how an authentic carnitas recipe is made, let me show you how to store and reheat the leftovers…
Allow the meat to cool down to room temperature and then transfer it to an airtight container (I recommend glass containers). Store in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.
You can also freeze carnitas and I strongly recommend you do so! This allows you to have them ready to make a quick lunch or dinner any time you want.
To freeze them, transfer them to a resealable bag or a freeze-proof container, label them with the date of preparation, and store them for up to 2-3 months.
- If they’re frozen, remove them from the freezer and thaw them in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
- Reheat in a skillet or pan on the stovetop with a bit of lard or oil, stirring constantly over medium-high heat.
- Or, reheat them in the oven at 350°F (175°C) under the broil. Cover them with foil before reheating to prevent them from drying out.
- Or, reheat in the microwave on medium power in 30-second intervals, stirring between intervals.
Why do they put Coke in carnitas?
The use of Coke (Coca-Cola) in carnitas is a technique that some Mexican cooks employ in their recipes to add flavor and enhance the caramelization process during the cooking of the pork. While not a traditional ingredient in authentic carnitas recipes, it has gained popularity in certain regions and among home cooks as a flavor-enhancing agent.
What is carnitas Michoacaán?
Carnitas Michoacán is a specific style of carnitas that originates from the state of Michoacán in Mexico. It is highly regarded for its unique cooking technique and flavor profile. The recipe is traditionally made using large chunks of pork, including various cuts like shoulder, ribs, and skin, rather than the more common use of pork shoulder/butt in other popular and homemade recipes. The pork is cooked slowly in a large copper or cast-iron pot called cazo de cobre or caldero over an open fire or a low flame.
It is important to note that the carnitas Michoacanas don’t make use of herbs, spices, or other ingredients (like citrus juice or Coke).
Are carnitas the same as pulled pork?
No. The authentic carnitas recipe has deep roots in Mexican cuisine and is associated with Mexican flavors and culinary traditions. Pulled pork, is often associated with American barbecue culture, particularly in the southern states.
The two dishes are also cooked using different methods.
More Mexican Pork Recipes
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Authentic Carnitas Recipe
- 1 Large heavy pot or dutch oven
- 1 Large strainer + baking tray
- 3 pound pork shoulder
- 3 pound pork ribs
- 1 pound pork skin (optional)
- 2 pound pork lard
- 1 small orange (peel and juice)
- 1 ½ Tablespoons piloncillo (or brown sugar)
- 4 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 ½ Tablespoon salt
- Wash the meat and the rinds under cold water. Pat dry them with kitchen paper towels and cut everything into large chunks of the same size.
- Heat the lard in a large heavy pot over medium heat.
- Carefully, add the meat, orange peel, bay leaves, and garlic cloves. Mix well.
- Bring lard to a gentle boil over medium heat and allow the meat to cook for 20 minutes mixing from time to time.
- In a large cup or bowl mix the salt with water until well dissolved.
- Set heat to low and, carefully and slowly, add the water mixture to the pot.
- Mix well and allow everything to cook for 30 minutes.
- After that time, add the pork rinds in batches to the pot, and use a spoon to submerge them into the hot lard.
- Mix the ground piloncillo (or brown sugar) and orange juice in a small cup and pour the mixture into the pot.
- Cook mixing from time to time and pushing the meat into the liquid, until the carnitas are golden brown and crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside. This will take from 1 to 2 hours.
- Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon and place it in a large strainer over a baking sheet or tray to remove excess fat.
- Allow carnitas to sit for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cutting board.
- Chop the meat using a large chopper butcher knife or shred it using two forks.
- Place the shredded pork on a large serving platter and bring it to the table along with tortillas, salsa of choice, lime wedges, and pickled chilies.
- I recommend using some fat cuts to make this recipe. pork shoulder (pork butt), ribs, or pork belly are all perfect.
- Low and slow is the key. Simmer the pork over low heat, allowing it to cook slowly and absorb flavors. This can take several hours, but the result is worth it.
- Never let the lard reach a smoke point. Keep an eye on the meat while cooking and control the heat temperature.
- You can use this pork carnitas recipe to make tacos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, and much more!
- Carnitas can be stored in the fridge for up to 4-5 days or can be frozen for up to 2-3 months.
Maricruz Avalos Flores is a Mexican cook and photographer living in Italy where she shares authentic Mexican & Italian recipes that can be easily made at home using easy-to-find ingredients.