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.

Close-up of authentic carnitas michoacanas.

Ingredients

  • 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.
Various cuts of pork meat to make carnitas, in an enamel dish.

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.

Adding pork meat to the pot with hot lard.

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.

Pork meat in a pot slightly cooked.

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.

Added water with salt to the pot with pork meat.

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.

Adding pork rinds to 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:

Pork meat carnitas after 1 hour of cooking.

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.

Showing fully cooked pork carnitas with a slotted spoon.
This is how it looks the authentic carnitas recipe!

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.

Authentic carnitas placed in a strainer.

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!

Optional Sides

A platter of authentic carnitas recipe Michoacán style with various sides, seen from above.

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.

Reheating instructions

  • 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.

FAQ

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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Video

Authentic carnitas recipe from Michoacán.

Authentic Carnitas Recipe

10 -12 servings
This authentic pork carnitas recipe is made on the stovetop. Carnitas Michoacanas have a wonderful golden texture and are super tender on the inside, they're perfect make tacos, burritos, and much more!
prep 10 minutes
cook 3 hours 30 minutes
total 3 hours 40 minutes

Equipment

  • 1 Large heavy pot or dutch oven
  • 1 Large strainer + baking tray

Ingredients 

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

  • 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.
Nutrition Information
Serving: 1 serving | Calories: 772kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 59g | Fat: 57g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 22g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 175mg | Sodium: 2026mg | Potassium: 536mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 51IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 49mg | Iron: 2mg
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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.

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Recipe Rating




22 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This tasted so close to my favorite Mexican restaurant. I’m so happy that I can enjoy it at home whenever I want now!

  2. 5 stars
    This was everything a gourmet meal should be, and then some! Was super easy and delicious; my whole family loved it!

  3. 5 stars
    The tip about low and slow changed my life! Just tried it yesterday with my carnitas and they turned out so good!

  4. 5 stars
    We had friends over for dinner and I made this for them. They loved it so much they asked for the recipe. It was delicious.

  5. 5 stars
    Yum! Such a delish recipe and much better than carnitas I enjoy at my local Mexican restaurant (and theirs are good!). This is one of those dishes that is perfect for our Sunday family dinners – and, of course, Taco Tuesday!

  6. 5 stars
    When I found this recipe I was so excited to get an authentic carnitas dinner at home and it turned out wonderfully. Will be making it again.

  7. 5 stars
    Enjoyed this for dinner last night and it was a savory success! Turned out tender, juicy and delicious; easily, a new favorite recipe!

  8. 5 stars
    I had no idea that so many cuts of pork were used in carnitas. But these were the best carnitas I’ve ever made!

  9. 5 stars
    This recipe was a revelation! The tender, flavorful pork melted in my mouth, and the crispy edges were irresistible. Tasting the essence of Michoacán’s cuisine was a culinary adventure I won’t forget. A must-try for anyone seeking true Mexican flavors!

  10. 5 stars
    Navigating through your post on authentic carnitas was a delightful journey, indeed! The recipe you’ve shared is, without a doubt, a treasure that resonates with genuine Mexican cuisine. The descriptive details on technique, coupled with your knack for simplicity, truly allow the richness and depth of flavors to shine through. This is undeniably a gem in the digital world of cooking!

  11. 5 stars
    Enjoyed this for dinner last night and it was a savory success! Turned out perfectly tender, juicy and flavorful; easily, a new favorite recipe!

  12. 5 stars
    Soft, moist and juicy. I love the orange flavor and the tenderness of the meat. Delicious anyday.

  13. 5 stars
    This Authentic Carnitas Recipe is an absolute winner – tender, succulent, and bursting with rich flavors that take me straight to the streets of Mexico.

  14. 5 stars
    Sometimes it is nice to slow down from the hectic pace of life and cook a meal in a slow and authentic way. Thanks for thorough instructions on how to make authentic carnitas. Would love to try these as tacos!