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    Published April 26, 2024. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

    This traditional Mexican Carnitas Recipe of pre-seasoned pork is slow-fried in lard with spices, oranges, limes, and onions until tender and extremely flavorful. Once you try these, you may never return to your favorite Mexican restaurant again.

    We eat Latin food weekly at our house, and we love the flavors that much. If you’re the same, you must try my Tamales or Camarones a la Diabla.

    carnitas in a bowl with limes


     

    Carnitas

    Carnitas is a Mexican specialty of browned slow-cooked pork in fat until it easily shreds apart. It can also be cooked in water until tender and then fried in fat until golden brown. The word carnitas translates to little meats because of the finished product, which is bite-size pieces. It’s commonly served with salsa and as the filling in tacos.

    There are many variations of carnitas, and now two recipes are the same. The recipe I did is based on the popular version from Michoacan, Mexico, which adds spices, orange juice, milk, and sometimes cola. I’ve learned from working in the restaurant industry with many Latin people that you use what you have and what you like to make it work for you. 

    Ingredients and Substitutions

    carnitas ingredients
    • Pork – I used a combination of pork shoulder, spareribs, and pork skin, better known as cuerito. Additional cuts of pork that will work are loin head, shoulder end of a pork loin, or pork belly. You can use all these cuts in a combination. If you only want to use one cut, then I recommend the pork shoulder.
    • Lard — This recipe traditionally uses pork lard. However, you can also use a neutral-flavored oil, like avocado.
    • Citrus — I combined oranges and limes to create sour orange juice. You can substitute both for Naranja Agria.
    • Spices — This is subjective, as other spices can also be used. However, I went with bay leaves, dry oregano, and dry thyme. Other traditional spices are cinnamon or dry marjoram.
    • Milk – Evaporated milk is the class ingredient, although regular whole milk can be used.
    • Onion — This recipe can use red, white, yellow, or sweet onion. You’ll also need some whole garlic cloves.

    How to Make Carnitas

    Cut the pork into roughly 1-pound pieces.

    cutting pork

    Place them on a rack over a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Generously season the pork on all sides with salt. You’ll most likely use 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for 4 to 48 hours.

    seasoning cuts of pork

    Take the pork from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature to take the chill off.

    dry brined pork

    In the meantime, heat the lard in a large 2 ½ to 3-gallon rondeau or pot over medium heat until it reaches 325°.

    heating lard in a pot

    Add in the pork shoulder and cook while constantly stirring for 30 minutes.

    frying pork

    Next, add the ribs and cook for 30 minutes while constantly stirring.

    adding ribs to a pot of lard and cooked pork

    While the pork is cooking, add the oregano, thyme, and bay leaves to a piece of cheesecloth and tie it tight with butcher’s twine to make a sachet de spice.

    adding spices and bay leaves to cheese cloth

    Once the ribs have been in the oil for 30 minutes, add onions, garlic, orange juice and oranges, lime juice and limes, sachet, salt, and evaporated milk. Stir everything together.

    adding milk to carnitas with oranges and limes

    If you have the pork skin, lay the dried cuerto over the top and cook for 50 to 60 minutes while stirring everything every 4 to 5 minutes so nothing gets stuck.

    frying pork skin with carnitas

    The pork should be at least 190° internally and can reach 205° if you like it shredded.

    cooked carnitas in lard

    Remove the pork pieces from the lard, set them aside on a rack over a sheet tray, and let it rest for 10 minutes.

    resting carnitas on a rack

    Remove any bones and cut the pork down into bite-sized pieces.

    seasoning shredded carnitas

    Toss it with lime juice and salt, and serve it with additional limes or carnitas tacos.

    shredded pork carnitas

    Make-Ahead and Storage

    Make-Ahead: You can make this up to 30 minutes ahead of time. Keep it warm in the oven, covered in foil, at low temperatures (200°) until it’s ready to be served.

    How to Store: Cover and keep it in the refrigerator for five days. You can freeze this covered for up to 3 months. Thaw the carnitas in the refrigerator until thawed before reheating.

    How to Reheat: Add the desired amount of pork carnitas to a medium-sized pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and heat over low heat until warm.

    Chef Billy Parisi

    Chef Notes + Tips

    • You can leave the bones on the cuts of pork, no problem.
    • After 20 minutes of cooking, fond will collect on the bottom of the pot, even in the lard. I use the same technique when searing protein: I take the pork shoulder and ribs chunks and move them around the bottom of the pan to help create a darker, more flavorful Maillard crust.
    • If you use pig skin, I like to soak it in water with a little bit of salt 60 minutes before cooking it. This can help remove any impurities and soften them as well. Right before cooking it, I take it out of the water and give it a quick dry on paper towels.
    • The heat of the lard will naturally come down with the cold pork and will hang around 250° to 275°, which is perfect for a long cook in fat.
    • The milk’s calcium softens the pork protein by reacting with the enzymes.
    • When the oil cools, strain it through a coffee filter, label it, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks. If it isn’t dark, you can use it for 3 to 4 more deep fries or as the cooking fat in your other recipes.

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    Carnitas Recipe

    5 from 1 vote
    This Mexican Carnitas Recipe of seasoned pork is slow-fried in lard with spices, oranges, limes, and onions until tender and flavorful.
    Servings: 10 to 12
    Prep Time: 25 minutes
    Cook Time: 2 hours

    Ingredients 

    • 3 ½ pound bone-in pork shoulder, cut onto large 1 pound chunks
    • 1 rack St. Louis sparerib, cut into 3 to 4 bone pieces
    • 2 12 ” x 6” fresh pork skin cueritos, , optional
    • 4 pounds of lard
    • 1 peeled yellow onion cut into quarters
    • 8 garlic cloves
    • 2 oranges and juice
    • 2 limes and juice
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 tablespoons dry oregano
    • 2 tablespoons dry thyme
    • 12 ounce can evaporated milk
    • lime juice to taste
    • coarse salt to taste

    Instructions

    • Cut the pork shoulder into roughly 1-pound pieces. Cut the ribs into 3-4 bone chinks.
    • Place them on a rack over a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Generously season the pork on all sides with salt. You’ll most likely use 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for 4 to 48 hours.
    • Take the pork from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature to take the chill off.
    • In the meantime, heat the lard in a large 2 ½ to 3-gallon rondeau or pot over medium heat until it reaches 325°.
    • Add in the pork shoulder and cook while constantly stirring for 30 minutes.
    • Next, add in the ribs and cook for an additional 30 minutes while constantly stirring.
    • While the pork is cooking, add the oregano, thyme, and bay leaves to a piece of cheesecloth and tie it tight with butcher’s twine to make a sachet de spice.
    • Once the ribs have been in the oil for 30 minutes, add onions, garlic, orange juice and oranges, lime juice and limes, sachet, salt, and evaporated milk. Stir everything together.
    • If you have the pork skin, lay the dried cuerito over top and cook for 50 to 60 minutes while stirring everything, every 4 to 5 minutes so that nothing gets stuck.
    • The pork should be at least 190° internally and can reach 205° if you like it shredded.
    • Remove the pork pieces from the lard, set aside on a rack over a sheet tray, and let it rest for 10 minutes.
    • Remove any bones and cut the pork down to bitesize pieces.
    • Toss it with lime juice and salt, and serve it with additional limes, or in carnitas tacos.

    Notes

    Make-Ahead: You can make this up to 30 minutes ahead of time. Keep it warm in the oven, covered in foil, at low temperatures (200°) until it’s ready to be served.
    How to Store: Cover and keep it in the refrigerator for five days. You can freeze this covered for up to 3 months. Thaw the carnitas in the refrigerator until thawed before reheating.
    How to Reheat: Add the desired amount of pork carnitas to a medium-sized pan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water and heat over low heat until warm.
    You can leave the bones on the cuts of pork, no problem.
    After 20 minutes of cooking, fond will collect on the bottom of the pot, even in the lard. I use the same technique when searing protein: I take the pork shoulder and ribs chunks and move them around the bottom of the pan to help create a darker, more flavorful Maillard crust.
    If you use pig skin, I like to soak it in water with a little bit of salt 60 minutes before cooking it. This can help remove any impurities and soften them as well. Right before cooking it, I take it out of the water and give it a quick dry on paper towels.
    The heat of the lard will naturally come down with the cold pork and will hang around 250° to 275°, which is perfect for a long cook in fat.
    The milk’s calcium softens the pork protein by reacting with the enzymes.
    When the oil cools, strain it through a coffee filter, label it, and store it in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks. If it isn’t dark, you can use it for 3 to 4 more deep fries or as the cooking fat in your other recipes.

    Nutrition

    Calories: 638kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 24gFat: 57gSaturated Fat: 42gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 0.02gCholesterol: 82mgSodium: 143mgPotassium: 560mgFiber: 2gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 239IUVitamin C: 23mgCalcium: 148mgIron: 2mg
    Course: Main
    Cuisine: Mexican