Carnitas are probably one of the most popular taco fillings of all time, and for good reason- the tender, crackly, savory Mexican version of pulled pork needs little else except a little bit of diced onion and cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and a bit of salsa to make a tasty meal. However, many cooks are often disappointed when they try to replicate this taqueria classic at home. Why?
For starters, most restaurants achieve that perfect crispy-yet-juicy texture by deep frying, shredding, and then crisping chunks of seasoned pork shoulder in five-gallon vats of hot lard (which retains and builds flavor with each subsequent batch of carnitas cooked in it). Since most home kitchens don’t have that kind of equipment, some home cooks try deep frying in small batches, which produces a crispy texture, but often comes up lacking in terms of flavor. To boost flavor and cut back on the fat, other cooks replace the lard with a liquid, usually a combination of stock and orange juice, but these recipes fall short on texture.
This recipe strives for the best of both worlds by using both techniques, frying and braising, with an extra few minutes under the broiler at the end to crisp the shredded pork. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can also braise the browned pork in a covered Dutch oven at 275° F for 3 hours or until the meat easily shreds using a fork.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 (4-5 pound) lean boneless pork roast, excess fat trimmed, cut into 3-inch chunks
- 1 cup beer (or chicken stock)
- 1 large orange
- 1 large white onion, quartered
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tablespoon chipotle powder (or 1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced)
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Heat oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the pork and sear on each side until browned (about 1-2 minutes per side). Transfer pork to the slow cooker.
Add the pork and spices to the slow cooker, and nestle in the onions and garlic cloves. Cut orange in half, and squeeze juice over pork. Pour in beer or chicken stock, and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours until the pork is completely tender and shreds easily with a fork.
Once the pork is cooked, discard the orange halves, onions, garlic, bay leaves, and cinammon stick. Use a fork to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces, and then use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the prepared baking sheets, spreading the pork in an even layer. Reserve the juices let behind behind in the slow cooker.
Place one baking sheet under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the pork begin browning and crisping up. Remove the sheet from the oven, then ladle about 1/4 cup of the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the pork, and then give it a good toss with some tongs. Broil for an additional 5 minutes to get the meat crispier, then remove and ladle an additional 1/4 cup of broth over the crispy pork.
Repeat with the other baking sheet of pork.
Serve in tacos, burritos, salads, or whatever else you like. This pork can also be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days, or frozen in a sealed container for up to 3 months.
last updated August 17, 2023