How to Make Carnitas

by Christina Kalinowski

Items you will need

  • Pork shoulder, butt or ribs
  • Lard
  • Large, heavy saucepan
  • Lime zest (optional)
  • Salt
  • Paper towels

Carnitas, or "little meats," are a traditional Mexican comfort food, made of pork slowly simmered in lard until just tender, then fried until golden brown. This cooking method results in slightly crisp, savory, melt-in-your-mouth morsels of meat. Less traditional interpretations substitute water, stock or orange juice for lard to reduce the calories. Usually made from cubed chunks of pork shoulder, cuts that contain a fair amount of fat, including butt or ribs, can also be used for carnitas. Pair carnitas with tortillas, salsa and guacamole for a festive meal.

Slow-Fry Method

Step 1

Trim most of the fat from the pork, leaving only a thin layer. Cut the pork into small cubes. Add the lard to a large, heavy saucepan, melting it gradually but completely over medium-low heat. Add the pork and a small amount of water. Add lime zest, if desired.

Step 2

Simmer the pork until barely tender, approximately 40 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high to boil off the water. Cook the pork for an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently, letting the meat shred, until the carnitas turn a light golden brown.

Step 3

Remove the carnitas from the pan and spread them on paper towels to drain excess grease. Sprinkle with salt and serve them hot.

Boil-Then-Fry Method

Step 1

Trim most of the fat from the pork, leaving only a thin layer. Cut the pork into small cubes and put them in a large saucepan. Add enough water to completely cover the meat. Add lime zest, if desired. Bring it to medium heat.

Step 2

Simmer the pork in the saucepan, partially covered, until barely tender, approximately 40 minutes. Uncover the pan and increase the heat to medium-high to boil off the water. Cook the pork in its own rendered lard for an additional 30 minutes. Stir frequently, letting the meat shred, until the carnitas turn a light golden brown.

Step 3

Remove the carnitas from the pan and spread them on paper towels to drain excess grease. Sprinkle with salt and serve them hot.

Tips

  • Use an open-kettle rendered lard.

    Carnitas can be made several days ahead. Heat pre-made or leftover carnitas in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered, until hot and crisp.

    Instead of lard, substitute orange juice, water, meat or vegetable stock or a combination of those liquids to cook carnitas. Add seasonings such as cinnamon, oregano, cumin and bay leaves to inject more flavor into the pork as it cooks.

References (3)

Photo Credits

  • Alfredo Tisi/Demand Media

About the Author

Christina Kalinowski is a writer from the Twin Cities who began her career in 2011. She contributes food and drink related articles to The Daily Meal. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from Purdue University.