How to Make Carnitas

by Christina Kalinowski ; Updated September 28, 2017

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

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.