Carnitas are tender and juicy pieces of pork that are slow-cooked in rendered fat and flavored with orange and seasonings. Then it's shredded and fried to create deliciously crisp and golden edges while still keeping some tender pieces that melt in your mouth. How does that sound?
There are so many recipes out there for carnitas. Some have colas or sweetened condensed milk but my version does not. I found the best flavor develops when the pork is left to cook without those add-ins. This is full of flavor with only a handful of ingredients and tastes incredible!
Pork and pork fat in itself sounds delicious. Season with some salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, and garlic, and you have a dream team. Let’s not forget the orange!
As for adding colas or sweetened condensed milk, that isn’t for me. I stay away from using sweetened sodas for cooking. Those would be used to promote browning. My version uses orange juice concentrate which is all natural. It provides the perfect sweetness and caramelization when we fry the pork after it’s cooked which browns the pieces beautifully in the fat.
Being Peruvian, cumin and pork go hand in hand. I feel it brings these carnitas to another level. Cumin and orange make a beautiful couple as well.
In fact, salt, pepper, cumin, orange, garlic, and oregano are a great combination of flavors! In my version of carnitas, we’re going to have an orgy of all those flavors. It’s going to be a good time!
We start with a good-sized pork butt. You can also use a boneless pork shoulder. I prefer the butt - and just to be clear - it’s not actually the butt of the pig. But, if we weren’t talking about pigs, my statement still stands.
I’m going to use a slow cooker which allows me to pretty much be hands-free for most of the time. It’s the easiest way to make carnitas and allows it to cook in its own fat. You can season it right in the pot and then set it and forget it. If you cook this on low, you can even cook it overnight.
Authentic carnitas cook in lots of pork fat basically like a confit - cooking in fat. The typical home cook won’t have good quality pork fat and I DO NOT RECOMMEND HYDROGENATED PORK LARD. Please don’t do that to your health.
I feel the only way to get true pork fat that is great in quality is to get it from a reputable butcher. Again, I don’t see the typical home cook doing that. Therefore, just let the pork render and cook in its own rendered fat. It’s going to be delicious.
TO MAKE CARNITAS IN THE SLOW COOKER
First we are going to cut the porkbutt into large chunks. For this 5-pound porkbutt, I will cut it into about 4-inch chunks or about the size of your palm. If your palms/hands are bigger than that, call me. Haha I jest, of course. No really, call me.
Why cut it in chunks? It makes it easier to handle, you can shred it easier or leave it in chunks to fry if you like. The pork doesn’t have to be completely shredded. You serve it how you like. I like to keep some chunks of pork.
Place the pieces of pork in the slow cooker and season with the spices and the orange concentrate. Use tongs or your hands to coat the pork with the spices.
Cover and cook on low for 8 - 10 hours or high for 4 - 6 hours. The pork should shred easily. But remember, you don’t have to completely shred it. It’s ok to have bite size whole pieces. Those larger pieces fry up beautifully.
Heat a cast iron skillet or nonstick skillet. I use my cast iron skillet which is well-seasoned. I’ll be honest and state it will stick a little, but it’s no problem when using a spatula to get under it and flip. That’s the beauty of a cast iron skillet - you can be rough with it and it doesn’t mind. Just like the great Tina Turner said, “do it nice and rough”.
I use the fat floating on the top from the slow cooker and add it to the skillet. It will splatter a little because of the juices from the pork but I feel it’s the best to use. If you rather use a neutral oil or even some bacon fat or ghee, that’s fine too.
FRY THE CARNITAS IN BATCHES
Fry the pork in batches without crowding the pan. We want to fry and not steam the pork. Add a ladle of juices to the skillet. I know adding the juices seems like I contradicted what I just stated about steaming. The juices will evaporate and concentrate the flavor. Once the juices are mostly evaporated, turn over the pork to continue browning then transfer onto a baking sheet or platter.
You don’t want every piece browned to a crisp. We want some tender pieces in there too. Do what you like though. You are the master of your kitchen.
BROIL THE CARNITAS, IF YOU MUST
You can broil the carnitas rather than fry them. I haven't because I want the super crispy bits. But if you choose to broil, then shred the pork - I like to keep some of it in larger pieces - and place the baking sheet under the broiler.
Broil until golden then toss and repeat, if desired.
You won't get the same crispiness as you would when frying, but it will still be delicious.
Ladle more of the juices over the carnitas and toss before serving. You don't need to strain the juices. You'll see the smashed garlic in there and those are delicious!
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SERVING CARNITAS
You can serve on tacos topped with some salsa of choice, guacamole, and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.
You can eat as is. No one will judge.
On top of salad greens with onions and tomatoes.
Served with rice and topped with salsa criolla.
Any way you want.
Give these carrrrrrrrrrnitas a try. Que rrrrrrrrrrrrrico!!!!
Life is too short for mediocre food.
CARNITAS MADE IN A SLOW COOKERPRINT PIN SAVE
- 5 pounds boneless porkbutt pork shoulder
- ¼ cup frozen orange juice concentrate See NOTE 1
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt See NOTE 2
- 2 teaspoons of coarsely ground pepper See NOTE 3
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 8 cloves garlic peeled and smashed See NOTE 4
- Cut the pork into pieces about 4” wide (doesn’t have to be exact ). Try to make them the same size so slice accordingly. This makes it easy to transfer and shred.
- Transfer the pork into the crockpot. Add in the seasonings and orange juice concentrate. Toss to coat with all the seasonings.
- Cook on HIGH for 4 - 5 hours or on LOW for about 8 hours.
- Pork should be tender enough to shred. Transfer pork pieces onto a baking sheet and let cool slightly. Shred using two forks.
- Skim off the fat from the juices remaining in the slow cooker and add it to a cast iron skillet over high heat. You can also substitute with a neutral oil. The fat may sizzle a little because of the juices. You can also use a non-stick skillet if you prefer.
- Add some of the pork to the skillet without overcrowding the pan and drizzle with some of the juices.
- The juices will evaporate. Check to see if the pork is golden brown and crusty. Flip or turn over then transfer onto a serving platter. You don't want all the pieces too crispy. You also want some tender juicy pieces to melt in your mouth.
- Repeat in batches.
- Serve hot along with some salsa criolla or your favorite accompaniments. You can make tacos or serve as a tasty meal with rice. Enjoy.
I don't post the nutritional value because I don't trust the accuracy of the nutritional apps. I’m not a nutritionist and don't want to post misinformation.