The wife and I have been making carnitas for years. My recipe has evolved over time. It’s based on one I saw in Bon Appetit. It’s really easy and makes a great meal.
Here’s everything you need:
- 3 pounds Boston butt, trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 large onion, cut into 4 pieces
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- fried corn tortillas
- fresh lime juice
- sliced avocado
- diced tomato
- chopped onion
- fresh cilantro
- shredded cheese
- hot sauce
There’s not much to this recipe. Buy at least a 3 pound (or more) shoulder, since you’ll trim off and discard about a half pound of rind/dense fat. You don’t really have to carve the meat like you’re going to grill it. Just remove the thickest pieces of fat and any sinew that won’t break down. Nothing ruins a meal faster than having to remove a half-chewed chunk of gristle from your mouth (especially at a table with guests). So when in doubt, cut out the fat when prepping the shoulder. Next, chop the meat into cubes. There’s plenty of marbling throughout the meat to keep it tender.
If I have time to spare, I like to brown the pork before I slow-cook it. I just sprinkle a pinch of extra salt over the meat, drizzle a little olive oil in a cast iron pot, and fry the it in batches until it forms a nice crust. Don’t overcrowd the pot or else the meat will boil instead of brown. Transfer the meat to a slow-cooker. Deglaze the pan with whatever you’re drinking. In this recipe, I poured in a little sprite, cooked it down to a glaze, and added it to the crock pot. Beer, wine, juice, water, or stock would work just as well. You really can’ to go wrong.
While the meat is browning, mix the spices in a bowl and break up any lumps.
Toss the meat into the crock pot. Mix the spices with the meat and top with the onion slices. Set the heat to high and cook for about five hours.
At about the four hour mark, remove the onions and break up the meat a little bit with the back of a fork. You’re really just looking for gristle that needs to be removed (if you trimmed it well, there shouldn’t be any) and testing to see how tender the meat is. You’re not shredding it, but it’ll start to fall apart if it’s cooking properly. Stir the meat so that more of the cubes can sear against the hot walls of the crock pot and cook for another hour or so.
Serve the carnitas on a couple of fried corn tortillas. Garnish with whatever you want, but make sure you squeeze a little lime juice over the shredded pork; it perfectly complements the spices. I like to add a little cilantro, tomato, onion, and manchego cheese to mine.
We also made some chicken carnitas. They’re even easier to prepare.
NOTE: I’m always experimenting with different flavors in my carnitas. Sometimes I add the juice of a lime and toss the rind in the crock pot throughout the cooking process. Other times I add a juiced orange and rind. As long as you follow the basic process depicted above, you can play around with the flavors all you want. Some people add cinnamon, chocolate, cider vinegar, etc. I’m not into all that, but feel free to play around.
Also, I should confess that the wife is very picky about gristle and fat in her meat. She won’t even eat a New York strip steak, at least not if there’s filet mignon on the menu (ridiculous, I know). So I tend to prep the meat more than is really necessary. Sometimes I add a little canola oil to the crock pot (2-4 tablespoons), but only if the pork looks relatively lean after I’ve trimmed it.
I should also add that this can be cooked in a heavy pot in the oven at 250° for four to five hours. I use my cast iron dutch oven.