Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)

After our recent stay in the 'burbs where we were bombarded with so much ethnic dishes, our palates needed a rest from Filipino cuisine. To help, I've planned some meals this week that will take us around the world to taste the flavors of other countries. We're starting the week with some Mexican eats and a favorite Mexican dish of ours is carnitas.

Filipinos love their pork. It's clearly evident in our cuisine and it's one of my favorite proteins simply because it's one I ate a lot of growing up. Mexican cuisine uses a fair amount of pork and I love their preparation of carnitas. I've made a few carnitas recipes before, one of which was a Rick Bayless recipe that involved deep frying. Looking for a healthier alternative that didn't sacrifice flavor, I came across the following recipe from my Cook's Illustrated magazine.

What makes this recipe delicious is the citrus juices that infuses the pork with a lot of flavor. This recipe is a time consuming one that's sure to test your patience, but definitely worth the wait and effort. Pork butt is seasoned and simmered in a citrus marinade of lime and orange juices. Once heated through, the pork is then left to slowly roast and braise in a low heat oven for 2 hours. The pork is then removed from the pot so that the remaining juices can reduce and thicken. The sauce used to glaze the roasted pork right before it's placed under the broiler to get some crisp edges and a slight smoky flavor. To complete the meal, I made my Chorizo Mexican Rice. Mmmm... if that doesn't tempt you to make this, I don't know what will!

Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)
recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated June 2008
1 4-pound boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small onion, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
juice of 1 lime
2 cups water
1 medium orange, halved and juice (seeds removed)

Heat oven to 300 degrees.

Add all the ingredients in a Dutch oven and heat the ingredients until they begin to simmer, stirring to combine the spices and meat. Cover the pot and place it in the preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour, take a peek and give the pot a stir to turn the meat. Put the lid back on and let it continue to bake in the oven for another hour. A bit of patience is needed, but you'll definitely be rewarded!

After 2 hours of baking time, remove the pot from oven. Remove the bay leasves, onion and orange rinds from the pot and discard. Place the pork in a bowl and set aside. Place the pot on the stovetop and let the remaining liquid come to a boil. Let it boil until it thickens up and is reduced to about 1 cup.

Turn oven to broil and lower racks to near the bottom of the oven. In the bowl, pull each piece of pork in half using two forks. Pour the reduced liquid over the pork and add salt and pepper to taste. Place the coated pieces of pork on a wireor cooling rack set on a baking sheet. Broil the meat for 5 to 8 minutes on each side until well browned. You can pull the pork further if you want and then serve immediately in warm tortillas. Garnish with salsa, cheese, etc as you'd like.

To make ahead/freezer meal - Place all ingredients in a gallon sized freezer bag, seal and freeze. When ready to prepare, defrost and follow the directions as written above.


  1. I absolutely love carnitas. It's one of those things I have a hard time avoiding seconds. Yum yum!

  2. I found some nice mexican oregano and used that the last time I made them and I swear it made the slightest difference. Great pictures! Mmmm crispy pork.

  3. This looks so delicious and would make a good weekend recipe. Pork is so easy and cheap to come by here, so I'm always looking for new ways to cook it.

  4. This sounds great. Do you think you could do this in the Crock Pot? It's just so darn hot right now that turning on the oven sounds painful. ;)

  5. Is there a way to make this without the dutch oven?

  6. These look soo good!

    When freezing; could I bake and shred the pork, pour the reduced sauce over and then freeze? Defrost and then broil before serving?

    And like a pp asked, could you do the pork in the crock pot? Low over the course of the day? Or high for a few hours?

  7. I've made this recipe 3 times. Amazingly delicious. I love this version of Carnitas. Thank you for sharing.

  8. If you don't want to turn on your oven, pressure cook your meat with orange and/or lime then remove it, season it, and brown it in a nonstick pan or pot with a little olive oil. This is an energy saver and the pork comes out moist and delicious.

  9. Anonymous - thank you for your tips/suggestions! I hope to get over my fear of using a pressure cooking to save some time and energy preparing slow cooked meals. When I do, I'll be sure to give these carnitas a try as you mentioned!

  10. I made this in the crock pot yesterday. Just add two more cups of water, and set it to low for 10-12 hours. I also added a teaspoon of Mexican Chile Powder..

    When I took it out of the crock pot, the meat fell apart. All I did to shred it was pull it from the (cooled) pot and squeeze it with my fingers.

  11. i plan to make this in my crock pot! i have successfully converted other dutch oven recipes to crock pot by reducing the amount of water (not as much evaporation in a crock pot).

  12. Authentic Mexican cuisine shares similar roots to much of the Mexican-American and Tex-Mex foods that appeals to residents of the United States. Nevertheless, there are plenty of differences between what's authentic and what's familiar. Here is a brief rundown of some of the history behind Mexico's worldwide renowned cuisine. Best Mexican food in Austin