Juicy and flavorful Mexican pulled pork slow cooked to perfection and finished in a skillet for the perfect crispy edges. This easy carnitas recipe is perfect for any Mexican inspired meal and great for feeding a crowd.
There are few things better than juicy, cripsy pork carnitas tucked into warm tortillas with all the fixings. Seasoned with Mexican flavors like cumin, oregano and citrus, this delicious, juicy pork takes minimal prep. It’s nearly foolproof to make and can be easily done in the oven, slow cooker or Instant Pot.
Once the meat is shredded, it’s drizzled with juices and crisped up in a cast iron skillet to get the perfect delicious little crispy bits that makes carnitas just so incredible.
Carnitas is perfect for tacos, burritos, bowls, nachos, quesadillas, sandwiches, whatever you can dream up! This is a fantastic, make ahead recipe for entertaining friends and family for taco night, game day or whenever the craving hits.
What is carnitas?
In short, the Mexican version of pulled pork. Traditional carnitas is made from pork butt or pork shoulder slow cooked in lard (pork confit) with traditional Mexican flavors. Every region has their own style of carnitas but it is said to have origins in the state of Michoacán.
- Pork Butt – Easily found in your regular grocery store, pork butt and pork shoulder are similar cuts of meat, often used interchangeably, but they are slightly different. Both come from the shoulder of the pig, but pork butt is higher on the foreleg, while pork shoulder is farther down. Both are tough, fatty cuts that require long, slow cooking methods. Pork butt (or Boston butt) has a more uniform shape and more marbling throughout the meat. It’s the best for making fall-apart-tender pulled pork. Pork shoulder (or picnic roast) frequently comes with the skin on and wrapped in a net. It’s best for pork roast with a crackling crispy skin.
- Onion – white or yellow.
- Garlic – fresh only.
- Jalapeño – does not make it spicy, just imparts flavor.
- Fresh citrus – fresh orange juice and fresh lime juice is a must.
- Herbs and spices – oregano (Mexican oregano preferred), cumin, bay leaves, salt and black pepper.
This recipe comes together easily in the slow cooker or electric pressure cooker.
In a small bowl, make the dry rub my mixing together salt, pepper, oregano and cumin. Trim as much excess fat from the top of the pork butt as possible. Pat the roast dry with paper towels, and use your hands to rub it all over with seasoning, pressing it into the meat to ensure that it sticks. Let the meat sit out for about 30 minutes to an hour to come to room temperature. If you have time, you can season the roast a few hours ahead of time and let it sit uncovered in the fridge.
Chop the onion, mince the garlic and slice the jalapeño into rounds. Place the seasoned roast into the slow cooker with the fat cap side up. Cover with chopped onion, minced garlic and jalapeño slices. Pour over freshly squeezed lime and orange juice and add in the bay leaf.
If using the slow cooker, set it to low for 10 hours or high for 7 hours. If using the Instant Pot, pressure cook for 90 minutes and natural release.
When the meat is done, carefully transfer it to a cutting board or baking sheet to shred. It should be fall apart tender. Coarsely shred the meat, you want to leave it in sizable chunks and not shred it too finely so it doesn’t dry out.
Skim as much fat as possible from the juices. To make perfectly crispy pork carnitas, I think a trusty cast iron skillet works best. Heat over high heat and add shredded pork in a single layer. Drizzle over some of the juices over the pork in the skillet and use a spatula to press it down.
In about 2-3 minutes, the juices will have evaporated and the bottom will be golden brown and crispy. Use the spatula to turn it over and briefly warm the other side. Don’t cook it too much more as you want to nail that crispy, juicy texture.
Remove from heat and serve with your favorite Mexican sides and taco fillings!
How to serve pork carnitas
Carnitas are perfect for a taco or nacho bar. My favorite way to enjoy them is in warm corn tortillas with avocado, salsa verde, diced white onions and fresh cilantro.
To set up your taco bar you could include fixings like Mexican rice, black beans, refried beans, Mexican street corn, tortilla chips, salsa, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, guacamole, sour cream, diced white or red onion, queso fresco, the possibilities are endless!
Put all the toppings and sides out and let everyone live their best lives and customize their meal.
How much pulled pork per person
Making a big batch of carnitas is a great way to feed a crowd. Boneless pork butt loses about half of its weight during the cooking process. For a party, you want to plan for about ⅓-1/2 pound of pulled pork per person.
For example, a 6 pound boneless roast will yield about 3 pounds of pulled pork or enough to serve 6-8 people. If you’re doing a bone-in roast, you’ll need to account for about a pound of extra weight for the bone.
If you’re making this for dinner or just to have, nothing wrong with leftover carnitas! They freeze beautifully.
How to store leftover pulled pork
Pulled pork keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Keep the shredded meat and the juices separate. To freeze, add meat and juice to a freezer bags or freezer safe containers and freeze for up to 4 months.
How to reheat carnitas
This is a great recipe for entertaining as you can make it ahead and crisp it up in the pan to reheat just before serving. If making ahead, store the shredded pork and juices separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator. The fat in the juices will congeal, making it easy to scoop out and discard before pan frying.
Carnitas that have already been crisped can be reheated in the microwave or warmed in a skillet. Drizzle with reserved juices to keep it moist.
How to moisten dry pulled pork
The best part about pulled pork is that it’s extremely forgiving. To keep the meat moist, you want to keep the shreds coarse. Shredding it too finely can cause it to dry out. Even if that happens, that’s why we reserve the juice! To moisten pulled pork, drizzle it with hot cooking liquid and you should be good to go! If you really messed up and discarded the cooking liquid, you still don’t have to worry. You can moisten pulled pork with a little chicken broth.
More Mexican inspired meals to try
- Fiesta Salad
- Chicken Tinga Tacos
- Sheet Pan Shrimp Fajitas
- Instant Pot Salsa Verde Pulled Chicken
- Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas
Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)
- 4 pound pork butt (boneless) If using bone-in aim for 5-6 pounds
- 1 onion chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 jalapeño sliced
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons oregano Mexican oregano preferred
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice about 3 oranges
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice about 3 limes
- warm tortillas and your favorite toppings
- In a small bowl, mix together cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Trim excess fat from the roast and pat it dry with paper towels. Rub it all over with the seasoning, pressing it into the meat with your hands. Leave it on the counter to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- Chop the onion and mince the garlic. Squeeze fresh orange and lime juice.
- Place roast in Instant Pot or slow cooker fat cap side up. Sprinkle over onions and garlic. Pour in orange and lime juice and add bay leaf.
- For Instant Pot, set to manual pressure for 90 minutes and natural release. For slow cooker, cook on low for 10 hours or high for 7 hours. Meat should be fall-apart tender.
- Carefully transfer the meat to a cutting board or baking sheet and coarsely shred with two forks.
- Skim the fat from the juices and reserve the cooking liquid.
- To crisp, heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over high heat and add shredded pork in a single layer. Drizzle juice over the meat and use a spatula to press it down. Leave it undisturbed for 2-3 minutes until the juice evaporates and the meat is golden brown and crispy on the bottom. Only do this on one side so that the pork stays juicy and crispy at the same time.
- Serve in warm tortillas with your favorite toppings.