carnitas for Cinco de Puerco

shredded pork for carnitas

Yesterday, we headed back into the city to the studios of KZOK, to feed the guys at the Bob Rivers show again. (Last week, we brought them roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with chorizo for their pork pledge.) Since they were celebrating Cinco de Puerco, Danny decided to make them carnitas.

Now, traditionally, carnitas are braised in lard, and then crisped up in more lard. Not a bad way to go. However, more and more carnitas recipes involve braising or roasting the pork, skipping the lard. To be honest, Danny was eager to try this recipe in our slow cooker, so we braised the pork shoulder in pork stock instead of using the lard.

Nobody seemed to mind.

We brought all the fixings with us too.

a big plate of cheese

a big plate of cheese.

pickled jalapenso, carrots, and cabbage

and jalapenos, carrots, and cabbage that Danny had pickled the night before.

(see recipe here if you would like to make this to go with your carnitas)

and some warm corn tortillas too.

The food was a hit. A big hit. Downtown Joe ate four tacos (at our count). Spike was groaning in the corner. Maura emerged from her glass booth to try one, and then tried hard to resist the next one. Even the singers auditioning that day tried the carnitas. We loved watching everyone’s eyes going wide in surprise at how deeply flavored these were, without being mouth-blistering hot.

Arik Korman, the director of the show, didn’t have the chance to try one until everything was done taping. When he did, however, he stopped his quick-pace walk. “I have to tell you, I have eaten all over the world, and especially in Mexico, and I think this is the best carnita I have ever eaten.”

Danny didn’t stop smiling for hours.


If you would like to try your hand at these, give yourself a couple of full days to allow the pork to brine, and then simmer in the stock. You cannot rush carnitas. You won’t be disappointed.

Two days before you want to eat the carnitas, make the brine for the pork shoulder:

2 quarts water
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon toasted cumin
1 tablespoon toasted coriander, crushed
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 pinch chile flakes
1 medium chipotle pepper

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into large chunks (about 3 inches across)

Making the brine. Put all the ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil. Boil until the salt and sugar are thoroughly dissolved.

Pour the hot brining liquid into a large container to cool to room temperature.

Brining the pork. Strain the brining liquid of all the solids. Pour the brining liquid over the pork and allow it to sit for 12 to 24 hours.

The next day…

4 tablespoons lard
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon chile powder
14 ounces diced tomatoes (canned, if it’s not tomato season).
1 quart chicken or pork stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 large onion, fine diced
1 tablespoon fine chopped garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground oregano
15-ounce can black beans
15-ounce can diced tomatoes

Preparing the pork. Remove the pork from the brine. Pat it dry, thoroughly.

Season with salt and pepper.

Seasoning the pork. Bring a large, heavy-bottomed skillet to high heat. Add in 2 tablespoons of the lard. Brown off the pork pieces in batches, depending on how much you have. Don’t crowd the pan. Brown the pork on all sides and transfer to a Dutch oven or the slow cooker.

Sautéing the onion. Sauté off the medium-sized onion until it begins to caramelize. Add the garlic, chile powder, and diced tomatoes. Add these ingredients into the pork.

Cover it all with the stock. Add the bay leaf.

Bringing the stock to a boil, and then simmering. Bring the stock to a boil. (If you are doing this in the slow cooker, do this part in a large saucepan.) Reduce to a very low simmer. Simmer for 4 to 6 hours until the pork is fork tender. You can do this in a hot oven (about 350°), on the top of the stove, or in a slow cooker. Turn it on low and let it go.

When the pork is fork tender, remove it from the pot. Strain it.

Making the sauce. Return the liquid to medium heat and allow it to simmer until it has reduced by 1/2 its volume.

Bring a large sauté pan to medium-high heat. Sauté the large onion and the fine-chopped garlic. When they are soft and translucent, add the cumin and oregano. Cook until they are fragrant.

Add in the black beans diced tomatoes. Cook until they are heated.

Pour in the reduced liquid. Simmer for 20 minutes to 1/2 hour until it smells good. Season with salt and pepper.

Crisping up the pork.Bring a large sauté pan to high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lard. Sear the pork on all sides until it is good and crispy, as well as heated inside.

Shred up the pork with a fork.

Add the shredded pork to the black beans and tomato liquid.


Serves 12 (depending on how many tacos they take!)

4 thoughts on “carnitas for Cinco de Puerco

  1. O. M. G. yesss. my GF girl is doin’ carnitas!!!

    I’m so excited to try this recipe. I’ve never made carnitas before, and I have what might be a really basic question–when you say “allow it to sit for 12 to 24 hours,” does that happen in the fridge or just out on the stovetop? I know the brining solution should protect against any nasty germies, but I gotta check. how’d you do it?

  2. I tried this recipe over the weekend and it was fabulous! My husband almost cried when I told him the pork roast was going into tacos, but he understood when he tried them with the pickled vegetables. This recipe is definitely a keeper! I make a lot of pork recipes and this has been one of my favorites.

  3. Wow- looks like a great recipe! We’ve been doing this in the crock pot then in the oven using the Cooks Illustrated method (just finished making them, in fact). Great texture, but not very original when it come to veggies and such to go with them. We add a bunch of veggies to the pot then puree them to punch up the sauce. Your recipe has all the elements so we’ll definately be trying it. Thanks for the inspiration and direction!!

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