Carnitas de Puerco (or “pork carnitas”) are little chunks of pork from the fattier parts of a pig, like the shoulder, slowly fried until they’re meltingly tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.
The challenge with making proper carnitas at home is that the traditional cooking method is to slowly fry them at a very low temperature (confit) in a large copper pot full of pork lard over a wood fire. This process can take up to four hours, depending on the size of the pieces of meat.
Once all of the connective tissue and collagen in the pork has broken down, the heat is turned up, and the pork is fried until it’s crispy on the outside.
Cooking over a giant vat of bubbling lard is impractical at home.
We’ve replaced the giant copper pot of lard with a regular-sized cast iron dutch oven and a pound of lard (if you’re on a diet, maybe some slightly healthier carnitas are a better choice).
You’ll gently brown the meat for an hour in the lard, then add the remaining ingredients and braise them for an hour.
Unlike regular carnitas, you’ll brown these before you braise them. This will allow your carnitas to develop the crispy outside crust before cooking them the rest of the way.
We are cooking in this order because we add Coca-Cola, condensed milk, and oranges which will burn if we attempt to cook them at the end.
When you first add the Coke and condensed milk, it’ll bubble and foam.
Don’t worry, it’ll all work out by the time it’s done cooking. Just keep going.
Nothing will measure up to what you would find on the streets in Mexico, but this is about as close as you can get in your home kitchen.
Want a slightly healthier version of carnitas de puerco? Try our braised and broiled carnitas recipe.
Carnitas de Puerco – Pork Carnitas
- 2 1/2 lbs. pork shoulder - Lightly trimmed, then cut into 2-3 inch cubes
- 3 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 lb. lard
- 1 large orange - Cut into large chunks. Leave the rind on.
- 1/2 large white onion - Peeled and cut into large chunks.
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 cup Coca-Cola - Mexican Coke is better, but if you can't find it, regular will suffice.
- 5 large garlic cloves - peeled and smashed
- 2 bay leaves
- At least 2 hours, and as much as 4 hours before cooking, evenly sprinkle the 3 teaspoons of kosher salt over the pork, place in a bowl, cover, and put in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes before cooking.
- In a large dutch oven, preheat the lard over medium-low heat for at least 10 minutes.
- Add the pork chunks, leaving as much space as possible between each piece. Your heat should be just high enough that the oil is gently bubbling around the meat. It should not be at a fast fry.
- Cook undisturbed for 30 minutes. Flip, then cook the opposite side for an additional 30 minutes.
- Add the balance of your ingredients, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for an additional 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the pork pieces to a paper-towel-lined plate and let cool for about 5 minutes. Break apart the pork chunks with a fork as you serve them.