These flavorful carnitas quesadillas are filled with traditional Mexican carnitas, cheese and charred poblano and corn. Tender, juicy carnitas makes these quesadillas all the better and more delicious!
One thing I love about making pork carnitas is that it’s a cheap way to make a ton of food. The only question I have after is what to do with it all! A great way to use leftover pulled pork is in quesadilla form like this recipe, and what better pairing than with some cheese, pepper and corn!
Why this recipe works
- This quesadilla recipe uses simple pantry ingredients.
- Quesadillas are a great way to use leftover carnitas!
- A flavorful twist on the classic corn tortilla quesadilla.
- The steps to making this recipe are so easy!
- This recipe is naturally gluten free.
What are carnitas?
Carnitas is a dish from Mexican cuisine made from pork shoulder that is seasoned, seared, and braised over a few hours, until tender. The cooked pork is then shredded or chopped into bite sized pieces. They are used for tacos, burritos, tamales, or in this case pork carnitas quesadilla!
Carnitas are typically braised (cooked in the oven in liquid) for several hours. This recipe is a great way to use leftovers, but you can always make your own carnitas first.
Carnitas, or Mexican pulled pork, is an excellent meat for quesadillas. They’re already typically smaller shredded pieces, making it easy to take small bites! Plus, carnitas are slow cooked until peak juiciness and have a tender but crispy texture. Use leftover carnitas or use my favorite Mexican carnitas recipe.
Substitute for: pulled pork for the closest match. You can also use carne asada, barbacoa, shredded chicken, or omit completely. A vegan version would use black beans as the protein.
If possible, avoid purchasing pre-package, shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheeses may have anti-caking agents so that shreds don’t stick together.
Instead, try a block of cheese (cheddar, queso quesadilla/asadero cheese, mozzarella, or monterey jack do great!) to shred yourself. If you can budget it, opt for an organic cheese.
Corn tortilla quesadillas are the best, because using corn tortillas adds a little extra flavor.
Substitute for: flour tortillas, whole wheat tortillas, or grain-free tortillas.
I love the combination of corn and poblano pepper with carnitas. The corn adds a little crunch and the pepper adds a nice sweetness.
Substitute for: any vegetable of choice or omit completely! I highly recommend: black beans, caramelized onions, or jalapenos for some heat.
Step One: Make the carnitas.
The first step in making carnitas quesadillas is to make the carnitas. To do that, either use leftovers, or make your own carnitas.
Step Two: Prep the poblano and cook ingredients.
Prepare the poblano first, by cutting it from the top stem. Next, remove the sides from the center core.
Thinly slice each side and then dice into small pieces. The more even the size, the better it cooks!
Next, gather the ingredients and set to the side.
Heat one teaspoon of olive oil on a skillet until hot. Add diced poblano and cook for 3-4 minutes, until cooked down, tender and roasted dark spots appear.
Lower the heat and add frozen corn and carnitas to the skillet. Stir to combine and heat through, about 2 minutes. I don’t add any salt to the pork mixture because the carnitas should be seasoned enough, but if you taste the filling and it needs some, add between a pinch of salt to ¼ teaspoon and stir to evenly distribute.
Remove from the heat and leave to the side.
Step Three: Assemble and cook the quesadillas
Spray a skillet with neutral oil, like avocado oil. Heat skillet on medium, until warm.
Place one corn tortilla down on the skillet, add ¼ cup shredded cheese, ½ cup of filling on top of the corn tortilla, then add ¼ cup of shredded cheese back on top. Add a second corn tortilla on top.
Allow to brown the bottom side for 3-5 minutes, or until the tortilla is browned and the cheese has begun to melt. Flip the quesadilla and cook for an additional 3 minutes, until the cheese is fully melted.
Remove the quesadilla from the skillet and repeat with additional quesadillas, until done.
Cut quesadillas into halves or quarters, and eat immediately. Top with roughly chopped cilantro if desired!
Quesadillas are so delicious on their own, and this carnitas quesadilla recipe is based on having the carb, protein and vegetable all in one so that you don’t need sides.
With that said, in Los Angeles, quesadillas are always served with salsas. Typically you will find quesadillas paired with pico de gallo (or for a sweet twist, try a mango pico de gallo)! Another common pairing is guacamole, or dipping into an avocado lime sauce. If you like a little spice, try drizzling these quesadillas with a mango habanero salsa or serrano salsa verde.
For side dishes, I recommend any traditional Mexican food, but my favorite suggestions would be Mexican rice, elotes, or an avocado salad.
Storage directions: keep leftovers (or meal prep) in the refrigerator for up to three days in an airtight container or ziploc bag. Make sure to allow pork quesadillas to cool completely before moving to the refrigerator.
Reheat directions: Reheat in the oven at 325ºF on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, or until cheese is re-melted and tortilla is crisp. To reheat in a skillet, spray oil on skillet and heat each side for about one minute. You can reheat in the microwave in 30-second intervals, however the results will be a slightly soggy quesadilla.
Freezing directions: To freeze quesadillas, wrap each quesadilla individually in plastic wrap. Arrange in a layer on a baking sheet and freeze until completely firm. Then transfer to a freezer-safe bag. Store in the freezer for up to two months.
I always like to use corn tortillas for quesadillas. They have more flavor than flour tortillas, and they are gluten-free! However, I will admit that flour quesadillas typically stay together easier.
An air fryer is a great way to reduce oil usage for a quesadilla. I do find it more difficult to use than the traditional pan-searing method. Check out my Air Fryer Quesadilla recipe if you’d like to use the air fryer.
I prefer to use a small amount of spray avocado oil for my quesadilla recipes. You can use any type of neutral oil, like extra virgin.
- 1 poblano
- ¼ cup frozen corn
- 1 cup carnitas
- 6 corn tortillas
- 1.5 cups shredded cheese
Prep and Cook the Filling
- Prepare the poblano first, by cutting it from the top stem. Next, remove the sides from the center core.
- Thinly slice each side and then dice into small pieces. The more even the size, the better it cooks!
- Heat a skillet on the stove at medium-heat with one teaspoon of oil or spray avocado oil.
- Add the diced poblano and cook for 3-4 minutes, until slightly softened and charred.
- Add carnitas and frozen corn to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook through an additional 2 minutes, until the pork mixture is completely warmed through.
- Remove from heat and keep to the side.
Make the Quesadillas
- Preheat a large skillet pan on medium-high heat.
- Spray neutral oil on the pan and place a corn tortilla on top of the pan. (If you don’t have spray oil, use 1 teaspoon of regular oil)
- Add ¼ cup of shredded cheese and add ½ cup of filling.
- Top the corn tortilla with another ¼ cup of cheese and the top half of the quesadilla (the second corn tortilla).
- When the cheese is semi melted and the quesadilla bottom is crispy and browned (about 3-minutes), flip the quesadilla to the other side. If you have issues with the items falling out, try cooking the quesadilla for longer on one side, or carefully use tongs and a spatula to flip.
- Once the second side is browned (about another 3-minutes), remove from the pan. NOTE: Quesadillas typically take longer at first as your skillet gets hotter. By the second or third quesadilla you may have to turn down the heat to prevent the tortilla from burning.
- Spray with more spray neutral oil, or regular oil. Repeat with additional quesadillas, following steps 2-6.
- Once all quesadillas are complete, cut into halves or quarters, sprinkle with fresh chopped cilantro, and enjoy while warm!
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