These authentic Mexican dutch oven carnitas are slow cooked until juicy and fall apart tender, with crispy caramelized edges. These pork carnitas are perfect for tacos, enchiladas, bowls, or burritos. Plus, they freeze really well so you can make a big batch for meal prep.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s Mexican food! And especially in the form of tacos. When my boyfriend and I first started dating, we would get margaritas and tacos every Thursday near the beach. While he always prefers tacos de adobada and I will always be a steak street tacos gal, we both love tender and juicy Mexican pulled pork.
Pork is a meat used in many different traditional Mexican recipes. My boyfriend's mom has taught me some of these delicious recipes, like tacos al pastor, tostadas and posole. While pork can be thought of as fatty and greasy, with the right cooking technique and spices, pork can be an incredible protein!
Why this recipe works
This recipe is:
- Made with really fresh and limited ingredients
- Easy (the oven does most of the work!)
- Gluten free
- Packed with flavor
- Great for meal preps and cooking for large crowds!
What are carnitas?
Carnitas is a dish from Mexican cuisine made from pork 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, or tamales.
Carnitas are typically braised (cooked in the oven in liquid) for several hours. You can also make this recipe in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, like an instant pot, but I feel oven braising is the preferred method since it yields the best results and is so easy!
I love that this recipe only needs a few simple fresh ingredients to deliver a majorly flavorful dish.
Limes - I like to pick up a few extra limes in case they are not very juicy. The lime juice helps to balance the richness of the pork.
Spices - For this recipe you will need a few spices: dried oregano, chili powder, cumin, and garlic salt. There is a difference between Mexican oregano and regular oregano, but you can use either in this recipe!
Fresh garlic cloves - I always prefer using fresh garlic. Pre minced jarred garlic often loses a lot of its pungent flavor.
Boneless or bone in pork shoulder - You can use either cut for this recipe, but we will be removing the bone. You can always ask your butcher to remove the bone for you!
What type of pork to use for carnitas?
Typically a heavily marbled and fatty piece of pork is used to make carnitas. I prefer to use pork shoulder for this recipe. You may also hear pork shoulder referred to as Boston butt or pork butt. This name is a misnomer as pork butt is actually cut from the shoulder.
Pork picnic is also a cut of pork from the shoulder region, however it almost always contains a bone, which makes it more difficult to break down into chunks. For this reason, boneless pork shoulder is the best cut of meat for pork carnitas.
Pork loin is not recommended for this pork recipe, as it is usually a lean cut of meat. Some fat is required to keep the pork moist.
First, there is some prep work involved. Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF.
Remove the thick cut of fat on the pork shoulder down to ⅛” thick. You don’t want to remove all of the fat completely before cooking, as it will protect the meat from drying out. Don’t worry about the final dish being too fatty, you can always remove any remaining pieces of fat before serving.
If using pork shoulder from the bone, remove the meat from the bone. You can ask the butcher to do this for you. Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, about 2 inches.
Juice the oranges and limes.
Add the cubed pork, fat side up, along with the citrus juices, water, and seasonings into a large dutch oven or heavy large pot with a fitting lid (6.5 quarts or larger).
Place the dutch oven with lid on, in the preheated oven. Braise until the meat is fall apart tender when prodded with a fork. This cooking process usually takes about 2.5 hours.
Remove the pot from the oven when the pork is tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork from the cooking liquid and dutch and place onto an unlined baking sheet.
Place the pot on the stove top and heat to medium-high heat. Boil the braising liquid uncovered until the sauce thickens and reduces to about 1 cup of liquid, about 25-30 minutes.
While the liquid reduces, use two forks to pull apart the meat from the cubed pork into slim pieces. Spread the shredded pork carnitas over the whole sheet pan.
Alternatively, you can cut the pork up into bite-size pieces.
After the liquid finishes reducing, pour the liquid over the shredded carnitas. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Turn oven to broil and place the sheet pan on the middle-rack of the oven. Broil for 3-5 minutes, until the meat is browned and edges are crispy. Remove from the oven, flip the pieces of meat to the other side, and then broil again for 3-5 minutes.
The final product should be juicy, flavorful, tender pieces of pork with crispy caramelized edges.
Serve immediately in enchiladas, over rice, in corn tortillas, or in buns.
These crispy pork carnitas are perfect for making pork tacos. They are also delicious in burritos or bowls with beans and rice. Add it to carnitas enchiladas or with nachos. I recommend topping with a squeeze of lime. You can also add toppings like guacamole, pickled red onions, cilantro, and spicy salsa. A fresh slaw would also be perfect on top!
Here are some side dish ideas to serve with this pork carnitas recipe:
- Vegan Mexican Rice
- Corn Tortilla Chips (Gluten Free)
- Healthy Mexican Street Corn (Elotes)
- Fresh Mexican Avocado Salad
Removing fat from the pork shoulder: You should remove some of the fat from the pork shoulder when initially cutting it into larger chunks. Keep some of the fat to render and help tenderize the meat while it cooks, avoiding dried out meat. If there are any large pieces of fat leftover after cooking, remove when you shred the carnitas.
Making the shredding easier: Use two forks or two pairs of tongs to carefully shred the pork once cooked. Go with the pork allowing it to fall apart easily. If you can't shred the pieces easily, try approaching from a different angle. Don't use aluminum foil to line the baking sheet as you may shred the aluminum foil.
Storage directions: Store any leftovers of the pork with remaining liquid in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. To reheat, just microwave for 1 minute 30 seconds!
Freezing directions: This crispy carnitas recipe is the perfect dish for freezing! Add to a freezer safe container and freeze for a few months.
If your Dutch oven is out of commission, you can definitely still make this recipe with other common kitchen equipment. For finding the best replacement for any Dutch oven recipe, check out my 10 Dutch Oven Substitutes.
You can use pork picnic for carnitas, however since picnic cuts of pork contain a bone, they may be a little more difficult to break down.
Pork carnitas aren’t traditionally spicy, but you can add some heat to this recipe if you want to spice it up! Add in a diced jalapeño or cayenne pepper. You could also serve with hot sauce.
You can braise pork carnitas in the oven at 300°F for about 2 - 3 hours, until fall apart tender.
To keep carnitas moist, it is important to keep a fat layer on the pork while cooking. You can trim the fat down, but don’t remove it all the way.
Pulled pork is pork meat (typically shoulder) that is slow-cooked until tender enough to shred. Carnitas is a version of pulled pork with Mexican influence and ingredients.
- Meal Prep Carnitas Burritos
- Dutch Oven Shredded Chicken
- Carnitas Quesadilla
- Dutch Oven Barbacoa
- Beef Barbacoa Tacos
- Green Chile Beef Enchiladas
If you're looking for more Dutch oven recipes to get your cooking juices flowing, check out my Best Dutch Oven Recipes, with over 30 recipes using the Dutch oven!
Some of my other favorite pork recipes include:
If you try this recipe, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave me a comment below so I know what you think! Follow Elise Tries to Cook on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, and Subscribe via email to receive the latest recipes!
Dutch Oven Carnitas (Authentic Mexican Carnitas)
- 3.5 pounds pork shoulder, boneless or 5-6 pounds bone-in
- 2 oranges, juiced
- 2 limes, juiced
- 2.5 cups water
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic
- Pre-heat the oven to 300ºF.
- Remove the thick cut of fat on the meat down to ⅛” thick. If using pork shoulder from the bone, remove the meat from the bone. Then cut pork shoulder into large 2” cubes.3.5 pounds pork shoulder, boneless
- Add all ingredients into a large dutch oven (6.5 QT or larger).2 oranges, juiced, 2 limes, juiced, 2.5 cups water, 1 tablespoon oregano, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon garlic salt, 1 tablespoon garlic
- Place the dutch oven with lid on, in preheated oven. Let braise until meat falls apart when prodded with a fork, about 2.5 hours.
- Remove the pot from the oven.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove the carnitas from the dutch oven and liquid and onto an unlined baking sheet.
- Place pot on stove at medium high heat. Boil mixture until the sauce thickens and reduced in half, about 25-30 minutes.
- While the liquid reduces, use two forks to pull apart the meat from the cubed pork into slim pieces. Spread the shredded pork carnitas over the whole sheet pan. Remove any large pieces of fat that didn't cook down.
- After the liquid finishes reducing, pour about 1 cup of the liquid over the shredded carnitas and spread evenly.
- Turn on the broiler and place the sheet pan on the middle-rack of the oven. Broil for 3-5 minutes, until meat is browned and edges are crispy. Remove from oven, flip the pieces of meat to the other side, and then broil again for 3-5 minutes.
- Serve immediately over rice, in corn tortillas, or in buns.