What is Carnitas?

  • By: Jack Mancuso

What is Carnitas?

As the food generation grows with knowledge of food from around the world, new words come into the English vocabulary (well, old words, just new to us).  Carnitas is one of them. In Spanish, carnitas translates as “little meats.” It’s a simple dish that’s easy on the budget.

Carnitas begin as a piece of pork with heavy marbling, like a pork shoulder. The meat braises with seasonings and lard until it’s nearly melty. Next, the pork is shredded and then roasted for crispness. In this form, it can become part of a main meal or added to things like tacos and burritos. The aroma while it cooks is astounding. 

Carnitas’ Kissing Cousins

At the point where you have pulled pork… well, you have pulled pork. But it is not carnitas. Pulled pork remains soft, while carnitas receive a last round of roasting for that crunch. Barbacoa is another preparation similar to carnitas but made from beef. Like pulled pork, it’s slow-braised with adobo seasonings (sometimes marinated) but doesn’t undergo the last step, which separates carnitas from the pack. 


3 ½ lbs pork butt, shoulder, or picnic pork

4 tbsp salt (for dry brining)

1 lb lard

2 oranges

1 large onion

6 cloves garlic

2 tsp oregano

¼ cup pink salt

1 tbsp lime juice

1 hardy tbs peppercorns

2 bay leaves

14 oz. liquid **

** water, stock, cola, orange juice, etc.


  1. Use a good Chef’s Knife to cut the pork into chunks (for this size about 6 pieces). 
  2. Sprinkle the pork with the salt and let it sit for an hour in the refrigerator
  3. Use a large pot like a stock pot or Dutch oven
  4. Melt just a little of the lard so you can brown the pork
  5. Remove the meat, and add in the remaining lard
  6. Watch for it to come to a low boil
  7. Put the pork back into the pot and let it be
  8. Over the next 20 minutes, turn the pieces periodically
  9. Quarter the orange and onion
  10. Smash the garlic
  11. Reduce the heat on the stove
  12. Add in the remaining ingredients but for the liquid portion into the pot. 
  13. Let these simmer on low for an hour
  14. Add the liquid portion, and continue simmering for another 2 ½ hours. 
  15. If they’re not pull-apart tender yet, let them cook a while longer.
  16. Preheat your oven to 400F
  17. Transfer the meat to a baking sheet
  18. Baste the pieces with a little cooking liquid
  19. Bake, turning them repeatedly until there are some crispy edges surrounding tender meat. 

PitMastler’s Memo: Carnitas Enter Stage Right

Pigs made their way to the “New World” in the late 1400s. A story tells us that Herman Cortes invites people to a celebration to celebrate the fall of the Aztec Empire. Pig was available, so they were butchered and cooked in their own lard. The side dish? Cornbread. 


Black bean salad

Cilantro Lime Rice

Mexican street corn

Tortilla soup

Queso and chips


Apple enchiladas

Chocolate dipped strawberries


Tamarind candy

Tres leches cake

From the Bar


Aguas Frescas

Prickly pear margarita 

Smoked porter


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published