Cubes of pork shoulder marinated over-night in milk and quartered oranges. A 5-gallon pot with pounds of lard and the pork chunks heated to the brink of boiling, and stirred every so often by a 3-foot, home-made wooden paddle. Pork that is extremely tender, has a slight crisp to the outside, and can easily broken down by tooth or fork. And, flavor that is out of this world.
Those are carnitas the way my grandfather made them.
Fast forward. These days, I use a different process to prepare carnitas, one that doesn’t use milk or lard (unless you want to). Instead, I coat the raw pork chunks in a dry rub, cook them up in a pan the next morning, and then slow-cook them in a crockpot with oranges, onions, and garlic for several hours.
While the texture and tastes may differ slightly, and the approach is not as authentic, this version never fails to entice. It is a bit of a process, with a handful of steps. But, each part takes just a little while with a whole lot of time in between to do other things.
I often prepare carnitas for parties and dinner guests. If we have leftovers – which isn’t often – I freeze the pork for lunches, top salads with it, or scramble it up with eggs and vegetables for breakfast.
Here we go
What you’ll need for the carnitas
- 2-3 pounds pork shoulder or butt (it never hurts to cook as much as will fit in your crock pot)
- 2 oranges
- 1 large onion
- 6 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil, lard, or bacon grease
- Dry rub (see recipe below)
Part 1: Cube, Dry Rub, Refrigerate (takes about 10-15 minutes to prepare and several hours of waiting)
Take the pork shoulder or pork butt and cut it into 1 1/2″ cubes. Place the cubes in layers in a large food storage container, sprinkling a bit of the following dry rub recipe in between each layer. Place a lid on the container, shake it up a bit, and let the meat sit in the refrigerator overnight or for several hours.
The Dry Rub Recipe
- 2 Tbsp dried thyme leaves
- 2 Tbsp dried marjoram leaves
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp oregano powder
- 1 tsp chile powder
- 1 tsp salt
Part 2: Cook the Pork (takes about 30 minutes to prepare and 4 hours to cook in crock pot)
Once your meat has marinated for several hours, preheat a large casserole dish or large pan to medium-high heat. While you’re waiting for it to heat, cut 2 oranges and 1 large onion into eighths, and peel 6 cloves of garlic.
Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, bacon fat, or lard to the pan. When melted, place about 1/3 to 1/2 of the meat cubes in the pan to fry it up. It might take a couple of batches to cook all of the meat. When the meat is seared on all sides, add the onions and garlic. Cook for a minute or two and then add the oranges.
When meat is cooked through and golden brown, place the cooked meat, oranges, onions, and garlic into your crockpot. Stir it to distribute things evenly. Cook on low heat for about 3 hours, then remove the oranges, onions, and garlic. Turn the crockpot heat to high heat for 1 more hour.
When it’s done, your pork should be tender, staying in cubes that can be cut easily with the side of a fork, but not disintegrate.
Turn off the heat and let the pork rest while you prepare the garnish.
Part 3: Garnish (takes about 10 minutes to prepare)
What you’ll need
- juice from 2 limes
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1″ fresh jalapeno, de-seeded and minced
- 1/4 medium onion, chopped finely
- 1 handful cilantro leaves
- 2 handfuls of shredded cabbage or cole slaw salad blend
Toss ingredients together in a bowl. Use as garnish or as a salad base.
Part 4: Serve and Enjoy!
Carnitas is great:
- On tacos with your favorite tortilla type
- As part of a carnitas-cabbage salad with fresh avocado slices and cherry tomatoes
- In breakfast scrambles