Mexican Pulled Pork (Carnitas)
From America's Test Kitchen Season 10: Supper From South of the Border
Why this recipe works:
Reducing the cooking liquid until it became a syrupy glaze gave our carnitas recipe great pork flavor. Broiling the glazed meat on a rack allowed the excess fat to drip off. Refining our cooking liquid’s flavors with a mixture of lime and orange juices, bay leaves, and oregano was the… read more
Reducing the cooking liquid until it became a syrupy glaze gave our carnitas recipe great pork flavor. Broiling the glazed meat on a rack allowed the excess fat to drip off. Refining our cooking liquid’s flavors with a mixture of lime and orange juices, bay leaves, and oregano was the finishing touch on our Mexican pulled pork recipe.less
We like serving carnitas spooned into tacos, but you can also use it as a filling for tamales, enchiladas, and burritos.
- 1 (3 1/2-to 4-pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 small onion, peeled and halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
- 2 cups water
- 1 medium orange, halved
Tortillas and Garnishes
- 18 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
- Lime wedges
- Minced white or red onion
- Fresh cilantro leaves
- Thinly sliced radishes
- Sour cream
1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/3 cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.
2. Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heatsafe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.
3. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer. Serve immediately with warm tortillas and garnishes.
South vs. South of the Border
Southern-style barbecued pulled pork (at left) is cooked outdoors in a smoker to create uniformly tender meat that’s served drenched in barbecue sauce. The pork in our carnitas recipe is cooked in the oven and features a soft interior and a crisp, caramelized exterior complemented by garnishes, not sauce.
Don't Cut the Fat
Leaving a 1/8-inch layer of fat on the pork is critical to imparting the best flavor and texture to the final dish. Overtrimming the meat will lead to dry, bland carnitas.