After much ado, carnitas has hands-down become our current family favorite – pastured pork shoulder seasoned and slow-cooked in old-fashioned lard. Yes, that's right. I said LARD. Unless you don't eat pork for religious reasons, carnitas may just be your gateway into ‘the other white meat,' it's so darn good. And, believe it or not, lard is good for you too!
Though a traditional Mexican dish, carnitas is often made today in a massive vat of over-processed, hydrogenated lard or vegetable oil that are both absolutely horrible for your health. Conversely, carnitas made the old-fashioned way is a wonderful, nutrient-dense food.
If you're new to traditional foods, it may sound shocking that lard will do anything but lead to heart disease. I will take it another step to say that lard from pastured raised pork is actually a super food. You can read all about it here.
Perfect carnitas is moist in the center and slightly crisp on the outside. It takes a bit of a science to perfect (it took me four tries resulting in dry, disappointing pork before I mastered the technique below). Many restaurants achieve this with a deep-fryer of rancid, hydrogenated fat.
Made at home, the trick is to slow cook carnitas at a very low temperature until the muscle meat is broken down so it practically melts in your mouth – no more than 285 degrees Fahrenheit.
You could try this in your crockpot, but mine doesn't have a temperature control, so the oven has yielded more consistent results in my kitchen. To achieve the crispy outside, finish the meat by pan-frying on a high heat.
Slow cook carnitas ingredients
- A small to medium dutch oven or a crock pot that can hold a temperature of about 285 degree Fahrenheit.
- 2-3 quarts of rendered pork fat (lard) depending on the size of your pork shoulder and crockpot (you want the pork completely covered). You can render your own lard with these instructions. You will need about 6 pounds of fat to yield 2 quarts of lard for this recipe.
- 4-5 pounds pork shoulder/butt (with or without bone in)
- 2 limes
- sea salt – my favorite sea salt
- bunch of cilantro, washed.
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 whole cloves
- A few cloves of garlic sliced in half
- 2-3 small oranges, cut into eighths
Slow cook carnitas method
- Season the pork shoulder with juice of one lime, a generous sprinkling of sea salt, half the cilantro, bay leaves, garlic and whole cloves. Cover and refrigerate while rendering the lard for up to 24 hours.
- Preheat your oven to to 285 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Warm your rendered lard (if previously chilled to solid) until it is liquid.
- Place your whole seasoned pork shoulder in a small dutch oven (the smallest you have to fit the meat, but still cover with liquid). Shove your orange slices around the sides of the pork.
- Pour the liquid lard over the pork and oranges until the meat is completely covered.
- Place the meat in the preheated oven with the lid on. Consider setting your Dutch oven on a lipped tray to catch any overflow of fat.
- Cook for 4-6 hours or until meat pulls apart easily with a fork.
- Remove from the oven and lift the meat out onto a dish, taking care not to burn yourself with the fat.
- Pull apart the meat into medium sized chunks, and fry in a large frying pan with the cooked oranges until desired crispiness is reached.
Save the used lard in the fridge (for a few weeks) or freezer (for much longer) for your next few batches of carnitas. The flavor of the seasoning stays in the fat, so each batch gets progressively more delicious!
You can reheat in a frying pan, and serve with a squeeze of lime, pinch of cilantro, and sprinkle of sea salt to taste. The fried oranges can be eaten rind and all. Here are my favorite ways to enjoy slow cook carnitas:
- As part of a Mexican breakfast – carnitas, scrambled eggs, cultured salsa, avocado, and sour cream
- As tacos on sprouted corn tortillas with green salsa and avocado.
- Topping a simple salad dressed with lime and olive oil.
- Mixed into a stir-fry of seasonal veggies.
- By the forkful as a snack straight out of the fridge!