Carnitas (a Lighter Version)


Carnitas are a Mexican pulled pork dish where the pork is crispy on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. Traditionally a pork butt or shoulder is braised in lard until tender and then the heat is turned up so that the pork fries and gets crispy on the outside. For todays home cook looking to replicate carnitas an easier way is to simmer the same fatty cut of pork, a butt or shoulder, in a liquid until the pork is tender, then to turn up the heat until the liquid is gone and the fat has rendered and then let the pork fry in its own rendered fat until crispy. This is the way that I have been enjoying carnitas for a while but I wanted to try something a little lighter without having to sacrifice anything in the way of flavour.

The way I see it there are 3 required characteristics of carnitas including that it is a pulled pork, that it is moist and tender and crispy at the same time and that it is full of flavour, so that is what I was seeking with this new recipe. I decided to use the same cut of pork, the butt or shoulder, but this time I trimmed the excess fat to make it lighter. To start building up the flavour the pork is browned in the pan and then all of those brown bits of tastiness from the bottom of the pan are scraped up into the simmering liquid. The pork is then simmered in a simple orange, lime and garlic mojo style liquid until tender but this time it is simmered covered to retain the liquid which is just packed with flavour. After the pork has cooked the liquid is skimmed of ant remaining fat, reduced and concentrated and then mixed into the pork before it is broiled until crispy. The final result is indeed a super tasty pulled pork that is both moist and tender and crispy at the same time and simply irresistible!

Note: This recipe can easy be made in a slow cooker or crockpot and I have included the instructions for that in the recipe below.

These pork carnitas are so tasty that I could easily finish off an entire batch all by itself with a fork before it even got a chance to leave the broiling pan! Just look at all of that crispy pork goodness!


Use Carnitas in:



Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes Servings: 8

A healthier version of carnitas, a Mexican style braised pulled pork that is broiled until crispy on the outside but is still moist and tender on the inside and it's just packed with flavour!

  • 1 4 pound pork shoulder or butt, fat trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cups water (or beer)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice (~2 oranges)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (~2 limes)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  1. Season the pork with the salt.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, add the pork, sear on all sides and set aside. (optional)
  3. Add 1 cup water and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. (optional)
  4. Add everything to the pan, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the pork is falling apart tender, about 2-3 hours. OR Add everything to the pan, bring to a boil, transfer to a preheated 300F/150C oven and bake, covered, until the pork is falling apart tender, about 2 hours. OR Place everything in a slow cooker and cook until the pork is falling apart tender, about 4-5 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.
  5. Remove the pork from the liquid and set aside to cool before shredding and removing any fat.
  6. Meanwhile, skim any fat from the liquid and simmer to reduce to 1 cup.
  7. Mix the liquid into the pork, spread it out in a single layer on baking sheet, broil until crispy on top, about 4-6 minutes, flip and broil until crispy, about 4-6 minutes.
  8. Enjoy on by itself or in tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc.

Option: If you want to skip browning the meat, you can, but this adds a lot of flavour. If you are using the slow cooker and do not want to brown the meat in the morning you can brown it the night before and keep the meat and the water with the scraped brown bits in the fridge overnight.
Nutrition Facts: Calories 436, Fat 32g (Saturated 10g, Trans 0), Cholesterol 120mg, Sodium 421mg, Carbs 4g (Fiber 0.5g, Sugars 2g), Protein 29g
Nutrition by: Nutritional facts powered by Edamam


Tieghan said...

Kevin these sound so good and I love that they are a lighter version. This way we can eat more!

Jerry | Simply Good Eating said...

Wow those crispy Carnitas look fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

Jamie G said...

Holy Cow this sound amazing! I love carnitas and how wonderful that these are a bit better for you.

Anonymous said...

Is there a recipe for your pickled onions I see in some of the pictures?

Anonymous said...

Now I know what I can make with the pork I just bought on sale. Yum....can't wait. Thanks for your wonderful recipes.

Kevin Lynch said...

Anonymous: Here is the recipe for the pickled red onions:

What a Dish! said...

Thanks for this method with a slow cooker option. I recently made another, very similar carnitas recipe, but was wanting to use the slow cooker and didn't know how to convert it. I made your recipe today for Cinco de Mayo and was able to start it in the AM before going to church and then finishing it up when we arrived home. It was SO good and we made homemade Pico de Gallo and Avocado Salsa to go with it. Delicious!

Anonymous said...

This is delicious! Thank you for an awesome recipe!

Anonymous said...

Kevin you are an excellent cook and thanks so much for your blog and recipes. These are the best recipes on the internet that I've found. I've made several of your recipes and every single one of them is fantastic! I did the slow cooker version for this and it was excellent. Keep those recipes coming -- I'm a huge fan!!!

Caitlin McKee said...

Just want to make sure I have this right before I make it: In step 6, I need to boil/reduce enough fat and other liquid to have one cup to mix into the pork before broiling? Also, how far from the broiler did you place your pan? Thanks!

Kevin Lynch said...

Caitlin McKee: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you! First remove the fat from the juices and then reduce the juices to 1 cup. Place the baking sheet on the top shelf or the one below it in the oven.

Dahling2 said...

Made these today with some thick sirloin pork chops that were on sale. Deboned and chunked meat, then seared the bones with the meat in a cast iron skillet. Added to a large casserole, added a large sliced onion and proceeded as directed on recipe. Used Mexican oregano instead of regular. Absolutely delicious! Served with homemade guac, Pico De Gallo, fresh lime, sour cream. Will definitely make again! Will try with chicken thighs

Unknown said...

Oh my gosh! Made this for dinner tonight and it was so good even with out the oranges, which I was out of. I can only imagine how good it will be next time I make it, with the orange juice. Thank you Kevin. This was the best pork filling I've ever made for Chimichangas!.

Kelly Allen said...

I have made this at least 20 times now and it is always a major hit! My go to meal for large groups

Post a Comment