Green Mexican Rice with Carnitas
Green Mexican Rice with Carnitas

Tamales with pulled pork
Tamales with pulled pork

Traditional Cooking Method

Carnitas (Spanish for “little meats”) is a dish of Mexican cuisine (state of Michoacán). Traditional carnitas are made by slowly cooking heavily marbled pork shoulder or butt in fat. The same method in French cuisine is called confit. Traditional seasoning and aromatics are salt, chili, cumin, Mexican oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf, and garlic. After 3-4 hours meat pieces become tender and juicy, and then they are caramelized on high heat. At the end, carnitas can be pulled apart by hand or fork and used in tamales, tacos, tortas, and burritos.

Fat to Meat Ratio

To cook 4 pounds of pork using traditional method, we need 4 pounds of fat. For people who count calories, it sounds really, really scary! Since so many people swear old school carnitas are the best and I call my kitchen a lab, I tried different cooking methods to see for myself. I slowly cooked larger and smaller pieces of pork in the oven, in croc pot, in a pot of lard, etc. Then I found Chef Roberto Santibañez’s recipe and that was the end of my search. I am a big fan of slow cooking and I am not afraid of fat, but for my taste these carnitas are the best. (See Recipe Notes below.)

At first, I followed the recipe exactly, but the part with skimming was sort of inconvenient: I was loosing some oregano and chopped onions being trapped in a foam. I changed the steps a little by taking care of skimming before the rest of ingredients are added to the pork. Skimming was still unpleasant because there is no much water above the pork. Precooking pork in oil or fat at a lower temperature, so that the meat stays white (like for fricassee) was the solution, because there was no much foam to skim after that step. I also reduced the amount of fat even more. If the pork is fatty, there is enough fat in it naturally.

If you care for good tasting carnitas, never buy pre-cut/pre-packaged and labeled “carnitas” pork. Choose whole butt or shoulder cut, with or without bone. HEB’s pork labeled “All Natural” is better tasting than less expensive brands.


Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 10 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: lycooking, lyukum cooking lab, meat, Mexican, pork, recipe
Servings: 6 portions


  • 4 lb pork shoulder fatty, whole cut
  • 2 tbsp avocado oil or manteca (pork fat)
  • 1 each onion
  • 1/2 each orange
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 3 each bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 tsp oregano Mexican, dry
  • 3 tsp kosher salt


  • Cut pork into ~2-inch cubes and divide all meat into 4 batches.
    Pork shoulder cubed for carnitas
  • Prepare the rest of ingredients.
  • Heat oil or pork fat in a heavy skillet on high heat. Cook every batch separately for about 1 minute, constantly stirring, until pork surface becomes white.
    Pre-cooking pork for carnitas
  • Place all pre-cooked pork into a 5-quart pot.
    Pre-cooked pork
  • Peel and thinly slice onion. Peel garlic. Slice orange, discard seeds. Add them and the rest of ingredients to the pot.
    Making carnitas
  • Cover the continence of the pot with COLD water, mix, and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low, and let simmer uncovered for about 2 hours.
    Making carnitas
  • Discard the orange slices and bay leaves. Most of the liquid should evaporate by this time.
    Making carnitas
  • If not, transfer pork pieces to a bowl and let the liquid to continue cooking, stirring often, until thick. Then add it back to the meat. At this point, you can add your favorite sauce for additional flavoring. Carnitas can be cooked to this stage in advance and kept refrigerated until serving.
    Making carnitas
  • For serving with side dishes:
    preheat oven to 450F. Transfer carnitas to an oven-proof dish and brown uncovered in the oven for about 20 minutes.
    Caramelized carnitas
  • For tamales:
    mix with some sauce (1 cup of Basic Ancho Adobo for 2 pounds of cooked carnitas) and shred with a fork.
    Carnitas pulled


The original recipe from Truly Mexican by Chef Roberto Santibañez: Carnitas
If you wonder what oranges and condensed milk are doing in this recipe, read Traditional Old-School Carnitas are the BEST
Truly Mexican. 4 блюда (in Russian)
Зеленый рис и карнитас по Роберто Сантибаньесу (in Russian)
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