This is my all-time favorite dutch oven pork carnitas recipe. I developed it to be tender, juicy, and super flavorful. 🙂 One of my favorite ways to achieve tender, juicy pork is through two important steps: brining the pork and braising it in a dutch oven. It’s the perfect dish for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
This recipe makes about 2 1/2 pounds of crispy pork carnitas (which literally means “little meats” in Spanish), but can easily be doubled if you need more. I also developed this particular recipe because it doesn’t make a super large batch, but it’s ideal for two of us to eat for a couple of meals!
Here are some Slow Cooker Carnitas Recipes if you’d prefer:
- Pork Carnitas Sliders (uses pork shoulder)
- Pork Carnitas Tacos (uses pork loin)
- Spicy Pork Carnitas (uses loin)
Ingredients for this Carnitas Recipe:
For the Pork & Brine:
- 2 1/2 lbs. Pork Shoulder (the best quality you can find)
- 3 tbsp. Diamond Kosher Salt
- 3 cups Water
For the Spice Rub:
- 1 tbsp. Light Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp. Mexican Oregano
- 2 tsp. Smoked Paprika
- 2 tsp. Cumin
- 1 tsp. Diamond Kosher Salt
For Making Carnitas:
- 2 tbsp. Vegetable Oil or Avocado Oil
- 1/2 medium Orange, cut in half (to make 2 quarters)
- 12 oz. Beer (amber or blonde)
- ¼ cup Pineapple Juice
- 2 tbsp. Bourbon
- 1 small Yellow Onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 5 cloves Garlic, smashed
- ½ cup Whole Milk
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 large Dried Ancho Chile, roughly chopped, stem removed
Important Ingredient Notes
- Use a fattier cut of pork, like pork shoulder (or Boston Butt). Fat = flavor, so either of these are the best cut of meat for carnitas. In this recipe, we start by searing the pork in a pan, which caramelizes some of that fat and quickly transforms it into flavor. But slow cooking the pork lets the rest of the fat melt into the meat and the sauce, which in turn creates tons of flavor. Traditional carnitas recipes call for cooking the pork in lard (or another fat). I decided to omit the use of lard, so we definitely want to keep the fat on the pork chunks and allow it to cook into the meat.
- Heritage pork is the best option. You’ll notice that heritage pork is more expensive than general pork, but that’s because it’s more flavorful. I highly, highly recommend purchasing pork that is humanely raised, as locally sourced as possible, and as fresh as possible. While this carnitas recipe has a lot of other flavors in it, the pork is still the star of the show. The better the pork, the better the recipe!
- Eat Carnitas with really good tortillas, like Yoli tortillas (from Kansas City). This isn’t a direct note about the pork itself, but eating carnitas in a delicious tortilla makes it that much better. Hands down, these are the best Sonoran style flour tortillas I have come across in the city. (They also make incredible stone ground corn tortillas!) You can find them at their storefront in the Westside, or at quite a few grocery stores across the metro. They also ship nationwide, and do so in compostable packaging! Click here to go straight to their product page.
How to Brine Pork
- Combine kosher salt and water in a large bowl. Stir until salt dissolves.
- Pat the pork shoulder (or pork butt) dry. Cut the pork into large chunks, about 3″ in diameter (a sharp knife helps with this). Place the pork pieces in the salt water brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the pork from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.
How to Make Dutch Oven Carnitas
- Remove the stem and seeds from the ancho chile and place it in a bowl. Cover the chile with water, and set a small plate on top of it to keep it submerged. Rehydrate the chile in the water for a 30 minutes, then roughly chop it and set it aside.
- Combine the brown sugar, Mexican oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
- Once the pork is done brining, remove it from the brine and pat it dry.
- Heat a large dutch oven on the stove top over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and once the oil is hot, brown the pork pieces on all sides. Work in batches so the dutch oven isn’t overcrowded.
- Preheat the oven to 300 F. Sprinkle the seasoning blend all over the browned pork, and toss the pork in the seasoning until all sides are coated.
- Pour in pineapple juice and stir to mix in any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in onions, chopped ancho chile, and smashed garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until onions are very soft and starting to brown.
- Stir in bourbon, beer, milk, and bay leaf. Squeeze in the orange juice from the orange halves, then tuck the orange halves into the pot. Pour in enough water (or chicken broth) to cover the pork (about 2-3 cups).
- Cover the dutch oven with aluminum foil and place the lid on top. Cook for 3 hours at 300 F, checking a couple of times during the cooking process to make sure the pork is still submerged in liquid. Add water or chicken broth as necessary to keep the pork moist.
- Once the pork is fall-apart tender, shred it directly in the braising liquid. Use a slotted spoon to transfer most of the shredded pork to a small rimmed baking sheet, and pour some of the cooking liquid (about a cup of liquid) over the shredded pork.
- Broil about 3-4 minutes, then serve in a hot flour tortilla with some fresh cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
Slow, low heat is the best way to make the pork super tender and flavorful. This recipe really doesn’t require a ton of time, but it does take a few hours. Luckily, the majority of that time is hands-off cook time, which makes it much easier.
Be patient with this one, and let it cook for a full three hours. You can check the pork periodically to see how tender it is, but it should be goo d to go after three hours. If not, just let it cook for another 30 minutes, and see how tender it is then!
Tips for Making the Best Pork Carnitas
- Use the best quality pork you can find. I know I’ve already said this, but it really is that important. I really, really recommend buying pork that lived in a happy environment, had plenty of room to move about, and was treated really well. Not only does this support local and regional farmers who truly care about their animals and land, but it honestly does make for better-tasting carnitas. Happy, healthy meat makes a HUGE difference, and you should always splurge when you can.
- Definitely take the extra step to brine the pork. The salt bath soaks in the salt (without overdoing it), and is a great way to add so much flavor to the carnitas right from the beginning. Trying to season the pork at the end could result in over-salting, so let’s avoid that if possible. The salt bath also makes the meat super tender!
- Use a beer that you like to drink. (Preferably a lager, amber, or IPA). While the taste of the beer isn’t really that noticeable, it does make a difference. Use a beer that you would like to drink for a couple of reasons: A) You’ll enjoy the flavor the carnitas even more, and B) You can drink a beer (or two) while you wait for them to cook.
- Cover the pork in liquid before cooking it. To prevent the pork from drying out, cover as much of it as possible with liquid before cooking it. Beer, water, even a vegetable broth will work for this. If a couple of pieces are poking out of the top of the liquid, that’s ok. Just as long as it’s mostly covered.
- Cover the pot with foil, then with the lid. We want the moisture to stay inside the pot, so sealing the pot with foil before putting the lid on top is like a bonus step to make sure we lock in the moisture.
- Broil the delicious carnitas meat before serving. Shred the pork, then transfer it over to a rimmed baking sheet. Pour some of the cooking liquid (about a cup of liqiuid) all over the pork, and pop it in the oven on a low broil (for a cautious approach), or a high broil (for a full-blasted, super crispy, use-with-caution approach) to add a crunchy texture. It may be the best part!
- Save the flavor-packed liquid the carnitas were cooked in, and use them another time. You can absolutely freeze the leftover liquid and use it to cook another batch of carnitas within a couple of months!) Let it thaw, then pour it into a large saucepan over medium high heat. Cook until it’s completely heated through, and use it to cook your new batch of salt-brined pork in. 🙂
Wine Pairings for Pork Carnitas:
Budget Friendly & Delicious: Garnacha [Grenache] (Spain) :: Grenache (as most of us know it) is such a cool grape. It’s medium-bodied, and has some cool spice notes that help it pair with the herbs in this carnitas recipe. The fruit notes in Spanish garnacha is perfect alongside the pork, and it’s honestly just such a crowd pleaser! (Look for Bodegas Nekeas “El Chaparral” Old Vines Navarra Garnacha – under $15.)
Another Budget Friendly & Delicious Option :: Côtes du Rhône (France) :: Côtes du Rhône is really just a great example of reliably delicious, affordable, food-friendly wine. You can find a fantastic bottle for under $15 at nearly any wine shop, and it’s perfect for using in cooking (like with this slow cooker short rib recipe), and it’s definitely perfect for pairing with meats. (Look for E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge at right around $15 for a stellar wine at a great price!)
If You’re Feeling Adventurous: :: Rosé made with Pinot Noir or Grenache grapes (Oregon, USA / France) :: Rosé of Pinot Noir is DELICIOUS. These wines tend to be deeper in color (think like a deeper pink, somewhat coral hue). Just because they look juicy doesn’t mean they’re sweet! They’re not. They’re dry, packed with red fruit flavors (but again, not sweet!), acidic, and absolutely awesome with food. Wanna get crazy? Look for a sparkling version! (I love Stoller Rosé of Pinot Noir [about $20] or Bonterra Grenache-based Rose (about $15.)
Other Really Cool Options:
- Mencía (Spain) (Raul Perez’s Ultreia Mencía is insanely good for around $20.)
- Carménère (Chile) (Casa Silva makes a great Chilean Carménère for under $20!)
- Pinot Noir (Oregon, USA) (Ayres has some great options for under $25.)
How to Serve Pork Carnitas
There are so many different ways to enjoy this shredded pork! Pork tacos, burrito bowls, carnitas enchiladas, carnitas salad bowls, or baked nachos are some of my favorite ways to eat this!
Some great toppings are pico de gallo, fresh lime juice, sour cream, fresh cilantro, red onion, white onion, and sliced avocado.
Side Dishes to Pair with Carnitas
If you make this carnitas recipe and love it, I would love for you to let me know in the comments below! Or feel free to tag me on Instagram so I can see! And as always, I am reachable via email if you have any specific questions!
Juicy Dutch Oven Pork Carnitas
- Dutch Oven
For Pork & Brine:
- 2 – 3 lbs. Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt) (Heritage Pork if available)
- 3 cups Water
- 3 tbsp. Kosher Salt
For Spice Blend:
- 1 tbsp. Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp. Mexican Oregano
- 2 tsp. Smoked Paprika
- 1 tsp. Cumin
- 1 tsp. Kosher Salt
For Cooking Carnitas:
- 1 dried Ancho Chile or 2 tsp. Ancho Chili Powder*
- 2 tbsp. Vegetable Oil or Avocado Oil
- 1/4 cup Pineapple Juice
- 1 small Yellow Onion finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 5 cloves Garlic smashed
- 2 tbsp. Bourbon your favorite
- 12 ounces Beer wheat / amber / IPA
- 1/2 cup Whole Milk
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1/2 medium Orange
For the Brine:
- Stir kosher salt and water in a large bowl until salt is dissolved.
- Pat the pork dry. Cut the pork into 3 inch cubes and place into the salt water brine.** Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the bowl from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to allow the pork to come to room temperature. Remove the pork pieces from the brine and pat it dry.
For the Dutch Oven Carnitas:
- Remove the stem and seeds from the ancho chile, and place it in a bowl. Cover it with boiling water, and set a small plate on top of the chile to keep it submerged. Let it rehydrate for 30 minutes. Once it is rehydrated, roughly chop it and set aside.
- Combine the brown sugar, Mexican oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk to combine, and set aside.
- Heat a wide, deep pot (preferably a dutch oven) over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and once the oil is hot, carefully brown the pork on all sides. If necessary, work in batches so the pork isn't overcrowded.
- Preheat the oven to 300 F.
- Sprinkle the seasoning blend all over the browned pork. Use tongs to toss the pork around until it is coated in the seasoning.
- Pour pineapple juice into the dutch oven, stirring it to loosen up any browned bits on the bottom. Stir in onions, chopped ancho chile, and smashed garlic, and cook for 5 minutes until onions are very soft and starting to brown.
- Stir in bourbon, beer, milk, and bay leaf. Squeeze in orange pieces, then tuck the orange pieces in with the pork. Pour in enough water to cover the pork (about 2-3 cups).
- Cover the top of the pot with foil, then place the lid on. Cook for 3 hours at 300 F, checking a couple of times during the cooking process to be sure the pork stays covered with liquid. Add a cup of water if necessary during the cooking process.
- Once the pork is fall-apart tender, shred it directly into the liquids in the dutch oven. Transfer most of the shredded pork to small a rimmed baking sheet, and pour about a cup of the liquid on top of it.
- Broil pork and liquids until crispy, about 3-4 minutes. Serve on warmed tortillas with chopped onion, cilantro, or your favorite toppings!