Easy, 5-Star Pork Carnitas Recipe

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If you eat pork, and are craving carnitas, but don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen, then this 5 stars carnitas recipe is for you!

How do you make the best carnitas in a dutch-style oven? Start by cutting a pork shoulder into 1-inch cubes. Add the meat to the baking dish and cover with garlic, onion powder, ground cloves, cayenne pepper, cumin, and salt. Add 2 cups of water plus some oil to the lot, stir everything, cover, and braze at 325 F for about 3 1/2 hours. There’s a bonus step at the end that takes these over the top!

This simple, wonderful recipe takes almost no time to prep and can cook while you work. The smell in your house will be amazing!

How Do You Make Pork Tender?

There are two keys to cooking tender pork: time and temperature. The quality of the cut also plays a role, but any grocery chain that sells pork loin, pork shoulder, or pork butt should offer similar quality cuts.

Cook it low and slow – no matter if it’s shoulder, pork butt, belly, tenderloin, pork loin, or any other cut, meat benefits from a low-temperature, long cooking process. If you are in a hurry, it’s best to order a pizza. To make great-tasting and tender pork, you’ll need to allow enough time to break down the fat. If the temperature is too high, the meat can dry out and become tough. Take your time when it comes to cooking pork and you will taste the difference!


  • 3 lbs. pork shoulder (some fat will be trimmed, so buy 4 lbs.)
  • 3 bashed garlic cloves (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 Tablespoon of chili powder (see our chili powder guide here)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 cups water or 1 cup water and 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (kosher salt or flaky salt)

When buying your ingredients for this pork carnitas recipe, keep these tips in mind:

Pork butt and shoulder can be very fatty. Plan on 1/3 of the cut to be fat that will be mostly trimmed away before you make this recipe. If you want enough servings for several people, be sure to buy a slightly larger cut. If you increase the amount of meat, be sure to adjust the amount of spices and oil to match.

Prepping the Pork for 5 Stars Pork Carnitas

Defrost the Pork Shoulder

If you had the meat in the freezer, defrost it in the fridge overnight.

Cut into Cubes

Cut the meat roughly into 1-inch (2.5cm) cubes.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas in a Dutch Oven

Slow cooker carnitas can be converted to a Dutch-style oven instead.

If you cook it in a dutch oven instead of a slow cooker or crock pot, keep the lid on it throughout the process. Cooking the meat in the oven without a lid or some covering will dry it out.

If you choose to cook pork carnitas in the oven, cover the dish with a lid to preserve moisture, and put a baking sheet under the dish to avoid the mess if the liquids seep out.

Step One: Put Everything Together

Combine the meat, cloves or garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, ground cloves, cayenne, and salt together in the Dutch-style oven. Stir well to coat the meat with the spices. Add the water and optional fruit juice and the drizzle of olive oil over the pork mixture.

Step Two: Bake for 3-4 Hours

Once all of the ingredients are in place, place your dish in an oven preheated to 325 F. Cook the seasoned pork for 3-4 hours checking at least every hour to ensure not too much of the water has evaporated. It’s okay if some of the meat is above the water line, it will develop a nice crust on top and add to the texture when finished.

When the meat pulls apart easily with a fork it will be ready to serve.

Note: if you want to speed up the process, you can try to set the temperature a little higher to 350 F, but you’ll run the risk of making the meat too tough rather than brazing it. It really just takes time at a low temperature to break down the collagen and saturated fat in the pork.

pork in slow cooker after an hour
Pork carnitas, slow cooked, after about an hour.

Step Three: Shred Pork

Once the meat is fully cooked, you should be able to pull it apart with a fork. The fork should insert easily in without much resistance. Shred more or less, depending on the desired consistency.

At this point, you can serve the shredded meat. However, we recommend the next step to take this flavorful pulled pork meal to the next level.

Step Four: Sear the Edges

After the crock pot, instant pot, pressure cooker, or slow cooker has done its work, you can put the pulled pork in a non-stick pan on medium heat for a few minutes to see the meat begin browning. Add a little bit of oil to the pan, and let it come up to temperature before adding the browned pork to the pan. This will give a restaurant-grade, crispy pork finish, just take care to not overdo it!carnitas searing in a frying pan

Optional Step: Pork Carnitas Tacos

Carnitas make for a great street tacos night at home. Get some flour or fresh corn tortillas and top the crispy pork with your favorite salsa, some shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, minced garlic, chopped onion, red pepper flakes, chopped cilantro, diced onions, pickled onions, a squeeze of lime juice, shredded cheese, and guacamole!

Toast the tortillas in a dry non-stick frying pan or comal on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes on each side until they start to brown.

BuzzFeed recommends whipping this pork tacos recipe up in the crock pot to make this go to recipe minus a bit of the effort, then adding it to warm tortillas for a quick bite to make any night a taco night.

corn tortillas toasting in a frying pan

tacos de carnitas with lime

How Can You Tell When Pork Is Fully Cooked?

You can tell when pork is fully cooked when it’s pink in the middle. If you aren’t sure if the pork is done, cut the pork and check if it is pink in the middle. Pink pork needs a little bit more cooking time, pale pork is cooked. You can also check the temperature with a thermometer which should reach 160F for cooked pork.

How Do You Cook Pork So That it’s Moist and Juicy?

Cook meat so that it’s moist and juicy by cooking it in a slow cooker, instant pot, pressure cooker, or crock pot. Mexican slow cooker meat retains more moisture than when cooked quickly. Slow cooker pork carnitas are some of the juiciest! You will want to keep a lid on the slow cooker and be sure the meat isn’t cooking without some sort of liquid to keep it moist.

Liquid options to give this meat more flavorful juiciness include chicken broth and orange juice. Use either as a replacement for half the water in this delicious recipe.

How Do You Avoid Overcooking Pork Shoulder?

The best way to avoid overcooking pork shoulder is by keeping an eye on the meat’s internal temperature. The higher the cooking temperature, the less the cooking time. The meat should reach an internal temperature of 160 F, but if brazing for several hours it will likely be over 200 F by the time it’s falling apart.

Also, the meat should pull apart fairly easily with a fork when it is ready, but don’t cook it so long that it dries out or disintegrates.

If the meat is mushy or doesn’t maintain threads or strings and just falls apart into particles instead, it’s been overcooked. You can still try to eat it, but it might not taste as good.

How Do You Serve Pork Carnitas?

You can serve this great recipe for authentic pork carnitas with Mexican food. This pork carnitas recipe, whether you’ve used pork tenderloin, pork loin, butt, or another cut, is best served with a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lime juice, alongside Mexican slaw, pinched between a flour tortilla, and certainly with fresh cilantro, thank you so much! Twist this absolutely delicious food into burrito bowls, add Spanish rice, refried beans, or any delicious side (including Mexican coca cola) to bring the whole family together — they’ll certainly give you 5 stars.

Let us know in the comments below if you made this recipe and how it turned out! Or do you have another family carnitas recipe you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

More Pork Recipes

Here are more of our favorite, 5 stars in-house tested pork recipes like pork loin roast, and pork ribs for another pork recipe focussed, delicious meal:

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