I just love carnitas. The meat is melt in your mouth tender and the seasoning is a distinct mix of cumin and oregano with cinnamon and a little sweetness. Carnitas means little meats. The authentic version is tender bites of pork fried until just a little crispy. You can come pretty close to making them just as good at home without much work.
This year I decided that our family should have a Mexican themed dinner party for Christmas. No rules in our house for traditional meals on holidays. We actually grazed on brunch and snacks all day that the carnitas party didn’t even start until 9:00 pm. We all found room in our stomachs for several tacos and it was fabulous. I think for Christmas next year the carnitas party might get bumped up to brunch! The meat is so delicious that all you really need is a tortilla shell, but I served them with a medley of salsas and toppings so everyone could create their own. This recipe makes a large batch so there is plenty to feed a crowd.
Carnitas Tacos Recipe
Makes 16-18 small tacos.
- 4-5 lbs pork shoulder
- 6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 bay leaves, broken in half
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp adobo seasoning
- Corn tortilla shells
- Taco toppings – pico de gallo, guacamole, pineapple salsa, cilantro, green onion, lime, sour cream or cheese
- In a small bowl mix together the seasoning.
- Cut the pork shoulder into large, 3-inch pieces. If the meat has the bone-in, cut the meat around the bone as best as possible. Keep the fat on the pieces of meat, do not discard.
- Place the meat in a single layer (including the bone) in a large, deep casserole dish. I prefer to use a disposal foil pan. Rub the seasoning all over the meat. Sprinkle any remaining seasoning into the pan.
- Add 6 cloves of peeled garlic, 4 bay leaves, 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup orange juice and 2 Tbsp olive oil. The meat should be covered or just about covered by the liquid. If necessary, add additional water.
- Insert a meat thermometer into one of the pieces of meat. Seal the casserole dish very tightly with foil so that no steam will escape.
- Place the meat in the oven at 325 degrees, and cook for 1 hour or until the meat reaches 200 degrees.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees, and cook for another 2 hours.
- After 3 hours, remove the meat and check to see if the fat has started to render and the meat is fork tender. If the meat does not fall apart easily with a fork, return it to the oven for another 30 minutes.
- Use tongs to remove the meat from the liquid and shred with two forks. Discard the cooking juices.
- Serve the meat in corn tortilla shells with your favorite toppings – pico de gallo, guacamole, pineapple salsa, cilantro, green onion, lime, sour cream or cheese.
You want to make sure that the meat reaches 200 degrees and slow cooks at or around that temperature for a long period of time. At that temperature the connective tissue and the fat starts to melt off the meat making it fork tender. If you take the meat out of the oven after 3 hours and it is still not tender you can return it to the oven at a higher temperature (back to 325) to give it more time to cook.
Top the tacos with your favorite toppings. My favorite is pineapple salsa and a little sour cream. Serve with refried beans and rice. If you have leftovers use the meat to make nachos or quesadillas.