carnitas tacos

carnitas tacos

The first time I had carnitas was my freshman year of high school. I’m pretty sure, but it’s only a hazy memory.  My friend Courtney and I walked over to the hole-in-the-wall Mexican place a few blocks from school. I remember it being in the afternoon, so it was probably before leaving for a water polo game. She ordered two carnitas tacos and I followed her lead. I remember the salsa was really spicy. I probably started sweating a little, as I tend to with food that’s out of my comfort zone. After that, I knew to ask for the thin, chile-flecked sauce on the side at that particular establishment. But I got to work trying plenty of others, too.

pork shoulder and friends

Carnitas remain my go-to taco order. I like the simplest version — with onions, cilantro, and salsa — but a little guacamole is more than welcome. I’ve tried a few fancified renditions in D.C., which I enjoyed, but they weren’t really what I wanted. I don’t need to say too much about it, but as any Californian would tell you, a good taco can be hard to find over here.

carnitas ready for the ovencarnitas confit

Luckily, I found this version on Serious Eats that convinced me to finally try to recreate my crispy, porky true love. I was skeptical of most of the recipes I’d seen online. Real carnitas are simmered in huge pots of lard, until the meat is incredibly tender. A little deep frying gets the outside crisp and they’re on their way to my mouth a taco near you.  The most common adaptation for the home cook, who isn’t ready to invest in a cauldron of lard, is to brown the outside of a big hunk of pork shoulder and braise it until all the liquid evaporates. Full disclosure: I never tried to make them that way. But I was plagued with doubt.

shredded carnitas, pre-browning

Then I discovered that beautiful bit of test-kitchen tinkering, which convinced me that that maybe I could have good carnitas whenever I wanted. A year ago, I put it to the test and was so absolutely thrilled with the results that…I waited a year to make them again. I just can’t finish a party-size pile of carnitas in any reasonable amount of time on my own, no matter how delicious. So a party is what I threw them. Both times. I think we can call it a tradition.

broiled to a crisp

I wasn’t sure about the orange and cinnamon the first time around, but those particular doubts were unnecessary. The delicate, warm flavors only highlight the richness of the pork. After braising for a few hours in a puddle of its own rendered fat – pork confit! – the meat falls apart in chunks at the lightest prodding. A quick bronzing under the broiler is all it needs to get the requisite crispy edges.

carnitas tacos


Adapted from Serious Eats.
[easyrecipe id=”299″ n=”0″]


  1. says

    Wow!! Delicious!! The orange flavor was subtle but nice. In fact, next time I want to use 2 oranges. I smashed the garlic a little too much so I couldn’t pick it out at the end of cooking, but I don’t think it mattered too much. Also, instead of tacos, we made lettuce wraps. On the side were avocado, cilantro, chopped scallions, sour cream, sheep’s milk feta and sriracha sauce. Great recipe!!

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