There are tons of carnitas recipes available online with various spice blends and cooking methods. Yes, a crockpot version is easier because you can plop it in the slow cooker and forget about it for 6-8 hours. My issue with that is the crockpot cannot produce the beautiful, salty, charred, crispy bits available when pork is browned on the stovetop.
The cooking part of this recipe takes about 2-3 hours. I spend plenty of time shuffling around my house reading, writing, and doing laundry, so I usually don’t have a problem keeping half an eye on bubbling pot.*
I feel like this recipe, which I cobbled together from some research, has some really nice stuff going for it. The cumin is adequately generous, the cayenne adds just the right bite, and the combo of lemon and lime juice not only does the work of tenderizing the meat, it creates a deep, layered flavor that’s infused through the meat.
Stovetop Pork Carnitas
3-4 lbs. pork shoulder, boneless or bone-in
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 heaping (!) tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Cut the pork shoulder into a few large chunks. You don’t want them bite-sized; I make mine about 3-4 inches.
2. Mix cumin, garlic powder, salt, coriander, black pepper, and cayenne together in a small bowl. Place the pork chunks in a plastic container with a lid or a Ziploc bag. Pour in the spice blend, then toss the bag vigorously until the chunks are completely coated on all sides.
3. Place the pork in a large, deep pan. Pour the lime and lemon juice into the bottom, then add water to just cover the meat.
4. Turn heat to high and bring the water to a rip-roaring boil. You want big bubbles! When it’s rolling, turn the heat to a simmer. Keep the pan uncovered. You want it bubble a fair amount, but not be a roiling boil. While it’s cooking, it will look like uninspired soup. Do not be discouraged!Essentially, you’re waiting for the water to evaporate from the pan, but while the water is evaporating, the powerful acidic qualities of the lime and lemon juice are tenderizing the meat. Yay, science!
5. At about the 2-hour mark, check the pot. The water should be much lower and maybe even almost gone. Now things get interesting… allow all the water to cook out of the pan and watch as the meat magically fries and carmelizes. It is a thing of beauty. But seriously, you need to watch it at this point.
6. Carefully turn the hunks of meat – without shredding them – to brown all sides, then remove the hunks to a plate and let them rest for 5 minutes before eating. If you’re into this sort of thing, you can save the pork fat from the bottom of the pan in a glass jar and use it for other cooking projects.
What to do with pork carnitas…
- Eat it like an animal.
- Serve on a plate with avocado slices, pineapple chunks, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges.
- Cut into cubes and use in paleo egg foo yung.
- Shred, wrap in butter lettuce leaves, and drizzle with Sunshine Sauce.
- Eat alongside creamy cucumber salad made with homemade mayo.
- Shred and saute in coconut oil with shredded cabbage, onion, and a sprinkle of caraway seeds.
*And now, a story of near-disaster…
I’ve made this several times without incident, but one day, I left the pot on the stove while I went to the studio in our backyard to work. I kinda sorta maybe forgot the pork was cooking. By the time I remembered, I could smell the delicious aroma in the backyard… through two closed doors.
I was a little worried.
The bad news: Some of the pork had turned to charcoal in the bottom of the pan, and the bone from the pork shoulder was stuck to the pan like Excalibur in the stone.
The good news: The charred bits tasted like the best bacon ever, and the rest of the pork survived the experience just fine. It turned out to be a delicious batch of carnitas, but for your own piece of mind, you might want to set a timer or tie a ribbon ’round your finger so you don’t forget you’ve got a bubbling pan on the stove.
Update: Pressure Cooker Instructions
I had a few questions from readers about if this could be cooked in a pressure cooker. My buddy Tom over at Whole Life Eating did an experiment for us and shared his results and recommendations. Thanks, Tom!
Follow the instructions for the spice rub, then put the meat in the pressure cooker with 1/4 cup water, 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/4 cup lime juice. Pressure cook for 20 minutes, then allow the pressure to come off naturally (about 10 minutes). Heat a pan over high heat and sear the cooked pork for about 2 minutes per side. Voila! Crispy pork carnitas in a fraction of the time.
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