notes from the mexican kitchen
Mexican Weekend/

The Pork Carnitas Recipe You’ll Treasure Forever

purple_170x177When it comes to carnitas, let’s assume you don’t have the time or energy to heat a huge cauldron of pork lard and cook a cut-up pig.

Instead, you might head to a restaurant that’s known for carnitas and buy some to bring home.

But this near-effortless version of the classic Mexican preparation allows you to make your own — good news for those of us who don’t have a great carnitas restaurant nearby.

Cooking pork submerged in its own fat—what chefs have classically called confit—produces a lusciously tender and juicy result that you’d never achieve by roasting or simmering.

In the traditional Mexican kitchen, carnitas are typically cooked first at a high temperature to promote browning, then simmered low and slow until they are richly tender. Here, we’re doing the reverse, cooking the pork slowly in its own fat in a slow cooker (it requires much less fat and much less tending), then browning it when it’s time to serve.

Quick note: carnitas demand a big stack of warm tortillas for making tacos. And what’s a carnitas taco without some guacamole to spoon on it, plus a little salsa and a smear of beans.

It’s a big dish, to be sure, but a simple salad on the table really completes the meal.

Cena Completa de Carnitas de Puerco
Servings: 6


  • 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
  • salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2cups freshly rendered pork lard (you can buy good-quality lard from a local butcher or Mexican market; I don't recommend the hydrogenated lard that's sold in bricks)
  • 3serranos (or 2 jalapeños) stemmed, seeded if you wish
  • 10 unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 4 1/2cups cooked beans (and kind you like), drained, cooking liquid reserved (this is the quantity you'll get from three 15-ounce cans)
  • 115-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2cup chopped cilantro (divided use)
  • 3 or 4limes (divided use)
  • 3ripe avocados, pitted, flesh scooped from the skins
  • 2dozen corn tortillas


Cut the pork into 2 ½- to 3-inch pieces and sprinkle generously on all sides with salt. Scoop the lard into a 6-quart slow cooker and turn on high.  When the lard is melted, fit in the pork in a single layer (there should be few gaps between the pieces and they should be barely covered with the fat).  Cover and cook until thoroughly tender, about 3 hours.  Turn off, uncover and let cool while you prepare the accompaniments.

In a very large (12-inch) non-stick or seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat, roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic, turning regularly until they are softened and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the chiles, 15 minutes for the garlic.  Cool, then slip the garlic from its skins and put into a food processor. Pulse the garlic until it’s finely chopped.

Set the skillet over medium heat and spoon in a few tablespoons of the pork fat from the carnitas.  Add the beans and 1/3 of the chopped garlic.  Mash with an old-fashioned potato masher or back of a large spoon until as smooth as you like—I like mine to retain a little texture—adding bean cooking liquid (or water) a few tablespoons at a time until the beans have a slightly soupy consistency.  Scrape the beans into a serving bowl, cover with a piece of foil and keep warm in a very low oven.

Divide what remains of the garlic between 2 medium serving bowls.  Without cleaning the processor, pulse the chiles until finely chopped.  Divide between the two bowls.

Again, without washing the processor, pulse the drained tomatoes until they resemble salsa texture.  Scrape into one of the bowls with the chile and garlic. Stir half of the cilantro into the tomato salsa bowl and season with a tablespoon or two of fresh lime juice. Thin the salsa with a little water if it needs it, then taste and season with salt, usually about a ½ teaspoon.

Scoop the avocados into the other bowl and mash with the potato masher or back of a spoon until smooth or chunky—whatever your favorite guacamole texture.  Stir in the remaining cilantro and squeeze in a little fresh lime juice—1 tablespoon is usually enough to brighten the flavors.  Taste and season with salt, usually about a ½ teaspoon.

Cut the remaining limes into wedges and scoop into a serving bowl.

Remove the pork to a cutting board, leaving behind as much fat as possible.  (You can refrigerate the lard to use for another round of carnitas, to season beans or fry potatoes or the like.) Shred the carnitas into very large, coarse pieces.  Set the cleaned bean-cooking skillet over medium heat. When the pan is very hot, spoon in enough carnitas-cooking fat to film the bottom generously.  Scoop in the pork, spreading it out evenly over the bottom of the pan.  Cook undisturbed for a couple of minutes, until it is richly browned and releases itself from the bottom of the pan.  Gently turn the pieces to brown the other side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt (coarse salt is welcome here, if you have it). Serve on a warm platter with the beans, salsa, guacamole, lime wedges and warm tortillas.



  2. After watching this segment recently, I’m totally going to try cooking the pork shoulder in pork lard I purchased at my local carnicería, I’ve always used a little bit of stock or I’ve even used water when my pantry had less ingredients but it doesn’t come out as flavorful or moist, I’ll keep you posted in the next week and let you know if it’s a hit or miss with my family. Salud!

  3. The first paragraph of the instructions says you cook the 3 inch chunks on high for 3 hours?? That can’t be right.

  4. Exquisite! Made these for supper, on a work night, with left over roast pork. So, easy, tasty and totally delicious. Thank you, Rick Bayless for sharing your heritage. We are definitely making these again. Melt in your mouth, delicious!

  5. Greatest way to cook carnitas! We’ve used pork shoulder, beef brisket, and are going to try lamb this week. Pull the meat out of the slow cooker, shred, then”crisp” up just a bit in a skillet before scooping into tortillas. Did some research on lard–pretty fascinating.

  6. I have now made this recipe several times (including twice in one week!). It is always a mouthwatering treat. I crisp mine under the broiler since I can’t use cast iron on my stovetop. That step is critical for crunchy goodness! It even inspired me to learn to render my own lard (which gets better with each reuse when used for carnitas). Best recipe ever!

  7. I found this recipe AFTER i cooked my pork for 8 hours in an electric skillet with NO LARD or oil of any kind. I started with a 7 lb. bone-in roast from which I cut all the meat into chunks (and swearing never to buy that cut again). The recipe I used called for chicken broth as the cooking liquid, so I used the entire quart. I then added a chopped onion, 4 cloves of sliced garlic, and about 2 t. Of McCormick Mexican seasoning. I am commenting to say: I wish I had not been so hasty and had looked through all the recipes online first as my concoction is not what I expected; also, I have only had carnitas once in my life, about 20 years ago. I plan to take the meat out of the broth and follow this recipe through its steps after that–shredding, frying it in a skillet, etc.

    1. I don’t think you ended up with carnitas, but that still probably yielded a shredded pork that I would eat. One tip when you try again: seek out the freshly rendered pork lard – in a Mexican market, it’ll likely be by the meat counter. Many retail butcher shops sell it as well.

      the stuff you can buy on the grocery store shelves is not the same, and in my opinion is not something you want to eat.

  8. I finally tried this with lard we raised ourselves! It was great. So rich and delicious. I cooked it about an hour or so longer on medium and it was tender. Serves as suggested with all the accompaniments. Definitely will make again.

  9. Carnitas are great i have watched and made many meals. That. Rick has demonstrated and all have been great if you want great mexican dishes do not but them envelopes of seasonings. Cook the stuff take te time do it right it will be worth it thanks mr bayless you rock

  10. Can’t good wrong with Rick. I like to Sous Vide lighted salted 3″ x3″ cube pork shoulder at 155f for 24-30 hours. (Basically confit in its on fat. It won’t work with lean pork.) Then add the seasoning and orange juice while it rests for an hour or so cooling. I batch the busted with a fork pork in a cast iron pan in the toaster oven on broil.. We serve with refried beans w/ melted cheese, Spanish rice, lettuce/cucumber/tomato mini salad, Pico de gallo, limes and flour Tortillas is our go to. So I start it in the morning then have tomorrows lunch ready and usually skip dinner.

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