Carnitas – Mexican Pulled Pork

On my first visit to Chipotle’s, I immediately became enamored of their approach to fresh, fast Mexican food.  I particularly like—OK, love—their carnitas (which is Mexican pulled pork for the uninitiated).  During countless visits to Chipotle’s, my only dilemma was whether to get the burrito or the burrito bowl.  No matter if I decided on the regular burrito in a tortilla wrap or the burrito salad bowl, I always chose to have carnitas as the main component from the offerings of carnitas, chicken, beef, or vegetarian.  The pork has just the right amount of spices and is mouth-wateringly juicy and tender.

I hadn’t yet gotten around to figuring out how to make carnitas at home when I opened my Cook’s Illustrated magazine back in 2008 to find their kitchen-tested recipe for it.  The carnitas are perfectly seasoned and every bit as delicious and delectable as Chipotle’s.  When the carnitas comes out of the oven, with its crispy edges, I have all I can do to stop myself from eating a pound of it straight off the pan.

For a fraction of the price of a family trip to Chipotle’s, you can enjoy a great meal and still have  leftovers.  I always have all the fixings ready to go when the carnitas comes out of the oven—cilantro lime rice, fresh tomato salsa, corn salsa (recipe  to come), black bean salad, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, and sour cream, so that family members can choose whether to have a burrito or Mexican salad bowl.  There is always plenty left, and we enjoy tacos, quesadillas, or more salad with carnitas during the week.

Now that I’ve figured out how to make carnitas, I’m free to try something else on the menu when I visit Chipotle’s.  If you’re as big a fan of carnitas as I am, you really need to make this recipe!

I don’t suppose I have to tell anyone how well Margaritas go with this meal, do I?

Carnitas – Mexican Pulled Pork

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Pork Ingredients

  • 1 3 1/2- to 4-lb. boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks ( I always have the butcher at the supermarket do this for me.)
  • Table salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 small onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 tbl. juice from 1 lime
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium orange, halved

Tortillas and Garnishes

  • Corn or flour tortillas, warmed
  • Lime wedges
  • Minced white or red onion
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Sour cream
  • Black beans
  • Cilantro lime rice
  • Guacamole, or avocado slices
  • Shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese


Adjust oven rack to lower third of oven position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine pork, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat).  Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1/3 cup juice).  Add juice and spent orange halves to pot.

Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Cover pot and transfer to oven; cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once during cooking.

Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil.  Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid).

Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heat-safe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes.  You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.

Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half.  Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan).  Place baking sheet on lower-middle oven rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes.  Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer.

Serve immediately with warm tortillas and traditional Mexican garnishes.

Here’s my version of a burrito bowl.  The only thing missing is corn salsa.  Next time….

Put some cilantro lime rice over lettuce to start your burrito bowl.
Next add some warm, juicy carnitas.
Here I've added some black bean confetti salad.
Fresh tomato salsa adds another delicious layer.
Burrito Bowl topped with with Avocado, Cheese & Sour Cream - Yum!

Source: Cook’s Illustrated, May-June 2008

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