Carnitas (Mexican pulled pork)

Carnitas (Mexican pulled pork)
Carnitas literally means “little meats”. In Mexican culinary Spanish, there is still a distinction between “meat” and poultry. Despite the popularity of (the Tex-Mex dish) chile con carne, Mexico’s favourite meat is still pork.
Though time-consuming, carnitas is one of these easiest and most versatile of traditional Mexican recipes. It can be added to tacos, quesadillas, tortas (Mexican sandwiches) and other antojitos, or stewed in a mole.

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  1. 750 g pork shoulder
  2. 2 cloves of garlic
  3. 1 tbsp black pepper
  4. 1 tbsp cinnamon
  5. 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds
  6. 1 tsp cumin
  7. 300 mL water or stock
  1. If you’re using whole spices, toast them (one kind at a time) in a dry frying pan and grind them.
  2. Trim any gristle from the pork but leave the fat.
  3. I use a slow-cooker for carnitas, which works brilliantly, but you have to get up really early in the morning. Put the pork in the slow-cooker, add the ground spices and the stock (pour along the sides to avoid washing the spice mix off), and cook on low for 10 hours. If you don’t have that kind of time, you can do the first two hours on high and then another two or three hours on low. This takes the cooking time down to five hours, but you have to be home to change the temperature.
  4. If you don’t have a slow cooker, put the pork in a casserole dish, add the spices and stock (again, pouring the stock down the sides), and cook in the oven at 180° C (160° C fan) for 3 – 5 hours. Check it after two and a half hours and see if the meat falls apart easily. If not, continue cooking and check every hour or so.
  5. When it’s done, remove the pork, rest it, and then shred it with a fork. It should pretty much fall apart on its own. It should also smell absolutely delicious.
  1. You can use this shredded pork in any number of dishes, including as a filling for the famous torta ahogada (“drowned” sandwich).
  2. You can also keep the leftover liquid to use as a pork stock, and skim off the fat to use as homemade lard.
  3. Because carnitas are so essential in Mexican cuisine, there are as many recipes for it as there are cooks. Some recipes add orange juice, for instance. Some increase the amount of spices, or use different spices. I’ve even read one with no spices at all! Just pork and water. So, you can adapt and amend this recipe as you see fit.
Two tips to keep it Mexican
  1. Go easy on the cumin. Cumin is the hallmark of Tex-Mex cooking. In central and southern Mexican cuisine, cumin is limited to a pinch – when it’s used at all. Try to use half or a even a quarter as much cumin as any of the other spices. You’ll still know it’s there. Like nutmeg, it can really take over a dish.
  2. No chiles! Chiles in Mexican cooking are a flavour enhancer, but this lovely slow-cooked pork has a highly prized flavour of its own, and the idea is not to cover it up. (Hence some recipes with little or no spices at all.) Later, in a finished dish, you can add chile sauce to your heart’s content.
About Mexigeek
  1. is an Edinburgh-based blogger and his site is a journey in celebration of Mexican food in the UK: home cooking, restaurant reviews and the finest products and ingredients on the market. Find more recipes and news at
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