Carnitas are a Whole30 favorite of mine. Tender, flavorful, juicy, falling apart…SO GOOD! They’re also super easy to make and I usually eat it for days.
You’ll need to make this on a day when you’ll be at home most of the day, because they’ll be in the oven for a few hours. I like make it on Sunday so I have leftovers in the fridge for the week.
Carnitas are really good eaten on their own with a side of veggies, or served over some Whole30 Cauliflower Rice, or in a salad with some lettuce, salsa, onion, and guacamole. Sometimes I eat it cold right out of the fridge. It’s just good stuff.
You will need a big hunk of pork, typically pork shoulder. You can use bone in or boneless. When I made them last, I used boneless pork shoulder that had been cut into strips, because that’s what I had in the freezer!
Some recipes for carnitas have you cut up the meat into cubes before cooking, but I like to expedite the process, so I don’t bother with that (unless it’s already cut up!). It just literally falls apart after it’s done cooking, so I don’t see the point! (If you know of a good reason to not skip this step, please let me know in the comments!)
Bone-in will probably be the most flavorful, and will also take longer to cook. But use what’s available! It’s best to get organic when you can, because the meat is pretty fatty (delicious!) and toxins get stored in the fat of the meat, and you don’t really want to be eating that.
I adapted my recipe from this recipe for Carnitas I found online. I made a few changes to make it Whole30 compliant and tastier of course 🙂
Also, you really need to use a dutch oven for this. If you don’t have a dutch oven, buy one! If you just really have something against dutch ovens, you can use a skillet to sear the meat and a lidded roasting pan or other oven safe pan with tin foil over the top to cook it in the oven.
Thaw your meat overnight in the fridge if it’s frozen. Once thawed, take it out of the fridge and pat it dry really well with several paper towels. Then, add some avocado oil, melted ghee, or coconut oil to a large bowl along with salt, pepper, cumin and dried oregano. Put your meat in the bowl and rub all that stuff into the meat really, really well.
Heat up your dutch oven (or skillet) with some avocado oil, ghee, or coconut oil on medium high. Once it’s good and hot, sear the meat for a minute or two on every side. Get it nice and crispy and brown on all visible parts. This is going to add so much yummy flavor!
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 275ºF.
Roughly chop 1 or 2 onions and crush 5-6 cloves of garlic. Wash 2 oranges and cut them in half. Remove seeds if you feel like it.
When the meat is done browning you can turn off the heat. Dump the onion and garlic in the dutch oven. Squeeze the orange juice from your two oranges all over the meat and toss the halves into the pan.
Stir everything around a bit to evenly distribute the juices, onion, and garlic. Get some browned bits off the bottom, and make sure there is some onion and garlic under and on top of the meat.
Wedge the orange halves under or between any pieces of meat.
Place the lid on your dutch oven (or if you don’t have a lid, cover pan with tin foil, very tightly), and place in the preheated oven.
Cooking time will depend on the size of the pieces of meat and whether it’s bone-in or boneless. My strips of boneless pork shoulder took about 3 hours to cook. Smaller pieces might take 2.5 hours, bigger chunks with bone-in might take 5 or 6 hours.
You can check the meat after about 2.5 hours if you have smaller, boneless pieces. You will know it’s done because it will fall apart!
After your carnitas are falling apart tender, take them out of the oven. The final step in making carnitas is to shred the meat (it’s really easy at this point) and crisp it up.
Traditionally, this is done by frying the meat in lard. Even though I don’t have anything against lard itself, I don’t like using animal fat unless it comes from organic sources. And since I don’t normally have organic lard on hand, I use a different method.
I actually usually fail at this step completely because I’m so starving, but it really is worth it to get the meat nice and crispy.
Spread the shredded meat (just the portion you plan on eating, leftovers can be crisped up later) onto a sheet pan lined with foil. Place the pan in the broiler for 2-3 minutes depending on how hot your broiler is. You just want the meat to get a little crispy– you don’t want to blacken it or dry it out. I may or may not have ruined some this way 🙁
So, after the meat is crispy, take it out and eat it up. Strain some delicious juices through a sieve and drizzle over the meat if desired.
This may seem complicated because of how many steps I’ve listed, but it’s really quite simple. The amount of time you actually spend on the recipe is really short. Most of the time it’s just in the oven doing its thing.
So don’t be intimidated. Make this recipe! Let me know in the comments how you liked it! 🙂