Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

Having grown up in California, I love Mexican food (and anything that takes 4 1/2 hours to cook had better be exceptional). And so, it was with these raised expectations that I ended my evening in disappointment. Sure the texture was great, but the carnitas lacked flavor. They were only lightly flavored with 1 tsp Oregano, 1 tsp Cumin, 2 Bay Leaves, and a little bit of citrus (1 orange and 1 lime). The toppings were not enough to rescue the night. Sure, they were still 3-stars, not bad, but certainly not worth the cooking time or the huge mess it left in my kitchen. Recipe is here.

On the plus side, the “Pork Shoulder Butt Roast” is extremely economical; only $1/lb. The few required spices were already in my kitchen. So for $5 I was able to feed my family for 2 days; when I make beef burritos (or chimichangas) it costs at least triple the price. Maybe next time I’ll try Chris’  “Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas (Tingas)” from the upcoming issue of Cooks Illustrated (already on his website).


  1. I accidentally bought a bone-in roast, instead of the boneless called for in the recipe. Not a big deal, I just had to increase the cooking time.
  2. Also I misread his instructions. He wanted me to cut them into 2-inch chunks before cooking, but I did it after cooking. Again, I think this just increased cooking time.

Rating: 3-star. Way below my high expectations.
Cost: $5 for 20 taco. (4 pounds of filling).
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  A Big Mess.
Start time 2:15 PM. Dinner time 6:45pm

Recipe calls for serving as soft taco in corn tortilla.

The meat was still bland, but the extra flavor from the fried tortilla made the recipe better.


9 Responses to Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

  1. seashells4u says:

    Well I’ve not made this exact recipe (pulled from CI) but a few months ago I collected several different carnitas recipes and made them in the hopes of finding one that had “that taste” – – the same taste as my fav mex food joints. Disappointment. Why? I never used THE ingredient. Carnitas gets “that taste” by cooking it in flavorful lard. Yessiree.

    As a sanity check, I asked the instructor in my tamale-cooking class about “that taste” and she agreed: it’s the lard. As you noted, you might have made a tasty pork but it ain’t carnitas. At least not on your palate (or mine).

  2. […] de Tinga, with Homemade Chorizo Having been disappointed with the lack of flavor from the Carnitas, I was looking for a spicier version of Mexican pork to serve at my son Matthew’s 11th Birthday […]

  3. Cathy says:

    Just found the blog — nice. Having a fun surf. I use this/CI recipe but cut up the pork shoulder and throw everything, bone included, into the crock pot for the day. Then scoop out what need for dinner that night and fry it up (reducing the broth into the crispy meat). Remainder goes into freezer for the future. That might help, but then — didn’t grow up on Carnitas, so might not know what I’m missing.

  4. Cindy says:

    Hi Mark,

    I’ve made the Americas Test Kitchen recipe for Carnitas last year on Cinco de Mayo 2011 and it was good, but I too thought I could do better. This year for May 5th, I searched for a better recipe and I think this one was better than the ATK recipe – he talks about how the recipe is developed and the reason why cooking in lard does not really work for home cooks — the lard is bland and does not add flavor… in a restaurant setting the fat has a ton more flavor. Check this link out at Serious Eats Food Lab for Carnitas — pretty good recipe and I like the technique very much. ( As usual, I got too heavy handed with the cumin thouhg) Also, I do not like to par-boil meat as I think it just takes away flavor.


    • Hi, I think one of Chris Kimball’s weaknesses is his aversion to heat in Mexican recipes. In a sense, it’s almost absurd to trust him on anything Mexican. But occasionally he surprises me.

      It was a very interesting article. I think as long as you use the braising liquid in the end result you won’t end up losing the flavor, and braising is great for the long and even cooking you need for cooking a shoulder roast. You can just reduce the liquid until you have the desired about.

  5. cindyinthemountains says:

    I agree that the braising liquid holds so much flavor — and the citrus, either lime or orange really gives it an authentic flavor. You’re right, Chris seems to shy away from too much heat.. but I tend to make some adjustments on spices anyway, — more mexican oregano, garlic, jalepeno. But I liked the techniques in both recipes, I cut the meat into pretty large chunks, about 3-4 inches and it took only 15 minutes for the initial prep to go into the oven.

  6. Andy Towler says:

    When I made this recipe, I mistakenly broiled the pork and THEN mixed it with the reduced sauce. It was very very good. The pork had crisped, but was still moist.

    I told a friend how good it was, and made it the way the recipe describes and said it was bland and dry.

    And I always double the spiciness in every Cook’s Illustrated recipe — you’re right, their just too shy.

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