Lately I’ve had a huge craving for Mexican food. My mouth is still sensitive from having my wisdom teeth removed, but finally feeling good enough to eat soft foods. Carnitas is a Spanish word meaning “little meats”. Typically pork or beef is used, and is braised or slow-cooked until it is fall-apart tender and moist. I’ve been on a pork kick lately, so I decided to use pork.
The meat is delicious enough to eat on its own, but I was in the mood for tacos, so I served mine in a soft tortilla loaded up with fresh salsa, veggies, a sprinkle of cheese, and cilantro. This dish was partially inspired by a little Mexican restaurant near my boyfriend Dan’s house. They serve up fresh, authentic Mexican dishes for alarmingly low prices. My favorite is their pork tacos, topped with fire-roasted tomato salsa and pickled red cabbage (which is surprisingly delicious!) They are so good they don’t even need cheese or sour cream – the flavors stand out on their own.
I recently purchased a slow cooker and the first thing I made in it was pulled pork. I actually prepared the pork for these carnitas the same way – dry-rubbed with various spices, drenched in some Worcestershire sauce, and cooked at a low temperature for about 8 hours. Typically the meat for carnitas is first browned in a frying pan before entering the cooking pot, but since my teeth and gums are still fairly sensitive, I decided to skip that step.
Though this recipe has a lot of ingredients and steps, don’t be afraid! It is really as simple as adding seasoned meat to your slow cooker and letting it cook for hours. The meal basically cooks itself and is surprisingly easy, but oh so tasty. The meat is so tender you can barely pick it up without it falling apart, and is sweet, smoky, and a little bit spicy. The great thing about this cut of meat is that, while it is on the fattier side, it’s incredibly inexpensive – only $2.50 a pound. Using my grocery store savings card, I paid under $8 for the whole 4 pounds!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 8 hours
- 1 4 lb. pork butt (or pork shoulder – it’s often referred to as the butt, but actually comes from the pig’s shoulder)
- 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
- Dry rub:
- 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp chipotle pepper powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Cooking sauce:
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (optional)
- For the tacos:
- flour or corn tortillas
- fresh lime juice
- To top: salsa or diced tomato, avocado, shredded cheese, peppers, onion, cilantro, etc.
- First, prepare your dry rub by measuring out the spices and combining them in a small bowl. Mix well.
- In a separate bowl, combine Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, and bbq sauce.
- To prepare the meat, remove from package and cut into 4-6 large chunks. If your cut has a bone (mine did), don’t get rid of it! The bone adds tons of flavor. Just cut around it, leaving some meat on it. I like to try to remove as much of the visible fat as possible, but it’s okay to leave some on because you can remove it after it’s cooked.
- Gently rub the spices into the meat. Place sliced onion on bottom of slow cooker, and then pile meat on top. Pour cooking liquid on top of meat and around perimeter of slow cooker.
- Set your slow cooker on low for 8 hours. I like to set mine on high for 2 hours then turn it down to low for the remaining 6 hours, but if you’re busy or working, you can omit that step.
- After 8 hours, your meat should be very tender and cooked throughout. If it’s not, cook for another hour or so. Carefully remove the chunks of meat from the slow cooker and onto a platter. Using 2 forks, shred the meat into small pieces. You may also want to discard any large remaining chunks of fat at this point, and the bone.
- If a large amount of juice has accumulated inside the crock, you may want to remove some so that it’s not swimming. I removed about half of the liquid and kept the rest.
- Prepare your tacos by serving the meat over warmed tortillas with a healthy squirt of fresh lime juice and pile with your favorite toppings. Serve immediately.