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What Is Carnitas?

What is Carnitas? What is Carnitas Meat?

Carnitas -- which means “little meats” in Spanish -- is a Mexican pork dish. An inexpensive, heavily marbled cut of pork, such as boneless Boston butt, pork shoulder or picnic ham, is braised or simmered for several hours with seasonings and lard until it is so tender that is can be shredded. At the end of cooking, the meat is roasted to make it crisp.

Carnitas is served on its own with salsa, or used as a filling for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas.

Carnitas with Guacamole and Refried Beans

Photo by Getty Images

What is the Difference between Braised Carnitas and Barbacao?

Carnitas is made from pork whereas barbacao is from beef, usually from the beef cheeks, and it originated in the Caribbean. The word “barbecue” comes from barbacao.

There are different ways of preparing barbacao. In the United States the term generally means spicy slow-braised beef that has been marinated in adobo seasoning and cooked until fork-tender and pulled apart.

What is in Carnitas Seasoning?

The ingredients in ready-to-use carnitas seasoning are very similar to adobo seasoning, containing a mix of salt, black pepper, onion or onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic or garlic powder, and chili powder, plus additional lime juice.

What is the Difference between Carnitas and Pulled Pork?

Both carnitas and pulled pork are cooked slowly for several hours, and great to make in the slow cooker or instant pot. Unlike pulled pork, however, carnitas are finished by roasting the meat in the oven until browned and crisp.

What is the Difference between Carnitas and Carne Asada?

Carne asada are thin strips of beef, such as sirloin or rib, that are marinated in lime juice and other seasonings, then grilled. It takes much less time to make but just like carnitas, it’s also a popular filling for tacos or burritos. Discover more about carne asada.

VIDEO: How to Make Crispy Pork Carnitas

"Carnitas are cubes of fragrantly spiced pork are slowly cooked in lard until they're crispy on the outside while at the same time remaining soft and succulent inside," says Chef John. Add some to warm tortillas, drizzle with a little braising liquid, and top with salsa, chopped onions, and cilantro.

More Top-Rated Carnitas Recipes

Zesty Carnitas Tacos

Pork shoulder is slow cooked, shredded, and served in soft corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, onion, pico de gallo topped with lime crema.

Zesty Carnitas Tacos

Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

Orange and Milk-Braised Pork Carnitas

"The milk braising beforehand seems to give the meat a little extra succulence," says Chef John. "The subtle sweetness from the orange is also very nice."

Orange and Milk-Braised Pork Carnitas

Photo by mauigirl

Tex Mex Ultimate Carnitas Grilled Cheese

"Carnitas, avocado, and cheese are layered between thick slices of bread and grilled with more cheese on the outside of the bread in this ultimate Tex-Mex grilled cheese," says Julie Hubert.

Tex Mex Ultimate Carnitas Grilled Cheese

Photo by bd.weld

Pressure Cooker Carnitas

"This can be easily adapted to a slow cooker, but the pressure cooker really seals in the flavor and cuts down on cooking time," says yellowpairs. "Perfect for taco bars! All the leftover broth from the pressure cooker is packed full of flavor, great as a starter for chile verde, and freezes well. Serve carnitas with white corn tortillas, guacamole and pico."

Pressure Cooker Carnitas

Photo by bd.weld

Slow Cooker Carnitas

"Carnitas means 'little meats' and is traditionally fried then braised," says Erin Parker. "This recipe is made much easier using the slow cooker but the results are just as tasty. This makes a great filling for tamales, enchiladas, tacos and burritos. This filling is also great combined with your favorite barbecue sauce and served on buns."

Slow Cooker Carnitas

Photo by Tammy Lynn

Simple Carnitas

"This is the easiest recipe for tasty carnitas," says Ken from CA. "Once cooked, the meat can also be shredded and mixed with BBQ sauce for incredible pulled pork sandwiches, or pan fried in a little oil until crisp on the outside."

Simple Carnitas

Photo by bd.weld

Check out our collection of Mexican Pork Recipes.


Nadia Hassani

About Nadia Hassani

Passionate locavore cook and gardener who loves to make everything fresh and from scratch. Cookbook author and blogger. Can be found as nch on Allrecipes and on Instagram.