Traditional authentic carnitas is a pork shoulder marinated in citrus juices and Mexican seasonings slow cooked until tender meat can easily be torn apart into small pieces and deep fried in lard until crispy. In this recipe, we use our Instant Pot to pressure cook a well marinated eight pound pork shoulder.
Our first night of carnitas, we flame broiled small pieces of the juicy pressure cooked pork shoulder on our cast iron grill for a carnitas taco night. The next day, we used the Air Fryer to make our carnitas crispy golden brown and packed on top of gold brown tater tots, melted cheddar cheese and covered in avocado, red onions, cilantro, and Salsa Verde. Our final day of carnitas, we used the air fryer again to perfectly crisp the outside of the flavorful pork pieces and covered a premade chipotle cheddar salad mixed with avocado and an extra cup of cheddar cheese.
I have tried a few different recipes for carnitas marinades over the years. What we ended up with is a recipe using some of the ingredients I have always used but also adding some flavors from Cuban Mojo sauce as well. They are very similar and all go so well with one another.
Citrus juice is an important part of the marinade which brings a ton of flavor and tenderizing properties.
We use lemon, orange, and lime juice because they all have such wonderful qualities. 1 lemon, 3 oranges, and 2 limes are juiced for this recipe.
Lemon is by far one of my favorite flavor enhancing ingredients. I’ll squeeze a lemon in many sauces that citrus is not a common ingredient but knocks flavor right out of the park.
I use lemon zest also when I want even more bang. This recipe uses 1 Tbsp of lemon zest.
What seasonings do you add to make your carnitas stand out from the rest? That is a really great question that many people will give you different answers. Of course we need a bunch of oregano for that warm meaty flavor.
What about cumin and chili powder? It is easy to over do it when using cumin and chili powder because they can easily overpower other ingredients. Think taco and chili seasoning, holy chili powder right? We use a tablespoon of each in this recipe and sits evenly with the other flavors.
Other seasoning we put in our carnitas marinade are crushed red peppers, granulated or powdered garlic and onion, salt, black pepper and do not forget, chicken bouillon. These flavors help to take these carnitas to the rich neighborhood right in the middle of flavor town.
Of course, in order for the best authentic carnitas to actually be the best, you do need to add onion, garlic and jalapeño. I like to use a red onion or sweet onion because they are the best eaten raw for their easy sweet flavor with out being too strong.
10 large cloves of garlic sliced or diced warms the flavor of the pork shoulder quite perfectly.
To brighten the overall flavor of our carnitas, we add two large jalapenos sliced and seeds left in.
You do not have to worry about any heat because it all gets cooked out. We’ll heat up our carnitas with salsa.
I like to use a pork shoulder closer to eight pounds for our family of four. That leaves us with plenty to fill tortillas, make carnitas nachos or fries, and top salads with for three days.
thing about a pork shoulder is you have a shoulder blade in there you need to cut out. I have cut around the shoulder blade and thrown it in with the meat and I’ve also discarded the bone before cooking. It’s the cook’s preference.
Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks producing more surface area to be exposed to the marinade and even cooking.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge until about an hour before dinner time.
I recommend an all day Marination for ultimate flavor but as little as one hour will work.
The time has come to pressure cook our well marinated pork shoulder chunks. Drop 1 Tbsp of olive oil into a cold instant pot. Use a folded paper towel to rub the olive oil around the inside of the pot.
Use long kitchen tongs to place the pork carnitas to be into the instant pot. Just pile them up in no particular order. Dump all of the marinade left in the bowl on top of the pork in the instant pot.
Put the instant pot lid on, seal the pressure release valve and set your pressure cooker to 30 minutes. I only use the high pressure setting for all of my pressure cooking. The Instant Pot takes about 15 minutes to come to pressure before the actual pressure cook starts its 30 minute count down.
Once the Instant Pot finishes pressure cooking, it will beep at you. Let the Instant Pot do a natural pressure release for 20 minutes and open the pressure release valve.
You now have the most flavorful and super tender pork shoulder. Use your long Kitchen tongs to move the large pork shoulder chunks to a plate.
You wont have authentic carnitas until you break down the pressure cooked chunks of pork shoulder into small pieces and brown them to a perfectly crispy golden brown. Living in our RV, we normally use our Air Fryer for this job.
Preheat your air fryer to 400°F for 5 minutes. Spray olive oil into the hot air fryer basket using an olive oil spray bottle. Tear or use a sharp knife to chop only the amount of carnitas you plan on eating into bite size pieces and put them into the air fryer basket.
Air fry the pieces of pork for 10 minutes at 400°F. After the first 7 minutes of air frying, spray the carnitas lightly with olive oil, flip the carnitas over and finish air frying for the last 3 minutes at 400°F.
Air fryers all work a little differently so peek at them every minute toward the end to make sure the carnitas do not burn.
You want a golden brown colored crispy outside.
After your coals are hot and spread around the grill or the gas grill is hot, oil the grill or cast iron grill or pan placed on the grill. Tear enough carnitas for that meal into large bite size pieces so they do not fall through the grill. Place the pork pieces onto the grill and let flame broil for 1 – 2 minutes or until just getting crisped.
Flip the carnitas over and let the carnitas flame broil for another minute or so to just get crisped on the other side. Move carnitas to a plate to serve.
I like to put our cast iron pan on the grill and use that to crisp the carnitas.
Preheat your broiler to high for 5 minutes. Oil a cookie sheet and lay down bite size pieces of pressure cooked pork in an even layer not overcrowding them. Broil for about 2 -3 minutes, flip and broil for 1 – 2 minutes. Keep an eye on the carnitas so they do not burn. Once the carnitas start to crisp in the broiler, they can burn quickly.
Remove the pan from the broiler and move carnitas to a plate for serving.
Heat a large fry pan to medium high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Tear the pressure cooked pork shoulder chunks into bite size pieces and carefully add them to the hot oil in the pan.
Let fry for a few minutes, flip the carnitas and fry for another couple of minutes. You can adjust the fry time to get the carnitas to the level of crispy you like the best. Use tongs to move the crispy carnitas to a plate to serve.
You can put carnitas on just about anything. Fill small corn or flour tortillas with plenty of carnitas topped with Pico de Gallo and avocado slices and you have amazing tacos. If you carry a large apatite, roll a healthy line of carnitas, Mexican rice (I like brown rice), avocado slices, Pico de Gallo or chopped onion and cilantro, on one side of a burrito size flour tortilla, tuck the sides in as you roll your self a to die for carnitas burrito.
Use your air fryer or oven to make a pan of crispy fries or tater tots (golden rounds are fun too), dump some bite size pieces of the pressure cooked pork shoulder on top and air fry or broil on high for about 5 or until the carnitas is warm and golden brown. Top with a bunch of shredded cheddar cheese, air fry or broil for a minute. That all get then gets covered in guacamole, diced red onion and cilantro.
Use a premade chipotle cheddar salad from the produce department. Mix one avocado and a cup of cheddar cheese into the salad, top with Mexican or cilantro rice and a pile of delicious carnitas made crispy in the air fryer or broiler. You got yourself a mind blowing carnitas salad.
The possibilities really are endless. Scramble some eggs, shred some pepper jack cheese, fry some hash browns and carnitas. Fold that all in a tortilla and you have a delicious carnitas breakfast taco.