Beer Braised Pork Carnitas
Updated 31st October 2023
This tasty recipe for Beer Braised Pork Carnitas (Mexican Slow Cooked Pulled Pork) is so simple to make and very much a hands off recipe. The seasoned pork simmers with onion, garlic, bay leaf, and orange until fall-apart tender and crispy. Excellent in burritos, tacos, or on its own. It’s the perfect combination of juicy and crispy with delicious seasoning, and it can be made in the oven, Instant Pot or slow cooker. Once you have your pork cut and ready to go it only takes 5 minutes of prep and its ready to be cooked, then shredded and then broiled until crisp (optional but recommended). It keeps well, freezes well, and reheats well so make sure to make the full batch so you can have some extra for another day.
What are Carnitas?
Carnitas — which means “little meats” in Spanish — is a Mexican pork dish. Pork is slow cooked/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. This confit method yields pork that’s so rich and tender but most of us don’t have that much lard if any lard at home to cook it in this manner but there is a nice and easy way to make it without it. It may not be as authentic but it’s still undeniably delicious. It has to do with the cut of pork you use. Some recipes call for cooking the pork whole but I chose to portion the pork roast so it cooks faster and more evenly. Some recipes call for searing the pork whole or the pieces to lock in flavor and moisture. I chose not to for simplicity sake but if you prefer to do that definitely feel free to sear the pork pieces all over in the skillet before adding the rest of the ingredients to pan.
What cut of pork is best for carnitas?
The best kind of pork for these carnitas is either pork shoulder or pork butt. This cut of pork has streaks of fat to keep things moist and juicy while it cooks, and one that can stand up to and benefit from a lower temperature and long cooking time. Essentially that fat sort of melts and creates delicious pan juices for the pork to cook in. It’s high fat content sort of mimics braising in the lard. I made this carnitas recipe in partnership with Metro and was happy to share a beloved simple recipe using Ontario pork, and their Selection brand flour tortillas - the perfect recipe for national beer day. It’s braised in beer and it’s also perfect served with a cold tall one too.
Pork Carnitas Ingredients:
- PORK: I use is either pork shoulder or pork butt and in this recipe we cut the pork into large cubes.
- CHILI: I use a dried Mexican Ancho Chili soaked, drained, seeds and stem removed and minced. This is optional but adds really nice flavour. Feel free to use more than one or a variety of chilies if you like.
- ONION & GARLIC: Adds flavour to the cooking liquids and the pork
- SPICES: I use a blend of ground cumin, oregano, chili powder and cloves. I was a bit conservative on the seasoning but if you like your pork very seasoned I would recommend increasing the amount of the cumin, oregano, and chili powder to 1-2 full teaspoons. And you can even throw in some garlic powder and onion powder for maximum flavour. Ofcourse we also used salt and black pepper to season and bay leaves for flavour. Some people like to add some ground coriander to this dish too - feel free to add a pinch if you would like.
- BEER: Use whatever beer you like. I tend to stick to a lager, ale or even a cider, but you could even use a stout for a much more mature flavour in the carnitas.
- ORANGE & LIME JUICE: The citrus component is quite typical for pork carnitas and they add flavour and just the right amount of acidity
- EXTRA ADD INS: I usually keep things minimal when it comes to flavor boosters here but I have seen others add a pinch of mustard powder, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, some ketchup for a little sweetness
How to Make Beer Braised Pork Carnitas:
This is quite simple. There are three steps to the perfect carnitas.
- BRAISE the pork with the seasonings (pick method you want to use below)
- Remove pork from braising liquid and SHRED
- CRISP up the shredded pork - brush with braising liquid and BROIL or continue cooking a few extra minutes until edges are nice and crisp (this can be done in the oven or on the stove top). Then serve and enjoy!
What do I serve my carnitas with?
I think carnitas is delicious enough on its own. Seriously I eat it right out of the pan. But if I was to chose my favorite toppings for the carnitas in my tacos I would have to say keep it simple with chopped red onions, chopped cilantro, crumbled cotija or feta, and a squeeze of lime. Other toppings include salsa, chopped tomatoes, guacamole, pico de gallo or really just about anything you like to have on your tacos.
How do you serve pork carnitas?
They are so delicious and so versatile. My favorite way to devour carnitas is tucked in soft, warm tortillas as tacos (as shown) as well as heaped over rice and beans. Whatever you decide I’m sure you will enjoy! Here are a few other ways to enjoy carnitas:
- In burritos
- Over crunchy tortilla chips - great on my Sheet Pan Nachos Supreme
- For brekkie. They would be perfect in my Easy Skillet Chilaquiles (Chilaquiles Rojos)
- In enchiladas or quesadillas- perfect in my Easy One Pan Cheesy Enchiladas
- As sliders - why not - Mexican style pulled pork sliders sounds delicious to me!!
- 3-4 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt cut into 2 inch cubes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 Dried Mexican Ancho Chili soaked, drained, seeds and stem removed and minced (optional)
- 1 yellow onion peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 5 whole cloves (or ½ teaspoon ground clove)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups beer
- Juice of one lime
- 1 medium size orange cut into wedges
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Chopped tomatoes
- Chopped red onions or white onions
- Chopped fresh Cilantro
- Lime wedges
- Crumbled cotija cheese or feta
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- In a large roasting pan with lid or large dutch oven with lid, toss the sliced pork with all the spices, cloves, chopped chili, garlic, onion and lime juice.
- Add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, and orange wedges to pan then pour in the beer over the meat.
- Cover pan with lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven and braise for 2.5 hours
- Uncover and toss meat in pan to coat with the pan juices and continue to braise for another 20-30 min until exposed meat is deeply golden with crispy edges and meat is fall apart tender.
- Remove meat from pan juices with slotted spoon (reserving some to drizzle on when serving if desired) then place in a bowl and shred meat using two forks.
- For extra crispy edges place shredded meat onto baking sheet (discarding large fatty pieces) brush with the liquid (approx ½-1 cup) from the pan and continue roasting about 10-15 min more or until your desired crispness. Broiling for the last few minutes if desired or broil right off the bat until desired crispness - just watch that you don’t burn the pork.
- Toast or warm your tortillas then top with warm carnitas and serve with chopped tomatoes, red onions, chopped cilantro, crumbled cotija and with lime wedges.
- Storage: Shred pork but don’t pan fry or broil. Keep pork and juice separate, refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 3-6 months (for freezer, I put pork in containers/ bags and put juice in ziplock bags in the same container). Gently reheat juice to make it pourable (congeals when cold). Pan fry or broil as per recipe, drizzling with juice.
- If you prefer to use bone-in port pork shoulder that is fine. Either cut portions off the bone or cook whole. Cooking it whole could possibly mean increased cooking time. So keep an eye on it and cook until fall off the bone tender.
- If you prefer to sear the pork pieces previous to braising simply toss the pork with the spices then heat your dutch oven with 1tablespoon vegetable oil or more if needed stovetop over medium high heat. Sear and brown all the pieces then add the remaining ingredients to pan scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan and then cover pan and transfer to oven and braise as directed in recipe.
For INSTANT POT carnitas:
- Place pork in the instant pot with all the rest of the ingredients.
- Place cover on instant pot and seal. Cook on high pressure for approx 40 minutes for 3 lbs. Allow natural pressure release for 10 minutes and manually release the pressure.
- Remove cover and then use a slotted spoon to remove the meat onto a baking sheet and shred the pork. Serve as is or for those crispy edges I recommend brushing shredded meat with the liquid (approx ½-1 cup of the sauce) from the pot then place under the broiler for 5-8 minutes until the edges are nice and crisp, tossing halfway through.
For SLOW COOKER carnitas:
- Toss everything in the slow cooker, and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 6 to 8 hours, or until the pork is tender and falls apart then proceed as above. You may reduce the liquids (beer) by half as the pork creates a lot of liquid on its own especially in the slow cooker.
TO CRISP ON STOVE TOP:
- Heat about 1 tablespoon of oil in a non stick pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add pork in batches of two or three, and sear until just beginning to crisp. Pour over about ½ cup of left over liquid, and continue cooking until the juices begin to reduce down and the meat is nice and crispy.