The Best Carnitas Tacos Around! Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish made from cuts of pork that are seasoned well, cooked and shredded, then fried until crispy. The carnitas meat is eaten in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and more!
Street tacos are some of the most popular Mexican food around. Being born and raised in Texas has allowed me to be privy to some of the BEST Mexican food, especially tacos! So this recipe is tried and true, and super popular amongst friends and family.
Why these are the Best Carnitas Tacos
Affordability! Pork shoulder and pork butts are a fairly inexpensive cut of meat. Which make these tacos super affordable.
Makes a lot! This recipe yields about 16 tacos, just depending on how much meat you are adding to each one. The larger cuts of pork will definitely make more tacos.
Delicious flavor: Frying the pork butt pieces in manteca and adding in the cola, citrus from the orange juice, and all of the amazing seasoning, create a tender and juicy piece of meat that is perfect for tacos.
What are carnitas?
Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish that is made with a large cut of pork. Usually a pork butt or a pork shoulder is used to make pork carnitas.
Carnitas translates to “little meats” in Spanish. The way that the pork is cooked, low and slow, creates an amazing flavor of shredded pork; which are the “little meats.”
This delicious Mexican food is often times used for enchiladas, tacos, tortas, burrito bowls, and much more. It is a delicious variation from your everyday beef or chicken for taco night.
Ingredients You Need for pork tacos
One of the best parts about this carnitas recipe is that the ingredients are easy to come by. Head to your local grocery store and pick up these items:
Pork Shoulder or pork butt: try to find a 4-6 pound cut of meat. You will end up cutting it down into chunks so everything cooks evenly.
Seasonings and spices: you have to use some Bayou City All Purpose Seasoning and Bayou City Garlic Pepper for this recipe! In addition to that, you will need a head of garlic, a white onion, and some bay leaves.
Manteca (lard): this is usually found in the Hispanic food aisle of your store. It typically comes in a plastic tub-like container. If you cannot find it, you can substitute with vegetable oil.
Liquids: traditional pork carnitas is braised in a mixture of cola and some sort of citrus, like the orange juice of lime juice. Adding the evaporated milk is an additional ingredient that helps break down the pork to make it super tender.
Tortillas: for this recipe we used flour tortillas. You can definitely substitute corn tortillas instead, and follow the same exact instructions.
How To Make Pork Carnitas
Making this pulled pork style meat is definitely a labor of love. Although they are easy to make, it does require at least 4 hours, up to 6 hours to get the perfect tender shredded pork.
You will start by cutting your pork shoulder into large even sized chunks. Once they are cut down, you will season the meat with the Bayou City seasonings; which mainly consist of chili powder, salt, ground cumin, and garlic.
Now that the pork is seasoned well, you are going to fry it in the manteca over medium high heat until each piece is golden brown. Then it is time to add in the aromatics.
Gently place the onion, garlic, and bay leaves directly into the pot with the pork. Place the lid on and allow it all to simmer for about 40 minutes.
While it is simmering, you will prepare your salt water mixture by adding salt to 1 cup of water and mixing it up. Now pour the mixture, along with the cola, evaporated milk, and orange juice directly into the pot.
Cover it up and let it simmer for another hour. The pork butt should be super tender, and easy to shred with a fork or your hands.
How to Make Carnitas Tacos
Once you get the pork is fork tender, you will make the pulled pork for the carnitas by shredding it with your hands or a fork. Add about 1 teaspoon of olive oil into a cast iron skillet.
Add the pulled pork directly into the skillet and allow it to fry for about 10 minutes so that it can get a nice crisp on it. Once the meat is crispy, remove it from the skillet to make your tacos.
Dip your corn tortillas or flour tortillas into the juice from the carnitas, and place it directly into the skillet over medium heat. Cook it for about 30-45 seconds, and then flip it over.
Now add some of the shredded cheese onto one side of the warm tortillas, followed by some of the shredded pork. Fold the tortilla over to form a taco.
You want to pan fry the tacos on each side until they are golden brown, and the shredded cheese is nice and melted. Repeat these steps until you have made your desired number of tacos.
PRO TIP: to get ahead and take some of the labor out, warm tortillas in the microwave for about 20 seconds, and assemble all of the tacos prior to frying. Simply assemble them and place them on a baking sheet until it is time to brown them up in the skillet.
The Best Toppings for Tacos
Tacos are made extra delicious with the addition of toppings! Some of our favorite toppings for these ones are:
- Diced onions: white onions or red onions are great
- Fresh Cilantro
- Pico de gallo
- Sour cream
- Queso fresco
- Sliced radish
Top them with your favorite salsa verde or salsa roja for an extra kick! Add a side of guacamole or sliced avocados for more delicious flavor.
Frequently Asked Questions about the Carnitas Recipe
How do I make the pork carnitas in the slow cooker or Instant Pot?
You will want to season and sear your chunks of pork in about 1/2 cup of lard prior to adding them to the slow cooker. Then follow all of the same steps used for the stovetop method- EXCEPT adding the additional lard.
Instead, just add all of the other cooking liquids and aromatics; including the cola, orange juice, water, and evaporated milk. You will cook it on high for 4 hours, or on low for at least 8 hours.
Can I make carnitas tacos with a pork tenderloin?
Yes you can use a pork tenderloin to make this carnitas tacos recipe. Pork loin is a more lean cut of pork, so it shreds very nicely once it becomes tender.
You will follow all of the same steps to get the most delicious pulled pork possible.
Can I freeze leftover carnitas meat?
You can freeze leftover carnitas meat that has been fully cooked. Allow the meat to cool down, then place it in a freezer Ziploc bag.
Place it in the freezer until you are ready to use it, for up to three months. To warm it up, you can add it to a cast iron skillet with about 1/2 cup of water.
The Best Carnitas Tacos Around
- 4 pounds Pork Shoulder or Butt
- 2 tablespoons Bayou City All Purpose Seasoning
- 2 tablepsoons Bayou City Garlic Pepper Seasoning
- 16 ounces Manteca (lard) substitute vegetable oil if needed
- 1 whole Onion cut in half, skin on
- 1 head Garlic cut the top off and leave whole
- 2 Bay leaves
- 6 Black peppercorn
- 1 cup Cola or Dr. Pepper save the remaining soda for deglazing
- 1/2 cup Evaporated milk
- 1 tablespoon Salt
- 1 cup Water warm
- 1 whole Orange cut in half and juice squeezed into pot
- 1 tablespoon Olive oil to fry carnitas until crispy
Assembling Carnitas Tacos
- 16 Flour tortillas
- 2 cups Monterray Jack or Mozzeralla Cheese shredded
- Juices from carnitas
Toppings for Tacos
- Queso Fresco
- Salsa Verde
- Limes for juice
- Cut the pork shoulder or butt into large equal sized chunks so that they can all cook evenly. Season the pork chunks liberally with one tablespoon of the Bayou City All Purpose Seasoning and one tablespoon of the Bayou City Garlic Pepper Seasoning.
- Add a large pot (with a lid) to the stove and heat it up over medium high heat. Scoop the manteca (lard) into the pot and allow it to melt down. Once it is melted, gently place the pork pieces into the oil to brown on all sides. Cook in batches if needed so that you don't overcrowd the pot.
- Once the pork is browned on all sides, add all the meat back into the pot and add the halved onion, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns, and remaining Bayou City All Purpose Seasoning and Garlic Pepper Seasoning.
- Mix everything together well, cover the pot and allow it to simmer on medium low heat for about 40 minutes.
- Combine the one cup of warm water with one tablespoon of salt. Now pour the salt water mixture, cola or Dr. Pepper, evaporated milk, and juice and peel of one orange directly into the pot.
- Stir everything together until it is combined well, and place the lid back on the pot and allow the meat to simmer for another 40 minutes to 1 hour. The meat should be tender enough to shred with your hands or forks.
- Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the meat from the pot and place in a large bowl. Keep the juices the meat cooked in. Use your hands or two forks to shred the pork.
- Once the meat is shredded, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast iron skillet for about one minute. When the oil is hot, add the shredded pork directly into the skillet.
- Pour in about 1/2 cup of the juices that the pork cooked in and a splash of the cola directly over the carnitas. Press the meat down with a spoon or spatula so that it can get crispy.
- Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and you're left with moist and crispy pieces of pork. Remove the meat from the cast iron skillet and set aside so that you can use the skillet to make your tacos.
Assemble the Carnitas Tacos
- Dip the flour tortillas (one at a time), into the juice the carnitas cooked in. Place the tortilla directly into the cast iron skillet over medium heat. Let it cook for about 30-45 seconds, then flip it over.
- Add some of the shredded cheese onto one side of the tortilla, followed by some of the carnitas. You can add your onions and cilantro now if desired.
- Fold one half of the tortilla over the other to form a taco. Cook on each side for about 45 seconds, or until browned and the cheese is nice and melty. Serve with your favorite toppings!