The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Pork Carnitas: Perfect Temperature and Techniques

Pork carnitas, a delectable Mexican dish, tantalizes taste buds with its tender, flavorful meat. Achieving the perfect carnitas requires precise temperature control and a blend of traditional and modern techniques. This comprehensive guide will delve into the intricacies of cooking pork carnitas, providing you with the knowledge and expertise to create this culinary masterpiece in your own kitchen.

Understanding Carnitas: A Culinary Journey

Carnitas, meaning “little meats” in Spanish, is a traditional Mexican dish that has gained immense popularity worldwide. It consists of succulent pork shoulder or butt, slow-cooked in a flavorful blend of spices and liquids, resulting in tender, juicy meat that can be easily shredded. Carnitas can be enjoyed in various forms, such as tacos, burritos, tortas, and salads, offering a versatile culinary experience.

The Science of Cooking Carnitas: Temperature and Timing

The key to achieving perfect carnitas lies in understanding the science behind the cooking process. Pork shoulder, a tough cut of meat, requires prolonged cooking at a specific temperature to break down the connective tissues and render the meat tender. This process, known as collagen breakdown, occurs optimally between 195-205°F (91-96°C).

Cooking Methods: Embracing Tradition and Innovation

Traditionally, carnitas were cooked in large pots submerged in lard. While this method imparts a rich flavor, it can be impractical and time-consuming for home cooks. Modern cooking techniques offer alternative methods that deliver exceptional results while streamlining the process.

Oven Method:

  • Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C).
  • Cut pork shoulder into 4 pieces for even cooking.
  • Season pork generously with your preferred blend of spices.
  • Place pork in a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot and add 1 cup of water or broth.
  • Roast for 3-3.5 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 195-205°F (91-96°C).

Slow Cooker Method:

  • Season pork shoulder generously with your preferred blend of spices.
  • Place pork in a slow cooker and add 1 cup of water or broth.
  • Cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 195-205°F (91-96°C).

Instant Pot Method:

  • Season pork shoulder generously with your preferred blend of spices.
  • Place pork in an Instant Pot and add 1 cup of water or broth.
  • Cook on Manual/High pressure for 70 minutes.
  • Allow the pressure to release naturally for 15 minutes.
  • Shred the pork and check the internal temperature. If it has not reached 195-205°F (91-96°C), cook for an additional 10-15 minutes on the Sauté setting.

Enhancing Flavor: A Symphony of Spices and Liquids

The flavor profile of carnitas is highly customizable, allowing you to experiment with various spices and liquids to create a dish that suits your palate.

Essential Spices:

  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Salt and pepper

Additional Flavor Enhancers:

  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Orange juice
  • Lime juice
  • Bay leaves
  • Cinnamon sticks

Finishing Touches: Crisp Perfection and Serving Suggestions

Once the pork has reached the desired internal temperature, it’s time to add a final touch of crispiness.


  • Remove the pork from the cooking vessel and place it on a baking sheet.
  • Broil for 2-3 minutes, or until the edges are crispy.


  • Heat a skillet over medium heat and add a small amount of oil.
  • Add the shredded pork and cook until crispy, stirring occasionally.

Carnitas can be served in a variety of ways, each offering a unique culinary experience:

  • Tacos: Fill warm tortillas with shredded carnitas, your favorite toppings, and a squeeze of lime juice.
  • Burritos: Wrap shredded carnitas in large tortillas along with rice, beans, cheese, and salsa.
  • Tostadas: Spread shredded carnitas on crispy tostada shells and top with your preferred garnishes.
  • Salads: Add shredded carnitas to salads for a protein-packed and flavorful meal.

Mastering the art of cooking pork carnitas requires a harmonious blend of science and culinary creativity. By understanding the optimal cooking temperature, employing the right techniques, and experimenting with spices and flavors, you can create this delectable dish that will tantalize taste buds and leave a lasting impression. So gather your ingredients, embrace the cooking process, and embark on a culinary journey that will reward you with the ultimate carnitas experience.

How to Make the Best Pork Carnitas


What temperature do you cook carnitas?

The recipe calls for 275f for 3.5 hours. From what I’ve read in this and other pulled pork recipes, the key is to get the meat to around ~200 f and stay there for long enough for the fat to render and the connective tissue to break down.

Can you overcook carnitas?

Slow Cooker Carnitas Recipe FAQ They cook at the same temperature over several hours either way. Can you overcook carnitas in slow cooker? Any cut of meat can become overcooked, even in the crockpot.

How do you keep Pork Carnitas moist?

You’ll see the pork slowly cooked in a big pot of lard in many authentic recipes (Woah and yum!). However, to make our carnitas recipe a little more home-friendly, we slow-cook our pork with a few aromatics and a few tablespoons of oil to keep it moist.

How to cook pre packaged carnitas?

Turn pressure cooker to sear and sear AdapTable Meals® Carnitas Pork Roast on both sides. Add water and then switch the pressure cooker from sear and cook for 40 minutes. Release the pressure and then shred meat.

Leave a Comment