5 Ingredients or Fewer

Diana Kennedy's Carnitas

July  6, 2011
12 Ratings
  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 40 minutes
  • Serves 4 to 6
Author Notes

The magic of pork + water + salt -- a genius recipe from The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • 3 pounds pork shoulder, butt, or country-style spare ribs, skin and bone removed
  • Cold water to barely cover
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  1. Cut the meat, with the fat, into strips about 2 x 3/4 inches. Barely cover the meat with water in a flameproof dish, add the salt, and bring it to a boil, uncovered.
  2. Lower the flame enough to bring down to a simmer. Let the meat continue simmering until all the liquid has evaporated -- about 1 hour and a half, depending on the shape of your pot. By this time the meat should be cooked through but not falling apart.
  3. Lower the flame a little more and continue cooking the meat until all the fat has rendered out of it. Keep turning the meat until it is lightly browned all over -- about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  4. Notes: The meat will get more evenly cooked if the dish is rather large and shallow. Do not add too much water at the beginning or the meat will fall apart at the frying stage. If the meat is still fairly hard when the water has evaporated, then add a little more water and continue cooking. Choose pork that has a fair amount of fat or you will have to add some lard for it to brown properly.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Karl Rosaen
    Karl Rosaen
  • Susanna
  • Renee Downing
    Renee Downing
  • Analida Braeger
    Analida Braeger
  • Juliette Blake
    Juliette Blake
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

63 Reviews

Karl R. January 1, 2024
This is an all timer, up their with the genius guacamole (where I learned to hold the garlic and embrace the juices of white onions)
Mostlysunny August 3, 2023
Don't let the simplicity of this recipe fool you. It's fabulous!
Susanna February 22, 2021
I doubt anyone will see this so long after it was published, but I made it tonight (loved) but am wondering if I can save the rendered fat, and if so, what I can use it in. I always save bacon fat, but I’d rather not strain this but instead use it with the crispy bits. Cornbread maybe? It’s also quite dark, as I cooked it to the far end of crispy...
Richard L. February 24, 2021
In the '60s I helped rebuild a partially burned home on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Mrs. Rice, the owner, had lived there since the depression and would cook us breakfast every morning on a big wood burning stove in the Kitchen/dining room. Sliced apple, eggs and sausage fried in pork fat. The apples were picked off her trees of course.
Fried apples in bacon or pork fat is at the top of my list. If it's too dark it's done. I can't tell from here. You'll have to make that call.
Jocelyn M. September 30, 2022
This fat is great for making flour tortillas
Jocelyn M. September 30, 2022
It's also the perfect fat for the finishing step of frying off sauce made of soaked dried chiles blended with cooked onion, garlic & broth.
Maryann S. November 27, 2019
This is my favorite way to prepare carnitas. My family can dress these puppies up to their tastes. It is a go to meal at the camp house for the day of arrival. I can get it cooking while I do other stuff. Once I get the meat to a boil, I put them on the grill to slow cook. My nieces have the job of stirring for the crispy part.

Since my nieces want to take home tons of my beans, they have no issues when it comes time to babysit the carnitas. The grilling does give a Smokey flavor that isn’t traditional, but I don’t care. If there are leftovers, they are saved for the last night at the camp house chili. Because someone, aka me has to close up the camp house

Finding a fatty Boston butt/pork shoulder has become almost impossible in TX, good news I normally can find fat back at a Hispanic grocery. If you cannot find fat back, lard will get it done. It will not be as good, but acceptable.
Renee D. January 12, 2019
This incredibly simple recipe is simply fantastic. There is no more delicious, direct way to do pork.
Richard L. September 3, 2018
Two years ago I wondered where this recipe came from since I couldn't find it in the 1989 cookbook. This is what I consider carnitas coloradas. My all time favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego use to make it this way, cubed and very crispy. Every restaurant now serves pulled pork. As I do 90% of the time. I've fed 60+ people that way but this method is my favorite.
When Hatch chiles are in season and I've got roasted chile salsa I do this recipe over mesquite charcoal on my old New Braunfels offset smoker. A full untrimmed pork loin has enough fat to go the whole way without any added lard. When it's down to more fat than water you have to scrape the bottom and flip pieces.
I'd add a photo but I don't see how to do it.
Great recipe.
Tarrah August 1, 2018
oh wow....this was SO good. The best thing ever that you could make with only 3 ingredients! I cooked it all in one shallow Dutch oven and then it seemed like they were too close together to brown so I divided them into 2 pans. Tender, fatty, with crispy bits....the best.
Analida B. January 27, 2018
I love the flavors you get in carnitas slow cooking! I also like to crisp them up in the oven on a baking tray just before serving to get those crispy edges. I make mine in a slow cooker: https://ethnicspoon.com/authentic-mexican-pork-carnitas/
Juliette B. May 10, 2017
Making this now! When you simmer the meat, is it supposed to be covered or uncovered?
Rhonda35 May 10, 2017
I always leave it uncovered, yet see in some of the comments below that some people use a lid that is left ajar. I imagine it is going to depend on how well you can regulate the heat on your stovetop and, also, the type of pan you are using. I hope you are happy with your results - it is very delicious!
ReisTanzi May 5, 2017
Making this now, and I moved onto the frying stage, but it's not really tender. I'm wondering if I can / should add water or if it's too late. Any advice?
Sharon May 5, 2017
Add water now.
ReisTanzi May 5, 2017
Thanks, Sharon! I added water a couple of times, and I think it helped little...but not that much. Anyway, thank you for the input!
Sharon May 6, 2017
You're quite welcome! Sorry it didn't turn out better, but this one is hard to nail consistently without a bit of trial & error. The pork should reach fork-tender before the browning process starts. Keep the fire low and the pot covered, lid slightly ajar, simmering very gently until tender. Let it go for as long as it takes. You REALLY need a very fatty hunk of pork to succeed with carnitas. Cut it into chunks and forget about that "2- 3/4 inch strips" insanity. The crisping should be accomplished quite rapidly if there is sufficient fat in the pot. I might also suggest that you reference Rick Bayless's carnitas by comparison. He has always been my #1 guru for Mexican cuisine. Happy cooking!
ReisTanzi May 10, 2017
Thanks again! My attempt had a happier ending than I thought: I made it in advance, and when I stopped cooking it, I poured all of the fat into a foil packet with the meat. I reheated it slowly in the oven in the sealed foil, and after an hour plus it was pretty tender!
I would definitely try this again - next time I think if summer covered for an hour or two before taking the cover off and letting the water evaporate. I had plenty of fat, it just needed a lot longer than the recipe stated to get tender.
Katie P. April 13, 2017
Made this recipe for the first time tonight and it was awesome! Another Genius Recipe win! Made it in the Dutch oven. Though the cook time is long, poem turned out perfect! Long/slow cook time made it easy to get it right!
Richard L. March 30, 2016
Interesting. Checking out Diana Kennedy's original recipe on page 262 of the 1989 edition she uses absolutely no water. She starts with 4 tbls of lard and cooks ready to serve in just an hour.
How is this recipe supposed to be "Diana Kennedy's Carnitas Caseras"?
Stacy H. January 24, 2017
It looks like that is a different recipe she has for carnitas. This recipe is for her Carnitas, not her Carnitas Caseras.
Sandra November 22, 2015
"Strips about 2-3/4 inches"??? Am I the only one who was confounded about this? To my thinking, "strips" are something like flank steak. So I did strips about 2-3/4 inches long. I was skeptical, with good reason. They turned out really great on the brown and crispy scale, but they aren't succulent *at all.* Not one little bit. Still delicious with corn tortillas, onions, cilantro -- but definitely need a healthy squeeze of lime and some hot sauce. Next time I would make it in chunks. But with all 37 comments, nobody else seemed to have a problem with this. Maybe there's an assumption that carnitas are always in larger chunks, and the "strips" part is to be taken . . . to mean chunks? Surely not. Well, anyway, I'd make it again. I love a three-ingredient recipe, especially when two of them are water and salt. But ignore the "strips" part. It's confusing and didn't really work very well.
JohnGo October 28, 2015
Well, I hate to pee in the punch bowl here, that I was not very happy with this recipe.

Problemos: very time-consuming, hard to properly render the fat, and too brown and crunchy.

This recipe in total took me about 3 hours.
The last hour or so required pretty regular stirring to mix the meat up, and that's just too much fiddling around for me.

Hard to render the fat
I think this recipe requires a 12 inch skillet or large flat pan, which I did not have.
With a smaller skillet, after all that liquid cooks off, you have large pieces of meat that are not in contact with a hot pan, and thus are not losing any other fat.
This then requires regular stirring, which is a bother.

Too crunchy
I found this recipe resulted in chunks of meat that were overly crispy and brown, combined with large pieces of unrendered fat.
The texture was really not very pleasant.

On a more constructive note, the technique I use repeatedly which gives fantastic results is to put it into a pressure cooker, or crockpot if you lack a pressure cooker.
The pressure cooker gets it done in about 30 minutes, and flavors to meet with whatever sort of yummy Ness you want to add in terms of liquid, such as orange juice, oregano, etc.
Then, you can shred the meat with a couple of forks, put it on a foil covered sheet pan under the broiler for about eight minutes, and get a lovely browning.
Advantages: much faster, perfectly rendered fat, more flavor options to add, and more consistent texture.

I've made this for Mexican friends several times, and I always get the thumbs up, for what that's worth.
Sharon October 28, 2015
Sounds like you needed a bigger skillet and crowded the pan. You almost always have to work in batches. A large, deep, cast iron skillet or Dutch oven work best for me. It's a bit of a slow process since you've got to keep your your heat low, but it's not really finicky. More like a labor of love that makes the house smell marvelous. Plus, this old-ways method was perfected long before there were pressure cookers or crockpots!
JohnGo October 28, 2015
Yes, the pan was crowded. I used a Dutch oven which I think is 6 quarts, I thought it should be plenty big. And yes, this is an "old-ways" and simple method and it of course predates an electric appliance, but it does not predate a pot with a lid on it and cooking the pork low and slow in liquid without allowing you to evaporate. I'm simply pointing out my observations which will hopefully assist others who want to know pros and cons of this recipe. I prefer more traditional carnitas that are cooked simmered in liquid.
I_Fortuna March 31, 2016
I agree with you both. The Traditional methods are sometimes preferable. Since my pressure cooker broke, I am using my French (Dutch) oven more. I, too, like it browned then just a bit of water added and nothing else letting the flavor of the pork shine through. It will make its own juice as it cooks. Using orange juice is more of a Mediterranean style, tropical.
The pork should be cooked until it falls apart as in pulled pork. I then sometimes brown it to a crisp. It is then served with steamed corn tortillas, pico de gallo and for some, lime.
Since ours is a Mexican family, we like it the traditional way Mom used to make it. : )
Sharon March 31, 2016
Well said. I add water, too. Did I mention that? And I also disregard anyone's directions on what shape to cut the pork, Huh? 2 X 3/4 in. strips? Got a ruler? I prefer chunks. But, really, isn't that what cooking is all about? You do what YOU LIKE and don't blindly follow recipes and stumble around the kitchen grasping for measuring spoons. That only works for baking. I render my own pork lard religiously. I absolutely love the stuff and the way it perfumes the house. Some people like to add a little water during the process, but I've never added water. I tried it but it just isn't necessary to get the results I want. I do just fine without it. And guess what? NOBODY CARES! LOL. The idea is to get the taste that you're looking for, not to please someone else's concept or rendition of the dish. There are many paths to the same destination. BTW, I agree that the closer anything gets to tasting like Mama's is about as good as it gets! :)
Sharon August 2, 2018
JohnGo - I've made this carnitas recipe a few times now and gotten different results each time. But, you know what? What REALLY works out best is when I go to any one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, sit down, order, and let THEM bring the carnitas to my table! Some things just taste better when somebody else does the hard work. That's the ticket - I'm sold!
george H. August 5, 2015
Well in this area I'm lucky to live in California. In the greater Bay Area there is a chain of Mexican groceries named Mi Pueblo. There you can buy prepared carnitas for $7-8 a pound. One big difference between theirs and these here is the cut up size of the raw pork. They cut the pork shoulder into very large very large(grapefruit sized) pieces and then cook as described in a large cauldron. You end up buying very large chunks which are very browned on the out side and pink and tender on the inside. When I get home I cut a chunk into 1"-1-1/2" cubes which I re-brown in their own rendered lard until crispy on the outside. My main advantage is being able to skip the main preparation entirely but cooking in large chunks for later browning I'm sure retains more of the pork juices rather than loosing them during boiling. Can also buy Queso fresco(mexican cheese) many fresh salsas, mexican specific produce and the very most excellent fresh made tortilla chips(a little greasy as opposed to those baked things you find in regular stores) at Mi pueblo.
Sharon August 6, 2015
Yes, I live across the Bay Bridge in Oakland, CA. We are truly blessed around here, aren't we? It just doesn't get any better for Mexican goodness than the S.F. Bay Area. So lucky to live in paradise.
Karl R. July 18, 2015
Making this today with https://food52.com/recipes/8746-jalapeno-apple-slaw-with-honey-lime-vinaigrette
Kristen M. July 18, 2015
Sweet combo -- hope you love it!
Karl R. July 19, 2015
Wow, turned out great, getting crispy in its own rendered fat is seriously genius.

I started with too much water, but recovered by pulling out the pork and cooking down the water alone after 90 minutes, then added the pork back to continue cooking as it rendered the fat. Will start with less water next time (maybe letting some pieces poke above the surface).
Michael H. April 9, 2017
I'm starting a batch right now.
Melisa S. January 4, 2015
Made this last night, Yum! We raised our own heritage breed pigs, and this is a perfect way to use shoulder roast. Thanks you!
Rey C. January 1, 2015
I've now made this twice in a week! I love it and so refreshingly simple!
Sharon April 9, 2014
This is IT! Sometimes perfection is so simple. Thank you, Diana
I_Fortuna April 2, 2014
I pressure cook my pork and spread it out on a baking sheet, and stick it under the broiler to brown. Fast and easy. Or dry roast it in a dry frying pan. The fat in and on the meat browns well this way. (Ours is a Mexican family too) : )