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A Must-Have, Kitchen Staple Pork Carnitas Recipe
Tender & crispy pork carnitas is, hands down, one of my favorite meals of all time – I could probably eat pork carnitas tacos once a week! This Beer-Braised Pork Carnitas is my go-to pork carnitas recipe, one I’ve been toying around with ever since I began learning how to cook in college. While the ingredients & method aren’t exactly traditional, it’s how I’ve come to love making carnitas at home. In fact, if you came to the PWWB House for taco night, this is exactly what I’d serve you!
The Dutch oven carnitas braises gently for hours until the meat is succulent, fall-apart tender, & perfumed with the flavor of earthy beer, bright citrus, & aromatic garlic. I love to cook my carnitas with beer because it adds so much earthy flavor & keeps the meat totally juicy. To get crispy pork carnitas, finish the braised pork under the broiler for an amazing char. Rich, meltingly tender, & so juicy + flavorful with crispy charred edges – carnitas doesn’t get better than that!
This beer braised carnitas recipe yields a large batch, perfect for weekly meal prep or easy entertaining. Plus, there are about a billion ways to enjoy pork carnitas – tacos, burrito bowls, salads, nachos, you name it! – so this is a recipe you can come back to time & time again!
Beer-Braised Carnitas Recipe Highlights
This will be your new favorite pork carnitas recipe to make at home! It’s…
SO RICH & FLAVORFUL. This recipe yields succulent, fall-apart tender pulled pork shoulder perfumed with garlic, warm spice, citrus, & earthy beer. No dry or bland pork carnitas tacos here! 🙅🏻♀️
EASY. Braised carnitas are a completely hands-off one-pot wonder made with 10 simple ingredients. Gently simmer on the stovetop, in the oven, or easily adapt this recipe for your slow cooker or Instant Pot! It’s always perfect!
VERSATILE. Use beer braised carnitas in an endless number of ways (for tacos, burritos, nachos, etc!). The large batch is great for meal prep or entertaining, leaving you with plenty of freezer-friendly leftovers! 😋
I have a feeling you’re going to be just as obsessed as we are! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Beer Braised Carnitas, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
What is Carnitas?
Carnitas commonly refers to the Mexican-style pulled pork that rules the taco cart. Originating in Michoacán, Mexico, carnitas is traditionally prepared with all the different parts of the hog, which are slowly cooked in a large copper pot filled with lard. It’s kind of like confit – the pork gets deliciously tender & crisp all at once! While the ingredients used to make carnitas vary by region, the resulting pork is always deliciously succulent & tender.
In my opinion, the braise-then-broil method is an excellent way for home cooks to mimic the flavors & textures of traditional carnitas using readily available equipment & ingredients. Slowly cooking a rich cut like pork shoulder roast yields fall-apart tender results every time, while a quick finish under the broiler creates crave-worthy crispy textural contrast.
For a delicious twist, I like to braise the pork carnitas in earthy beer & loads of citrus for brightness, which both provide a beautiful complementary flavor to the richness of slowly braised pork. The result is pork carnitas that are rich, full-flavored, & meltingly tender – it’s so good!
This is how I’ve come to love making pork carnitas at home over the years. It’s admittedly not an especially traditional recipe, but it’s definitely tasty & we’re SO excited to finally share it with you here on PWWB. For a more traditional (& absolutely delicious!) take on Mexican carnitas, check out this Easy Carnitas recipe from my dear friend Isabel, whose fantastic blog Isabel Eats is dedicated to Mexican Food Made Easy!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Among the things you’ll love about this beer braised carnitas recipe is the fact that you only need a few simple ingredients to make it, including…
- Pork shoulder – Pork shoulder (also called Boston butt or pork butt) is best for carnitas because its high fat content transforms the meat into succulent, fall-apart tender, & richly flavored pork as it braises. Look for a meaty roast with nice marbling for best results.
- Citrus – A combination of oranges & limes brightens these beer braised carnitas with their fresh & zippy flavor. Use both the zest & the juice for maximum flavor.
- Aromatics – Onions add traditional flavor to pork carnitas, but studding the pork with plenty of garlic is my trick to flavoring the meat from the inside out.
- Carnitas seasoning – Season the pork with warm spices like cumin, oregano, & bay leaves. If possible, use Mexican oregano, which is more floral & mild than the Italian oregano you’re probably used to cooking with.
- Beer – I make this carnitas recipe with beer because light beer pairs SO well with the richness of the pork. We keep it cheap & cheerful by using good old Miller High Life, but you can also have some fun with it! Choose a citrusy beer to complement the orange & lime or use whatever brew you love most.
How to Make Beer Braised Carnitas
Here’s my take on making amazing pork carnitas at home! This one-pot wonder recipe is so simple & practically entirely hands-off, with several alternate cooking methods available!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Don’t worry if you’ve never braised anything before – there’s no need to feel intimidated here! Braising something simply means cooking the meat in liquid until it’s fall-apart tender, a cooking technique commonly used on tougher cuts of meat. A long, slow braise breaks down the connective tissues in the meat so that it’s soft, tender, & luscious. In this recipe, we’re braising the carnitas with beer!
Stud the pork shoulder with garlic. Everything is better with garlic, right?! Prepare the pork by using a paring knife to cut deep slits into the pork shoulder. Then press half cloves of garlic into each pocket. Why? ⇢ Studding the pork with garlic cloves flavors the meat from the inside out! The garlic melts away as the pork braises, leaving its garlicky flavor in the carnitas. 😍
Sear the pork shoulder. Heat some olive oil in a Dutch oven pot & season the pork generously with salt & pepper. Then cook the prepared pork for a few minutes per side until nicely browned. Don’t forget about those narrow sides & ends! Why? ⇢ Taking a couple of minutes to brown the pork before braising promotes a richer, deeper flavor.
Braise the pork carnitas. Add onions, orange & lime juice & zest, carnitas seasoning, & beer into the pot with the browned pork shoulder. Bring the pork & braising liquid up to a boil & then reduce to a gentle simmer. The beer braised carnitas cooks gently for 3-4 hours until the pork is infused with flavor & perfectly tender. This step is a hands-off job!
Shred the beer braised pork carnitas. Transform the braised pork shoulder into classic pork carnitas by shredding the cooked roast into bite-sized pieces. How to shred pork carnitas? ⇢ Use tongs or 2 forks to pull the meat into shredded pieces. This should be pretty easy because of how tender & juicy the meat is after all that braising. The meat will completely fall apart as you pull!
Optional! Broil for crispy carnitas. To get well-browned crispy edges on the pork carnitas, place the pork on a large baking sheet & cook under the broiler for just a few minutes. This is optional & not very common with more traditional, juicy, confit-style carnitas. I love it because browned & crispy edges add a little bit of extra texture to every bite – so good!
Alternate Cooking Methods
While I love the simplicity of a stovetop Dutch oven braise, there are many different ways you can make beer braised carnitas! Give any of these methods a try if they work better for you. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for complete directions.
Oven-Braised Pork Carnitas
Rather than simmering the carnitas on the stovetop, cover the Dutch oven & put it in a 325-degree F oven. It will take the same amount of time to cook the pork, but your stovetop will be free in case you need it!
Slow Cooker or Crockpot Pork Carnitas
Assemble the browned pork shoulder, liquids, & seasoning in a slow cooker or Crockpot & cook it on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours. If your crockpot has a searing feature, you can use it to cook the entire pork carnitas recipe, start to finish!
Instant Pot Pork Carnitas
Use the Instant Pot’s sauté setting to sear the pork shoulder, then assemble the carnitas & cook on high pressure for 50 minutes. While it’s not my favorite, this method is great when you need to quickly satisfy your craving for pork carnitas tacos!
Aside from its ease & flavor, the thing you’ll love most about this pork carnitas recipe is how incredibly versatile it is. Use beer braised carnitas to build any of your favorite Mexican & Tex-Mex dishes – pork carnitas tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, taco salads, nachos, tostadas…you name it! My favorite way to eat pork carnitas is in tortillas for tacos or in a bowl with rice & beans.
Toppings are essential no matter how you eat carnitas – they bring everything together! Here’s a few ideas for what to serve alongside your carnitas feast…
- Fresh veggies – Top your taco or burrito bowl with thinly sliced jalapeno, finely diced onion, halved or quartered cherry tomatoes, shredded cabbage or lettuce, radish matchsticks, etc.
- A batch of super quick pickled red onions
- A homemade pico de gallo or your favorite salsa
- Sliced avocado, or a big dollop of guacamole!
- Loads of freshly squeezed lime juice & finely chopped cilantro
There are endless ways to enjoy this beer braised carnitas recipe – make it your own & have fun with it!
What kind of beer should I use in this recipe?
I suggest a light beer to avoid overpowering the delicate flavor of the pork. It’s fun to use a citrusy beer like Witbier or a citrusy IPA to complement all the citrus juice & zest in the braised carnitas. You can also stick to the classics with your favorite lager-style beer.
Can I use something besides beer?
Sure! If you want to keep the carnitas gluten-free, simply sub in your favorite gluten-free beer. If you don’t want to use beer, swap it for chicken stock instead.
How do I know when the pork is done cooking?
The pork shoulder is cooked after several hours when it’s fall-apart tender & shreds easily with a fork. Keep an eye on the braised carnitas & you’ll know when it’s ready, trust me!
Can I meal prep carnitas?
Yes! Take away most of the active work in this pork carnitas recipe by studding the pork with garlic in advance & storing it in your refrigerator. You can also cut the onions so they are ready to go – then all you have to do is assemble the braise & turn on the stove! Check the Recipe Notes, below, for full Meal Prep directions.
What to do with leftover pork carnitas?
Beer braised carnitas store well & make fantastic leftovers (which is great, because this recipe yields a big batch of pork!). Store in the fridge & use the carnitas for endless meal variations! Pro Tip! ⇢ If you’re planning for leftovers, skip the broiling at first & use it the next day to reheat the carnitas & add a fresh, crispy char.
Can I freeze pork carnitas?
Absolutely. Freezer-friendly leftovers is one of the reasons why I love beer braised carnitas so much! Full freezer instructions are detailed in the Recipe Notes, below.
I can’t wait for you to try this Beer-Braised Pork Carnitas recipe! It’s one of my all-time favorites, & I think you’re going to be just as obsessed with it as I am! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
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Taco Tuesday Favorites
This Beer-Braised Carnitas recipe is one I’ve been making for years; it offers an extra-delicious take on everyone’s favorite Mexican-style pulled pork!
Pork shoulder is studded with garlic & slowly simmers with onions, warm spices, citrus, & beer. After an hours-long braise in a Dutch oven, the pork carnitas are succulent & fall-apart tender, infused with rich, aromatic flavor. For an extra-special touch, finish the braised carnitas under the broiler for crave-worthy crispy char.
Use to make pork carnitas tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, nachos, salads…whatever you’re in the mood for! The recipe yields a large batch, so it’s great for meal prep (storage & freezing instructions included in the Recipe Notes, below) or feeding a crowd.
As written, this is a stovetop Dutch oven recipe, but it’s easily adapted for an oven braise, a slow cooker/Crockpot, or an Instant Pot/electric pressure cooker. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below for full cooking directions for these alternate cooking methods.
- 3–4 pounds boneless pork shoulder
- 1–2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8–10 cloves garlic, sliced in half lengthwise
- 2 large yellow onions, sliced into sixths or eighths
- 2 large, juicy navel oranges, zested & juiced (1/2 cup juice)
- 3 large, juicy limes, zested & juiced (1/4 cup juice)
- 1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 12 ounces light beer of choice (see Recipe Notes, below)
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: corn tortillas, cilantro lime rice, smashed avocado or guacamole, queso fresco or cheese of choice, salsa of choice, thinly sliced radish, finely diced red onions or pickled red onions, freshly chopped cilantro, lime wedges, etc.
- Stud & season the pork shoulder: About 30 minutes before you’d like to begin cooking your carnitas, pull the pork shoulder from the refrigerator to warm to room temperature. Using a sharp paring knife, carefully cut deep slits into all over the pork shoulder, then insert sliced garlic into each pocket. Season the pork shoulder generously with 1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired.
- Sear the pork shoulder: Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid over medium-high heat (I use a 5-qt Dutch oven). Once the oil is hot & shimmering, carefully add in the prepared pork. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side (narrow sides & ends included!), until nicely browned. Remove the pot from the heat.
- Assemble the braise & cook: Nestle the onions around the seared pork shoulder. Sprinkle the orange zest, lime zest, ground cumin, & dried oregano over top. Place the bay leaves over top. Pour the orange juice, lime juice, & beer into the pot. Return to high heat to bring the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to low to maintain a steady simmer. Cover & simmer for 3-4 hours, until the carnitas are fall-apart tender.
- Shred the carnitas: Carefully transfer the pork to a plate or cutting board. Use tongs or 2 forks to shred the carnitas into bite-sized pieces. Transfer the carnitas back into the pot, stirring to combine with the cooking liquid.
- Optional: Broil for crispy carnitas: Preheat your oven’s broiler on high, ensuring a rack is positioned directly under the broiler. Line a large baking sheet with foil for easy clean up as desired. Transfer the shredded pork carnitas to the baking sheet & place under the broiler. Broil 4-5 minutes turning the pan halfway through, until the carnitas are browned & slightly crisp.
- Serve: Place the beer-braised carnitas in tortillas for tacos or a bowl with rice & beans for burrito bowls, finishing with your favorite taco night toppings of choice: smashed avocado or guacamole, salsa, sliced radishes, diced red onions or pickled red onions, finely chopped cilantro, etc. Enjoy!
- Suggested beer & substitutes: I suggest using a lighter beer here to avoid overpowering the delicate flavor of the pork. Given the citrus flavors at play in the braise, it’s fun to use a citrusy beer like Witbier or a citrusy IPA. Or, keep it cheap & cheerful with your favorite lager-style beer (ours is Miller High Life). For gluten-free carnitas, simply use your favorite gluten-free beer. If you do not wish to cook your carnitas with beer, simply swap it for 1 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth.
- Make-Ahead, Storage & Freezing:
- Storage & Reheating: Beer-braised carnitas store incredibly well, making them very make-ahead friendly. Transfer cooled pork carnitas to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. Easily reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave until warmed through. Pro tip: If intentionally saving for later (i.e. meal prep, make-ahead for entertaining, etc.), I suggest skipping broiling the carnitas when they’re fresh. Instead, reheat them under the broiler to create crispy texture. For a full how-to, refer to Step 5 of Recipe Directions, above.
- Freezer Instructions: Beer-braised carnitas are also incredibly freezer-friendly. To freeze, transfer cooled carnitas to a freezer container or divide between multiple freezer containers for smaller portions – these are my absolute favorite freezer containers!. (Again, it’s best to skip broiling if intentionally saving for later). Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, place the frozen pork carnitas in the refrigerator overnight or submerge the freezer container in room temperature water for a quicker thaw. Easily reheat on the stovetop, in the microwave, or under the broiler to create crispy texture (refer to Step 5 of Recipe Directions, above).
- 15-Minute Meal Prep: You can eliminate much of the active work involved in this braised carnitas recipe by prepping the pork shoulder in advance. To meal prep, complete the following tasks. The day you’d like to make braised pork carnitas, all you have to do is assemble & let it cook – very hands-off, very easy!
- Stud the pork with garlic according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. (<10 minutes active prep)
- Slice 2 large yellow onions into sixths or eighths. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (<5 minutes active prep)
- Alternate Cooking Methods:
- Beer-Braised Carnitas in the Oven: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-3 of Recipe Directions, above. Rather than cooking on the stovetop, transfer the covered pot to a 325 degree F oven. Braise in the oven for 3-4 hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Steps 4-5, above, & serve as desired.
- Crockpot or Slow Cooker Carnitas: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-3, above, assembling the beer-braised carnitas in your slow cooker or Crockpot. Slow cook on high for 4-5 hours or on low for 7-8 hours until the pork is fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Step 4-5, above, & serve as desired. If your slow cooker has a searing/browning feature, you can use it to cook this entire pork carnitas recipe (Steps 1-6) in the slow cooker.
- Instant Pot Carnitas: Prep the recipe according to Steps 1-2, above, using the Instant Pot’s “Sauté” setting to sear the pork. Place the rack insert that came with your Instant Pot at the bottom of the pot, then set the browned pork shoulder over top. Assemble the carnitas as described in Step 3, above, then cover & seal the Instant Pot. Cook on manual high pressure for 50 minutes. Allow the pressure cooker to naturally release pressure for 15 minutes before carefully flicking the valve to its “venting” position to vent out any residual pressure. The pork carnitas should be beautifully fall-apart tender. Complete the recipe according to Step 4-5, above, & serve as desired.
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.