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.
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- 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.
Keywords: beer braised carnitas, stovetop braised carnitas, homemade carnitas recipe