The Ultimate Pork Carnitas Oven Recipe

Pork carnitas, a traditional Mexican dish, are succulent, tender pieces of pork that are typically slow-cooked until they are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. While traditionally cooked in lard or oil on the stovetop, this article will explore a method for making pork carnitas in the oven, offering a convenient and equally delicious alternative. By utilizing the oven, you can achieve the same rich flavors and crispy texture while minimizing hands-on cooking time.

Food Science Of Cooking Pork Carnitas In An Oven

Understanding the science behind cooking pork carnitas in an oven can help achieve the desired texture and flavor. Pork carnitas are typically made using tougher cuts of pork, such as shoulder or butt, which contain a significant amount of connective tissue and collagen. Slow cooking at a low temperature allows these tough cuts to break down, resulting in tender and flavorful meat.

When cooking in an oven, the dry heat helps to brown the exterior of the pork, creating a delicious crust while the interior remains moist and tender. This process, known as the Maillard reaction, occurs when proteins and sugars in the meat react with heat, creating complex flavors and aromas.

Choosing Ingredients

Selecting the right ingredients is essential for creating flavorful pork carnitas. When choosing pork, opt for a well-marbled cut such as pork shoulder or pork butt. These cuts contain enough fat to keep the meat moist during cooking and add flavor to the final dish.

In addition to the pork, you will need aromatics such as onions, garlic, and citrus fruits like oranges and limes to add depth of flavor to the carnitas. Traditional Mexican spices such as cumin, oregano, and chili powder can also be used to season the meat.

Preparing Ingredients

pork carnitas

Before cooking the pork carnitas, it’s essential to properly prepare the ingredients. Start by trimming any excess fat from the pork and cutting it into large chunks. This will help the meat cook evenly and allow for better browning.

Next, prepare the aromatics by slicing the onions and mincing the garlic. Citrus fruits can be cut into wedges or slices, depending on personal preference. These ingredients will add flavor to the pork as it cooks.

Finally, season the pork generously with salt, pepper, and your choice of spices. Rub the seasoning into the meat, ensuring that it is evenly coated.

Optimal Oven Cooking Temperature & Timing

The key to perfectly cooked pork carnitas in the oven is finding the right balance of temperature and timing. A low and slow cooking method is ideal for breaking down the tough connective tissue in the pork while still achieving a crispy exterior.

Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C). This moderate temperature allows the pork to cook slowly, resulting in tender meat with a crispy crust. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pork pieces, but plan for approximately 3-4 hours.

During the cooking process, periodically check the pork and baste it with the juices that accumulate in the pan. This will help keep the meat moist and flavorful.

Pork Carnitas Oven Recipe

Now that you’ve prepared your ingredients and preheated your oven, it’s time to make pork carnitas using the oven method.


  • 3 lbs (1.5 kg) pork shoulder or pork butt, trimmed and cut into chunks
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 orange, sliced
  • 1 lime, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C).
  2. In a large Dutch oven or roasting pan, combine the sliced onions, minced garlic, and citrus slices.
  3. Season the pork chunks generously with salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Rub the seasoning into the meat until evenly coated.
  4. Arrange the seasoned pork on top of the onion and citrus mixture in the Dutch oven or roasting pan.
  5. Cover the Dutch oven or roasting pan with a lid or aluminum foil and transfer it to the preheated oven.
  6. Cook the pork carnitas for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is tender and easily shreds with a fork.
  7. Once the pork is cooked, increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C). Remove the lid or foil from the Dutch oven or roasting pan and return it to the oven.
  8. Allow the pork carnitas to cook uncovered for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the exterior is crispy and browned.
  9. Once the pork carnitas are done, remove them from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes before serving.
  10. Serve the pork carnitas with warm tortillas, salsa, avocado, and your favorite toppings for a delicious and authentic Mexican meal.

Making pork carnitas in the oven is a convenient and delicious way to enjoy this classic Mexican dish. By slow-cooking the pork at a low temperature, you can achieve tender meat with a crispy exterior, packed with flavor. With the right ingredients and cooking technique, you can recreate the authentic taste of pork carnitas in your own kitchen.

Doneness Checks

pork carnitas

Pork Carnitas is a dish deeply rooted in Mexican culinary tradition, originating from the state of Michoacán. Traditionally, it involves slow-cooking pork in lard until it becomes tender and crispy on the outside. This process renders the meat succulent and imbues it with rich flavors. However, with concerns about health and accessibility, home cooks have devised alternative methods to achieve similar results, including oven cooking.

Using your oven to make Pork Carnitas offers several advantages. It’s a more hands-off approach compared to stovetop methods, allowing you to multitask or attend to other preparations while the pork cooks. Additionally, it requires minimal supervision, making it suitable for busy households. This recipe balances convenience with authenticity, delivering the signature flavors and textures of traditional Carnitas with simplified steps.

Achieving the perfect doneness is crucial for Pork Carnitas. The meat should be tender and juicy, with a slightly crisp exterior. Here are some ways to check for doneness:

Visual Inspection

  • Look for a golden brown color on the exterior of the pork. This indicates that the surface has caramelized, adding flavor and texture.
  • The meat should be easy to shred with a fork. If it’s still tough, it needs more time in the oven.

Internal Temperature

  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the pork. It should register at least 190°F (88°C) to ensure that the collagen has fully broken down, resulting in tender meat.
  • Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the pork to get an accurate reading.


  • Test the texture by gently pulling apart a piece of meat with a fork. It should shred easily and feel tender.
  • Avoid overcooking, as the meat can become dry and stringy.


Undercooking Pork Carnitas can result in tough and chewy meat that lacks flavor. Here are some signs that the pork is undercooked:

  • The meat is still pink in the center.
  • It feels tough and resistant to shredding.
  • The flavors may be bland and underdeveloped.

If you suspect that your Pork Carnitas are undercooked, return them to the oven and continue cooking until the desired doneness is reached. Check the internal temperature and texture periodically to ensure that the meat is cooking evenly.


Overcooking Pork Carnitas can lead to dry, stringy meat with a burnt or unpleasant flavor. Here are indicators that the pork is overcooked:

  • The exterior is excessively dark or burnt.
  • The meat is dry and lacks juiciness.
  • It falls apart easily and has a mushy texture.

To salvage overcooked Pork Carnitas, you can try adding moisture back into the meat by mixing it with a bit of broth or sauce. Alternatively, use the meat in dishes where its texture won’t be as noticeable, such as tacos or burritos.


oven baked pork carnitas

Even with careful preparation, issues may arise when making Pork Carnitas in the oven. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Dry Meat

  • Solution: If the pork turns out dry, try shredding it and mixing it with some of the cooking liquid or a flavorful sauce to add moisture and enhance the taste.

Tough Texture

  • Solution: Tough Carnitas can result from undercooking or using a cut of pork with too much connective tissue. To remedy this, return the meat to the oven and continue cooking until it becomes tender.

Burnt Exterior

  • Solution: To prevent the exterior from burning, cover the pork with aluminum foil during the initial stages of cooking. This will help retain moisture and prevent excessive browning. Alternatively, reduce the oven temperature slightly and extend the cooking time.

Lack Of Flavor

  • Solution: If your Carnitas lack flavor, try increasing the seasoning or marinating the pork before cooking. You can also enhance the taste by adding aromatics such as garlic, onions, or citrus zest to the cooking liquid.

Recipe Variations

While this recipe provides a basic method for making Pork Carnitas in the oven, there are endless variations you can explore to customize the dish to your preferences. Here are some ideas:

Citrus-Marinated Carnitas

  • Marinate the pork in a mixture of citrus juices (such as orange, lime, and lemon) along with garlic, cumin, and oregano before cooking. The citrus flavors will infuse the meat with brightness and tanginess.

Spicy Carnitas

  • Add chopped jalapeños, chipotle peppers, or cayenne pepper to the seasoning blend for a spicy kick. You can also incorporate hot sauce or diced green chilies into the cooking liquid for extra heat.

Pineapple Carnitas

  • Include chunks of fresh pineapple in the cooking liquid for a sweet and tangy twist. The pineapple will caramelize as it cooks, adding depth of flavor to the Carnitas.

Carnitas Tacos

  • Serve the shredded pork in warm corn tortillas with traditional toppings such as chopped onions, cilantro, salsa, and lime wedges. You can also add garnishes like avocado, queso fresco, or pickled jalapeños for extra flavor.

Making Pork Carnitas in the oven is a convenient and accessible way to enjoy this classic Mexican dish at home. By following this recipe and utilizing the tips provided, you can achieve tender, flavorful Carnitas with minimal effort. Whether you stick to the traditional method or experiment with different variations, the result is sure to be a delicious meal that will satisfy your cravings for authentic Mexican cuisine.

Flavour Enhancement Tips

Pork carnitas, a classic Mexican dish, is a flavorful and tender delicacy that is loved by many. Traditionally, carnitas are made by braising pork in lard until tender and crispy. However, you can achieve similar delicious results using your oven at home.

Flavor is the soul of any dish, and pork carnitas are no exception. To enhance the flavor of your carnitas, consider the following tips:

1. Seasoning

  • Use a combination of spices such as cumin, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and chili powder to season the pork. Rub the spices generously over the meat to ensure even flavor distribution.

2. Citrus Marinade

  • Marinating the pork in a mixture of citrus juices such as orange, lime, and lemon adds brightness and depth to the flavor profile. The acidity in the citrus helps tenderize the meat while imparting a refreshing tang.

3. Garlic And Onion

  • Incorporate minced garlic and diced onions into the marinade or scatter them over the pork before roasting. These aromatics infuse the meat with savory notes and aromatic goodness.

4. Bay Leaves

  • Adding a few bay leaves to the roasting pan infuses the carnitas with subtle herbal undertones, enhancing the overall flavor profile.

Texture Enhancement Tips

oven baked pork carnitas

Achieving the perfect texture is crucial for authentic pork carnitas. Follow these tips to ensure your carnitas have a delightful texture:

1. Slow Roasting

  • Slow-roasting the pork at a low temperature allows the fat to render gradually, resulting in tender meat with crispy edges. This method mimics the traditional braising process and ensures optimal texture development.

2. Broiling

  • After roasting the pork until tender, broil it briefly to crisp up the edges. This step adds a satisfying crunch to the carnitas while maintaining the succulence of the meat.

3. Shredding Technique

  • Use two forks to shred the cooked pork into bite-sized pieces. Be sure to include some of the crispy bits for added texture and flavor in every bite.

4. Pan Juices

  • Drizzle some of the pan juices over the shredded pork before serving to keep it moist and flavorful. The juices also add richness to the dish, enhancing the overall eating experience.

Cooking At Different Temperatures

Adjusting the oven temperature can impact the texture and flavor of your pork carnitas. Here’s how different temperatures can influence the final result:

1. Low And Slow (300°F/150°C)

  • Cooking the pork at a low temperature for an extended period (around 3-4 hours) ensures that it becomes meltingly tender while allowing the fat to render slowly. This method is ideal for achieving succulent carnitas with a rich flavor.

2. High Heat Finish (450°F/230°C)

  • After slow-roasting the pork, increase the oven temperature to high and broil the meat for a few minutes to crisp up the edges. This high-heat finish adds a delightful crunch to the carnitas without sacrificing tenderness.

3. Combination Cooking

  • For a balance of tenderness and crispiness, start by slow-roasting the pork at a low temperature and finish with a brief stint under the broiler. This method yields carnitas with a perfect harmony of textures.

Cooking Tips

Mastering the art of making pork carnitas in the oven requires attention to detail and proper technique. Follow these cooking tips for best results:

1. Choose The Right Cut

  • Opt for a well-marbled cut of pork such as pork shoulder or pork butt. These cuts are rich in flavor and contain enough fat to keep the meat moist during the cooking process.

2. Patience Is Key

  • Resist the temptation to rush the cooking process. Slow-roasting the pork at a low temperature may take several hours, but the resulting tenderness and flavor are worth the wait.

3. Use A Roasting Rack

  • Place the seasoned pork on a roasting rack set inside a baking dish or roasting pan. Elevating the meat allows the hot air to circulate evenly around it, promoting even cooking and browning.

4. Monitor The Temperature

  • Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the pork reaches an internal temperature of 195-200°F (90-93°C) before shredding. This ensures that the meat is fully cooked and tender.

5. Rest Before Serving

  • Allow the cooked pork to rest for 10-15 minutes before shredding it. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring maximum flavor and juiciness.

Serving Suggestions

Pork carnitas are incredibly versatile and can be enjoyed in various ways. Here are some serving suggestions to inspire your culinary creativity:

1. Tacos

  • Serve the shredded pork in warm corn tortillas topped with diced onions, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice for classic pork carnitas tacos.

2. Burritos

  • Wrap the carnitas in large flour tortillas along with rice, beans, cheese, and your favorite toppings for hearty and satisfying burritos.

3. Bowl

  • Create a carnitas bowl by layering the shredded pork over a base of cilantro-lime rice or quinoa and topping it with black beans, avocado slices, salsa, and a dollop of sour cream.

4. Nachos

  • Pile crispy tortilla chips with shredded carnitas, melted cheese, black beans, jalapeños, and guacamole for indulgent pork carnitas nachos.

5. Quesadillas

  • Sandwich the shredded pork between two flour tortillas along with cheese, caramelized onions, and sliced jalapeños, then cook until golden and crispy for irresistible pork carnitas quesadillas.


Making pork carnitas in the oven is a rewarding culinary endeavor that yields tender, flavorful meat with crispy edges. By following the tips and techniques outlined in this article, you can create restaurant-quality carnitas in the comfort of your own kitchen. Whether enjoyed in tacos, burritos, bowls, nachos, or quesadillas, pork carnitas are sure to delight your taste buds and impress your guests. So gather your ingredients, preheat your oven, and get ready to savor the irresistible goodness of homemade pork carnitas.


What Is A Pork Carnitas Oven Recipe?

A pork carnitas oven recipe is a method of cooking pork shoulder or pork butt in the oven until it becomes tender and flavorful. The meat is typically seasoned with a combination of spices and herbs, and slow-cooked for several hours until it can be easily shredded into smaller pieces.

What Ingredients Do I Need For A Pork Carnitas Oven Recipe?

To make pork carnitas in the oven, you will need pork shoulder or pork butt, garlic cloves, orange juice, lime juice, cumin, oregano, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Additionally, you may choose to include onion, bay leaves, and chicken broth for added flavor.

How Long Does It Take To Cook Pork Carnitas In The Oven?

Cooking times may vary depending on the size and thickness of the pork shoulder. However, a general guideline is to cook the pork at a low temperature of around 325°F (163°C) for approximately 2.5 to 3 hours. The meat should be fork-tender and easily pull apart when it is fully cooked.

Can I Use A Different Cut Of Pork For Carnitas?

While pork shoulder or pork butt is typically used for making carnitas, you can experiment with other cuts of pork. However, it is important to choose a cut that has a good amount of fat and connective tissue, as this will contribute to the tenderness and flavor of the final dish.

Can I Make Pork Carnitas In Advance?

Yes, pork carnitas can be made in advance and refrigerated for a few days before serving. In fact, allowing the cooked meat to rest in its cooking juices can further enhance its flavor. Simply reheat the carnitas in a skillet or oven before serving to warm it through.