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Carnitas is a Mexican dish that means "small pieces of meat". It consists of pork that is cooked very slowly in lard and simply salted. At least, that's how they do it in Michoacán, from where the dish originates.

What is carnitas?

Carnitas (pronounced “karr-NIE-tas”) is a Mexican dish that means “small pieces of meat.” It consists of pork that is cooked very slowly in just lard and salt. At least, that’s how they do it in Michoacán from where the dish originates. In other parts of the country, bay leaves and orange zest or juice are also added. The meat is cut into small pieces and fried until crispy. The dish is Mexico’s version of that all-Canadian favourite: pulled pork.

Carnitas was originally eaten on special occasions – on holidays such as Christmas, for example, or during a wedding or quincena celebration (a fifteenth birthday). An entire pig was then slaughtered and prepared, and all family members and guests indulged in large amounts of the dish because carnitas wasn’t intended to be saved.

You can buy the dish everywhere in Mexico – for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You buy it from street vendors and fill your own soft tacos with it, or you can order it in a restaurant. In some restaurants, you can choose which pieces of meat you want. Greasy pork belly, white meat from the leg or crispy pieces of the shoulder. If you like it firm or chewy, then choose offal or a mixture. The chef will chop the meat into small pieces for you.

Did you know...

Today we are no longer inclined to use large amounts of lard in the kitchen – too many saturated fats! In an attempt to make lean carnitas that is just as juicy and tasty, chefs have come up with many alternatives, such as replacing lard in carnitas with milk, stock or even cola.

How to make carnitas

The secret of carnitas lies in the “melting” of the meat. If you heat it around 80°C for a longer period of time, it will fall apart nice and slowly. Depending on the size of the joint, this can take up to 12 hours! Heating the meat in its own fat allows it to stay juicy. In addition to lard, typical carnitas flavours, such as bay leaf and orange, are sometimes added. Condensed milk can help to tenderise the meat.

The meat can be placed in the oven, in the frying pan or in the pressure cooker for a few hours (times can be adjusted). Some chefs choose a recipe that requires it to be boiled dry and baked crispy at the end. Others help the dish by cooking it under the grill or in the frying pan. Either way, the carnitas gets crispy edges.

How to eat carnitas

Carnitas are often eaten as a filling for warm, soft tortillas or in tamales.

Please consider

Carnitas are often served with guacamole, salsa and warm corn tortillas and a round of margaritas is always a pleasant accompaniment.

Also try

Are you a fan of slow-cooked meat? Then, try Spanish callos or Greek stifado.

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