Tacos are beloved all over. Among the many taco variations that can be found in Austin, Texas, Carnitas Tacos stand out for their succulent and flavorful shredded pork filling. A classic in Mexican cuisine, carnitas showcase the magnificence of slow-cooked, succulent pork shoulder, seasoned to perfection.
In this post, we will take you through the process of achieving the perfect balance of crispy edges and tender, flavorful carnitas meat. Join us we bring the taste of Mexican street food right to your kitchen with these little pork street tacos.
Carnitas tacos are very easy to make and will feed a lot of hungry people. Just sear some savory carnitas meat, put out a stack of warm tortillas and you are ready for Taco Tuesday. Don't forget the Mexican rice and beans. Smoked charro beans go great with carnitas tacos.
Which Cut to Use: Boston Butt, Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt?
This particular cut of meat has a bit of an identity crisis and goes by more than one name: Boston Butt, pork butt and pork shoulder. Don't let the name fool you they are same thing and they all come from the shoulder, not the tush.
Use a bone-in pork shoulder for pulled pork where the roast is smoked whole. The bone will literally fall out after cooking. Cook a boneless roast if the meat is going to be cut into cubes before cooking. For carnitas tacos, go boneless. It's just too much work to trim out and remove the bone before cooking.
Crispy pork carnitas street tacos are great for taco night.
- Olive oil
- Boneless pork shoulder trimmed and cut into 2” chunks
- Mexican oregano
- Ground cumin
- Bay leaves
- Black pepper
- Kosher salt
- Red pepper
- Lime juice
- Fresh cilantro
- White onion
- Cold water
See recipe card for quantities.
Braise the Pork Shoulder
Trim off some of the big pieces of fat and cut the roast into 2" strips.
Then cut each strip into 2" pieces.
Cook the bacon in a Dutch oven until softened.
Add the pork shoulder pieces and lightly brown on all sides (about 10 minutes).
After 10 minutes, the pork should be lightly browned.
Add the spices and water. Cover and braise for about two hours. Count on the whole house smelling great.
Slow cooking is the best way to ensure fork tender carnitas.
Remove some of the carnitas meat with a slotted spoon, then rough chop it.
Sear the Carnitas Meat
After the carnitas meat has braised for a few hours, chop a small portion and sear it in a hot pan covered by a cast iron burger press. This helps maximize the contact between the meat and the hot pan resulting in a better sear.
The final step is to sear some of the carnitas meat in its own fat in a hot skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes.
For a real treat, take one of the soft tacos in a corn tortilla and close the top with a toothpick. Fry the whole thing in 350˚F oil for about one minute.
Make a fresh batch of small corn tortillas for the carnitas tacos. Stack two on a plate and add a generous helping of carnitas meat. Top the carnitas tacos with some diced white onion, fresh cilantro, pico de gallo and a bit of your favorite hot sauce. Serve with lime slices.
Do not use a pork loin or pork tenderloin to make carnitas. A pork shoulder has a much higher fat content than those cuts and you need that fat to make good carnitas. It is almost impossible to make shredded pork out out anything except a pork shoulder.
If you like a little more heat in your carnitas, add a little chili powder to the spice mix.
Flour tortillas work as well, but authentic street tacos are always made on small corn tortillas.
The carnitas in this recipe were made in a Dutch oven. A large, heavy pot would also have worked. A crock pot would also work to make slow cooker carnitas, cooked on high.
Store leftover carnitas meat in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Be sure to save the cooking liquid. There is a lot of flavor in the liquid and it makes it easier to reheat the carnitas meat if you have the braising liquid.
Searing the carnitas meat just before building tacos adds a ton of flavor.
Pork carnitas street tacos are perfect for taco night or anytime you need a dose of Mexican street food. Gather your ingredients, invite your friends and get going with this easy recipe. It's time to make a pitch of Margaritas.
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with this recipe.
Delicious Carnitas Tacos
- 3 tbs olive oil divided
- 5 lbs boneless pork shoulder trimmed and cut into 2” chunks
- 12 oz bacon sliced, cut in half
- 2 each bay leaves
- 2 teaspoon Mexican oregano dried
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or chopped dried chile de árbol
- Preheat oven to 350°. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until just softened (about 3 minutes). Add the pork shoulder and lightly brown on all sides (about 10 minutes).
- Add water (about 3 cups) until the pork pieces are half submerged. Add the oregano, cumin black pepper, salt and dried chiles. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and place in the oven until tender (about 2 hours). Stir every 30 minutes.
- Carefully remove the pot from the oven and transfer some of the pork shoulder to a cutting board with tongs or a slotted spoon. Chop the pork and discard the bacon.
- Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add enough chopped pork to cover the bottom of the pan to a depth of about ½”. Press down with a spatula or weight it down with a cast-iron grill press. Cook until crisp and lightly browned (about 5 minutes) Turn over half way through cooking.