Smoked Pork Carnitas

Juicy smoked pork carnitas cooked low and slow over pecan wood. This tender shredded pork is served in your choice of taco or quesadillas, or as a nacho topping.

Smoked Pork Carnitas

Smoked pork carnitas is a Mexican spin on pulled pork that braises the meat in juice and spices for a plate of outrageously tender barbecue pork. Making the most of pork butt’s rich marbling and fat content, this low and slow shredded meat is juicy with tangy hints of citrus and spice.

Serve with rice, beans, tortillas, sour cream, and a garnish of cilantro. Use the carnitas the day after to make tostadas, tacos, burritos, and other Mexican dishes.

From meat preparation to choosing the right smoking wood chips, here’s how to smoke pork carnitas from scratch.

smoked pork shoulder carnitas recipe

What is Carnitas?

Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish consisting of shredded pork that’s braised or slow-cooked for hours until perfectly tender and juicy. It’s then quickly cooked over high heat to give it a distinct crispy finish. Pork carnitas is usually topped with chopped onion, chopped cilantro, and frijoles refritos (refried beans) before being served in tortillas to make tacos, tostadas, or quesadillas.

The best meat cut for carnitas is pork butt, taken from the upper part of the shoulder. This delicious pork cut is rich in fat and marbling, giving carnitas its distinct juicy flavor. Although quite a tough pork cut, the slow barbecue smoking process breaks down the collagen in the meat, making it tender enough to pull apart.

smoked pork shoulder carnitas recipe

Smoking Wood

To make these barbecue carnitas, we recommend a mild hardwood with a subtle fruit aroma. The key is to complement the natural flavors of pork without overpowering them. Our recommended best wood for pork butt is pecan or applewood, and the same is true for this carnitas recipe. You can also try maple, orange, or peachwood.

Avoid strong hardwoods like mesquite or hickory. While fine in small quantities, they present too much of a risk of cloaking your shredded pork in thick smoke.

Quick Tips

  1. The best way to shred pork is with a pair of shredding claws. Simply use the claws to dig into the smoked pork butt and slowly twist the meat, pulling it apart into juicy strings. The long smoke time should make this effortless and you should be done in only a few minutes.
smoked pork shoulder carnitas recipe
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5 from 1 vote

Smoked Pork Carnitas

Juicy smoked pork carnitas cooked low and slow over pecan wood. This tender shredded pork is served in your choice of taco or quesadillas, or as a nacho topping.
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 9 hours
Total Time 9 hours 10 minutes
Servings 8

Equipment

  • aluminum pan
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Pecan smoking wood

Ingredients

  • 3 lb pork butt
  • 2 tbsp yellow mustard

Dry Rub

  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp coarse black pepper
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 3 dried guajillo peppers

Braising Liquid

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion roughly chopped
  • 1 orange juice of
  • 1 lime juice of

Instructions

  • Fire up smoker to 225°F (107°C). If you are using a charcoal grill, ensure you set up for 2-zone indirect cooking.
  • In a small bowl, combine the dry rub ingredients. Use a fork to remove or crush any lumps that may form.
  • Apply a thin layer of the pork butt with yellow mustard. Apply the dry rub seasoning to the pork, covering all sides and working into any folds or crevices on the meat surface.
  • Place pork butt on smoker grates and add wood chips to coals or wood tray. Close lid and smoke until internal temperature is 165°F (74°C), about 6 hours.
  • In a bowl, combine the braising liquid ingredients.
  • Place pork butt in aluminum foil. Pour braising liquid over pork and into pan.
  • Tightly wrap the pan and pork in foil. Place back in smoker and increase temperature to 350°F (180°C). Smoke until internal temperature is 200°F (94°C), about 3 hours.
  • Heat a cast iron skillet on the grill. Drain the pork butt and break it up into smaller, pulled pieces. Finish the carnitas on the cast iron skillet until the edges crisp up, about 5 minutes.
  • Serve in flour tortillas with your choice of toppings

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