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 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.
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.
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.
- 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.