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    Carnitas (again!)

    Hi All !

    I've cooked pork butt a number of times on my Traeger with good results. There's always one side that is drier and tougher, and one part that is incredible. I later learned that the competition guys call the best part the "money muscle" and have names for the other parts as well.

    I like the PBS program, "Pati's Mexican Table" with Pati Jinich. She visits places and then comes home and cooks a kitchen version.

    I had not realized that:
    1. Carnitas originated in Michoacan, which is also the most famous place for carnitas still.
    2. The traditional way of cooking them is to cook them at low/medium heat (not fry!) in lard. I didn't realize that cooking at low temp in oil is called braising. Although she said that many people down there may cook in pressure cooker before giving them the braising treatment, maybe not braising, not clear on that.

    I wanted some smoke flavor and I like a bit of crispiness, so I was trying to figure out how to do a hybrid version. Because it takes me 10 hours or so to smoke and she only has it on the stove for 90 minutes or so, in a giant braising pan that she referred to as a casserole.

    I cut the two boneless pieces of pork, totalling 15lbs, into 3 to 4" pieces. I had bought a large aluminum foil disposable "roasting pan" for $3 at a local grocery store. I put half the pieces on the top rack of the Traeger, and the rest left in the pan directly underneath to catch any rendered fat. Then after an hour or so I switched their places. After another hour I brought the pan in with all the meat.

    Then I made up this concoction of water plus and onion, garlic, herbs, salt, etc. and pureed it in a blender before pouring over the meat in the roasting pan. (Pati's recipe more or less.) I covered it with foil and put it in the oven at 325. (She does it on the stovetop but cannot do with a foil roasting pan.)

    Conundrum #1 - I checked the fluid in the pan and with the oven at 325, it was only ~175F. So I kept turning up the oven. It was only when I set it to over 400 and took the foil all the top of the pan that the liquid got up to simmering temp. Why is this ? Would a cast iron pot behave differently?

    Conundrum #2 - Not sure if submerging 2/3 of the way in liquid will leech out the smoke flavor?

    One show I saw had them taking the lid off for the last hour (it was in the oven) to get the exposed tops a little crispy.

    It took about 2 hours on the smoker, then about 6 hours in the oven, to my surprise. I took the foil off just in the hope that the liquid temp would come up.

    But FINALLY they became falling apart tender, except for a couple of pieces that were very soft but not falling apart.

    Lots of good advice here, I have always remembered the one "put them in a pressure cooker with a can of Rotel". I had to look up Rotel, and unfortunately I don't have a pressure cooker, but it was interesting to learn on one of the shows, either Pati or "Milk Street", that many people down in Mexico don't have big ovens etc. and that they cook them in a pressure cooker.

    Any thoughts on this subject in general, or on particular aspects will be appreciated ! ! !


    Last edited by zzdocxx; November 6, 2021, 04:24 PM.

    #2
    Well, technically, (he said in his most annoyingly pedantic tone of voice) carnitas is a confit not a braise. It's cooked submerged in lard until the connective tissue has broken down, and then the heat is turned up to fry it. In Michoacán this is done in a big copper pot called a Cazo, it's also a whole animal cook, but that's not exactly doable for most of us.

    Anyway, pedantry aside, you're on the right track. I use Kenji's recipe, as it's the closest thing to real carnitas that's adaptable to doing on a grill or smoker. He also just recently did a video:



    As did Rick Bayless:



    Kenji cooks his in vegetable oil, Bayless cooks in lard. Unless you can get lard from a Mexican grocery store that's rendered from cooking pork, use vegetable oil. The white brick-o-lard that you use for biscuits or pie crust has no flavor, and will actually leach flavor out of the meat.

    Now, let's take this out to the grill. I use the Kenji recipe, usually with a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in addition to the oil. I do this on a Weber kettle, so I just set up to run at 350. You're cooking on a Traeger, so if you want to get a bit of smoke on it maybe start at 225. Pack everything tightly in to a foil pan, roll smoke for about an hour, and the cover tightly with foil and let it cook until the pork is tender, probably a couple more hours.

    Doing carnitas this way, I'm not really sure that the smoke really does much of anything, but most of the time I don't really want to turn the oven on, so outside it is. Whatever, it works, it's tasty, and I get tacos.

    Oh, and if you do either recipe make the salsa from Kenji's recipe. It's bomb, and if you have some leftover and some tortilla chips you can make some killer chilaquiles the next morning.

    Comment


    • barelfly
      barelfly commented
      Editing a comment
      Great post!

    • Sweaty Paul
      Sweaty Paul commented
      Editing a comment
      I just watched Kenji’s Carnitas recipe and it is on the “to do” list for sure.

    #3
    Mnarrre nailed it

    Comment


      #4
      What I do is break the pork butt down into 3-4 manageable chunks … typical pork butt starts around 8 lbs. Once broken down and bone removed, I ave (typically) 4 chunks of about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs each. Then I rub them with a Mexican inspired rub that has many of the same flavors as traditional carnitas. And then I smoke the whole kit and kaboodle at 250 until I have good bark and probe tender. I pull all of that, then quickly toss it into a cast iron pan that is smoking hot to get some good crisp on it.

      That is my faux carnitas :-)

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      Comment


        #5
        Originally posted by mnavarre View Post
        Well, technically, (he said in his most annoyingly pedantic tone of voice) carnitas is a confit not a braise. It's cooked submerged in lard until the connective tissue has broken down, and then the heat is turned up to fry it. In Michoacán this is done in a big copper pot called a Cazo, it's also a whole animal cook, but that's not exactly doable for most of us.

        Anyway, pedantry aside, you're on the right track. I use Kenji's recipe, as it's the closest thing to real carnitas that's adaptable to doing on a grill or smoker. He also just recently did a video:



        As did Rick Bayless:



        Kenji cooks his in vegetable oil, Bayless cooks in lard. Unless you can get lard from a Mexican grocery store that's rendered from cooking pork, use vegetable oil. The white brick-o-lard that you use for biscuits or pie crust has no flavor, and will actually leach flavor out of the meat.

        Now, let's take this out to the grill. I use the Kenji recipe, usually with a couple tablespoons of bacon grease in addition to the oil. I do this on a Weber kettle, so I just set up to run at 350. You're cooking on a Traeger, so if you want to get a bit of smoke on it maybe start at 225. Pack everything tightly in to a foil pan, roll smoke for about an hour, and the cover tightly with foil and let it cook until the pork is tender, probably a couple more hours.

        Doing carnitas this way, I'm not really sure that the smoke really does much of anything, but most of the time I don't really want to turn the oven on, so outside it is. Whatever, it works, it's tasty, and I get tacos.

        Oh, and if you do either recipe make the salsa from Kenji's recipe. It's bomb, and if you have some leftover and some tortilla chips you can make some killer chilaquiles the next morning.
        Not pedantic at all, this is great information! Now that you mention it, somewhere in there they did use the work "confit", you have just jogged my memory. OK I think the thing is that Pati uses water and herbs etc., the Milk Street guy, I think a cup of oil and also water, so I think they are trying to reduce the use of fats. Although I don't know that being cooked in fat causes fat to be absorbed ? Oh just remembered I poured about a cup of avocado oil over the whole shebang, trying to give it a "partial" slow cooked in oil thing though I have no idea if that did any harm or good.

        Yeah, one reason I brought it in to the oven is that running the Traeger for a long time means I've got to take it apart and vacuum out the ash before next use. But again it was weird how I couldn't get it to start simmering in the oven till I turned it up past 400F and took the foil off the top.

        I hear you about the oven, when it is hot here I use the portable induction burner outdoors too, no oven cooking allowed ! Haha, the weather has been on the cloudy and cool side though the last week down here by the ocean.

        Dang we had pickeled red onions in the fridge and just plain forgot about them. We went with corn tortillas, onion, cilantro, green salsa, and lemon. We heated and slightly crisped up the carnitas in the skillet while heating up the tortillas.

        Watching Kenji's vid now, nice and simple. But I'm still a little mad at him for his sous-vide soft boiled egg recipe, which actually results in runny "hot springs eggs".

        Lots of Mexican markets around here (San Diego).

        So yeah excellent advice, thank you !




        Last edited by zzdocxx; November 6, 2021, 11:05 PM.

        Comment


          #6
          Originally posted by ecowper View Post
          What I do is break the pork butt down into 3-4 manageable chunks … typical pork butt starts around 8 lbs. Once broken down and bone removed, I ave (typically) 4 chunks of about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs each. Then I rub them with a Mexican inspired rub that has many of the same flavors as traditional carnitas. And then I smoke the whole kit and kaboodle at 250 until I have good bark and probe tender. I pull all of that, then quickly toss it into a cast iron pan that is smoking hot to get some good crisp on it.

          That is my faux carnitas :-)

          Click image for larger version

Name:	C35428CC-155E-46BA-83F6-E24830780A67.jpeg
Views:	240
Size:	174.5 KB
ID:	1121313
          Click image for larger version

Name:	46253D17-6AA8-4427-A6C3-C8B057B3D178.jpeg
Views:	267
Size:	157.6 KB
ID:	1121312
          I think it is great. That is sort of how I was doing it except for the crisping, I just leave that to the bark. The problem is that part of it is getting done perfectly and the tougher part gets dried out and a little hard. Perfectly OK when shredded/chopped and mixed up with the rest, but always trying to improve on things so I figured I would try out this method. The smoke really does give it a nice flavor.

          What type of grill are you using to smoke with ?

          Comment


          • ecowper
            ecowper commented
            Editing a comment
            I am doing the smoking/cooking of the pork butt on a charcoal grlll. Usually on my hasty-bake.

          • zzdocxx
            zzdocxx commented
            Editing a comment
            ecowper I'm just wondering if there is any particular thing you do to keep parts of it from getting dry on the grill. Or perhaps you have not encountered that issue ?

            Anyway it looks delish !

          #7
          https://forcemeatacademy.com/whats-t...nfit-braising/

          Comment


            #8
            I have tried making carnitas cooked with added broth and carnitas cooked with added fat. I much prefer the results I get with the "added fat" method. I have adapted Kenji's oven method of making carnitas for my Hasty Bake. Here's a link to the article and recipe in case a person wants to read rather than watch a video -- https://www.seriouseats.com/no-waste...a-verde-recipe

            I cooked 14 pounds (untrimmed weight) of bone in butt a couple of weekends ago. I cut the trimmed and deboned meat into cubes about 2 inches (5 cm) on a side. Season the meat to your preference. I kept it simple this time --

            Per 3 pounds of cubed meat --
            1 tsp kosher salt (use a light hand -- can always add more salt later)
            1 orange, washed but unpeeled, cut into 6 to 8 thick slices or wedges
            1/2 medium-large onion, peeled, cut same as the orange
            1-2 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
            1 whole bay leaf

            Pack the meat cubes TIGHTLY into a pan (14 pounds fit into a 18x13x2 inch half-sheet baking pan), press the bay, garlic, onion, and orange into the meat and scatter the salt over all. Add enough fat (melted lard or vegetable oil) to almost cover the meat. I leave the top 1/2-3/4 inch (1.5-2 cm) of the meat uncovered so it is exposed to the smoke.

            Smoke for 2-3 hours at 250-275 F / 120-135 C. After that time, cover the pan tightly with foil and continue to bake the meat at that same temperature until the meat is tender enough to pull apart. You can do the baking step in the smoker or in the oven, whichever you prefer.

            Let the meat cool until it is safe to handle. Remove and discard the bay leaves, obvious onion bits, and the orange slices. Shred the meat, removing larger objectionable bits as you go, and portion into meal sized packages. I usually put about 8 oz / 230 g meat per package which is enough to feed 2-4 people depending on the type of dish and the size of the appetites.

            Strain the fat and juices into a cup. Portion some or all of the fat into each package of meat. Reserve the juices for other purposes. Seal each package and freeze. Sweet-talk a kind husband into scrubbing a huge baking pan that's black with smoke.

            edit - The initial weight of 14 pounds / 6.4 kg of untrimmed bone-in meat produced about 5.5 lb / 2.5 kg cooked meat -- that's just under 40% yield.

            "...The white brick-o-lard ... will actually leach flavor out of the meat...."

            I'm not sure I see how unflavored lard can leach flavor out of the meat more than unflavored veg oil would, but that's just my unfounded opinion. Would love to see info that explains how veg oil and lard perform differently in this kind of situation.

            Anyways, it's not that big of a deal. I use lard because I have it on hand and I think it has a slightly different mouth feel than veg oil. But if I was short of lard, I'd be okay using veg oil.

            Another thing to remember about flavor being lost into the fat -- If you follow Kenji's method, all or most of that fat is mixed back into the meat after pulling, so it's not like all that yummy flavor goes to waste. It's only the water-based juices that are used elsewhere, such as in the salsa he makes.
            Last edited by IowaGirl; November 7, 2021, 08:22 AM.

            Comment


            • IowaGirl
              IowaGirl commented
              Editing a comment
              Oh, forgot -- Carnitas are often crisped in a fry pan or under the broiler. I don't do this at the end of this big cook. If I want those crispy bits, I crisp the meat as I prepare each meal.

            • HawkerXP
              HawkerXP commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks for sharing!

            • fzxdoc
              fzxdoc commented
              Editing a comment
              Great post. Thanks!

              Kathryn

            #9
            Here where I am, near San Diego, the best carnitas I have had was seared under a broiler after they were cooked. It was in a taco like salad and was absolutely delish. This result is difficult to achieve unless cola made with real sugar is used in the carnitas prep.

            Comment


            • zzdocxx
              zzdocxx commented
              Editing a comment
              Recipe ?

            #10
            Originally posted by IowaGirl View Post
            I have tried making carnitas cooked with added broth and carnitas cooked with added fat. I much prefer the results I get with the "added fat" method. I have adapted Kenji's oven method of making carnitas for my Hasty Bake. Here's a link to the article and recipe in case a person wants to read rather than watch a video -- https://www.seriouseats.com/no-waste...a-verde-recipe

            I cooked 14 pounds (untrimmed weight) of bone in butt a couple of weekends ago. I cut the trimmed and deboned meat into cubes about 2 inches (5 cm) on a side. Season the meat to your preference. I kept it simple this time --

            Per 3 pounds of cubed meat --
            1 tsp kosher salt (use a light hand -- can always add more salt later)
            1 orange, washed but unpeeled, cut into 6 to 8 thick slices or wedges
            1/2 medium-large onion, peeled, cut same as the orange
            1-2 garlic cloves, peeled, whole
            1 whole bay leaf

            Pack the meat cubes TIGHTLY into a pan (14 pounds fit into a 18x13x2 inch half-sheet baking pan), press the bay, garlic, onion, and orange into the meat and scatter the salt over all. Add enough fat (melted lard or vegetable oil) to almost cover the meat. I leave the top 1/2-3/4 inch (1.5-2 cm) of the meat uncovered so it is exposed to the smoke.

            Smoke for 2-3 hours at 250-275 F / 120-135 C. After that time, cover the pan tightly with foil and continue to bake the meat at that same temperature until the meat is tender enough to pull apart. You can do the baking step in the smoker or in the oven, whichever you prefer.

            Let the meat cool until it is safe to handle. Remove and discard the bay leaves, obvious onion bits, and the orange slices. Shred the meat, removing larger objectionable bits as you go, and portion into meal sized packages. I usually put about 8 oz / 230 g meat per package which is enough to feed 2-4 people depending on the type of dish and the size of the appetites.

            Strain the fat and juices into a cup. Portion some or all of the fat into each package of meat. Reserve the juices for other purposes. Seal each package and freeze. Sweet-talk a kind husband into scrubbing a huge baking pan that's black with smoke.

            edit - The initial weight of 14 pounds / 6.4 kg of untrimmed bone-in meat produced about 5.5 lb / 2.5 kg cooked meat -- that's just under 40% yield.

            "...The white brick-o-lard ... will actually leach flavor out of the meat...."

            I'm not sure I see how unflavored lard can leach flavor out of the meat more than unflavored veg oil would, but that's just my unfounded opinion. Would love to see info that explains how veg oil and lard perform differently in this kind of situation.

            Anyways, it's not that big of a deal. I use lard because I have it on hand and I think it has a slightly different mouth feel than veg oil. But if I was short of lard, I'd be okay using veg oil.

            Another thing to remember about flavor being lost into the fat -- If you follow Kenji's method, all or most of that fat is mixed back into the meat after pulling, so it's not like all that yummy flavor goes to waste. It's only the water-based juices that are used elsewhere, such as in the salsa he makes.
            One last question for the group.

            I noticed this batch of carnitas, which I did pour avocado oil all over after it had cooked a while with the blendered onion/water/herbs/etc., it seemed a lot more fatty than usual. Usual way of cooking being many hours on the smoker grill at low temp.

            I'm not sure if I just got a fatty piece of pork butt (I guess they are all fatty) or is there something about cooking it in the fat that keeps it a bit more greasy. Because rather than being on the grill this time and having loads and loads of fat drain off, it was in a roasting pan so it was also cooking in the rendered lard.

            So it seems that actual carnitas technically/traditionally are actually confited (is that a word?) and not braised. I am certainly open to shortcuts and variations however.

            So is that something to expect, somewhat more greasy/fatty pork when done as a confit ?
            Last edited by zzdocxx; November 10, 2021, 10:47 PM.

            Comment


            • IowaGirl
              IowaGirl commented
              Editing a comment
              Yes, you're right -- meat cooked in fat probably has a higher fat content than one that's braised in a water-based liquid. Since this meat is used sparingly mixed with veggies, tortilla, etc., however, it gets stretched a long way -- it's not the same as chowing down on a big fatty steak.

            #11
            Latest creation.
            corn tortilla, crisped carnitas, onion, cilantro, green salsa, lime juice, pickled red onion.

            Attached Files

            Comment


            • barelfly
              barelfly commented
              Editing a comment
              That’s just about as good as it gets! Is that a fresh corn tortilla?

            • zzdocxx
              zzdocxx commented
              Editing a comment
              barelfly Yep, just cooked with a smidge of butter/lard.

            • barelfly
              barelfly commented
              Editing a comment
              Oh gosh…..fresh tortillas to boot. Yes.. that is just perfect! You win…winner winner…all-time taco dinner!

            #12
            Esoterica here:

            I was thinking about whether there would be any advantage to incorporating sous-vide to this formula.


            Would sous-vide result in the pork being cooked in lots of rendered fat?

            Could liquid smoke be added to the sous-vide? I have read that some companies offer liquid smoke in water or oil base or both.

            Does cooking on the stove top leach out any of the smoke I applied on the grill? Would adding liquid smoke to cook top prepared carnitas add anything significant to the flavor?

            As far as sous-vide, I would like something to crisp it up a bit anyway.

            On the other hand, there are serious proponents for cooking in a pressure cooker with Rotel here. Much quicker but can't be left all day without watching it. For that matter, does sous-vide offer any advantage over a "slow cooker" (same as a "crock-pot", isn't it?). Haha, I remember when those crock pots came out in the 70's when I was a young chap, we had a lot of meals from that, mostly chicken but also beef sometimes.

            On the smoker grill, if I wrapped the pork in pink butcher paper after it got a crust, would that decrease the dryness that I often get when I smoke for hours and hours on the grill ? Does anyone here do it that way ? I came across that idea on the internet. Considering the amount of pellets used and the ash to be cleaned out of the grill, I am seeing less and less benefit to cooking for 10 hours on the smoker grill . . .

            To summarize the issues under consideration:

            1. Any advantages to sous-vide? (Apart from that I have a setup but not a crock-pot currently.)
            2. Liquid smoke - oil vs water based, and utility in confit/braise/pressure cook/crock-pot ?
            3. Crock-pot +/- vs sous-vide vs. pressure cook ?
            4. Wrapping in pink butcher paper to avoid dryness on smoker grill ?

            Thanks for your indulgence !




            Comment


              #13
              Originally posted by lostclusters View Post
              Here where I am, near San Diego, the best carnitas I have had was seared under a broiler after they were cooked. It was in a taco like salad and was absolutely delish. This result is difficult to achieve unless cola made with real sugar is used in the carnitas prep.
              I'm wondering if these other recipes that call for brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk, etc., might offer the same advantages.

              Comment


              • lostclusters
                lostclusters commented
                Editing a comment
                zzdocxx it was my understanding that cane sugar is what was sought after to produce the desired crisping on the carnitas.

              #14
              Follow on question to the esoterica above:

              If I were to buy a stainless/all clad/whatever roasting pan, and put it in the smoker grill, would it get all black and need lots of cleaning ?

              Comment

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