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Fun With Carnitas

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    Fun With Carnitas

    Prior to the pandemic, virtually every Friday night we were in town, you could find my wife and me at our local Mexican restaurant run by a family that really made it a special place. Most visits, we would start with their fresh guacamole prepared tableside and then share an entree. One of my favorites there is carnitas.

    I don't profess to be any sort of expert on Mexican cooking, but I consider their carnitas to be moderately authentic. The pork is in fairly large chunks, maybe three inches or more on a side, and has an incredible sear on it. Another authentic restaurant across town serves virtually same dish. Both serve with tortillas, fresh onion, lettuce, lime and fresh avocado.

    I had a little chunk of pork butt in the freezer, weighing about 1.75 pounds, so I decided it would be fun to try my hand at carnitas. Googling for carnitas recipes gives a mix of wildly different approaches. It seems lots of people start with pulled pork and crisp it up in a pan. Recipes that look a bit more like what I get at the places I like appear to start with what seems like poaching pork butt chunks in a mix of broth, citrus and lard, followed by frying in lard. There is even one old post here in that vein, although in the end it winds up as a carnitas burrito with the pork looking somewhat pulled after frying.

    Being lazy, I decided not to go too far out of my comfort zone and start with smoking rather than poaching. I also don't have any lard on hand. In thinking through what I could do for the frying step, I realized I have some Crisco around. A quick look online told me that the smoke point for Crisco is 490. That explains why Grandma's home fries were always so good and crispy: you can fry at super high heat levels with this stuff.

    I also had no idea how far to cook the butt chunk before cubing and frying. I randomly chose 190. I used a commercial rub with salt that my daughter had given me for Christmas (Habanero Hitman, it turns out to be pretty good) and put the butt on with the controller set for 275. Here it is at 190 internal:

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    I chose cutting into smaller cubes that wouldn't require further breaking apart to go into tacos. I hit the cubes with a mixture of lime juice and orange juice, along with zest.

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    And here we are in the Lodge, which I got to over 450 before dropping the cubes in (in two batches):

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    And here we have the beautiful fried chunks, which got more orange juice and zest:

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    For the tacos, I went with some Napa cabbage and chipotle crema.

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    These were so much fun to make and turned out really well. I'm definitely going to keep fooling around with this approach.

    I intentionally didn't put this up as a full-blown recipe, because I think of it as more an exploration of techniques. Toward that end, what do you think of when you think carnitas? How do you like to prepare them? How are they prepared at your favorite restaurant?

    I was looking a some Carnitas recipes today also. But I just looked.


      That looks mighty good.


        Those look really excellent, Jim White !


          That looks great. I foresee adding this technique to my carnitas pork shoulder


            A carnita by any other name would smell as sweet.


              I’d definitely eat that !


                Looks great. Sort of halfway between pork butt burnt ends and carnitas. Carnitas burnt ends!

                I like my carnitas with either a salsa verde or an avocado salsa


                • Jim White
                  Jim White commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Funny you should say that. When I tasted the chunks after frying, I decided I would probably do a play on burnt ends with the other two pound piece of pork butt I have in the freezer.

                I judge Mexican restaurants by the quality of their carnitas. I like tender moist carnitas with a good amount of crispy edges. The best I’ve found in the San Diego area is a small taco shop in Poway called Taco Taco.


                • Bkhuna
                  Bkhuna commented
                  Editing a comment
                  You can't get good, So Cal style tacos de carne asada in Florida. When I was stationed in San Diego you could find it on every corner. Alberto's, Los Pancho's, Roberto's, Robertito's, the list goes on and on.

                  Everyone in Florida seems to want those hideous Mission style burritos.

                • surfdog
                  surfdog commented
                  Editing a comment
                  And that will be enough of that, thank you very much!
                  Sharing the names of taco shops in San Diego. OMG


                Looking good, you done good!
                pair them with PBR.


                  Excellent! Carnitas are one of my favorites! Thank you for sharing!


                    I’m not really sure what that is but I’ll take 7lbs please. Golly man, I can seriously taste the citrus on the pork right now.

                    my favorite part of your story..... “Being lazy, I decided not to go too far out of my comfort zone.” Somehow I totally get that.


                      Good looking Carnitasaurus Sir.


                      • Jim White
                        Jim White commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Thank you so much. I am quite proud of it. But while consuming your next adult beverage, you can join me in pondering the great mystery of why a TRIcerataco taco holder only holds two tacos instead of three.

                      Authentic Carnitas are probably a top 10 food for me. We had one place here in central Ohio that made the best Carnitas.

                      They had the giant copper pot filled with pork lard where they braised / fried the pork shoulder chunks.

                      They made fresh corn soft taco shells and my perfect bite taco I would create was carnitas, some cooked onion, their home made salsa verde, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

                      Sadly they closed down about 4 years ago and the rumors were the family moved back to Mexico before they had a chance to be deported.


                      • HouseHomey
                        HouseHomey commented
                        Editing a comment
                        My stomach just growled.

                      Just another kudos from me, you know I love my tacos!! I like your approach, carnitas here are more the poached then deep fried in lard type. On my list for my Taco Chronicles series, I may take your smoked approach!! Awesome work Jim !!


                      • Jim White
                        Jim White commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I'm honored. You should know that once I decided on carnitas, I double-checked to see if you had gotten there yet in your taco series, because that would be my guide.

                        I'm curious now to see a comparison of that final step with frying in lard compared to Crisco. I know lard gives wonderful flavor, but with a difference of over 100 degrees in the smoke points, it seems to me that it would be hard to achieve the delightful crispness these bits got in the Crisco.


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