Carnitas ~ Little Pieces of Browned Pork

Here it is, my all-time favorite Mexican dish. If I could choose only one Mexican dish to eat, this would be it ~ hands down.

I first tasted Carnitas over 30 (!) years ago at a little roadside restaurant in Mexico. On a very warm summer afternoon we pulled into the dusty parking lot where an enormous cauldron was bubbling furiously, suspended over an open wood fire.
We quickly walked past the heat of the fire into the cool, darkened dining room.

I had no idea what treats would be in store for us as we took our seats against the wall. The specialty of the house was Carnitas, we were urged to order them...
but just what they were I did not know.

First our icy cold beverages arrived and soon after a large basket of hot, handmade flour tortillas were delivered to our table with a huge platter of little pieces of browned pork. Generous piles of cilantro, sliced avocados, thinly sliced radishes, scallions and sliced onions were arranged at one end of the platter.
A large bowl of the best fresh (uncooked salsa) I had ever tasted was set beside the platter. A warm tortilla, succulent little pieces of browned pork and whatever condiments desired wrapped in a fresh, warm homemade tortilla? Heaven! :)
I was determined to recreate this delicious meal at home... but how to prepare the meat?

Was it roasted? Fried? Did that enormous cauldron out in front of the cantina play a part in producing these delicious morsels? How was it seasoned??
At the time it was mystery to me, but I knew I HAD to have that recipe.
I was on a mission to find out, my Spanish was abysmal so it was futile to ask the proprietors of the cafe.
Keep in mind that this was years and years ago, before PCs were household fixtures, so I scoured the library's cookbooks... and learned about a British woman, Diana Kennedy. A remarkable person who embraced the culture and foods Mexico with great passion. She had moved there years before and had made it her life's work to delve into all of the varied cuisines of Mexico and share them with the rest of us.
There it was... in her book "The Cuisines of Mexico" THE recipe for Carnitas.
And I was so surprised to learn how simple the recipe actually is.
Small pieces of pork (not too lean), simmered in lightly salted water until the water evaporates and the pork just tender. The pork is allowed to brown gently in the accumulated juices until slightly crisp on the outside and fall apart tender.

Sometimes I use pork shoulder, but recently country-style pork ribs were on sale so I used those ~ and actually prefer them, instead of dealing with a huge hunk of pork.
The ribs are easy to cut into the proper size for this dish, without a lot of handling of raw pork ~ if that sort of thing makes you queasy.
I have made carnitas countless times over the years for family and friends, they make a wonderful dish for a casual party. I keep the meat on a warming plate (or you could use a slow cooker, with the lid askew so the meat doesn't steam), and warm flour tortillas alongside. I offer a few of bowls of fresh salsa, guacamole, sour cream, and plates of sliced radishes, cilantro, sliced avocado, and shredded cabbage or lettuce, so each person can assemble their own ~ it's a fun food to serve (and eat!)
I have a few of her books, but if I could have only one of hers, I would choose either this one...
Or this one, (her most recent):

From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients, by Diana Kennedy

Diana's are the most authentic, concise and comprehensive Mexican cookbooks written in the English language that I have found. I've given them as gifts to several cooks I know through the years and they have the same feelings about her cookbooks.
The recipes are clearly written, and easy to follow. They are packed with essential information on making your own authentic Mexican food; ingredient explanations & descriptions, recipes for appetizers, soups, salsas, guacamole, beans, rice, seafood, meats, chicken, desserts, breads, and desserts, etc.
If you would like a printable copy of Diana's recipe for Carnitas, please click HERE to find it on my recipe blog.
Thank you for stopping by, I hope you have a wonderful day!


  1. I have also cooked from Diana Kennedy's books. Researching a recipe at the library seems so provincial now! It was often frustrating, but sometimes led to other finds. Like a treasure hunt.

    Thanks for the tale and for bringing this recipe to us, Mary.

    I could sit and watch your slide show all day, with such lovely pics.


  2. Looks and sounds AWESOME!!! THANKS!!! for the recipe.
    Come by and visit so you can enter my GREAT!!! giveaway for a waffle maker.

  3. Wow, that looks delicious. You could make anything look good, though. :)

  4. We have a new little Mexican place in town. They serve authentic Mexican food...no crispy taco shells at this place. Carnitas are on the menu and I haven't tried them yet. Now I will. They have a taco with pork and pineapple that is wonderful!

    Sadly, this is a town that prefers more American Mexican...highly seasoned, crunchy shells...I'm afraid they won't last long here, but we love it!


  5. I love all the colorful sides that go with this. And the pork. Of course, the pork.

  6. Now I am certainly craving Mexican food for dinner. Thanks for the link to the recipe. It sure is easy to make and I copied the recipe for a future meal.

  7. Mary, If I could only have one Mexican dish it would also be Pork Carnitas.

    We had a similar experience 30 years ago, but it was in a little out of the way Mexican restaurant in Puerto Rico. Served with corn tortillas. Been in love with that dish ever since.

    There isn't anything that you cook that I wouldn't be happy to eat.

  8. Great idea using the pork ribs! I've always loved Diana K.

  9. I want some tender, little pieces of tender pork..Carnitas!

  10. I loved your vivid description of the cantina where you first had carnitas. I share your love for carnitas. It looks like a beautiful meal.

  11. What a fantastic post - your description of that dusty little road side restaurant is wonderful. I want a plate full of these carnitas right away! so glad you can use boneless pork ribs.


  12. That looks delicious! I must try it this weekend! Beautiful presentation as well!

    Miss Bloomers

  13. I have yet to make these..why do I think I would love to taste them more at your home?:)I learn something new about you every day:)

  14. what a lovely colourful dish!!! glad u found the recipe. it must be really good for u to search for it n recreate! beautiful ! :))

  15. I can taste this right through the screen.
    We love uncooked salsa and even my sons often make it themselves. Once you get the fresh lime juice in it the flavor just pops.

  16. That is one perfect plate of carnitas! I miss so much living on the CA/Mex border where you can get authentic foods like this. I've been wanting to try my hand at making Tacos al Pastor... there is a restaurant in Rio Vista, CA (Taqueria) that has the BEST. When I was there last October visiting my daughter, I talked to the chef about the recipe. She told me, in very broken English, how to make them. Between what she told me (and what I understood) and the recipes I've read, I think I can make something that might not quite equal it, but it would be pretty danged good! I'm going to have to give those a try!

  17. Oh Yum! I am definitely going to go print this recipe. That looks delicious! laurie

  18. Hello hiya hola,my first time here and must say u have an amazing blog here....really good with fantastic recipes and stunning pics and i will be here every so often now,cant afford to miss a single post.......

  19. I am always hungry when I finish reading your posts! These little pork pieces look heavenly. I am such a carnivor, so this is devine!
    And your pictures are perfect.

  20. Who doesn't like a little Mexican food now and then. They say it's the number one ethnic cuisine in America.

  21. This looks fabulous. Wonderfully photographed too.

  22. Hi Mari,how sweet ,ur really a kind angel,thanx a ton....
    Infact wanted to email u to ask u what cam u shoot with thought it wont take a rocket scientist to figure u have the art and flair for all things beautiful-loving every piece of cutlery u have and yeah the pics are stunning.....
    Very stunning...
    Cant seem to figure my pics yeah-they jus come elongated ,though in the picasa albums where i upload(way way faster than thru blogger),they seem fine and havent changed any settings or types and its only the last 2 posts am having a prob...

  23. No one can evoke the mood of a place & time better than you, Mari! Your photos of this mouth-watering dish bring your memories to life for us all. I have a long list of things to try making but this one just moved up to the top.

    My baby sis has lived in AZ for >20 yrs & she makes a wickedly delicious fresh salsa. I must dig out her recipe to share. It would go beautifully with this one.
    Thank you for taking the time to share your recipes, beautiful photographs & experiences with the world. I truly enjoy every single visit to your blog & learn so much from you!


  24. Wonderful post, Mari! I enjoyed going back in time with you ... being part of that hot summer's day in Mexico. And how you so eloquently described the way you stumbled on this delicious dish. How beautifully you replicated it in your own kitchen. You're so talented and passionate about cooking ... it's no wonder why your dishes ALWAYS turn out remarkable.

  25. Mary this is EXACTLY the recipe I have been using for so many years and it is indeed our favorite of all.
    There is a place in Tijuana near the cemetery where I first saw the giant cauldrons of boiling lard and tasted the delicious Carnitas. We were there to visit my husband's grandmothers grave. And I fell in love then...everything was served in paper...unbelievable.With pieces of fresh lime, chopped onion, some guac, freshly made hot ,corn tortillas And then another time in Baja they were even better, we ate so much we felt sick.

    Diana's recipe are always so right on and authentic...her books are all tattered and stained and well loved here.
    Your pics as always are incredible...I am hungry for this now and I have not even had breakfast yet. I must make this in the next few days. I know i will have a happy family if I do.

  26. I think I remember Diane Kennedy have a cooking show years ago.I adore Mexican food. Might be because I lived in Texas for a while. Great recipe and your pictures are gorgeous.

  27. Wonderful story with this delicious post. Would have loved to have been there to take in the sights and enjoy the wonderful food. Glad for this delicious discovery.


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