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Have you ever wondered what "carnitas" means — and what makes this Mexican dish so darn delicious? You've come to the right place! Here's everything you've ever wanted to know about carnitas and how to make it at home.

What Is Carnitas?

Carnitas
Credit: Meredith

Carnitas — which means "little meats" in Spanish — is a Mexican pork dish. An inexpensive, heavily marbled cut of pork, such as boneless Boston butt, pork shoulder or picnic ham, is braised or simmered for several hours with seasonings and lard until it is so tender that is can be shredded. At the end of cooking, the meat is roasted to make it crisp.

Carnitas is a dish served on its own with salsa and sides, and carnitas is also used as a filling for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas.

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

Braised Carnitas vs. Barbacoa

Carnitas is made from pork whereas barbacoa is from beef, usually from the beef cheeks, and originated in the Caribbean. The word "barbecue" comes from barbacoa.

There are different ways of preparing barbacoa. In the United States the term generally means spicy slow-braised beef that has been marinated in adobo seasoning and cooked until fork-tender and pulled apart.

shredded pork on a white plate with salad in the background
Credit: Rock_lobster

Carnitas vs. Pulled Pork

Both carnitas and pulled pork are cooked slowly for several hours, and great to make in the slow cooker or instant pot. Unlike pulled pork, however, carnitas are finished by roasting the meat in the oven until browned and crisp.

Carne Asada Tacos
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Carnitas vs. Carne Asada

Carne asada is a dish made of thin strips of beef, such as sirloin or rib, that are marinated in lime juice and other seasonings, then grilled. It takes much less time to make but just like carnitas, it's also a popular filling for tacos or burritos.

Midwest Living-Out and About-Ethnic Food/Neighborhoods-CMR#
Credit: Meredith

What Is in Carnitas Seasoning?

The ingredients in ready-to-use carnitas seasoning are very similar to adobo seasoning, containing a mix of salt, black pepper, onion or onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic or garlic powder, and chili powder, plus additional lime juice.

How to Make Carnitas

All this carnitas talk have you feeling hungry? Try your hand at one of these top-rated carnitas recipe.

"Carnitas are cubes of fragrantly spiced pork slowly cooked in lard until they're crispy on the outside while at the same time remaining soft and succulent inside," says Chef John. Add some to warm tortillas, drizzle with a little braising liquid, and top with salsa, chopped onions, and cilantro.

Pork shoulder is slow cooked, shredded, and served in soft corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, onion, pico de gallo topped with lime crema.

Zesty Carnitas Tacos
Credit: Allrecipes Magazine

"The milk braising beforehand seems to give the meat a little extra succulence," says Chef John. "The subtle sweetness from the orange is also very nice."

Orange and Milk-Braised Pork Carnitas
Photo by mauigirl

"Carnitas, avocado, and cheese are layered between thick slices of bread and grilled with more cheese on the outside of the bread in this ultimate Tex-Mex grilled cheese," says Julie Hubert.

Tex Mex Ultimate Carnitas Grilled Cheese
Photo by bd.weld

"This can be easily adapted to a slow cooker, but the pressure cooker really seals in the flavor and cuts down on cooking time," says yellowpairs. "Perfect for taco bars! All the leftover broth from the pressure cooker is packed full of flavor, great as a starter for chile verde, and freezes well. Serve carnitas with white corn tortillas, guacamole and pico."

Pressure Cooker Carnitas
Photo by bd.weld

"Carnitas means 'little meats' and is traditionally fried and then braised," says Erin Parker. "This recipe is made much easier using the slow cooker but the results are just as tasty. This makes a great filling for tamales, enchiladas, tacos and burritos. This filling is also great combined with your favorite barbecue sauce and served on buns."

Slow Cooker Carnitas
Photo by Tammy Lynn

"This is the easiest recipe for tasty carnitas," says Ken from CA. "Once cooked, the meat can also be shredded and mixed with BBQ sauce for incredible pulled pork sandwiches, or pan-fried in a little oil until crisp on the outside."

Simple Carnitas
Photo by bd.weld

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