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The Best Grilled Pork Carnitas Recipe

grilled pork carnitas tacos with pickled red onion on a blue platter

When you think about pork carnitas recipes, you might not think about the grill in the same thought. Typically cooked in a large pot, pork carnitas on the grill is new to many people.

Making carnitas on the grill isn’t common, but I encourage you to try it. You can use a gas grill or a charcoal grill to make this pork carnitas recipe and I promise you’ll be glad you did.

This is a family friendly recipe that lends itself to the pork tacos, of course. But, these grilled carnitas (think leftovers) are also perfect for taquitos, enchiladas, burritos and even a rice bowl.

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What Meat Is Used For Pork Carnitas?

Pork shoulder, also called pork butt, is most often associated with carnitas. That said, other cuts of pork can be used.

For example, pork tenderloin is a favorite cut for pork carnitas recipes made in a crock pot. For as simple as they are, crock pot carnitas are really good.

Not as good as the grilled carnitas, but close and they’re very simple to make.

pork carnitas tacos on a plate with guacamole

I have also done this same grilled pork carnitas recipe using pork belly and that just might be my favorite version. Pork belly is harder to find than pork shoulder, but it’s absolutely amazing.

Benefits Of Grilling Carnitas

For a dish that is mostly braised or fried, you may wonder why a grill would be useful. There are several benefits to making grilled carnitas as opposed to the more traditional method.

First, the flavor — of course. By adding some oak wood to the mix, the meat takes on a true wood fired and smoked element that it wouldn’t otherwise get. That smoke in the meat really elevates the flavor profile.

grilled pork carnitas in a dutch oven

In addition to getting some smoke flavor into the meat, the smoke also infuses into the rendered fat. As the carnitas cook down, the chicken stock evaporates, leaving the pork to cook in the smoke infused fat.

Finally, and I say this all the time about using the grill: you’re not heating up you’re entire house. This is a longer cook, over three hours and running the range or oven for that length of time can have your AC working overtime in the hot summer months.

What Is The Difference Between Carnitas and Pulled Pork?

In the US pork shoulder is commonly used for pulled pork. Because of its high fat content, (you can see the marbling in the pork below) the meat stays really juicy while it’s cooking.

cubes of pork for pork carnitas

Pulled pork is usually smoked low and slow, then wrapped in aluminum foil before becoming the shredded pork we all love so much. Pork carnitas recipes are cooked differently.

It’s cooked in a braising liquid, but not till it’s falling apart like traditional pulled pork. The larger chunks are tender, but also provide a nice texture after they’ve been seared in the rendered pork fat.

What Toppings Do You Put on Carnitas Tacos?

After hours in the braising liquid with the spices, the citrus and pork fat these little nuggets of goodness need very little to compliment them. For toppings I like to keep it simple, but offer a variety of them in small bowls for people to choose from.

  • Simple Pico: A great addition and almost a must have for carnitas tacos is a fresh and simple pico de gallo. The acidity in the pico goes really well with the fattiness of the pork.
  • Raw Jalapeno: Simple and to the point, the crunchiness and hint of heat from fresh jalapeno is a nice touch to these tacos.
  • Radishes: If you don’t like the heat from the jalapeños, julienned radishes also provide a nice texture to the melt in your mouth pork
  • Minced Red Onions: Keeping with adding a crunchy texture, some diced red onions provide texture, color and a mild flavor that compliments the taco.
  • Pickled Red Onions: I love the tangy pickled red onions on just about everything, especially tacos. Like the pico, the acid from the pickled red onions and fattiness from the pork are a great match
  • Cilantro: No taco would be complete without cilantro, assuming you like cilantro of course.
  • Lime Wedges: A fresh squeeze of lime juice brightens up just about any dish, and the same applies here. Just a little goes a long way with these tacos.
  • Guacamole: Guacamole goes really well with pork carnitas. The cool creaminess of the guacamole plays really well with the spicy pork.

How To Make Grilled Pork Carnitas

Serves: 10 | Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 3:30 Mins

Ingredients
6 lbs boneless pork shoulder
2 tbsp BBQ rub
1 medium Vidalia onion, sliced
2 tsp Mexican oregano
2 large navel oranges (juice AND pulp)
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp cumin
2 chipotle peppers (w/ 2 tbsp adobo sauce)
1 1/2 – 2 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup lard

Step 1: Light grill or smoker and set up for indirect heat. Add one chunk of oak wood to the coals and establish temperature at 375°F as indicated by a reliable leave-in thermometer.
*For a gas grill, make use of a smoke tube and wood pellets placed over an active burner to create the desired smoke.

Step 2: While the grill is preheating, cut the boneless pork shoulder into two inch cubes.

cubes pork shoulder on a cutting board for a grilled pork carnitas recipe

Step 3: In a large dutch oven, add all ingredients (leaving out stock, and lard). Mix thoroughly by hand to ensure the pork is evenly coated with the spices.

Step 4: Add in enough stock to leave about 1/2 inch of the pork above the liquid level, and the lard.

pork carnitas ingredients with chicken stock and lard

Step 5: Place the dutch oven on the grill over indirect heat, with the lid off the dutch oven. Close the grill’s lid and allow the carnitas to smoke and braise for three hours, stirring every hour.

Step 6: Remove dutch oven from the grill and set aside. Tacos can be assembled with warm corn tortillas and eaten at this point, and they’ll be delicious. For a little something extra, proceed to step 7.

pork carnitas right off the grill and still braising in rendered pork fat

Step 7: (Optional Step) Skim 2-3 tablespoons of rendered fat off the remaining liquid and place it in a cast iron pan over medium high heat. Then, lightly brown some of the chunks of pork in the heated fat.

Step 8: Pull pork into bite sized pieces and place on warm corn tortillas. Top with toppings of your choice and serve.

pork carnitas tacos on a plate

The Best Grilled Pork Carnitas Recipe

4.72 from 7 votes
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 10

Ingredients

  • 6-7 lbs boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 medium Vidalia onion sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 2 navel oranges juiced w/pulp
  • 2 tbsp BBQ rub
  • 2 tsp Mexican oregano
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 chipotle pepper with 2 tbsp adobo sauce
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 cup chicken stock
  • ¾ cup lard

Instructions

  • Light grill or smoker and set up for indirect heat. Add one chunk of oak wood to the coals and establish temperature at 375°F as indicated by a reliable leave-in thermometer.
  • While the grill is preheating, cut the boneless pork shoulder into two inch cubes.
  • In a large dutch oven, add all ingredients (leaving out stock, and lard). Mix thoroughly by hand to ensure the pork is evenly coated with the spices.
  • Add in enough stock to leave about 1/2 inch of the pork above liquid level, and the lard.
  • Place the dutch oven on the grill over indirect heat, with the lid off the dutch oven. Close the grill's lid and allow the carnitas to smoke and braise for three hours, stirring every hour.
  • Remove dutch oven from the grill and set aside. Tacos can be assembled with warm corn tortillas and eaten at this point, and they’ll be delicious. For a little something extra, proceed to step 7.
  • (Optional Step) Skim 2-3 tablespoons of rendered fat off the remaining liquid and place it in a cast iron pan over medium high heat. Then, lightly brown some of the chunks of pork in the heated fat.
  • Pull pork into bite sized pieces and place on warm corn tortillas. Top with toppings of your choice and serve.

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