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Carnitas Tacos

These carnitas tacos are so tender, crisp and flavorful. Everyone is shocked to find out how easy they are to make at home!

Plate of 3 pork carnitas tacos topped with cilantro and salsa

These tacos de carnitas are made in the oven for maximum juiciness, while still achieving a sizzling, crisp exterior.

If you’re looking for an authentic carnitas recipe you’ve come to the right place!

Traditionally, carnitas were cooked in a large pot of lard.

Thankfully, we can get the same results using the oven by letting the pork cook in its own fat.

This recipe is just as good if not better than any restaurant carnita tacos. Even better than my favorite carnicería!

What’s the difference between barbacoa and carnitas?

The difference lies in two different methods of cooking. They generally use different types of meat as well as different cuts.

Both are slow cooked, but Mexican barbacoa use to be cooked in an underground pit while carnitas were simmered in lard.

Both dishes are now achieved in the oven with modern methods.

Another difference is that carnitas are typically prepared with pork, while barbacoa is made with beef or goat.

Plate of shredded pork carnitas with cilantro and lime wedge garnishes

Carnitas Tacos ingredients:

Pork – The best cut of pork for carnitas is pork butt, which is the shoulder. It is sometimes called Boston butt.

Be sure the roast has a fat cap on it since the fat is essential to the recipe.

You can use bone-in or boneless. If your shoulder has the bone, just cut around it and put the piece with the bone in the pan to roast along with the rest of the meat.

Salt – kosher or table salt will work just fine. Plan on using ½ teaspoon per pound.

This will leave the carnitas slightly under-salted, but I like to sprinkle salt on my tacos before eating. Finishing salt gives a wonderful burst of flavor.

If you want your carnitas to come out of the oven perfectly seasoned, you may use up to 1 teaspoon of salt per pound.

Pieces of pork shoulder in roasting pan for carnitas recipe

Carnitas Tacos Recipe

  1. Cut the meat into 2-inch slices.

Calculate ½ pound of meat per person when determining how much you should cook.

After cooking, this comes out to 3 large, generously stuffed tacos per person.

You can make a lot of carnitas at one time, but keep in mind that it should be cooked in a single layer in order to get crispy on the outside.

Multiple pans in the oven is fine, it just may take longer to cook.

  1. Salt the meat and add water to the bottom of the pan.

This ensures the pork will stay nice and tender and juicy.

  1. Cover the pan tightly with foil and cook.

Tightly sealing the meat so it cooks in its own juices is the same method we use for barbacoa. It produces an extremely flavorful dish without the need for a lot of ingredients.

  1. Uncover the meat to crisp up.

The last part of the cooking focuses on building a crust on the outside of the meat.

After roasting it until tender, the pan is then uncovered and the water is allowed to evaporate. All that will be left is the meat and the fat that has rendered down.

The meat will sizzle in the lard resulting in those deliciously crispy bits!

If you have a pan that’s safe for the stove, you can also do this part on the stovetop.

My pan fits across both burners and it’s easy for me to turn the meat on all sides instead of checking on the oven.

Pieces of pork carnitas in roasting pan after cooking

What do you put on carnitas?

Popular toppings include salsa (red or green), cilantro, chopped onion, lime and guacamole.

A variety of salsas is extremely common. Give my guajillo chile salsa a try for something different.

Those are our favorites, but there are many options. Don’t forget the sprinkle of salt!

Pork carnitas tacos can be served in flour or corn tortillas.

Our families hail from Texas so we eat a lot of homemade flour tortillas, but we also love corn!

Lastly, I should mention that while this post is for carnitas tacos, there is so much more you can do with the meat!

It can be stuffed in burritos, enchiladas, enfrijoladas and more. Serve on a homemade burrito bowl or alongside eggs for breakfast.

Plate of 3 pork carnitas tacos topped with cilantro and salsa

What to serve with carnitas:

Plate of 3 pork carnitas tacos topped with cilantro and salsa

Carnitas Tacos

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

These carnitas tacos are so tender, crisp and flavorful! Baked in the oven you can achieve the same results as a restaurant.


  • 4 lbs pork shoulder with fat cap
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ½ cup water

For serving:

  • Salsa, tortillas, lime, cilantro, onions, etc


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut pork into 2-inch slices and season with salt. Place in single layer in a large roasting pan. If the shoulder contains the bone, cut around it and place in the pan as well.
  3. Pour water in bottom of pan and then cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake for 1 ½ hours. Check meat for tenderness by seeing if it will shred with a fork. If not, re-cover and continue cooking, checking every 15 minutes or so.
  5. Once meat is tender, uncover and increase temperature to 450°F. Turn meat and continue cooking until the water has evaporated and the meat is as crispy as you would like, about 20-30 minutes.
  6. If your roasting pan is stovetop-safe, this can also be done on the stovetop over medium heat, turning the meat until crisp on all sides.
  7. Remove carnitas from grease and shred, discarding any large pieces of fat. Serve in tortillas with desired toppings.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 691Total Fat: 49gSaturated Fat: 18gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 26gCholesterol: 204mgSodium: 746mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 54g

Nutritional information provided is an estimate only. Please consult the labels of ingredients you use for more accurate results.

Did you make this recipe?

Leave a comment below! Or tag @kitchengidget on Instagram with the hashtag #kitchengidget


More delicious and authentic tacos for you to try!


David Nila

Monday 19th of July 2021

Please, as a Mexican from the state of Michoacán I ask this: stop calling carnitas what is carnitas. Carnitas are cooked in lard in a big cooper pot for at least 4 hours. This thing you won't find anywhere in México, and if you do, they won't call it "carnitas". This is the reason in the world think that TEX-MEX is authentic Mexican food, when is not. Don't contribute to that idea.


Friday 30th of July 2021

Hi David, thanks for the comment. I explained in the post that carnitas are traditionally simmered in lard. This recipe has been adapted for the modern cook, same as my abuelo's barbacoa that used to be cooked in a pit!

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