Pork Carnitas , or carnitas, is the dish of any meat lover’s dream. Tender, juicy, with a caramelized exterior, well-seasoned with an incredible depth of flavor — it’s no wonder that you’re thinking about taco night.
Too bad it needs a slow, slow cook to get that perfectly succulent texture. The cooking process is too inaccessible when you’ve got a busy life or an impulsive appetite.
Or is it? Cooking carnitas doesn’t actually need to be unattainable or tedious. While this dish typically requires hours and hours of cooking time, you can use various cooking methods to prepare carnitas a lot quicker.
Read on to learn exactly what this dish is and how to cook pork carnitas fast. Spend more time enjoying your carnitas rather than eyeing the stove.
About Carnitas de Puerco
Carnitas, meaning “little meats” in Spanish, originated from the state of Michoacán in Mexico. This pulled pork dish is famed for its juicy, melt-in-your-mouth texture, which is the result of a cooking process that breaks down the collagen in the meat, allowing the meat to separate from itself more easily.
Although there are countless variations of carnitas, its basic traditional rendition only contains lard, salt, and water. No other aromatics or seasoning — just those three ingredients. The ingredients’ simplicity allows the meat’s flavor to take center stage.
Of course, many people also include aromatics such as onion, garlic, whole dried chiles, bay leaves, thyme, and spices such as pepper, cumin, and cayenne pepper powder. Some even use orange juice or lager to add even more flavor.
As long as your seasoning is balanced and your technique is right, you’re not going to be disappointed in the result. Using any quality Carnitas de Puerco recipe as a reference for quick cooking methods will guarantee success.
Cut of Pork
For optimal texture, you need the right cut of pork. Carnitas typically uses pork butt or shoulder because of their heavy fat marbling. The marbling allows the meat to break down more easily and become tender.
Carnitas is delectable with a side of beans and arroz rojo, topped with traditional spicy salsa and pico de gallo. It’s also great in burritos, tamales, tacos, and more.
How to Cook Pork Carnitas Fast
Although you may be impatient for your carnitas fix, first read about the traditional cooking method. By doing so, you’ll understand the process you’re trying to imitate and shorten.
Traditional Cooking Method
Carnitas is traditionally cooked in a copper pot, though any thick-bottomed pot such as a cast-iron skillet works for slow-cooking. After heating up the pot over medium heat, the pork, water, and salt are added.
The pork is then simmered over very low heat until tender. After the pork has been braised to tenderness, the heat is turned up. The higher heat browns the meat’s surface, creating that characteristic crispy crust. By using low heat before raising the temperature, the interior of the meat has time to cook through before the exterior can get too well done.
By now, the meat’s collagen is completely broken down, and the meat is fully tenderized. And then it’s ready to serve.
How to Cook Carnitas on the Stovetop
This method is the fastest technique listed here. By using the stovetop, carnitas can be prepared 30 minutes before serving. The pork’s fat content will result in a satisfyingly juicy, succulent dish, even if not cooked longer than half an hour.
To start, season your pork. Heat your lard in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Gently fry your aromatics, and then add your pork. Stir your pork around to cook. When your pork has browned, add your liquids to deglaze the skillet until reduced. Remove from heat, then serve.
How to Cook Carnitas in a Pressure Cooker/Instant Pot
If you own a pressure cooker/Instant Pot, you can easily cook carnitas without sacrificing texture in just a fraction of the traditional time.
Prepare your pork. Cut your meat into 4-inch pieces in a separate bowl tossed with its flavorings. Heat up the lard in your pressure cooker on the stovetop over medium heat.
Let whole aromatics such as bay leaves, garlic, and peppercorn gently fry in the lard before adding your pork. If using an Instant Pot, use its sauté button instead of cooking over the stovetop.
Fill the pot with your liquid of choice before locking on the lid of your pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Let the cooker come to full pressure, and then cook the meat for as little as 30 minutes and for as long as 60 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the appliance you’re using and the amount of meat you’re cooking.
When the meat is almost tender, carefully release your cooker’s pressure. If using an Instant Pot, transfer the meat into a separate pan. Cook your meat in the fat while stirring frequently until the pork is browned. This will not take long, so make sure you don’t overcook the meat. Remove from heat, then serve.
How to Cook Carnitas in the Oven
This method is not necessarily faster than the pressure cooker/Instant Pot method but uses an oven, which is a more common appliance and still results in tender carnitas.
Begin by seasoning your pork. Combine your pork, lard, liquid, and any additional aromatics in an oven bag and place the bag on a baking sheet or in a baking pan. Cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooking time will depend on how much meat you’re cooking.
Take the bag out of the oven to drain most of the meat’s juices. At this point, you can reclose the bag and place it back in the oven until the meat is golden brown and the remaining liquid is reduced. Or you can transfer the meat from the bag into a baking pan and broil in the oven for several minutes, flipping the meat once while broiling. This will allow the carnitas to achieve their iconic crispy surface. Remove from heat, then serve.
No matter your schedule, kitchen size, or level of patience, you can learn how to cook pork carnitas fast. This guide ensures that you won’t have to surrender time for a great meal and that you can put delicious Carnitas de Puerco together on a whim. Tonight can be your taco night. Head out to the store, get yourself a quality cut of pork, and start cooking.
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