Carnitas Soft Tacos

by Kathy Strahs on April 13, 2009 · 25 comments

Carnitas Soft Tacos

I always get the carnitas.

Mexican food is the cornerstone of local cuisine in San Diego, where I live. My husband and I have our favorite restaurants and taquerias but whenever we branch out to try a new place I always order the carnitas as a sort of benchmark of how good the food is. It’s a simple dish – succulent braised pork shoulder, served with warm tortillas and a host of fresh accompaniments such as sour cream, tomatoes, salsa and cilantro. Any guilt I may feel over the less-than-healthful manner in which carnitas are traditionally prepared (i.e., in lard) disappears immediately after I wrap them up soft taco-style with “the works” and take a big bite.

I found this recipe for a somewhat healthier version of carnitas on a package of pork shoulder. It calls for braising the pork with onions, garlic and green chiles in chicken broth. While you give up the crispy strands that slow-cooking in lard yields, you still get very moist, flavorful chunks of pork that taste wonderful in a soft taco.

All my favorite toppings

Carnitas Soft Taco

Carnitas Soft Tacos
Adapted from the National Pork Board’s Arizona Carnitas with Green Chiles recipe on a pork shoulder package

Serves 8-10


  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large yellow onion, cut into thin slivers
  • 1 4-oz. can diced green chiles, undrained
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • Flour or corn tortillas

Recommended Toppings:

  • Shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Chopped tomato
  • Chopped cilantro
  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream


Heat oven to 350° F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in ovenproof heavy large covered pot over high heat. Add half of the pork cubes; sprinkle with half of the salt and half of the black pepper. Cook pork until starting to brown, stirring often. Remove pork. Repeat with remaining pork cubes, salt and black pepper, adding more oil if necessary. Drain drippings from pot.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the same pot over medium heat. Cook onion in hot oil until tender. Stir in undrained chiles and garlic; cook for 2 minutes. Return pork to pot. Add chicken broth. Cover and bake for 1 hour. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Serve pork in tortillas topped with toppings.

See the Recipe Index for all the recipes on Cooking On the Side.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Erin April 14, 2009 at 6:49 AM

These images are so vibrant and colorful! The cilantro just pops off the page.


Dani April 14, 2009 at 7:17 AM

these look great. i have never tried them, but i think now i have to 🙂

love this blog!

Dani’s last blog post..#54) Mini Bakeapple Lava Cakes


Anne April 14, 2009 at 7:38 AM

Beauitful! They look like one could reach in and pull one right off the page.


dawn April 14, 2009 at 7:44 AM

your photos are wonderful! I think you’re crazy to think otherwise.
One of the many things I miss about cali…good mexican food and fish tacos! LOL
But these look way better any food joint could serve.

dawn’s last blog post..steak diane


Jamie April 14, 2009 at 7:47 AM

These look delicious! Yummy! If my son sees these….

Jamie’s last blog post..TWO-FER


Donna @ Way More Homemade April 14, 2009 at 8:08 AM

I love me some carnitas! I do them with citrus and peppers, cook, shred, then broil to get a little crispyness to them. SO easy.

Donna @ Way More Homemade’s last blog post..Mama Braggin’ Monday


Cyndi April 14, 2009 at 8:59 AM

Fabulous! I like mine with cabbage – gotta try these. BTW, don’t EVER, EVER, get the faux carnitas at El Pollo Loco – in an emergency I had to get fast food before a class – they look good, but taste AWFUL. Now I will go and save your recipe for these. Thanks so much!

Cyndi’s last blog post..California Turkey Panini


Kathy April 15, 2009 at 2:26 PM

Thanks for the tip! I don’t ever like to “go faux” 🙂


The Duo Dishes April 14, 2009 at 9:52 AM

Hmmm, so fresh and delicious looking.

The Duo Dishes’s last blog post..Joey’s Test Kitchen


Esi April 14, 2009 at 10:53 AM

Oh yum, I just had carnitas in San Fran a few weeks ago, but I like this healthier cooking method.

Esi’s last blog post..Kitchen Clearing Calzones


Melissa April 14, 2009 at 12:19 PM

Whatchoo talkin about, bad pictures?? Pfffft. These are gorgeous. I just made cuban pork tacos last week and I’m craving them again thanks to you!

By the by, if you’re ever up in OC, you should try Carnitas Los Reyes in Orange. TOTAL hole in the wall, barely any English spoken but… *drool*

Melissa’s last blog and aioli


Kathy April 15, 2009 at 2:31 PM

I’d love to give them a try next time I’m in the OC!


maris April 14, 2009 at 9:18 PM

I’m loving this blog! These look really good, at Mexican restaurants I am never very adventurous but I’ll remember carnitas next time I go out.

maris’s last blog post..Real Food & Mustard Cheddar Crackers


Mindy April 15, 2009 at 4:33 AM

I’ve never made carnitas at home, but now I’ll have to try!

I used to live in SD (in Point Loma). Have you ever tried Adalberto’s over there? I love their guacamole and carne asada chips…I’m drooling just thinking about them!

Mindy’s last blog post..Easter Dessert–Strawberry Shortcake


Kathy April 15, 2009 at 2:33 PM

I haven’t been to Adalberto’s – must soon remedy that!


grace April 15, 2009 at 4:35 AM

i love everything about this, from the delicious pig to the sprig of cilantro. awesome. 🙂

grace’s last blog post..a dazzling debut!


Kara April 15, 2009 at 1:28 PM

YUM! We love anything Mexican – I’m now trying to think if this could be converted to a slow-cooker version using the same flavors??

Oh, and someone already said it but WOW is that cilantro just jumping off the page. Great pictures!

Kara’s last blog post..‘Round Here…


Kathy April 15, 2009 at 2:32 PM

My guess is it probably could be a good candidate for the slow cooker. I need to pull mine out more often – so convenient!


Dragon April 15, 2009 at 6:43 PM

I’ll take two please. 🙂


Kevin April 16, 2009 at 6:44 PM

That looks amazing! Carnitas are one of my favorite meals!


Brent April 19, 2009 at 7:22 PM

I fixed this tonight along with black bean soup and all i can say is WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I don’t live in an area were you can get traditional mexican food like carnitas (central IL) but i just can’t imagine anything tasting better than this. I had to modify the recipe a little bit unfortuantely. I forgot the green chilies at the grocery store so i justed used a little chili powder along with a little cumin and the results were outstanding.


Kathy April 19, 2009 at 9:20 PM

I’m so glad you liked it! And your spices sound like perfect additions. 🙂


marguerite April 21, 2009 at 11:15 AM

I LOVE carnitas!!!! This looks awesome!

marguerite’s last blog post..Hard Arnold Palmer… oh yeah!


ThatsSoYummy October 16, 2009 at 10:42 AM

These look sooo good, excellent photo shots.

I’m making chicken fajitas tonight but might just have to add these to the menu…

LOVE Me Some Mexican… 🙂
.-= ThatsSoYummy´s last blog ..Twitter To Launch Its Own Wine =-.


Afra October 18, 2010 at 8:26 AM

Our kids love our tortilla evenings – and with this dish it only got better. Made it the other week. So simple – so yum! Substituted the preserved chillie with a fresh red chillie. Also I used 1/2 cup broth on only 1 pound of pork. Tip for anyone making this dish: check every 20 minutes and add more water if necessary. Thanks!


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