Mmmm, carnitas. I absolutely love it. If it’s on the menu anywhere, I will order it without fail. There’s something pretty magical about biting into something that is meltingly tender on the inside, but also has delightfully crispy bits on the outside. Usually, carnitas is made using pork shoulder, but it seemed to me that all the glorious fat in pork belly could produce some extremely flavorful carnitas without having to add any additional lard to the pan at the end when it came to the crisping stage. Happily, I can report that I am right! This Pork Belly Carnitas is heaven on a plate and simple to make. It’s one for the weekend, what with the marinating step and the slow cooking needed, but has very little active hands on time. Plus, Pork Belly Carnitas will make you many, many friends. Trust me.
How to cook Pork Belly Carnitas
There are four steps to making this Pork Belly Carnitas perfectly tender on the inside and yet crispy on the outside. The best part is that the first three really don’t require any effort on your part!
- First, you need to marinate the pork belly for at least an hour, or even overnight, in either unsweetened apple juice OR unsweetened pineapple juice and some seasonings.
- Then you need to add all the marinade to a large dutch oven. Lay the cubes of pork belly out in a single layer and add UNSALTED chicken or pork stock. If the stock has salt in it, you will need to reduce the amount of sea salt in the marinade considerably, or leave it out altogether. Put the lid on the dutch oven and cook the pork belly at 350 F for two hours.
- Once two hours are up, remove the lid from the dutch oven and continue to cook the pork belly for another hour. This will cook off any extra stock and liquid from the pan and finish rendering the pork fat.
- Lastly, you need to continue to cook the pork belly in its own rendered fat until it is brown and crispy at the edges. The first time I did this, I simply transferred the dutch oven to the stove top and continued to cook it there. However, that made my pan a difficult to clean mess! I highly recommend that you instead transfer the pork belly cubes and the rendered pork fat to a large skillet instead, avoiding scraping up any solids from the dutch oven. Then you can crisp up the Pork Belly Carnitas without burning any leftover marinade onto the bottom of the pan. Yay!
I served this paired with my own Mango Guacamole and Slim Palate’s grain free Cauliflower Tortillas. Mr Meatified thought he’d gone to Mexico and said he wanted a Margarita to go with his Paleo “street tacos”!
This recipe is Whole 30 compliant. You can make it suitable for the Autoimmune Protocol by omitting the cumin seed.
(If you need an incentive to make this recipe, here it is: Food52 dubbed this recipe “The best damn pork we’ve ever eaten.” Now if that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what can beat it!Print
Pork Belly Carnitas
Swapping the traditional pork shoulder for pork belly makes this Pork Belly Carnitas one of the best you will ever try! Meltingly tender and flavorful!
- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Cook Time: 3 hours 30 mins
- Total Time: 4 hours 30 mins
- 2 1/2 lbs skinless pork belly, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 cups either unsweetened apple juice
- 2 tbl garlic powder
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tbl ground cumin (omit this for AIP)
- 4 dried bay leaves
- 2 tbl dried oregano leaves
- 1 tbl sea salt (reduce or omit if using stock with salt in it)
- 2 cups unsalted chicken or pork broth
- In a container or large freezer bag, combine the apple juice / unsweetened pineapple juice, garlic powder, cinnamon, ground cumin, bay leaves, oregano and sea salt (if using). Add the pork belly and refrigerate while it marinates, for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
- Remove the pork belly from the fridge an hour before cooking.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Tip the marinade into a large dutch oven and spread the pork belly pieces in a single layer in the pan. Pour over your stock. Cook for 2 hours with a lid on.
- After 2 hours, remove the lid and cook the pork belly for another hour. This will cook off the remaining liquid and finish rendering the pork fat.
- Remove the pork belly from the oven. Transfer the pork pieces to a large flat bottomed skillet. Spoon off as much of the fat as you can from the dutch oven and add it to the skillet with the pork belly pieces. Avoid any solids from the bottom of the pan as these will burn!
- Over a medium heat, continue to cook the pork belly in its own rendered fat. The pan should be bubbling but not spitting. Flip the pork belly pieces so that they brown evenly on all sides. This should take about 30 minutes.
- When all sides are brown and crispy, remove the pork belly from the pan and drain on some paper towel. Shred the meat with two forks and enjoy! This is especially good paired with Mango Guacamole!
This recipe is Whole 30 compliant. It can be made suitable for Autoimmune Paleo by omitting the cumin.
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This is a lot like masitas de puerco, which are fatty chunks of pork cooked similar to this, but I use coconut oil for the frying, but I will be trying this tonight!!
Oh, you are so right! That’s actually one of the things I often order at a Cuban restaurant, but I’ve never looked into exactly what cut of meat is used. Thank you for telling me, I’m going to go look at some recipes 🙂
Should be belly pork have skin still on or not? Thanks!
For this recipe, I used a pork belly with the skin removed but with a good layer of fat still attached. Thanks for the question, I will amend the recipe to be clearer!
Oops! I started the marinating process last night – didn’t realize I was supposed to take off the skin or add salt to the marinade til I just now read the comments. Should I take all the skin off now or try cooking it as is?
Don’t worry about the salt, it doesn’t really matter when that gets added. As to the skin, I haven’t tried cooking it with the skin on, but if you have already cut it into chunks, perhaps just leave it on. Score the skin on each piece to make it easier for it to render out any extra fat. I suspect it should turn out crispy and delicious! 🙂
Thank you – it did turn out just fine. My whole family loved them. I served the carnitas with romaine lettuce, salsa, avocado, and a mix of sauteed red onions, green peppers, tomato, and cilantro.
And I can’t help but mention that my boys thought it was both disgusting and amazing when we found a nipple on the pork’s belly! I’ve come such a long way since I was a vegan many months ago, LOL!
That sounds delicious! And, wow, your boys are pretty cool to take that in their stride! How are you feeling since switching from vegan? I’m not sure I could have looked at a pork belly only months after transitioning!
I wasn’t a vegan for ethical reasons – it was all food allergy related. And actually it’s been two years. 🙂
So did switching clear up or help your food allergies? I was never fully vegan, but getting off my grain based form of vegetarianism has helped me so much.
Yes, I attribute switching my diet to initially avoid all the allergens (when I was vegan 8 months) and then just the commonly inflammatory ones (like corn, gluten, soy, other grains – basically going paleo) resolved my food allergy problems by healing a leaky gut. That is worded awkwardly…sorry.
Thanks again for the recipes on your blog!
Can you make this in the crock pot?
I’ve never tried that out, actually. I suspect you can do the braising section of the recipe in the crockpot, but then you would have to transfer the pork to another pot on the stove for the last browning and rendering stage.
This looks great! Do you have any idea about how many people this would serve? I’m thinking about making it when we have guests over soon. If I needed to use a larger amount of meat to feed more people, do you have any idea how that would affect the cooking time?
This is funny timing because I’m defrosting pork belly now to make this as a bigger batch! It cooks down a LOT because there is so much fat in pork belly, so you’re only going to get about 4 servings from the original recipe. Since the pork belly is cut into evenly sized pieces, I don’t think the braising steps will take much longer than the original recipe, but you will need to add extra time to the browning step at the end because you’re probably going to have to split the pork into separate frying batches. Hope that helps! I will report back when I test this out myself 🙂
That is perfect timing! Thanks so much- this is really helpful! I’ll be excited to hear how the bigger batch turns out for you!
Been making this since last night. Can’t wait for tonight’s dinner. Making homemade flour tortillas, the carnitas meat, caramelized onion and red peppers, lettuce, cheese, with lime sour cream. I’m drooling already as I’m starting to smell the pork belly in the oven rendering down now.
You will love it! The first time we made this, my husband and I ate almost all of it before it got to the dinner table haha!
Could you use a Pork butt to make this instead of the belly?
You can, but it won’t turn out anywhere near as crispy or flavorful – you really need the fat in the belly for that. If you try it out, perhaps add some extra fat to the dutch oven, especially at the end when you’re browning and crisping the outside 🙂
Thank you so much for the quick reply! Going to try it tonight and will let you know how it goes. 🙂
Hi im making this tonight have my pork marinating now, so do I put all the marrinande in the pot with the pork (I dont have a dutch oven im using a casserole pot) and add the stock ?
Yes – you pour all the marinade into the pot first, then lay the pork pieces on top.
Was so yummy thank you 🙂
I’m really confused. I bought pork belly to make the carnitas in your new cookbook (which looks fabulous, by the way!) but I don’t see how the picture matches up with the meat and I don’t want to waste the pork belly if this is wrong. The pork belly I got is mostly fat, but the pictures here and in your book look really meaty – not fatty. Why the disconnect? Is pork belly sometimes meatier? Did I buy the wrong cut (this is the first time I’ve bought pork belly)? Thanks for any help!
Pork belly has a lot of fat – it’s the cut we cure to make bacon! So there’s nothing wrong with what you bought 🙂 It looks different after cooking because the long cooking time renders the fat. What that means is that the fat ends up in the bottom of the pan and is used to fry the pork belly in to make it crispy. So you end up with meaty chunks of carnitas at the end – hope that helps 🙂
THANK YOU for this recipe! I had a dinner party for 10 people with my boss and it was a huge hit. We did a taco bar with options to make tacos or as a salad over arugula. Sides were carmelized onions, salsa, guac and beans cheese and corn for the non-paleo peeps. It’s all my husband wants to eat now. 🙂
Yay, so glad everyone enjoyed it! 🙂
I’ve made this countless times and I’ve tweaked it in various ways. I’ve done all combinations of the following:pork belly, pork shoulder and bacon ends which I cube. I do use the skin, I adore it slow cooked in broth for it’s noodle like texture. I won’t do the high sugar content fruit juice marinade as I’m Ketogenic. I cook mine in bone broth and add all of the spices and sometimes add other things for fun and flavor.. Interestingly I’ve got 3 auto immune diseases and cumin is fine for me, blood work reveals that the high fat diet of Keto has kicked my autoimmune ailments to the curb ! The high fat content of this dish is amazing and I’ve told many people to search for this recipe and to make it their own with adjustments.
Hi Bunny, glad you enjoy and tweak the recipe to work for you! Cumin and other seed spices aren’t included in the elimination phase of the AIP, but they’re one of the very first reintroductions afterwards as relatively few people find they react to them. It’s just from a blank slate point of view, things are reintroduced one at a time so that someone can identify whether or not they have a problem. Glad you get to enjoy cumin and other spices, because variety is always a wonderful thing!