Mexican Pulled Pork Carnitas

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Mexican pulled pork carnitas have a crispy coating that keeps the meat tender and juicy underneath. Use the shredded pork to make amazing tacos or freeze it for easy dinners later.

The shredded pork has been added to street taco tortilla shells. Green onions are sprinkled over the top and wedges of limes are on the side.

As much as I love our easy BBQ pulled pork recipe, sometimes we're more in the mood for carnitas street tacos for dinner.

This incredible Mexican pulled pork has an amazing caramelized crust that hides the most tender and juicy shredded meat underneath.

Even when I'm serving my small family of 4, I go to the effort to make the entire 10 pound roast because the leftovers freeze so well.

I love being able to pull prepared carnitas meat from my fridge for a quick and easy Mexican dinner even on a busy weeknight.

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Why This is the Best Recipe

Pork shoulder is one of my husband's all-time favorite cuts of meat but I think this is the best Mexican pulled pork carnitas recipe because:

  1. Easy Prep: There is so very little hands-on work required. Most of it is just rubbing the meat with seasonings and letting it cook.
  2. SO Tender: The meat just falls right off the bone. You'll have no trouble shredding it.
  3. Amazing Flavor: The basting and seasonings give the pork a gorgeous deep caramel color with crispy edges everyone will be fighting over.
  4. Freezer Friendly: If you're not serving a big crowd right now, you should still make this easy recipe so you can freeze the leftovers for easy dinners all season long.
  5. Flexible Dinner Ideas: There are so many yummy ways to serve the pulled pork for dinner. Be sure to see my menu suggestions at the bottom.


The raw pork is still packaged from the grocery store so you can see the label.

This easy Mexican pulled pork only needs a few ingredients:

  • Bone-In Pork Butt: You may see it labeled as a pork shoulder, a pork butt, or a pork shoulder butt roast.
  • Sugar
  • Kosher Salt
  • Chili Powder
  • Cumin
  • Garlic Salt
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Limes
  • Orange Juice

Equipment You Need

This is actually a very simple recipe that doesn't require fancy tools or skills.

However, if you've never made a pork roast this large before, you should definitely check that you have a roasting pan that is large enough to contain it.

I have a 13 x 16-inch roasting pan with a rack insert that I bought for our Thanksgiving turkey. It was the only thing in my entire kitchen large enough to fit the pork.

Salt the Pork Overnight

It is important to start the prep work the night before. The pork shoulder needs to be seasoned with a mixture of sugar and salt and rest for 12 hours before you cook it.

Now, do not panic at the amount of sugar and salt involved in this step. It is going to feel like a crazy amount.

You will be brushing off most of that coating before it gets cooked.

You combine the sugar and salt and rub it all over the pork butt.

This step is very important because:

  1. Seasons the Meat: The salt and sugar will season the meat overnight. The rub will help balance the spices you'll add during the baking process.
  2. Tenderizes the Meat: The salt helps to break down the meat to make it more succulent and easier to shred once you've roasted it.
  3. Crispy Coating: The goal is to achieve a crispy caramelized crust on the carnitas while keeping the inside of the roast tender and juicy.
The pork shoulder sits in a roasting pan with a rack. It has been rubbed down and coated with lots of salt.

Then just cover the pork with aluminum foil and store in the fridge overnight.

Baking Instructions

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Use a pastry brush to remove as much of the salt and sugar from the top as you can.

I did this while the pork was in the roasting pan with the rack. When I was done brushing, I lifted the rack out so I could wash the bottom of the roasting pan and remove the excess salt and sugar.

You'll be basting the pork as it roasts so you don't want all that extra salt and sugar to flavor the juices.

The pork shoulder has been brushed mostly clean from all the salt.

Then use a very sharp knife to cut cross hatch marks over the top fat layer of the meat like this:

The top layer of the pork roast has been scored with a paring knife to make cross hatch marks.

Place the pork butt in the oven and roast it for 7 hours.

After about an hour, you'll notice juices gathering in the roasting pan. At this point you can start to baste it once per hour for the duration.

Spice Rub

The pork shoulder will roast all by itself for that first 7 hours.

It is in the last hour that you will rub it down with some more seasonings.

Combine the chili powder, cumin, garlic salt, red pepper flakes, oregano, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl and have them ready to go.

The small glass bowl has all the spices for the pork roast.

Sprinkle the dry Mexican seasonings over the top of the roasted pork butt.

Try to get the spices into all the nooks and crannies that you can.

Roast the pork for one more hour, basting it as needed.

The spices can burn very quickly so you may want to loosely tent the meat with aluminum foil to prevent that from happening.

The pork shoulder has had the spice blend sprinkled over the top.

Glaze the Pork

The pork is ready when the meat is practically falling off the bone.

Remove the pork from the oven and reset the oven to 500°F.

Combine the juice from the limes and the orange juice. Brush the juices over the top of the pork and return it to the oven for 10 - 15 minutes for the final, delicious glaze.

The pork shoulder has finally come out of the oven and is ready to be shredded. It has a very deep brown color.

Shred the Pork

Once the Mexican pulled pork is finished cooking, it is time to shred the meat.

Use two forks to pull the meat into smaller chunks.

You may find it easier to remove larger pieces of the roast and transfer them to a large mixing bowl and work there.

You can serve the meat immediately or freeze it for future use.

The plate of tacos sits next to a plate of lime wedges and a bowl of salsa.

NOTE: This is an especially fragrant dinner that will make your house smell so yummy. But, if you are ready to "erase" the aroma and move on, you might want to set this simmer pot for cleansing on your stovetop. The fresh lemons and rosemary will help freshen up your home while this pork roast slow cooks away.

Make Ahead and Freezer Tips

Roasting the Mexican pulled pork can feel like an all-day project, but truly the time you'll spend hands-on is very minimal.

It is worth the investment because in the end you'll have so much meat to use for easy dinners if you freeze it in smaller portions.

To freeze the pulled pork:

  1. Shred the Meat
  2. Let it Cool Completely: You can do this on the counter or in your fridge if you prefer.
  3. Store it in Air Tight Containers
  4. Freeze for Up to 3 Months for Best Results

To avoid freezer burn:

  • Cooling the meat reduces the ice crystals forming from steam still coming from the warm meat.
  • Store the leftovers in air tight containers that allow you to squeeze out as much air as possible. A freezer-friendly ziptop baggie is perfect for this.

To use the frozen meat:

  • Thaw the pulled pork in your fridge overnight.
  • Reheat it gently in the microwave with just a tiny splash of water or chicken stock.

Serving Suggestions

The plate of pork carnitas tacos have fresh lime wedges and green onions sprinkled over the top.

Our family's favorite way to use the Mexican pulled pork is to make carnitas street tacos on corn or flour tortillas with chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and sour cream and/or salsa.

You could also use the shredded carnitas to make:

Mexican Pulled Pork Rice Bowls: Top either jasmine rice or my favorite Mexican rice with pork and add your favorite taco toppings.

Mexican Pulled Pork Carnitas Burritos: Load up a giant burrito wrap with rice, the pulled pork, salsa, shredded cheese, and sour cream.

Carnitas Nachos: Bake a pan of cheesy nachos with the shredded meat scattered over the top.

Mexican Carnitas Salads: Pile your plate with crispy romaine lettuce and use the shredded meat as the protein. Use salsa as a dressing or top it with my chunky corn salsa for crunch.

Carnitas Quesadillas: Tuck bits of shredded meat into family style quesadillas.

More Mexican Recipes

My kids could eat tacos every single night of the week, we are big Mexican food fans around here.

Don't miss some of our other favorite recipes:

📖 Recipe

The shredded pork has been added to street taco tortilla shells. Green onions are sprinkled over the top and wedges of limes are on the side.

Mexican Pulled Pork Carnitas

5 from 35 votes
Slow roast this tender Mexican pulled pork carnitas recipe and then shred the meat for the most delicious street tacos you've ever had. This large roast makes a generous amount of meat that you can serve for a party or freeze in smaller portions for easy family dinners.
PREP TIME 10 minutes
COOK TIME 8 hours
YIELD 15 servings


  • 1 (10 - 12 pound) bone-in pork butt or pork shoulder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 limes juiced
  • 1/4 cup orange juice


The Night Before:

  • Gently rinse the pork in cold water in the kitchen sink. Pat it completely dry with paper towels and place it in a large bowl.
  • Combine the sugar and the salt in a small mixing bowl. Sprinkle it and rub it over the entire pork. Cover the pork bowl with plastic wrap and store it in the fridge overnight. (A minimum of 6 hours but no longer than 24 hours before you plan to cook it.)

Cook the Pork:

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F. Set out a large roasting pan for the pork.
  • Remove the pork from the fridge and use a pastry brush to brush away as much of the salt and sugar coating from the pork as you can. Place the pork fat side up in the roasting pan. Use a sharp knife to score the fat in a cross hatch pattern.
  • Roast the pork butt for 7 hours, basting it every hour with the juices starting one hour after it has been in the oven.

Season the Pork:

  • Combine the chili powder, ground cumin, garlic salt, crushed red pepper flakes, dried oregano, paprika, and black pepper in a small mixing bowl.
  • Remove the pork from the oven and sprinkle it with the spice blend. Return it to the oven and bake for 1 hour. Do not let the spices burn, if they start to darken too quickly, tent the pork loosely with aluminum foil.
  • The pork is ready when it is fork tender and falls apart easily when you prod it.

Glaze the Pork:

  • To create the final, stunning glazed top, remove the pork from the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F.
  • Juice the limes and combine the fresh lime juice with the orange juice. Brush it over the top of the pork. Return the pork to the oven and roast for 10 - 15 minutes or until the juices form a deep caramel color.

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The photo collage shows a plate of carnitas tacos on top with lime wedges scattered around and a photo of the full pork roast in the pan on the bottom.

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