Dutch Oven Carnitas

By Polly Conner
June 17, 2021

With a few simple seasonings and a zesty marinade, Dutch Oven Carnitas will blow you away. Making pork carnitas in the oven will become a way of life once you try this recipe.

Shredded pork carnitas with toppings

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What Are Carnitas?

Carnitas is a Mexican cuisine dish that’s made by seasoning and braising pork shoulder for several hours until tender. It’s typically cooked in lard with lots of seasoning. It’s then pulled apart and oven-roasted until slightly crisp. In Mexico, they are traditionally cooked outside in huge copper or stainless steel pots over an open fire. Carnitas meat can be eaten on its own or as a filling for tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and much more.

Our version is a bit lighter (no lard), more flavorful (fresh citrus juice and lots of seasoning), and requires no open fire (darn). You’re going to love it!

3 Ways to Make Pork Carnitas

We have multiple ways to cook carnitas on our site. Here are a few that have been really popular on our site over the years.

Slow Cooker Carnitas – Cooks all day and makes great leftovers!

Instant Pot Carnitas – One of my favorite things to make in the Instant Pot.

Despite the ease of making pork carnitas in the slow cooker or Instant Pot, my favorite way to make them is in the Dutch oven. A Dutch oven is a thick-walled cooking pot with a tight fitting lid, typically made of cast iron. They range in size and price, but here is an affordable (and cute!) Dutch Oven that we like.

When using a Dutch oven, the pork gets a crispy, charred edge on the outside while the inside remains incredibly moist and practically shreds just by looking at it. It’s just so dang good when made this way.

Dutch Oven Carnitas in a white plate with lime slices

What Ingredients Do I Need for Dutch Oven Carnitas?

Like most of our recipes, the ingredients are fairly simple. To make Dutch Oven Carnitas, you’ll need…

Ingredients for Dutch Oven Carnitas on a cutting board
  • White or yellow onion
  • Garlic cloves
  • Lime juice
  • Orange juice
  • Hot Sauce
  • 1 (3-4 pound) boneless pork shoulder (also known as pork butt or Boston butt), trimmed of excess fat 
  • Seasonings: oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper

You’ll also need a Dutch Oven and a food processor or blender, too.

How to Cook Pork Carnitas in the Dutch Oven

STEP 1: Make the zesty marinade.

You are going to need a food processor or blender to create the marinade the pork shoulder will cook in. It’s actually a huge time saver to throw in all of the ingredients and just process or blend (instead of chopping up all the veggies!).

In the food processor or blender, toss in your onion (cut into large chunks), garlic cloves, lime juice, orange juice, and hot sauce. Pulse it a few times until it resembles a thick liquid. Set it aside for now.

Dutch Oven Carnitas marinade in a food processor

Step 2: Season the pork shoulder.

In a small bowl, mix together the seasonings: oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Place the pork shoulder into a Dutch Oven and spread the seasoning all over the pork. By seasoning it IN the Dutch Oven, you’re saving a dish and catching any runaway spices!

Seasoned pork shoulder in a Dutch Oven

Step 3: Add the marinade, cover, and bake.

Pour the marinade over the top of the pork shoulder. Cover the Dutch Oven with its lid and bake. No need to flip it or even touch it during it’s baking process!

Pork shoulder in a Dutch Oven with seasoning and marinade

Make Carnitas Into a Freezer Meal

As if our Dutch Oven Carnitas weren’t good enough, I have even better news. They work really well as a make ahead freezer meal.

Simply double the recipe and freeze an uncooked batch. This won’t take much more time at all and will set you up for an incredibly easy dinner down the road! When you’re ready to prepare the frozen meal, thaw it using one of these safe methods. Then cook it as directed.

Another freezer meal option for this recipe is to fully cook and shred the meat and freeze it in its juices. When you’re ready to serve, thaw and rewarm the meat in the microwave, slow cooker, or over low heat on stove. This works really well if you want to make freezer meals for 1-2 people or freeze them in small portions.

Carnitas packaged in a freezer meal bag

How to Serve Dutch Oven Pork Carnitas

One of the beauties of this meal is that it can be customized and served in so many different ways. That’s why I love making carnitas as a recipe for large groups. Here are some ideas of how to serve them:

  • Change up taco night by using this filling instead of ground beef. If serving in a warm corn tortilla, we suggest topping with shredded cabbage, diced avocado, pico de gallo, Cojita or Queso Fresco cheese crumbles, chopped cilantro, lime wedges. To take these OVER THE TOP, make our Cilantro Lime Aioli and Easy Pickled Red Onions to serve as a garnish–YUM! 
  • Top a leafy green salad with it and other toppings like roasted fresh corn shaved off the cob, diced bell peppers, red onion, and crunched-up tortilla chips.
  • Throw this shredded pork in a quesadilla or on top of a “burrito bowl” with brown rice, beans, and your favorite Mexican toppings.

So many options! I personally almost always serve it with our Avocado Lime Salsa.

Carnitas assembled in tacos
Print

Dutch Oven Carnitas

  • Author: Thriving Home
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 4 1/2 hours
  • Total Time: 4 hours and 45 minutes
  • Yield: 810 servings 1x
  • Category: Pork
  • Method: Dutch Oven
  • Cuisine: Mexcian
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

With a few simple seasonings and a zesty marinade, Dutch Oven Carnitas will blow you away. The outside of the pork gets a crispy, charred edge that is bursting with flavor while the inside remains incredibly moist and practically shreds just by looking at it. 


Ingredients

  • 1 white or yellow onion, chopped into large chunks
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup lime juice* (juice of about 6 limes)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice* (juice of about 4 oranges)
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 (3-4 pound) boneless pork shoulder (also known as pork butt or Boston butt), trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 teaspoon oregano, crushed in hand
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • chopped cilantro (optional for garnishing)

*A shortcut is to buy lime juice or orange juice at the store. We recommend buying Nellie and Joes Key West Lime Juice.


Instructions

  1. To a food processor or blender, add the onion, garlic cloves, lime juice, orange juice, and hot sauce. Pulse it a few times until it resembles a thick liquid. Set it aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper. (Freezing instructions begin here.)
  3. Place the pork shoulder in a Dutch Oven, pat dry with paper towels, and rub the seasoning all over the meat. Pour the marinade over the pork.
  4. Cover and bake at 300°F for 4 1/2 hours.
  5. Remove the roast to a wooden cutting board. Use two forks to shred it and then stir it back into the juices in the Dutch oven.

Freeze For Later: Follow Steps 1-2. Pat the pork dry with paper towels, season all over with the rub, and place in a gallon-sized freezer bag. Pour the marinade over the top. Seal and freeze.

Prepare From Frozen: Thaw completely. Place the pork and marinade in a Dutch oven. Cover and bake at 300°F for 4 1/2 hours, until it shreds easily.


Notes

Can You Freeze This After It Cooks? Yes. Freeze the shredded pork in its juices. When ready to eat, warm in the microwave, slow cooker, or over low heat on the stove top.

For Crispier Meat: Preheat the broiler. Broil the meat on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet for 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the meat over and spoon about ¼ cup of the juices from the slow cooker over the meat. Broil another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the edges of the meat start to crisp up and turn brown. Remove from the oven and spoon another ¼ cup of the juices over the cooked pork.

How to Clean Your Dutch Oven: After cooking for 4.5 hours, the marinade will be blackened and sticky at the bottom of the Dutch Oven. Just soak it in some Dawn dish soap (or baking soda and water) and use a metal scrubber to remove. If your pot has a coating on it, use a plastic scrubber.

Find our Slow Cooker Carnitas recipe here.

Find our Instant Pot Crispy Carnitas recipe here.

Want more easy meal ideas?

If you liked the simplicity of this Carnitas recipe, you’ll love this…

Try our SUPER POPULAR 1 Hour Freezer Prep sessions. We give you everything you need to throw together 6 delicious, family-sized freezer meals in just 1 hour! Anyone can do it with our simple instructions, organized shopping list, and pre-filled out freezer labels.

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