What Is Carnitas?

In modern times, it is certainly true that Mexican food is some of the most popular cuisine on the planet – offering the perfect combination of spice, tomato sauce, meat, and cheese, and creating something truly wholesome and comforting. 

What Is Carnitas

One of the most popular dishes is something called carnitas – a dish that builds on these traditions, but creates its own distinct flavor that countless people have come to know and love. 

But what exactly is carnitas? 

What Exactly Is Carnitas? 

Literally translating to ‘little meats’, carnitas is a Mexican dish originating in the state of Michoacan, and consists of braised pork that is then shredded into thin strands. 

These are then generally combined with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, salsa, guacamole, refried beans, and then wrapped in a tortilla for serving. 

While similar in concept to other forms of Mexican cuisine – the selling point for carnitas is that they are a lighter meal, and one that is not as reliant on thick sauces and cheese. 

What Do Carnitas Taste Like? 

While dependent on the way they are served and prepared, carnitas generally taste like pulled pork – albeit without any form of BBQ sauce being added to the mix. 

The meat is essentially slow cooked pork, which is soft, tender, delicate, and delicious. The rest of the meal generally tastes of salsa, and has a lightness about it due to the fresh salad vegetables used. 

Unlike other forms of Mexican cuisine, carnitas do not traditionally rely on spice for flavor – however, some variations do incorporate peppers and other spicy vegetables as a personal preference. 

How Is Carnitas Made? 

Generally speaking, the traditional way for making carnitas involves a large copper pot – or some other form of wide based pot that disperses the heat in an even and effective manner. 

Traditionally, the meat used was always rich ‘Boston Butt’ pork, or picnic ham cuts of pork – usually with distinct marbling that adds to the flavor. 

The pork itself is usually cut into sections prior to cooking – as this makes it more workable once cooked – and then it is generally covered with lard, which after melting provides the perfect base for other flavorings to be added, such as salt, chili, cumin, oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaves, or crushed garlic cloves – depending on the specific recipe being followed. 

The cooking process itself is done over a low heat, where the coated pork is then left to simmer for a prolonged period of time. Depending on the size of the meat used, this can take several hours.

However, once tender, the meat can then be pulled apart by hand, or with a fork, to achieve the signature appearance. 

Is Carnitas Healthy? 

When it comes down to the healthiness of carnitas, this depends entirely on the ingredients used, and how the dish is prepared. 

When we talk about the traditional recipe – one that has been used for centuries – this is undoubtedly the healthiest variation of the dish.

However, the nature of the dish still means that it contains a lot of saturated fats – none of which is good for your overall health, or for losing weight. 

The best way to make your carnitas recipe healthier is to refrain from using lard – choosing instead healthier fat alternatives – and refraining from using too much salt. Instead of salt, you could lean more into spice, or pepper, as these are much healthier alternatives. 

How To Make Carnitas Healthier

What Is Carnitas?

There are a few ways you could actually make your carnitas healthier – something that can be beneficial if you are health conscious, or are trying to lose weight. 

Use Leaner Meat

One of the best ways to keep your carnitas healthier is to use leaner cuts of meat – or indeed leaner variants such as chicken and beef. 

The traditionally fatty pork used with carnitas contain saturated fat, and this can be bad for our overall health and wellbeing. 

Avoid Lard

As mentioned above, you could also avoid coating the meat in lard during cooking. There are no two ways about it, this will alter the taste of the final product, but refraining from using thick layers of lard is a sure fire way to make the meal healthier. 

While lard is healthier than things like butter, it is still unhealthy in the large doses required by the traditional cooking process associated with carnitas. 

Some healthier sources of unsaturated fats include butter, olive oil, avocado, beef tallow, and coconut oil – although obviously, these alternatives will alter the flavor of the carnitas, and so you should plan accordingly. 

Use Less Salt

Finally, you could make it healthier by using less salt – or by avoiding it altogether. 

Some great alternatives include herbs, spices, pepper, or liquid stock – all of which are notably healthier than salt. 

Final Thoughts

And there we have it, everything you need to know about carnitas, and what makes it so popular. 

It’s true that, within the pantheon of Mexican cuisine, carnitas stands as one of the most popular and well loved dishes – offering the perfect combination of spice, vegetables, and meaty goodness. 

So if you are looking for your next favorite meal, then why not give carnitas a try? 

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we know a little more about carnitas, and what exactly it entails, it is now time to answer some frequently asked questions that you might be interested in.

Is Carnitas Hard To Make? 

No. One of the main selling points of carnitas is that it couldn’t be simpler to make – allowing you and your family to have a great tasting dish in no time at all.

Do You Have To Use Pork?

Although the traditional version include pork, you can actually make carnitas with whatever form of meat you want.

Or, if you do not eat meat, you can also achieve the same effect with various meat substitutes – such as tofu, and plant based products.

Mark Williams
Latest posts by Mark Williams (see all)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *