Slowly braised lean cuts of pork loin center, perfectly seasoned, and charred to perfection! Oven Baked Brown Sugar Spiced Pork Carnitas is about to become your favourite pork recipe!
The term carnitas refers to ‘little meats’ which is a dish of native to Mexico. Carnitas are made by braising or simmering pork until very tender. You might already know this, Dear Reader, but braising takes a long time. A good braised pork will take at least three or four hours. The result, of course, is worth it – a very tender and juicy meat which is loaded with deeply rooted flavours.
Most pork carnitas recipes will require a very heavily marbled pork, such as a butt or picnic cut. For my version, I prefer to use the pork loin center cut which is way more lean, but will still result in a very tender and moist dish. There will still be quite a bit of fat when all is said and done, but you’ll skim the fat off the top before the second half of the cooking process begins. I love a good marbled pork, but a leaner route, like this one, allows me to feel less guilty about eating more!
So, what does one do with all of this pork? Think versatility. You have so many options with a good pork carnitas recipe. Of course, the obvious route is to load up a burrito or a taco with traditional fixings for a delicious family style dinner. A salad option is also a good idea. Toss some pork onto a bed of lettuce with freshly chopped tomatoes, some guacamole, a little sour cream, and a little Mexican cheese. If you’re thinking breakfast, try stirring some of this pork into your favourite breakfast potato hash recipe. Or better yet, stir some into a spicy macaroni and cheese!
If you’re much like me, you’ll prefer it much simpler. I like to serve pork with some simple summer sides. A nice corn on the cob, with some homemade baked beans, a fresh baked bun, and a little coleslaw. (Oh my! I just thought of this – what about adding some of this delicious pork to a grilled cheese sandwich????)
Okay, rather than me throwing out eating ideas – because, let’s face it, eating this pork on it’s own is most likely what’s going to happen (it’s really that good!) – let’s get back to the recipe itself. My favourite part of a good pork dish like this carnitas recipe is how the taste of pork changes and takes on a whole new flavour profile when slightly charred. The sweetness of the brown sugar still comes through and the spicy background is still evident from the chili powder. If you like more spice, you can certainly use a touch of cayenne as well.
And, just in case the recipe card below doesn’t provide enough information, let me explain to you how I kept the pork mostly intact. Most recipes out there will showcase a pork carnitas that mostly resembles pulled pork. And, I’m fine with that, but I prefer a chunkier pork as an end result.
When placing the pork cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet as a part of the charring process, very gently push down on each piece of pork with the back of a fork. Doing so will open the pork up slightly, but still keep the pork pieces whole. You can totally shred the pork pieces if shredded pork is more your thing. You’ll still end up with great flavour!
Lastly, Dear Reader, I need to stop going on and on and let you get to the recipe. However, first I need to tell you that, yes, I know this seems like a lot of pork, but a good serving of pork is about four ounces. If you’re much like me, you’ll most likely think that eight ounces is a fair portion. So, don’t worry about this recipe serving twenty people unless you’re preparing for one portion per person and serving lots of sides. Besides. leftover pork carnitas is not a bad thing. And a few pieces cold from the fridge in the middle of the night ain’t that bad either!
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Oven Baked Brown Sugar Spiced Pork Carnitas
- 5 pounds pork loin center, cut into 2 inch cubes
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 cups water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 whole limes, cut into 8ths
- 1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, for garnish, optional
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- In a large dutch oven, add all ingredients except the pork. Whisk the ingredients together until well combined.
- Add all of pork. Stir the pork into the pot so that all of the pork is covered by the liquid mixture.
- Place the lid onto the pot and bake for 1 hour.
- Remove from oven and stir. The pork pieces has a tendency to stick together, so gently break them apart. Place the lid back on the pot and return to oven. Bake for 1 hour.
- Remove from oven and stir. Place the lid back on the pot and return to oven. Bake for 1 hour.
- Now that the pork has been slowly cooking for 3 hours, remove the pot from the oven and set it on the stove top. Let the pork sit in the liquid for 30 minutes.
- Gently remove the pork pieces from the liquid and place in a single layer onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Skim the fat off the liquid and measure out one cup of the liquid. Evenly distribute the one cup of liquid over the top of the pork.
- Using the back of a fork, gently press each piece of pork to open up the pork a little. This will create a semi-pulled pork look. You can leave the pork pieces whole if you wish.
- Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the pork.
- Set the oven temperature to the broil setting and place the baking sheet in the oven. Watch the pork carefully. You will want the pork to char just slightly. This should take no more than 5 minutes.
- Once done, spritz the pork with freshly squeezed lime and garnish with cilantro or parsley.
- Serve immediately.
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