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Smoked Carnitas on a Pellet Grill

Nothing beats this smoked carnitas recipe. A beautiful pork shoulder that’s smoked, then braised in a citrus and pepper bath. Then crisped up on a cast iron skillet. All on my pellet grill.

It’s the best way to spend a day off!

View this recipe on youtube

What type of pork to use for smoked carnitas

When going carnitas, I like to make sure I use a cut of the hog that has a higher fat content. Basically the same cut you’d use for a pulled pork. We don’t need anything lean like a tender loin, we want something with nice fact content throughout the roast.

For these smoked carnitas, I used a bone in pork shoulder. You can and I might even recommend going boneless, but I went with what I had in the freezer.

I used a rub for these carnitas, similar to my pulled pork, but added some extra seasonings:

I’ll tell you why in a bit..

  • cumin – one of my go-to spices when making any mexican influenced dish. a little goes a long way but its got a beautiful aromatic smell that permeates the pork.
  • chili powder – used for a bit of spice and flavor
  • smoked paprika – regular paprika is more color that any anything else. But smoked paprika gives a really nice flavor that you can pick up on instantly.
  • Mexican oregano – Make sure you use mexican oregano – “regular’ oregano has more of a minty undertone, whereas mexican oregano has some citrus tones that work perfect for this recipe

But the rub doesn’t make THAT much of a difference, because you’ll be braising these carnitas after the smoke period that will really give it some insane flavor!

And normally I smoke to temp or probe. But the meat will break down during the braising process.

I’ll be smoking this pork shoulder for 4 hours since that is about the maximum time meat can really absorb smoke.

Smoked carnitas is Pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood pellets, then braised in a mixture of fresh squeezed oranges, onion, garlic, and mexican seasoning

During the braise period I cut my pork shoulder into chunks so it will break down quicker and absorb as much of the flavor as possible.

This is where you may want to go boneless . I didn’t have much problem at all cutting out the bone from the bone in pork shoulder.

BUT I will say this. Cutting up your shoulder before smoking would be amazing since you can really get the flavor into your smoked carnitas.

I think bone-in had just enough smokiness without overwhelming the carnitas so its all up to you!

Smoked carnitas is Pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood pellets, then braised in a mixture of fresh squeezed oranges, onion, garlic, and mexican seasoning

Does this need to be on a pellet grill?

Do you need to cook smoked carnitas entirely on the pellet grill? Of course not.

But what I enjoy about a pellet grill is how dialed in the temps are. You can smoke on low temps, braise at a medium temp, then crisp up at the high temps!

During the summer, not having to use the oven is always a a plus for me. Keepin that AC bill down is always a win!

I have a Traeger that manages the temps will, if you’re in the market for a pellet grill you cant go wrong with a Traeger.

Also check out Pit Boss, and REC TEC. Also stand up pellet grills. But my dream pellet grill is the Yoders YS640!

Ahhh.. one day..

If electric isn’t your thing, you can set up a low and slow cook set up on a kettle style bbq with some wood chunks. or get a smoke box and maintain a lower temp in your propane grill.

And there’s always the WSM route (see video on my brisket). They’re all just tools, and can be used however necessary to get the job done!

Smoked carnitas is Pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood pellets, then braised with fresh oranges, onion, garlic, and mexican spices

How to get crispy smoked carnitas

The key to crisping up these smoked carnitas takes two things: Fat and heat.

Get a cast iron skillet ripping hot – (if you have a griddle, even better). Then either use a high smoke oil, or lard.

Take a few piece at a time and place it on the skillet and press it into the skillet to get that beautiful maillard reaction.

If you like your carnitas in bigger chunks, just flip and repeat. If you like you broken down so more of it gets crisp (like me) then break it up and let it fry in that fat a little longer.

These smoked carnitas are amazing by themselves. With a side of beans rice and tortillas. It’s a dinner anyone will love!

You get hit with the pork flavor up front which I think is key to a solid carnitas recipes, but you have hints of smoke, citrus and guajillo peppers on the end.

Smoked carnitas is Pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood pellets, then braised with fresh oranges, onion, garlic, and mexican spices

And with that crispy on the outside tender on the inside texture? My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE thing about a good smoked carnitas recipe!

Smoked Carnitas

Course: Dinner
Cuisine: barbecue, Mexican
Keyword: smoked
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 8 Servings
Calories: 190kcal
Pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood pellets, then braised in a mixture of fresh squeezed oranges, onion, garlic, dried guajillo pepper and mexican seasonings.
Print Recipe

Equipment

  • Pellet Grill
  • Dutch oven
  • Cast Iron Skillet

Ingredients

FOR THE PORK SHOULDER

  • 3 lb pork shoulder bone in or boneles
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp course ground pepper
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp yellow mustard

FOR THE BRAISING LIQUID

  • 3-4 dried guajillo peppers
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 red onion roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups water

Instructions

  • Preheat pellet smoker to 225 F. Combine kosher salt, coarse ground pepper, paprika, chili powder and cumin into a spice shaker.
  • Cover your pork shoulder in a thin layer of mustard, then liberally coat in the rub seasoning. Place on the smoker and let smoke for 4 hours.
  • Remove pork shoulder from pellet grill and increase smoker temp to 350 F. Cut out and remove the bone, then cut into 2 inch cubes.
  • Place pork into a Dutch oven. Squeeze juice from oranges into Dutch oven, along with guajillo peppers, chopped onions, garlic and bay leaves. Fill with water with about 1-2 inches of room left on the top of the Dutch oven. Cover and place back on the smoker. Cook for about 3 hours.
  • Remove dutch oven from pellet grill and increase temperature to its highest setting and place a large cast iron skillet inside and cover. Let it heat up for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove pork from the dutch oven and place into a colander to remove any excess fluid. While your pellet grill is heating up to the high temp, now would be a good time to heat up beans and rice!
  • Once the pellet grill is piping hot, place pork carnitas into the skillet. Let it side and crisp up for about 5 minutes, then begin to break up and turn to crisp up more of the carnitas. Continue until you've reached your desired crispiness.
  • Serve with rice beans and tortillas. Garnish with onions and cilantro if you like. Makes an awesome tostada too!

Video

Nutrition

Calories: 190kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 2179mg | Potassium: 516mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1217IU | Vitamin C: 20mg | Calcium: 52mg | Iron: 2mg
Smoked carnitas is Pork shoulder smoked with hickory wood pellets, then braised with fresh oranges, onion, garlic, and mexican spices

Derek Campanile
Derek Campanile
I'm an IT professional by day. Home cook for the family by night. Follow my blog for easy to make recipes, how-to's and ideas to gather the family at the dinner table!

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