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