skinny carnitas

i fished a long forgotten vacuum packed pork tenderloin out of my freezer the other day (how great is vacuum sealing, it must have been in there for a year or more) and puzzled for a while over what to do with it, a nice long braise seemed the safest way to go. i knew i’d be having company the next day and decided that carnitas would be perfect. the biggest dilemma is that tenderloin is really lean and the pork butt traditionally used for carnitas, is not lean at all. at a time like this bacon drippings are your friend and i always have a container of bacon drippings on hand. IMG_4191

another great thing about carnitas is they store well in the fridge and can be easily reheated on the comal to crispy deliciousness.

making carnitas is a pretty straightforward process, but it does take some time. you have to put together a marinade and let it sit together for a chunk of time to get that magical flavor profile.

it’s all about citrus, IMG_4180 the cumin, the cilantro, the jalapeno, the onions and the garlic. IMG_4182 IMG_4188

the next important step is to sear and brown the tenderloin

IMG_4192IMG_4194IMG_4198 before a long slow braising.  IMG_4203IMG_4205 IMG_4208 and the most important thing is not to overcook the lean meat. IMG_4210 and then there is the fun of shredding the cooked meat. IMG_4214 IMG_4218 IMG_4220 once made the carnitas store well in the fridge and are incredibly versatile.

IMG_4228 i also made black beans using the leftover pan juices and vegetables from the carnitas.


i used them this weekend in burrito bowls, IMG_4231

salads, in tacos and they’d be awesome in quesidillas, arepas and tortas.

Skinny Carnitas


1 to 1.5 pounds pork tenderloin

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1 small jalapeno cored and seeded (finely diced)

1 medium yellow onion (quartered)

2 cloves garlic (minced or crushed)

1.5 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (I used mild)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock

1 teaspoon fresh cilantro (chopped)

1 large orange (juiced)

2 limes (juiced)

1 lemon (juiced)


  1. The pork tenderloin will be marinated over night or for at least 4 hours.
  2. Prepare the pork tenderloin, first, rinse it and patting it dry, remove any silver skin and extra fat.
  3. Finely dice the jalapeno and smash and peel the two cloves of garlic.
  4. Place tenderloin, jalapeno, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, cilantro, and paprika, broth and citrus juices along with the citrus peels into a ziplock bag. Mix well until tenderloin is covered and leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 4 or more hours.
  5. When ready to cook tenderloin, heat vegetable oil and bacon drippings in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Place tenderloin in the heated dutch oven and sear on all sides over medium high heat until well browned. About 10 minutes.
  6. When tenderloin is well browned, remove from dutch oven. Add the marinade, except for the orange, lemon and lime peels, to the hot dutch oven. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the browned bits and caramelized drippings on the bottom of the pan and bring marinade to a vigorous simmer. Return the tenderloin to the dutch oven
  7. Place covered dutch oven in a 325 degree oven for 2 hours, undisturbed.
  8. After 2 hours, reserve about a cup of the cooking juices to pour over your finished shredded meat.
  9. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees and remove lid. Cook tenderloin about another 20 minutes or so until all cooking juices have evaporated.
  10. Remove the tenderloin from the dutch oven, let it rest for a few minutes and then shred the meat. The tenderloin should pretty much fall apart. (I usually use any leftover pan juices and onions in the dutch oven to make black beans, adding about a ½ cup of chicken broth and some more cumin, then the beans.).
  11. Serve over rice, or in a taco or as a burrito or use to top a simple salad. Condiments that I use frequently are: pico de gallo, salsa verde, sour cream, shredded Mexican cheese, black beans or red beans.

4 thoughts on “skinny carnitas

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