Pork shoulder is an amazing thing. It’s relatively cheap, extremely flavorful, and incredibly forgiving on the wannabe chef. I’m pretty sure you could throw lawnmower clippings into a Dutch oven with three pounds of Boston butt and some vinegar for four hours, and you’d be OK.

But this recipe takes pulled pork to a wonderful place. The key is definitely the citrus, especially the orange. I find many slow-roasted meats that don’t use a lot of tomato product can be overwhelmingly earthy, so the kick of acidity and sweetness is a welcome touch.

The last step—broiling the pulled meat coated in the reduced sauce—adds a little noticeable texture, but honestly I’m usually too hungry to show that kind of patience and restraint. The point where the sauce is reduced and the pork coated is usually where I get off the train.

The quick pickled onions and chiles chip in some sweetness beyond the heat you’d get from adding them raw. I like using red wine vinegar, red onions, and red Serrano chiles for the monochromatic effect, but any white or yellow onions and really any chiles with spice would work just fine.

Last word of advice: I prefer these with corn tortillas for their subtle interjection of flavor, but if you slum it with generic flour ones I won’t hold it against you.

Carnitas with Pickled Red Onions and Chilies

Note: You need an oven safe pot for this dish.

  • 1 (3 1/2 – 4 pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1/8 inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 small onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp. juice from 1 lime
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium orange, halved and juiced (remove the seeds)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.  Combine all the ingredients in a Dutch oven, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven.   After one hour, flip the meat, and continue cooking for one additional hour until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with a fork.

Remove from oven.  Transfer just the pork from the pot to a bowl.   Remove the orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from the cooking liquid and discard.  Place the pot over high heat (pot will be hot!) and bring to a simmer.  Simmer, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy and a heatsafe spatula leaves a wide trail when dragged through,, 8 to 12 minutes.  You should have about 1 cup of reduced liquid.

Turn oven to broil.  Using two forks, pull each piece of pork in half.  Fold in reduced liquid and add salt and pepper to taste.  Spread the pork on a wire/cooling rack on a baking sheet or broiler pan.  Broil the meat for 5 to 8 minutes on each side until well browned and the edges are crisp.  Serve immediately.

Recipe from Cooks Illustrated (May & June 2008)

Pickled Red Onions and Chilies

  • 1  red onion,  sliced into 1/8-inch half-moons
  • 3 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar (or enough to cover the onions in the container)
  • 1 small serrano chili, sliced into very thin rings

Bring the red wine vinegar to a simmer in a small saucepan.  Dissolve salt and sugar in the vinegar.  Place the chili and red onion slices in a small container.  Pour the vinegar mixture over them so that they are submerged.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.