As I mentioned in my hash brown benedict post on Saturday, Betsy and I had a few friends from the big city come visit a few weeks ago. This was a big deal. You can pretty much guarantee that if you fly 2,000 miles to visit me, I’ll cook you anything you want.
These friends were easy to please though. Besides brunch, they just asked for something Tex-mex and something grilled. So I decided to slam the two together and make some awesome grilled carnitas.
The benefits of grilling these guys (they are normally braised like this), is that you don’t have to turn your oven on! This might seem like a small win, but if you’re cooking something for 4-5 hours, it’s a big deal. Also, grilled things tend to taste good.
The downside of grilling these guys is that you want to cook them as low and slow as possible. So get ready for a day of cooking. I don’t really consider this a downside, but some people just might.
Yield: Serves 10.
1 5 pound pork butt (shoulder) cut. If you get a full pork shoulder (~10 pounds) you can just cut it in half or do the whole thing if you need to feed a million people.
1 Red onion
2 limes, juice only
1/3 Cup spice rub (below)
Salsa Verde (below or jarred is okay)
Cojita Cheese, crumbled
Radishes, sliced thin (optional)
Spice Rub: Enough for a 5 pound pork butt
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 Tablespoon paprika
1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1 pound tomatillos, halved
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 lime, juice only
1 handful of cilantro
Pinch of salt
4 avocados, pitted
2 shallots, minced (you can also use red onion)
2 serrano peppers, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 handful cilantro, minced (optional)
1-2 limes, juice only
Pinch of salt
Blender (just for salsa)
1) For rub, mix ingredients in a bowl.
2) Butterfly pork butt but leave a piece attached. Don't cut it completely in two. Cover entire butt with rub. Let sit overnight in the fridge.
3) Preheat grill to 250 degrees. Use an oven thermometer to ensure even temp.
4) Cook pork butt for 8-10 hours on grill, rotating every 2 hours.
5) Once butt hits 190-200 degrees, it's done. Then wrap in tin foil and let sit for 30-45 minutes.
6) Use two forks to shred pork butt into strips.
7) As an optional step, mix in 1/4 cup of melted butter in with pork and broil the meat for a few minutes on high to really crisp up the carnitas.
8) Serve with tortillas, guacamole, salsa, onions, cojita, and radishes.
Prepping the Carnitas
There were a lot of variables that went into this dish. Since it was my first time trying it, I decided to follow one of my basic cooking rules which is that if you don’t know what you’re doing, keep it as simple as possible.
That means that I didn’t get fancy with my rub, I didn’t use charcoal or try to smoke the shoulder in any way. My main goals were just to flavor it decently and cook it perfectly. And that’s what I did.
I kept my rub very simple with these guys.
I wanted to really maximize the surface area that the rub was on, so I decided to butterfly my shoulder a bit and really coat the entire thing in the rub.
If I would’ve had my way, I would’ve gone with a pork shoulder with the bone in, but the butcher was fresh out so I had to go with the boneless variety. Not a huge deal.
Really feel free to go heavy on the rub.
Now, you could throw this on the grill right away, but you’ll get a lot more flavor out of it if you can let it rest overnight – in the fridge of course.
This normally isn’t a huge deal because since it’s going to need to cook all day anyway, any prep you can do the night before is good.
Grilling the Butt
I’m not sure if you can tell from the photos, but this is a big hunk of meat. It weighed in at about 5 pounds and this was only half of the shoulder. I’d guess that most pork shoulders are 20-30% fat which really works to our advantage here. That means that we can cook it low and slow and the high fat content will make it almost impossible to over-cook.
What you don’t want to do is cook it on a grill that’s too hot. If you do that, you run the risk of completely charring the outside and leaving the inside really tough still. No good.
The only way to make sure your grill is the right temperature is to get yourself an oven thermometer and plop it down right on the grill. If you’re using a gas grill like me, it’s just a matter of playing around with your heat until you get a steady 250 degree heat.
For me, the setting that finally worked was to turn on only the very back fire element and turn it on its lowest setting. With the lid closed, the grill kept a steady 250-255 degree temperature.
One Note: If your grill has a built in thermometer, just ignore it. Those things are WAY off. Mine was registering 50-75 degrees off the entire cooking time.
One Other Note: If you’re using charcoal/wood, more power to you. I want to do my next one this way. You just have to be diligent about adding coals and keeping the temperature in a good range.
A five pound pork but will need about 9-10 hours on the grill. This was mine after about 6 hours.
I also turned my butt every two hours just to make sure it was cooking evenly.
Ten hours is a long time. At some point during that time, you’ll want to make some good fixings for your tacos.
Guacamole never hurts and is a requirement at my house for any Tex-Mex dinner.
I also decided to whip up a batch of salsa verde to go with the pork. I figured the slightly bitter salsa would go really well with the pork.
To make the salsa, just roast all the ingredients except the cilantro and limes for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Then blend them up and season with salt!
I also marinated some sliced red onions in a bit of lime juice, sliced some radishes thinly, and crumbled some cojita cheese. In my opinion, the radishes and cheese are optional, the onions are not!
Finishing the Carnitas
Let me warn you. When you are cooking five pounds of meat for an entire day, you need a meat thermometer.
You also need a lot of beer, but that’s neither here nor there.
The meat thermometer is really the only way to know when this guy is done. When it hits 190-200 degrees in the center, it’s done. That may seem really high, but that’s the temperature when all that fat is melting away, which is what you want.
When you pull your pork butt off the grill, it will be falling apart. Do your best to keep it in one piece and wrap the whole thing in foil. Let it sit for about 45 minutes. This will give it time to cool slowly so you can work with it. Trying to do anything with it when it comes off the grill is a recipe for second degree burns.
It’ll still be plenty hot after 45 minutes, but you should be able to easily handle it and pull it apart.
Grab a few forks and get to work shredding. The meat is so tender that it should be a pretty easy task.
You can serve the tacos just like this if you want or you can take it to the next level!
If you want to kick it up a notch, melt about a 1/4 cup of butter and stir the melted butter into the carnitas. Then stick the whole thing under the broiler for about five minutes to get the carnitas extra crispy and delicious.
Not a necessary step at all, but it does add a nice touch if you have the time.
I don’t think I need to tell you how to make a taco. Just pile it high and deep!
I’m not sure there’s much left to say about these guys. They turned out to be a lot easier to make than I thought they would be.
If you’re in a situation where you need to feed a small army, this is a fantastic way to go.
It should be no surprise that the leftovers make really good burritos or breakfast hash.