Brown Sugar Carnitas

Brown Sugar Carnitas

Carnitas Caramelizadas
8 Servings
Pati Jinich
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: brown sugar, Carnitas, pati's mexican table, pork
Author:Pati Jinich
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Brown Sugar Carnitas from Pati's Mexican Table, Season 7, Episode 2 "Tijuana: Stories from the Border"


  • 1 cup lard, vegetable shortening, or oil
  • 3 to 4 pounds boneless pork shoulder or butt, fat on, cut into 3” chunks
  • 4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups milk, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 white onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

To Prepare

  • Heat the lard in a large Dutch oven or heavy casserole over medium-high heat. Season the meat with 2 teaspoons of the salt and the black pepper. Once the lard has melted, add the meat, brown on all sides, stirring and flipping as it does, for about 10 to 12 minutes.
  • In the jar of a blender, pour 1 ½ cups of the milk and add the garlic, onion and remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Puree until smooth. Pour over the meat and let it come to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low, drop in the bay leaves, and cover. Cook covered for 1 hour and 15 minutes, flipping the chunks of meat a couple times in between.
  • In a small bowl, combine the remaining ½ cup milk with the sugar. Pour over the carnitas, stir, and let them continue to cook, uncovered, for another 4 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  • With a slotted spoon, remove the meat and place in a bowl. Shred with a couple forks, add a couple tablespoons of the seasoned fat remaining in the casserole and toss.

144 comments on “Brown Sugar Carnitas

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  1. Merry Christmas Pati!
    We had these last night along with your oven roasted potatoes. Soooo delicious! My college student, home with us, requested to have again tonight.

  2. Thank you for this recipe Pati!!! I planned on cooking this meal for my husband and I after we saw it on your show (which we love watching). However, it smelled so delicious cooking that we invited some friends over to enjoy it with us and it was a huge hit. Pork is not my favorite meat but this recipe could change my mind! Yuuuuuuuuuum!

  3. Dear Pati,

    Tried your brown sugar carnitas for dinner. Even though I am more of a barbacoa and lengua taco man, I will be adding this to my rotation. Other carnitas I have tried have always been a little dry, but these were the perfect blend of crispyish on the outside and tender on the inside. I roasted tomatoes jalapeños and cebolla and made a fresh salsa and I served on tortillas de harina. I was a little hesitant about braising in your milk braising liquid but it worked

    Muchisimas gracias

    Salvador Ramirez
    Cleveland Ohio

    Love your show

  4. This could be the best thing I have ever made! I have tried many of your recipes, Pati, and love all of them. I love making your tamales, especially the sweet potato and bean version. The carnitas recipe is amazing. I was scared after I added the milk. It all looked curdled and wrong but it all came together in the end. Que rico!
    Gracias, Pati.

  5. My finicky eaters, who have pretty high standards, LOVED them. My meat was rather lean but the lard/milk did the trick.
    About as good as it gets!
    Very,very good receipe!

  6. Anyone who thinks you can’t make restaurant-quality carnitas at home needs to try this recipe. The only word I can think of to describe them is “superdelicioso!”

    Next time I’ll cut down the sugar ever so slightly but they’re just about perfect as is.

    1. Hey Tricia, I mean pour couple of tablespoons of the fat on top of the meat and mix it. Hope you enjoy the Carnitas 😉

  7. These carnitas are soooooo good!!!!!! I crave them, and have made them several times. My husband is from Tamaulipas, and he says they are the best he’s had. He took these carnitas to an office pot luck, and his coworkers from all over Mexico and South America raved about how good they were. We like them with your Pickled Red Onions a la Yucateca and Raw Salsa Verde with Avocado. The sweet, succulent pork combined with the acidity of the onions and salsa verde is to die for. Thank you for teaching me how to cook authentic Mexican food as good or better than I could get at a restaurant in Mexico.

    1. You are way too kind Rex, thank you. Very happy to read that these Carnitas are a hit everywhere you take them 🙂 BTW, great combo with the onions and the salsa, yum!

  8. I’m using oil instead of lard and one cup seems like a lot. Will it make the carnitas greasy? Can I adjust the amount or will that change the end result?

  9. Absolutely the most delicious shredded pork I have ever prepared. I like it as it is but you could also add another flavour or sauce or spice after it’s done. Great for a picnic or reheating for an easy meal in the middle of the week. The milk makes the meat so silky smooth, you will not believe it. A must try.

  10. This recipe is the “bomb”! I take an extra step with the pork in that I brine it in orange juice onions garlic brown sugar as well as salt onions cilantro I also throw in a stick of cinnamon. Pati You are an inspiration to this Sicilian mama!

    1. Yes Tatyana, you can make yummy Carnitas tacos with corn tortillas, chopped white onion and cilantro, couple of drops of lime juice and a spicy green salsa. You can put them in a torta too with red sauce, or you can just eat them with rice, beans or by themselves, enjoy! 😉

  11. I am going to make this today but unfortunately I don’t have a Dutch Oven or heavy casserole dish. What other cooking vessel would be ok to use ?

    1. Love that you love the Carnitas Patty 😀 You can still watch the show on Create TV or on Amazon Prime (all seasons, all episodes).

  12. Love the show Pati! We came upon your show by leaving on tv while doing other things at home during the begining of COVID, and boy are we excited! We’re from San Diego, moved to northern Ca and really miss TJ and it’s flavors! I must say, I have never heard if milk in carnitas before, I must try. We have always fried in sugar bath after deep frying for crispy bits. Mi esposo Leon GTO

    1. Thanks so much Martita for your message, I hope you’ll give this recipe a chance 🙂 Greetings to your husband, Guanajuato is such a beautiful place!

  13. This recipe is wonderful,the whole family enjoyed the carnitas.So flavorful..Thank you,Patti ps.I enjoy your program and we love your recipes.

  14. Hi Patty, I have been craving tortas ahogadas for a very long time, it wasn’t until I watched your show last week with the recipe, I have to mention that, as well as this carnitas recipe. I cooked the carnitas today -they are so good, we all loved them. I am planning on making the tortas tomorrow (of course following your recipe step by step) since I have to make my own pan de sal; I couldn’t find any around San Diego, and that won’t stop me :). So I have prepped my starter for the birote dough, and will bake my birotitos tomorrow. I can’t wait!
    Thank you so much for such an inspiring and magical show.

    This carnitas’ recipe is very easy and incredibly delicious.

    Gracias Patty.

  15. Hi Pati! I saw your show for the first time this last weekend and I absolutely loved it! I saw this recipe on your show and it looked amazing. I do not have a lot of great pans and wanted to invest into something great to use cook with. Could you please let me know the kind of pan and brand you used to cook the carnitas in? I really appreciate it😁

  16. OMG!!! The carnitas are still on the stove finishing up, but I had to steal a small piece from the pot. It is INSANELY GOOD. I can’t wait for it to be done so I can taste everything together.

      1. Perfect left over snack or quick lunch for the carnitas, warm a flour tortilla fill with the brown sugar carnitas and cheese of your choice. Then top with the spicy/hot tomato salsa and a bit of sour cream or Mexican crema. So Yummy!

  17. the PATI Cinco de Mayo fiesta weekend on Create TV is such a great uplifting event during this “stay at home” safety order. Seeing you in Sinaloa at the bakery Bread of the Woman and her makeshift homemade mixing machine; it was if I could almost taste the deliciousness. In your TJ episode, I learned your secret of this pork recipe and sauces; making an
    “essential” trip grocery shopping exciting! Will roasting the pork pieces in a hot oven before shredding create the crispy exterior I find when buying it at a local market in Indio, CA.? Those happy sounds you make after each gigantic bite encourages me to make that cheesy shrimp pasta bake. Gracias y mantente segura y saludable.

  18. I just made these pork carnitas today. So delicious! I only did half the amount of brown sugar milk mixture because I was afraid it would be too sweet. For me, it was just enough! Cooking the pork in milk was something I never heard of but it made the most tender pork ever! Thank you Pati for another fantastic recipe!

  19. I watch a video on you making the carnitas,it looks so good I want to try them hope it comes out as good as yours looked thanks for your recipes

  20. Hi Pati! Making these for the third time. It has quickly become a family favorite. Yum! Planning to freeze it and reheat it/crisp it in a frying pan when we are ready to enjoy it. I think it will be comforting while we’re spending time at home over the next several weeks. This ought to work, right?

  21. These carnitas were so tender and moist. Needed 2 hours to cook but so enjoyable. I look forward to putting them on tacos tomorrow. So many ways to go with such tender meat. I much prefer this method of cooking carnitas to oven cooking a large pork butt. Very easy to shred – with the back of the fork no less. We never miss your show Pati.

  22. I love carnitas, but this is the first time I see a recipe that I can make home, that is not too complicated! what type of lard do you use? Armour lard?

  23. This recipe is so much simpler than the Carnitas recipe I had been making, so I had to try it. It may be the cooking in lard, but this is even better than my other one.
    My husband considers himself to be addicted to Carnitas has declared this to be the best ever and wants this to be in my weekly rotation. Period.

    Thank you for this one. It works!

  24. Would you suggest skipping the initial browning if attempting it in a slow cooker? Or browning it in the lard, then transferring to the slow cooker?
    I just worry that leaving out that first cup of lard would affect the end product.

    1. If making the carnitas in a slow cooker, you may want to go directly to the slow cooker and skip the initial browning, Shaun.

  25. I’d love to know if milk alternatives would have the same tenderizing affect as regular milk. We can’t do dairy here and I’m trying to decide between unsweetened almond milk or broth, or a mix of both.

  26. Tried it tonight and it was a family hit! Sooooo good! I ran out of whole milk for the last part so I used 1/4 c condensed milk 1/4 c water mixed and it gave it a velvety consistency. Next time I want to try it with pico de gallo! Hubby made fresh flour tortillas too!!

  27. Looks cool good! I was so hungry! Will try this version asap. Thanks for sharing.
    Estella Marquez
    Paulden, As

  28. I made “brown sugar Carnitas” today. They came out way better than I anticipated. Yesterday I made “bricklayer tacos” that were gone so fast I couldn’t believe it. I think this weekend I’m going to make Baja fish tacos. I’m from Orange County California and I was missing all the good Mexican food they have in Santa Ana Califoria. I don’t have to miss it anymore. Thank you Pati for breaking it down and making it easy!!

  29. Just as with the many ways of skinning a cat, there are many roads to great carnitas… This recipe looks straight forward, pretty easy and most importantly; delicious. I’ll try it.

  30. This was a big hit for Mothers Day. My youngest son asked if we could have it every holiday! I paired it with some grilled pineapple. Great recipe!😀

  31. These were so delicious and easy Pati! Thank you for demystifying Carnitas for me. I typically only eat them when I’m visiting home in Texas. Now I can make them at home in MD. My boys ate them all up. They loved them!

  32. Hello Paty! I am from Michoacan where you can get the BEST carnitas in the world! But I saw your show and I can’t wait to make them! Thank you for the show!

  33. I usually make crispy Carnitas, but I have wanted to try the “softer” version this time. I used your recipe last night and they turned out really good! I wasn’t sure about the brown sugar but it added a really good flavor to it. I think next time I might add orange juice to give it a little bit more acid. Thank you for the recipe!

  34. This was very good, I didn’t have a problem with to much liquid, I think it was because I used a larger pan. Similar recipes added an orange rind, I might try that next time. Served it burrito style with salsa verde

  35. I am making these in honor/memory of my sweet Mama who was such a fan of this show. I know she would of loved these carnitas! It’ll definitely be bittersweet when we sit down to enjoy them.

  36. Just made these today. I had the same issue with way too much liquid left after the allotted cooking time. Tried cooking it for another half-hour, to no avail, but finally just spooned off most of the excess before adding the final blend of milk and brown sugar, and voila (or whatever the Spanish equivalent would be…), it all carmelized nicely – and tastes fabulous!

  37. Just made these. They were amazing!! This was the way mi abuela made hers. Brought back so many great memories of visiting her I’m Tijuana. They were so tender and juicy. And the flavor is to die for. Love you and your show so much. Thanks for the recipe.

  38. I made these but I had a lot of liquid in mine it looked nothing like the picture i measured followed recipe to the exact any sugestions what i did wrong

  39. I am making these right now. Had a bit of a problem getting the meat to brown. It never did. Then the milk broke and it looks more like ricotta cheese. What did I do wrong? I loved that show and was so stoked to make this dish. Fee foolish.

    1. Oh I’m sorry to hear you had some problems, Constance. When the milk heats the hot lard, it appears as curdled, but it really is not. I hope you give the carnitas another go.

  40. This is delicious, Reminded me of my tio’s Juan’s cooking and the only thing I added was an orange to the milk and brown sugar and blended it and then cooked it in the last step, just as my tio Juan would have. Buen provecho !