Carnitas, sometimes known as Mexican pulled pork, is a delicious Mexican pork dish that is often served as tacos or burritos. Carnitas is made by braising pork in oil or lard until it becomes tender and shreds easily. The pork then develops a crispy, caramelized exterior from frying in its own fat. Carnitas has a rich, succulent flavor that pairs perfectly with warm tortillas, salsa, guacamole, beans, rice, and more. While delicious on their own, knowing how to properly serve and accompany carnitas can take the flavor and experience to the next level.
What are the best sides to serve with carnitas?
Carnitas are extremely versatile and pair well with a variety of different sides. Here are some of the most popular and delicious options for serving alongside carnitas:
- Warm corn or flour tortillas – Carnitas are most commonly served wrapped in soft tortillas for tacos or burritos. Warm tortillas that have been lightly grilled or steamed are best.
- Salsa – A fresh pico de gallo, roasted salsa, or tangy green tomatillo salsa adds a burst of flavor. Serve on the side or spoon over tacos.
- Guacamole – The cool, creamy richness of fresh guacamole perfectly balances the savory pork.
- Shredded cabbage – Thinly sliced green or purple cabbage provides crunch.
- Chopped onion and cilantro – Raw white or red onion and fresh cilantro add freshness.
- Lime wedges – A squeeze of lime juice over the carnitas Tacos enhances the flavors.
- Queso fresco – Sprinkling on the mild, salty Mexican cheese adds more richness.
- Frijoles – Hearty refried or whole pinto beans make a tasty accompaniment.
- Mexican rice – Fluffy seasoned rice soaks up the pork juices deliciously.
Mix and match your favorite salsas, toppings, beans, rice, and tortillas for customized tacos and bowls.
Should carnitas be served with any sauces?
While carnitas on their own are full of bold, delicious flavor, certain sauces can add another layer of taste and dimension when serving:
- Mole sauce – Rich, smoky mole sauce made from chilis, spices, seeds, and chocolate is a luxurious topping for carnitas tacos.
- Chimichurri verde – The bright herby green sauce contributes freshness and acidity.
- Creamy cilantro sauce – Mixing cilantro, lime juice, jalapeno, Greek yogurt or mayonnaise makes a lush creamy sauce.
- Enchilada sauce – Drizzle red or green enchilada sauce over carnitas before serving for added flavor.
- Tomatillo salsa – Tart green tomatillo salsa cuts through the fattiness of carnitas nicely.
For an extra flavor punch, serve carnitas with one or more of these sauces on the side for dipping tacos into. You can also spoon them over assembled tacos or mix in with rice and beans.
What are the best tools for serving and eating carnitas?
Having the right serving tools helps make carnitas easy and tidy to assemble and eat. Helpful tools include:
- Tongs – Use metal tongs to neatly pile carnitas into tortillas, bowls, or plates.
- Serving forks – Forks allow guests to easily take carnitas themselves.
- Small serving bowls – Place diced onions, cilantro, lime wedges, salsas, and other toppings in individual bowls for assembly.
- Baskets – Keep heated tortillas in a cloth-lined basket covered with a napkin.
- Cutting boards – Chop ingredients for fresh salsas and guacamole at the table.
- Knives – Provide sharp knives to slice avocados, chop onion, cut limes, etc.
- Squeeze bottles – Use plastic bottles to hold and drizzle sauces neatly.
Having an assortment of spoons, forks, plates, and napkins will also make serving carnitas less messy and more seamless for your guests.
What are fun ways to serve carnitas besides traditional tacos?
While carnitas are known for tacos, the succulent shredded pork also lends itself to a variety of other fun serving styles. Get creative with carnitas by trying:
- Carnitas burritos – Large flour tortillas stuffed with carnitas, rice, beans, salsa, and more.
- Carnitas torta sandwiches – Pile carnitas with all the fixings onto crusty bread rolls.
- Carnitas nachos – Heap crispy tortilla chips with carnitas, cheese sauce, pico de gallo, jalapeños and more.
- Carnitas pizza – Top baked pizza crust with shredded carnitas, onions, cilantro and enchilada sauce.
- Carnitas salad – Toss carnitas onto salad greens, peppers, corn, avocado and cotija cheese.
- Carnitas stuffed potatoes – Load baked potatoes with carnitas, sour cream, cheese, and green onion.
- Carnitas breakfast hash – Fry carnitas with potatoes, peppers, onions, and eggs for a hearty breakfast.
Elevate festive occasions by serving carnitas in unique ways, like carnitas slider appetizers, carnitas egg rolls, or carnitas tamales. The possibilities are endless!
What are the best methods for heating and keeping carnitas warm for serving?
Since carnitas are made in large batches, you’ll need ways to keep the shredded pork hot and ready to serve to your guests. Here are some effective heating methods:
- Slow cooker – Place carnitas in a slow cooker on low to keep warm and prevent drying out.
- Chafing dishes – Elegant chafing dishes with sternos are ideal for buffet-style events.
- Warming trays – Electric warming trays will keep carnitas hot for hours.
- Sheet pans in oven – Spread carnitas on sheet pans and keep warm in a low oven.
- Crockpot – Use a plug-in crockpot to transport and hold hot carnitas.
- Sterno can – Place carnitas in a foil pan above a Sterno can to keep hot.
Check carnitas frequently and add spoonfuls of the fatty cooking liquid to keep them moist. Keep carnitas stored above 140 F to prevent bacteria growth.
How should you arrange carnitas components for serving?
A few tips for beautifully arranging carnitas components:
- Place carnitas in a slow cooker, chafing dish, or other warm server so guests can easily help themselves.
- Offer warmed tortillas in a cloth-lined basket covered with a cloth napkin.
- Portion salsas, guacamole, vegetables, limes, etc. in individual serving bowls and plates.
- Keep components like shredded cheese, onion, cilantro, sauces, and hot sauce within easy reach.
- Label any homemade components like salsas and guacamole with small tags.
- Include tongs, spoons, and forks for easy serving.
Having components arranged “taco bar” style allows guests to freely customize their tacos, nachos, and other items. Keep hot elements hot and cold elements cold for best quality.
What are good portion sizes for carnitas?
Carnitas are the star of the show, so be sure to make enough for each guest to enjoy their fill. Recommended portion sizes include:
- As an entree or main: 6-8 oz carnitas per person
- As an appetizer: 2-3 oz carnitas per person
- For tacos: 2-3 oz carnitas per taco
- For burritos: 4-6 oz carnitas per burrito
- For nachos: 2-3 oz carnitas per serving
When serving carnitas family-style, allow for second helpings by preparing 1 to 1.5 lbs of carnitas per person. Having leftovers is better than running out!
What are the best ways to garnish carnitas plates and servings?
You can take carnitas to the next level with fresh, flavorful garnishes. Top individual tacos or plates with:
- Chopped white or red onion
- Chopped fresh cilantro
- Crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese
- Sliced radishes
- Diced avocado
- Lime wedges
- Thinly sliced jalapeños
- Crumbled chicharrones (fried pork rinds)
- Crema Mexicana or Mexican sour cream
Not only do garnishes provide extra flavor, but they also add appealing freshness, color, and texture to the dish. Let guests add their desired garnishes themselves for customized tacos.
What drinks pair best with carnitas?
Since carnitas have a robust depth of flavor, beverages that refresh and cleanse the palate are ideal pairings. Recommended drinks include:
- Mexican beer like Tecate, Modelo, Pacifico, or Dos Equis.
- Margaritas – Both traditional lime or fruity variations.
- Tamarind juice or agua fresca – Sweet tamarind cuts through fattiness.
- Horchata – The sweet rice milk drink balances seasoning.
- Mexican Coca-Cola – The cane sugar and carbonation cleanse the palate.
- Orange Fanta – The crisp citrus flavor contrasts the pork.
Iced tea, sangria, and lighter Mexican wines like Pinot Noir are also excellent with carnitas. Provide plenty of napkins and frosty beverages to counter the meaty fare.
What are important things to tell guests about carnitas?
As a host serving carnitas, it’s helpful to share some serving information with your guests so they can fully enjoy the experience. Be sure to tell guests:
- Carnitas are fried in lard for authentic flavor, in case of dietary concerns.
- Rolling tacos in lightly grilled tortillas before filling prevents tearing.
- They should feel free to customize tacos with desired toppings and sauces.
- Carnitas can be used in tacos, burritos, nachos, tostadas, and more.
- Salsas and additional hot sauces are available to amp up the heat if desired.
- Seconds are gladly available – so fill up and enjoy!
Giving guests insight into serving styles and options empowers them to craft tacos to their personal preferences. Describe menu items to assist guests with food allergies or dietary needs as well.
What kind of atmosphere should you create when serving carnitas?
As a comforting, casual food, carnitas are best served in a fun, laid-back environment. Create a festive Mexican fiesta mood with:
- Upbeat Mexican music like Mariachi or salsa in the background
- Decorations like papel picado banners, cactuses, clay pots, and brightly colored tablecloths
- Fun serveware like colorful platters, rustic pottery, and woven baskets
- Margarita pitchers with lime slices and salted rims
- Sangria or agua fresca in beverage dispensers
- Abundant chips, salsas, and guacamole for snacking
Make sure seating is casual – low tables and floor cushions are perfect for a laid-back family-style affair. Let guests eat with their hands and go back for seconds in a relaxed, festive vibe.
How can you make carnitas tacos with leftovers?
The beauty of carnitas is that the leftovers can make an endless variety of delicious meals. Some ideas for carnitas leftovers include:
- Carnitas omelettes – Dice up carnitas to mix into fluffy egg omelettes. Top with salsa and queso fresco.
- Carnitas nachos or tostadas – Pile crispy tortilla chips or tostadas with leftover carnitas, cheese, beans, etc.
- Carnitas tacos al pastor – Chop carnitas and sear in a hot pan with pineapple and onion.
- Carnitas salad – Shred carnitas over spinach, lettuce, or kale. Toss with dressing.
- Carnitas sandwiches – Stuff carnitas with pickles, onions, chipotle mayo between slices of crusty bread.
- Carnitas pizza – Sprinkle carnitas atop prepared pizza crust with veggies and Mexican cheese.
- Carnitas breakfast burrito – Scramble eggs with carnitas, veggies, beans, and stuff into a tortilla.
Store tightly sealed leftover carnitas in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 2-3 months. Reheat gently before using in recipes.
Perfectly crispy, succulent carnitas are the star of any Mexican fiesta. While their rich, juicy flavor shines on its own, thoughtfully pairing sides, using proper serving tools, and creating a festive ambiance takes the experience to the next level. Whether served in traditional street tacos, stuffed burritos, or creative fusion dishes, carnitas are endlessly adaptable to feed a crowd or savor flavorful leftovers. With a bit of preparation and a relaxed, celebratory environment, serving up incredible carnitas is a breeze.