Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

If you are a football fan and planning on doing any tailgating this fall, these Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw are just in time for the big game! Tender juicy shredded pork with perfect smoky bits of incredible flavor atop a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. This ultimate recipe for carnitas, uses the very affordable pork shoulder in a slow-smoked cooking method that will make you king or queen of the tailgating party!

Carnitas is a dish of Mexican cuisine, that literally means “little meats”. The traditional way of cooking carnitas is to braise a pork shoulder in lard until it’s falling apart, then served shredded in small crispy pieces placed onto tortillas for tacos, tamales, tortas, and burritos.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

For some time, I have been wanting to revisit pork carnitas again. I made them a long time ago before I started blogging. I used a crock-pot and was really pleased with the outcome after tweaking the recipe I was following. However, David was NOT a fan of those carnitas (Actually, I think it’s all in his head, but I’m not gonna argue about it any more).

As you know, when it comes to pork David and I are polar opposites. I really don’t like barbecue sauced meat. Heck I really don’t like hickory wood smoke either, so brace yourself when I say that this recipe was my idea. I asked David to smoke some pork the way I wanted to eat it for a change. I had every intention of braising this pork inside a big Dutch oven either inside the oven or on the stove top, but it has been STUPID hot outside that roasting pork inside in the oven or on the stove seemed ridiculous, when it is nearly 100 degrees outside. Grilling or smoking this chunk of meat outside was our only option.

This version of pork carnitas is different from traditional carnitas because the pork is slow smoked for hours really giving the meat some nice smoky applewood flavor. It is also a lot healthier because it isn’t drenched in lard like traditional carnitas. Using a recipe from Bobby Flay as inspiration here’s how we made our carnitas:

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw | Servings: 10

Recipe adapted of Bobby Flay

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pork shoulder (about 5 pounds)
  • 2-gallon zip top bag or large roasting pan
  • Marinade, recipe to follow
  • water smoker or charcoal grill
  • about 2 cups applewood chips, soaked in water 30 minutes
  • charcoal
  • tongs
  • meat thermometer
  • corn or flour tortillas
  • Spicy Cabbage Slaw, recipe to follow
  • fresh cilantro, chopped for serving

The Marinade:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 heaping tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ cup fresh orange juice
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 chipotle peppers, finely chopped  + 2 teaspoons adobo

Spicy Cabbage Slaw:

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise (Sir Kensington’s)
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 green onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 small cabbage, finely shredded
  • 1 large carrot, julienned

Directions:

Prepare the Marinade: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the thyme, garlic, onions and chili powder; saute until onions are tender and spices are fragrant. Add in the brown sugar, cumin, coriander, orange and lime juices, and chipotle with adobo; cook just until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let cool completely.

Cut slits diagonally across the fat cap going in opposite directions. Doing this creates more surface area for the seasoning to form bark and the fat is able to get crisp and delicious. Put inside a large 2 gallon zip-top bag or into a large pan; reserve 1 cup of the marinade, pouring the rest over the pork. Seal the bag, pressing out all of the air or cover and refrigerate overnight. Place the reserved marinade into a jar and refrigerate.

The next day, remove the pork from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Set up the grill or smoker: Set up your smoker for what is called the burn-down method. To do this, fill the charcoal bed with unlit coals and add only a few lit coals to the very top. The coals on top slowly light the ones underneath and burn down slowly over time. If using a charcoal grill, set it up for an indirect heat technique and place the soaked wood chips on top of the coals. Preheat the grill from 220 – 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Place the pork on the grill, cover. Bring the temperature up, using the vents to regulate the temperature inside the grill is about 225 degrees F. David likes to use a combination of dry and wet wood chips, alternating between the two. The dry gives a quick intense smoke and brings the heat up. The wet wood chunks provide a lower, slower smoke and brings the heat down. Heat adjustments can be made using this technique.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Make the Slaw: Make the Spicy Cabbage Slaw ahead of time, while the pork is smoking so that the flavors can marry and get really happy together.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

To make the slaw, shred the cabbage; add to a large bowl with the carrots, jalapenos and green onions.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, olive oil, and celery seeds until smooth; season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to combine. Cover with a lid and place into the refrigerator until needed.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Check the grill or smoker every hour. You will need to add fresh coals and more wood chips to each side of the grill at least the first 4 hours. Smoke the picnic shoulder until a dark “bark” (outside crust) forms and the internal temperature of the meat is about 190 degrees F, about 5 hours; use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

The ideal temperature of a properly smoked pork shoulder is 190-195 degrees F. The internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the grill, so keep that in mind. If the internal temperature is 190 degrees F.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Remove the shoulder from the grill and let the pork rest 30 minutes. When you take it off the grill, the temperature may rise to an optimal 200 degrees F, perfect! Any hotter than that and could overcook your pork, which results in dry, chewy meat.

Shred the pork either with two forks or if the meat has cooled enough, by hand. Heat the refrigerated reserved marinade; pour in small amounts onto the shredded pork for added flavor and juiciness (do not over saturate).

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Serve on warm tortillas, topped with some Spicy Cabbage Slaw.

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

I kept the carnitas very simple and didn’t want to take anything away from the smoked pork or slaw by adding a bunch of extra toppings, but feel free to add whatever you want to the carnitas. This is one rare occasion, I didn’t even add any cheese (gasp!).

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw. | TheMountainKitchen.com

Don’t feel discouraged by the amount of meat that is rendered, you don’t need a party or have to even like football. It will freeze perfectly. If you have meat leftover, package it inside a freezer safe bag and pull it out to make a quick weeknight meal perhaps transforming it into new Mexican dish of choice. I’m thinking enchiladas

My Signature

I’m sharing the over at Fiesta Friday. Come on over and join in on the fun!

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Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw, shredded smoky bits of incredibly flavorful pork on top of a warm tortilla with spicy cabbage slaw.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American, Mexican
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes
Servings 10
Author Debbie Spivey

Ingredients

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pork shoulder about 5 pounds
  • Marinade recipe to follow
  • 2 gallon zip top bag or large roasting pan
  • water smoker or charcoal grill
  • about 2 cups wood chips hickory or apple, soaked in water 30 minutes
  • charcoal
  • tongs
  • meat thermometer
  • corn or flour tortillas
  • Spicy Cabbage Slaw recipe to follow
  • Fresh cilantro chopped for serving

The Marinade

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 heaping tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ cup fresh orange juice
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 chipotle peppers finely chopped + 2 teaspoons adobo

Spicy Cabbage Slaw

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise Sir Kensington
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 4 green onions coarsely chopped
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 small cabbage finely shredded
  • 1 large carrot julienned

Instructions

  1. Prepare the Marinade: Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the thyme, garlic, onions and chili powder; saute until onions are tender and spices are fragrant. Add in the brown sugar, cumin, coriander, orange and lime juices, and chipotle with adobo; cook just until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and let cool completely.
  2. Cut slits diagonally across the fat cap going in opposite directions. Doing this creates more surface area for the seasoning to form bark and the fat is able to get crisp and delicious. Put inside a large 2 gallon zip-top bag or into a large pan; reserve 1 cup of the marinade, pouring the rest over the pork. Seal the bag, pressing out all of the air or cover and refrigerate overnight. Place the reserved marinade into a jar and refrigerate.
  3. The next day, remove the pork from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking.
  4. Set up the grill or smoker: Set up your smoker for what is called the burn-down method. To do this, fill the charcoal bed with unlit coals and add only a few lit coals to the very top. The coals on top slowly light the ones underneath and burn down slowly over time. If using a charcoal grill, set it up for an indirect heat technique and place the soaked wood chips on top of the coals. Preheat the grill from 220 – 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)
  5. Place the pork on the grill, cover. Bring the temperature up, using the vents to regulate the temperature inside the grill is about 225 degrees F. David likes to use a combination of dry and wet wood chips, alternating between the two. The dry gives a quick intense smoke and brings the heat up. The wet wood chunks provide a lower, slower smoke and brings the heat down. Heat adjustments can be made using this technique.
  6. Make the Slaw: Make the Spicy Cabbage Slaw ahead of time, while the pork is smoking so that the flavors can marry and get really happy together. To make the slaw, shred the cabbage; add to a large bowl with the carrots, jalapenos and green onions. Whisk the mayonnaise, vinegar, olive oil, and celery seeds until smooth; season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to combine. Cover with a lid and place into the refrigerator until needed.
  7. Check the grill or smoker every hour. You will need to add fresh coals and more wood chips to each side of the grill at least the first 4 hours. Smoke the picnic shoulder until a dark “bark” (outside crust) forms and the internal temperature of the meat is about 190 degrees F, about 5 hours; use a meat thermometer to test for doneness.
  8. The ideal temperature of a properly smoked pork shoulder is 190-195 degrees F. The internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the grill, so keep that in mind. If the internal temperature is 190 degrees F.
  9. Remove the shoulder from the grill and let the pork rest 30 minutes. When you take it off the grill, the temperature may rise to an optimal 200 degrees F, perfect! Any hotter than that and could overcook your pork, which results in dry, chewy meat.
  10. Shred the pork and serve on warm tortillas, topped with some Spicy Cabbage Slaw.

Recipe Notes

Recipe adapted of Bobby Flay

 

 

14 thoughts on “Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

  1. Oh, my, gosh!! Debbie, this looks so amazing! There are sometimes I try to talk myself into thinking low and slow in the oven or perhaps in a crockpot is just as good as smoking – and it gets easier the longer it is between the times you have smoked pork. But then you see something like this – I swear I can almost taste your pics – and you’re brought back to earth and you just KNOW nothing can compare!! 🙂

  2. judigraber

    That’s a good-looking shoulder roast with a nice crust on it. A long time ago we had a smoker but Gene did not have the patience for it, so it was back to regular grilling. He built a special smoker for my jalapenos (chipotles) and that’s about it. I guess you can always cook it in the oven but as you said it just doesn’t taste the same. Thanks for all the info and sharing with Fiesta Friday…

  3. WOW!!! It sounds amazing!! We used to have a smoker, but didn’t use it much so it was donated. Now I wish it wasn’t hehe… This would be perfect for a fall party where you need to feed a crowd. Love it!

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