Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

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 the 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

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.

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

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

As a result, this version of pork carnitas is different from traditional carnitas because the pork is slowly 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

How To Make Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

What You’ll Need:

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

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:

Meanwhile, 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 to 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 bring 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

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

One thing to keep in mind: The ideal temperature of a properly smoked pork shoulder is 190 to 195 degrees F. However, the internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the grill. Therefore, it is best to remove the pork from the grill when the internal temperature is 180 to 195 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

How To Make the Spicy Cabbage 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

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

How To Serve the Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw:

My advice? Keep the carnitas simple and limit your toppings. Let the smoked pork and slaw speak for itself. Adding a bunch of extra topping with smother the wonderful flavors you created. 

Serve on warm tortillas, topped with some Spicy Cabbage Slaw. I added a few fresh sliced grape tomatoes for color.

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

How To Freeze and Reheat The Applewood Smoked Carnitas:

Don’t feel discouraged by the amount of meat that is rendered, you don’t need a party or have to even like football. While the spicy cabbage slaw will not freeze well, the carnitas freeze beautifully!

To Freeze:

Package the carnitas inside a freezer-safe zip-top bag, squeezing as much of the air out as possible. Freeze up to 2 to 3 months.

To Reheat:

Empty the carnitas from the freezer bag into a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add about ¼ cup of water to the pan and let the carnitas steam. Continue to warm until the meat has thawed and most of the water has evaporated. Time will vary depending on the amount of meat and the size of the carnitas.

If freezing, you can pull the frozen carnitas out of the freezer to make a quick weeknight meal perhaps transforming it into a new Mexican dish of choice.

I’m thinking enchiladas… Then again, when am I not?!?

Enjoy the Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw and the leftovers!

My Signature

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

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, BBQ, Mexican
Keyword applewood, cabbage, Carnitas, pork, slaw, smoked, spicy
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours
Total Time 5 hours 20 minutes
Servings 10
Calories 443kcal

Ingredients

What You’ll Need:

  • 5 pounds 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
  • 1 packages tortillas corn or flour
  • Spicy Cabbage Slaw recipe to follow
  • Fresh cilantro chopped for serving (optional)
  • ½ pint grape tomatoes sliced for serving, (cherry will work also) (optional)

The Marinade

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder (heaping tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¾ cup orange juice freshly squeezed
  • ½ cup lime juice freshly squeezed
  • 2 canned chipotle peppers finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from the can of chipotle peppers

Spicy Cabbage Slaw

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise Sir Kensington
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 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

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.

Set up the grill or smoker:

  • Meanwhile, 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 to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)
  • 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 bring the heat down. Heat adjustments can be made using this technique.
  • 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.
  • One thing to keep in mind: The ideal temperature of a properly smoked pork shoulder is 190 to 195 degrees F. However, the internal temperature of the pork can increase by 10 degrees even after it’s been removed from the grill. Therefore, it is best to remove the pork from the grill when the internal temperature is 180 to 195 degrees F.
  • 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).

How To Make the Spicy Cabbage 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.

Notes

How To Freeze and Reheat The Applewood Smoked Carnitas: Don’t feel discouraged by the amount of meat that is rendered, you don’t need a party or have to even like football. While the spicy cabbage slaw will not freeze well, the carnitas freeze beautifully!
To Freeze: Package the carnitas inside a freezer-safe zip-top bag, squeezing as much of the air out as possible. Freeze up to 2 to 3 months.
To Reheat: Empty the carnitas from the freezer bag into a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add about ¼ cup of water to the pan and let the carnitas steam. Continue to warm until the meat has thawed and most of the water has evaporated. Time will vary depending on the amount of meat and the size of the carnitas.
If freezing, you can pull the frozen carnitas out of the freezer to make a quick weeknight meal perhaps transforming it into a new Mexican dish of choice.
Recipe adapted of Bobby Flay

Nutrition

Calories: 443kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 95mg | Sodium: 555mg | Potassium: 855mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 2100IU | Vitamin C: 50.1mg | Calcium: 112mg | Iron: 3.9mg
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Hi, my name is Debbie, Author and Photographer at The Mountain Kitchen, a blog that shares delicious homemade recipes using clean food ingredients, and stories about mountain life.
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16 thoughts on “Applewood Smoked Pork Carnitas with Spicy Cabbage Slaw”

  • 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!! 🙂

  • 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…

  • Made it!
    YES, Most excellent!!! And I am very very picky.
    Amazing flavor and reminds me of our local street carnitas in Dallas Tx.
    I used soaked apple wood in my Southern Pride DH-65 smoker.

    Deviation from written:
    I pureed the remainder of the marinade in a blender then put all of it including the captured drippings back in the shredded pork as the pork will only absorb what it wants and the rest will drip off. It also will then stay moist in a chafing dish.

    This reheats very well in the oven as long as you put the reclaimed fat back in the pork. Fat is where it’s at. It’s the fat that keeps the pork from drying out not water. If you use only water the pork will taste and feel dry when you eat it.
    Didn’t reclaim the fat? Don’t fret, preferably use pork lard. If you cannot get that then use regular lard.

    Next time I’m going for 200F to 210F to get the pork easier to shred and remove from the bone.
    Personally I did not enjoy the slaw on the pork and served a basic fresh and bright pico de gallo with it on both style tortillas.
    Use only a small amount of pico, slaw, or salsa to augment the awesome flavor of the pork.
    We ate the slaw on the side as it too is flavorful and has a nice kick.

    • Hi Chef Charles!
      Thank you so much for the feedback. I love that you captured the drippings and put them back in the shredded pork. I also like how you let the pork speak for itself without overpowering it with the veggies. I’m glad you found something good to eat and are already planning on making it again. Awesome!

      Kind regards,
      Debbie Spivey

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