Carnitas in a plate with celery and lime wedges
What Is Carnitas And How Is It Different From Barbacoa?
It’s hard to resist melt-in-your-mouth pork, and Mexican carnitas are no exception. Carnitas are similar to other taco meats like barbacoa, but they're also their own unique dish.
Carnitas start with a large cut of pork with a substantial fat content, which is slow-cooked in a Mexican-style lard called Manteca, though some cooks use vegetable oil.
Aromatics like garlic, onion, bay leaves, oregano, and orange are the big players in carnitas' flavor, while spices like cloves, cinnamon, cumin, and chili powder round it out.
Carnitas, like barbacoa, are most often used as a filling for tacos, but also make a popular addition to sandwiches, quesadillas, enchiladas, empanadas, and rice bowls.
Barbacoa is made with beef, which makes it quite different from carnitas. Barbacoa is also cooked using a fire-based steaming method, rather than cooking in fat.
Barbacoa is seasoned similarly to carnitas, but often uses vinegar. It's most often associated with Central Mexico, while carnitas from Michoacan are particularly popular.
Still, both of these meats are popular throughout Mexico, often prepared in large quantities for sharing. To tell them apart, know that carnitas are a lighter color than barbacoa.