It’s time to talk toppings on a fan-favorite traditional Mexican dish: carnitas. Tender pork is cooked with spices over low heat, resulting in juicy, savory, and irresistibly flavorful morsels of pure joy.
But while the deep, savory, and complex flavors of carnitas are constantly praised, it’s just as important to remember how to top it off. Adding (the right) toppings will take the carnitas experience to the next level. After all, who doesn’t love a bit of variety?
Here, you’ll get the inside scoop on all the different types of toppings, tips on selecting the right combination, and thoughts on various flavor combinations. Let’s dive in and find out what toppings go on carnitas to create the ultimate Mexican experience!
What are carnitas?
Carnitas, which is Spanish for ‘little meats,’ is a Mexican pork dish that’s sure to have your taste buds singing!
Making carnitas is simple and requires just a few ingredients: pork (typically shoulder or butt), seasonings, and lard (or oil). To give carnitas its signature melt-in-your-mouth texture, the meat is cooked for hours until it’s ultra-tender, then finished off with a roast for a bit of a crisp.
Since the meat in itself is quite basic, it’s an incredibly versatile dish. There are so many ways you can use it: You can enjoy carnitas by the fork-full, enjoy with salsa in a bowl, on a plate of nachos, or use it as a filling for tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. There are also fun fusion spins such as mac and cheese with carnitas and loaded fries topped with meat.
Carnitas are very easy to make and can easily feed a crowd, so it’s a dish many people use for parties, special occasions, and other gatherings.
But the key to making amazing carnitas lies in the toppings. This guide explores different types of toppings, tips for selecting the right ones, thoughts on various flavor combinations, and the benefits of each topping. No better time than the present to dive in!
Note: Because there’s sometimes confusion around this, it’s important to note that the term “carnitas” often refers to the meat and can also be used as a descriptor for other dishes (ex: carnitas tacos).
What Toppings Go On Carnitas?
How you plan to use carnitas will determine which toppings will work. The good news is there are tons of options! Many carnitas tacos toppings can complement the savory and complex flavors of this meat.
When in doubt, start with the basics:
- Fresh cilantro
- Diced onion
- Sweet peppers
- Green onions
- Fresh tomatillos
- Shredded lettuce
- Homemade salsa
- Crumbled or shredded cheese – Cotija, queso fresco, or Monterrey jack are great options
- A hearty dollop of Mexican crema (or sour cream)
Not only are these toppings incredibly flavorful, but they also provide a contrast of texture and flavor to your carnitas tacos.
Carnitas tacos toppings: creative twists
Delicious pork carnitas make Taco Tuesday (or any meal) so much better! Those staple toppings are good ol’ standbys for a reason, but don’t let that stop you from getting creative with your toppings.
Try adding more unique elements if you want to get a bit more adventurous in the topping department. Here are a few ideas that bring a fresh and exciting spin to your ordinary carnitas toppings.
Pico de gallo
Are you looking for something to spice up your Mexican dishes? Look no further than tangy pico de gallo! This delicious concoction of tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, cilantro, and lime juice is the perfect way to liven up any plate. Plus, it’s super easy to make!
Whether you’re topping your carnitas, adding it to your rice, or scooping it up with chips, it’s sure to bring the party to your dinner table.
Mexican street corn
Why settle for regular corn when you can take your carnitas to the next level with Mexican street corn? Also known as elote, this dish is sure to tantalize your taste buds with its combination of Cotija cheese, creamy mayo, jalapenos, garlic, lime juice, and herbs like cilantro. So why not give your meal a Mexican twist and make your carnitas truly unforgettable?
In Mexican cuisine, beans are a hearty staple served with almost every meal. You can go for black beans or pinto beans that are slowly simmered with aromatic onions, garlic, and green chilis. Or you can serve up refried beans that burst with flavor. Why not serve them all if you’re having a large taco gathering?
Put some serious zing on your Mexican night with a pepper salad! Fresh cilantro, bell peppers, and a honey lemon dressing will give your tacos the perfect tang. Or substitute the bell peppers for something hotter if you want to feel the burn. You could use jalapenos, habaneros, or any other spicy pepper you love.
If it’s pepper roasting season, some fresh-roasted chili peppers could be just the flavor you crave.
Whether you like it hot or mild, you’ll be sure to enjoy the flavor it adds to your carnitas tacos. Just remember – a little goes a long way, so don’t go overboard!
Add a little crunch and pizzazz to your carnitas with some fresh veggies on top! Spice things up with some sliced jalapenos or habaneros, or cool it down with some shredded cabbage. If you’re feeling fancy, why not try diced radishes? You can even mix and match veggies to create your own custom crunch-fest.
And if you’re hosting a party, why not offer a veggie topping bar? Your guests will love being able to customize their carnitas and make them extra special.
If you want a little charred twist on fresh veggies, fire up the grill and get ready for some veggie deliciousness. Marinate your favorite veggies in cilantro lime dressing (or chipotle sauce if you’re feeling adventurous), and let the grilling begin.
From corn to eggplant, mushrooms to onions, and even grilled avocados for added creamy decadence, you can’t go wrong with this flavor-packed combo. So grab your tongs and add a little char to your veggies!
Pickling jalapeños, give them a tart makeover! Say bye-bye to their fresh, earthy flavor and get ready to experience the intense vinegary acidity.
But don’t worry. The vinegar tones down the spiciness, too. In fact, if you taste the pickling liquid, you’ll find it as spicy as the pepper itself – the vinegar absorbs the heat, making the peppers less fiery.
So, if you’re looking for a delightful vinegary tang to add to your carnitas, why not try Mexican pickled carrots (pickled with jalapenos or separately), pickled onions, and pickled radishes? Yum!
Take your carnitas tacos to the next level with a topping of crispy chorizo. Who knew such a delicious combination could exist? Get ready to have your taste buds blown away – it’s a flavor explosion you won’t want to miss.
Give your carnitas a fruity twist! Spice up your savory with some fresh pineapple, mango, or peach – it’s the perfect way to balance out the flavors.
And if you’re looking for something extra special, why not try topping your carnitas with pineapple mango salsa? It’s sweet, a little zesty, and guaranteed to make your taste buds dance with delight!
Carnitas without sauce? No list of toppings to go on carnitas is complete without sauces. Spice up your life with a few drops of sriracha or chipotle for a kick of heat, or cool things down with crema, jalapeno ranch, or cilantro-lime mayo.
A few drops are all you need to make your carnitas sizzle with flavor. So don’t be shy, and let those Mexican flavors shine.
Get wild with it – salsa, guac, veggies, you name it! There are endless possibilities for carnitas tacos toppings.
Tips for selecting the right toppings for carnitas
Going overboard is common when selecting toppings for your carnitas dish, but try to keep in mind that less is more. To maintain the flavor of the carnitas, avoid using more than three or four different toppings.
When thinking about the right toppings to use, remember that the carnitas are already incredibly flavorful, so opt for toppings with either acidic or fresh profiles. This will counterbalance the umami and savory nature of the pork.
When selecting your toppings, think of the flavors you’re going for. If you love spicy flavors, opt for chorizo and pickled jalapenos. On the other hand, if you prefer more mild flavors, go with fresh cilantro and green onions. Once you know the type of flavor you’re looking for, it will be easier to decide which toppings to choose for your carnitas.
Depending on your preference, you can mix and match various toppings to create the perfect topping combination.
If serving a crowd, create a carnitas bar by offering the meat with various tortillas and tortilla chip options. Then provide a wide variety of these toppings ideas so that everyone can pick (and enjoy) the toppings that appeal to them.
Carnitas tacos toppings: various flavor combinations
The best part about carnitas is that you can truly tailor each bite to your taste preferences.
Looking for an adventurous combination? Try topping your carnitas with jalapenos and Cotija cheese to create the perfect crunchy texture and well-balanced mix of spicy and salty flavors.
Or perhaps earthy flavors such as black beans, tomatoes, and cilantro with a punch of spice from chorizo and pickled jalapenos are more to your liking.
Want something more classic? Combine carnitas with a side of lime wedges, sliced onions, and fresh cilantro.
If you want to blend sweet and savory, top your carnitas with fresh pineapple, diced onions, and Mexican crema.
The good news is that it will be delicious no matter which combination you choose. And with so many options, there truly is something for everyone!
Here are a couple of questions readers frequently ask about carnitas and taco toppings.
What is the difference between pulled pork and carnitas?
Carnitas and pulled pork are like two peas in a pod – both are slowly cooked for hours and are great to make in the slow cooker or instant pot.
But don’t be fooled by the similarities. Carnitas have a few extra steps that make them stand out from the crowd. They get a nice finishing touch by roasting in the oven until they’re golden and crispy on the outside but oh-so-tender on the inside.
What sauce goes on carnitas?
Carnitas are a blank canvas, just waiting for you to unleash your inner Picasso of sauces! You could use a classic red chile sauce or get creative with cilantro lime sauce, salsa verde, or even mango salsa. No matter your taste, you’ll be sure to find something to satisfy your cravings!
What is the difference between tacos pastor and carnitas?
Although both carnitas and al pastor use pork, they are prepared differently. Carnitas are braised in liquid and/or fat, while al pastor is marinated and grilled with pineapple.
As is true with many dishes, topping off carnitas with a variety of flavorful ingredients can make an ordinary dish more complex and memorable. Selecting the right toppings comes down to choosing great ingredients to maintain the carnitas flavor and including a range of flavors that cater to individual preferences.
By following the many tips here, you can tailor each bite to the palette while taking advantage of the unique benefits of each topping. So, get creative, find the right carnitas tacos toppings combination, and enjoy the perfect finish to your next delicious meal. Bon Appétit (or buen provecho)!