A few years ago, a Texas reader asked me for a carnitas recipe. I shared mine and she said that while they looked good, she was looking for one that used Coca-Cola and milk instead. She explained that she’d had them that way at a local restaurant and they were outstanding. With good intentions, I told her I’d look into it. But I became busy with other projects and sadly forgot about helping her find a recipe as well as the place where she had eaten them.
As is my tradition, each year I like to honor the teams that are playing in the Super Bowl with a timely and fun dish. Since the game is in Houston this year, I figured if I didn’t like either of the teams playing, I would celebrate my hometown. Then the Atlanta Falcons secured a slot in the game. Ordinarily, I’m not a Falcons fan but they did beat Green Bay, a team I was annoyed with since they narrowly edged out the Cowboys. Plus, the Falcons are from the South and I also have a few friends who live there, so deciding to cheer for them was an easy decision.
Now, when I think of Atlanta cuisine, two things immediately come to mind—peaches and Coca-Cola. While peaches are best served in the summer when they’re in season, there are lots of fun things you can do with Coca-Cola any time of year. And while I was pondering recipes, I remembered that carnitas request from long ago. A quick search lead me to a book called Houston Classic Mexican Recipes, which included a Coca-Cola carnitas attributed to Santos—The Taste of Mexico, which is no longer open. While I had no idea if it was the same restaurant that woman had hers, I figured it would be a good starting point in coming up with my own.
The book’s recipe called for Coke, of course. It didn’t specify Mexican Coke, but using this cane sugar version of the drink seemed like a good idea. I kept the cinnamon and milk, but swapped fresh garlic for powder and ground allspice for clove. To brighten it up, I also splashed in freshly squeezed orange juice and lime juice, and threw in some chipotle chile powder for heat and smoke.
When it came to cooking the carnitas, the book had you stirring and adding ingredients throughout the process, but I prefer my tried-and-true method, which requires little interaction. So, I threw everything into the pot at the beginning, placed it at a low simmer, and then walked away for a couple of hours. After the meat was tender, I turned up the heat to reduce the liquid, and after a few stirs, I had crisp, succulent bites of pork.
If you’re a fan of my other carnitas recipe, you may be wondering how these are different. Well, there is a more pronounced sweetness, from the Coca-Cola but also from the addition of warm spices such as cinnamon and allspice. Though that sweetness paired with the smokiness of the chipotle gives these carnitas a slight hint of bacon, which is never a bad thing at all.
These are a rich dish, which makes them perfect for winter. They’re also versatile, as you can throw them on top of nachos, spoon them into queso, or nestle them into tortillas along with guacamole and sour cream for excellent tacos. No matter how you enjoy them, however, everyone wins.
Coca-Cola braised carnitas
- 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch ground allspice
- 5 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup Mexican Coca-Cola
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- Warm tortillas, for serving
- Guacamole, for serving
- Sour cream, for serving
Place the pork in a Dutch oven, then season with the salt and pepper. Pour in the Mexican Coca-Cola, orange juice, milk, and lime juice then stir in the chipotle chile powder, cinnamon, allspice, garlic and bay leaf. Add enough water to the pot to just reach the top of the pork, then turn the heat up to high and bring the pot to a boil.
Once the pot is at a boil, turn the heat down to low and then simmer uncovered without stirring for about two hours or until the pork is tender. At this time, turn the heat up to medium and then while occasionally stirring, cook until most of the liquid has reduced, most of the fat has rendered, and the pork has browned, about 30-45 minutes.
Remove from the pot and serve warm with tortillas, guacamole, and sour cream.