Succulent Spiced Turkey Carnitas Recipe

As you probably know, I love pork in all it’s forms. Bacon, ribs, sausage, loin roast, chops, and especially carnitas. Carnitas are made from pork shoulder, also known as pork butt, which is a meaty and fatty cut of pork. Carnitas are cooked in large quantities of lard, almost poached in the fat. This make them tender and juicy on the inside, with a crispy outside. But an easier way to do them is to braise the pork until tender, shred the meat, then roast it in the oven until the pork gets crispy. So good.

But, all I had was a turkey thigh and big ideas. Turkey thighs are also a meaty and (slightly) fatty cut of meat, so why couldn’t I make carnitas out of a turkey thigh? The key would be the spices I used, not just on the meat but also in the braising liquid. Off I marched to my pantry, were I looked through all my chile powders. You can’t grow up in California and not have a varied selection of chile powders on hand at all times. I decided to go with ground ancho and chipotle chile for the spice rub. Both are available everywhere now, and the flavors have found their way onto the American palate. I grabbed some chicken broth, and then knocked over a jar of cinnamon sticks. The light bulb above my head lit up, and so I grabbed the cinnamon sticks too. Spicy, sweet, savory…oh yeah.

Spice rubbed turkey thigh, cinnamon, cumin and chile powder
Spice rubbed turkey thigh, cinnamon, cumin and chile powder

Succulent Spiced Turkey Carnitas

1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground ancho chile
1/4 tsp ground chipotle chile
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 lb turkey thigh
2 TB olive oil
1 qt low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp oregano, preferably Mexican
1 cinnamon stick
zest of 1/2 medium orange

In a small bowl mix salt, ancho chile, chipotle chile and cumin. Rub spice mixture onto turkey thigh, refrigerate and let marinate at least six hours to overnight.

The orange zest does not need to be fine. I peeled half an orange, then scraped the white pith from the inside. You’ll have three or four large pieces.

Peeling zest from the orange
Peeling zest from the orange

When ready to make the carnitas, heat the oil in a large, deep pan. Brown the turkey thigh well, as the carmelization adds to the final flavor of the dish.

Good carmelization on the turkey thigh
Good carmelization on the turkey thigh

Add the chicken broth, oregano, cinnamon stick and orange zest. Bring this to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Turn the meat once or twice while braising for even cooking. The thigh will take about 1 1/2 hours for the meat to become very tender. Remove the meat from the broth and place onto a cutting board. Remove the skin and discard. Using two forks, shred the meat into small pieces.

Shredding cooked turkey carnitas meat
Shredding cooked turkey carnitas meat

Place the shredded meat back into the broth to keep it moist. Because I am using turkey I decided to eliminate the roasting step to crisp up the meat, because I did not want the meat to dry out.

Toast some corn tortillas on the stove by placing them directly on the open flame of a burner. Using tongs, move the tortilla over the flame, turning often, until softened and slightly charred.

Place a little of the turkey carnitas into your tortilla and top with salsa verde, pica de gallo, or whatever you like on your carnitas. I had some fresh arugula leaves, and put them on my carnitas along with some salsa. Delicious!

Turkey carnitas in corn tortillas
Turkey carnitas in corn tortillas

I neglected to get a picture of the turkey carnitas with the arugula because my family ate them so quickly!

Cheryl D Lee on Foodista

9 thoughts on “Succulent Spiced Turkey Carnitas Recipe”

  1. Just made this for the 3rd time today. (I originally came searching for a recipe after finding some okay Turkey Carnitas at Sprouts. It had several chemical ingredients so I went looking for homemade version.) I just had to come back and tell you it’s awesome. That hint of orange is really special. It’s so moist and flavor-packed. Thanks again. You are genius with the spices.

  2. I live in Fremont Calif and have family in South Cental Los Angeles, that we visit 4- times a year. I had my first taste of Turkey Carnitas from the Superior Market which has a large selection of Mexican products and fresh bakery in addition to American products. Their turkey carnitas taste every bit as good as pork carnitas. I just had to make that comment. Regarding your recipe, did you cook the turkey in a sauce pan on the stove top burner or cook it the oven. If in the oven, at what temperature? When I return home tomorrow I’m heading to my local market to get me a couple turkey thighs and trying your recipe.

  3. I was privileged to taste these wonderful tacos. I would recommend these to any and all of your guests. They were great. Keep up the good work, you have shared some fabulous menus.

  4. This looks fabulous! I will try this one for sure… bet they taste better than they look. Thanks!

  5. Can I just say I had the chance to sample this recipe first hand, and was it yummy. The orange zest and cinnamon add depth and texture to the other spices, and also brings out the flavor of the turkey, which can sometimes be bland (not Cheryl’s turkey, mind you — just turkey in general). I also added the arugula to mine, and that gave the dish an extra peppery kick. Mmmmmmmm! Was that a tasty taco. Just writing about it makes me want another one.

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