Learn how to make Pernil, a traditional Puerto Rican roasted pork leg or shoulder marinated with adobo seasoning, garlic, and lots of fresh oregano.
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Pernil is one of the most popular pork dishes in Puerto Rico, with variations found in the Dominican Republic and Cuba as well.
The ingredient list for this dish is quite simple. Here's what you'll need to make it:
- oil (can be olive, vegetable, canola, etc.)
- fresh oregano
- adobo seasoning
- pork leg or shoulder
- freshly squeezed orange juice or water
See recipe card for quantities.
Prepping the Pernil
Make the spice rub. Combine oil, garlic, oregano, adobo seasoning, and salt in a mortar & pestle or food processor and mash/pulse until a consistent paste forms. It should be a thick with chunks of small chunks of garlic.
Prep the pork. Start by scoring the thick piece of fat on top of the pork with a sharp knife. Next, insert the knife through the fat and several inches deep into the flesh. Repeat this about 15 times throughout the surface of the piece of meat.
Tip: When scoring the fat, be careful to not cut all the way through, so that it stays intact as one large piece.
Roasting the Pork Shoulder
Marinate the pork. With the pork in a baking dish, rub the marinade all around, making sure to push it into the deep cuts made earlier. Add orange juice or water to the base of the baking dish, cover the baking dish with foil and marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight (the longer the better).
Did you know? Making deep cuts into the flesh of the pork allows the marinade to infuse deep into the meat, creating maximum flavor.
Roast the Pernil. Make sure to bring the pork to room temperature before preheating your oven to 300 degrees. Roast the pork shoulder, covered with aluminum foil for 2 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Crisp the skin. At this point, raise the temperature of the oven to 450 and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven, uncovered for 1 hour or until the fat becomes crispy and the pork inside is fork tender.
Let it rest. Remove from the oven, transfer to a wooden cutting board, wrap with foil and allow the Pernil to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
There are many different ways to prep and marinate the pork depending on the household or restaurant you visit.
Here are are some variations you can try:
- Citrus - adding orange juice or water to the roasting pan helps prevent the meat from drying out while roasting. Many Puerto Ricans will use a blend of citrus (like orange and lime juice) not only in the roasting pan but also in the marinade.
- Seasonings - I kept my recipe more traditional only using adobo seasoning, but many people will add different spices to their marinade like sazon, dried oregano and even paprika for color.
- Fresh herbs - it's also not uncommon to see different blends of herbs in the marinade like parsley and cilantro.
Pernil vs. Carnitas vs. Pulled Pork
You may be wondering how Pernil is different from Carnitas or even pulled pork.
While the dishes typically all use the same cut of meat (pork leg or shoulder), the separation is in how they are marinated, seasoned, and prepared.
While pulled pork has origins in Mexico and the United States, it's sometimes seared before roasted, and typically has a BBQ inspired seasoning blend.
Carnitas, on the other hand, have similar seasonings and are also cooked similarly, making them a closer relative to Pernil.
Puerto Rican Pernil is famous for that perfectly seasoned, crispy piece of fat on top of the super tender pork roast.
Here are the tools you'll need to make Pernil:
Slice up your Pernil and store in an air tight container in the fridge.
This stuff makes the BEST leftovers with some rice and beans, in a sandwich, or as is for a quick snack.