Yucatan pork is a citrus braised pork shoulder, making it tender and flavorful. Make this Mexican recipe for delicious cochinita pibil!
I love a well seasoned, slow cooked pork dish. In researching different Mexican recipes, I kept reading about Cochinita Pibil. I had never heard of this one before, but apparently it is a Yucatan staple, hence its other name, Yucatan pork.
Let me say, this recipe is always a hit and one of my all-time favorites. The flavors will blow you away!
Now I’m familiar with some northern Mexican pork dishes such as carnitas and al pastor for sure, and I make them all the time. But not this one, which usually inspires me to dig deeper to learn the history behind it.
Plus, the fact that it can be traced back to the Mayans makes it all the more fun for me. The meat is marinated with citrus juices and achiote paste, creating a mix of sweet, tangy, and earthy flavors.
The Spanish word cochinita means “baby pig”, while the Mayan word pibil translates in English to “buried underground”. This is because traditionally, the pork was cooked for hours in an underground barbecue pit, until the meat was tender.
These days, the same delicious texture can be achieved using modern-day appliances like an oven, slow cooker, or an Instant Pot.
2 Cooking Methods
There are instructions below for making this delicious Yucatan dish on a stove top, as well as in a slow cooker/crock pot. So, use the method that works better for you.
Using a crock pot / slow cooker is a great option when you don’t want to have your oven on for most of the day.
Video: Making Yucatan Pork
While the process of making cochinita pibil does take a good amount of time, the flavor is worth the extra work. A slow braise is the key to the best flavor and juiciness of the braised pork shoulder.
As a result, you end up with tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat.
To see the process of making the dish from start to finish, watch the recipe video located in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
Pork shoulder – You can use either boneless or bone-in meat, but boneless is definitely easier to work with. When you’re shopping for it at the store, pork shoulder is rectangular in shape and may be labeled pork butt or Boston butt.
Chili powder – I like to use my homemade chili seasoning. If you’re using a blend from the store, be sure to use one that includes spices like cumin and oregano.
Mexican oregano – The most common oregano is the Mediterranean variety, which is a member of the mint family. Mexican oregano, however, has notes of citrus and licorice and will give you more of an authentic Mexican flavor. Either will work just fine, but the Mexican variety is preferred.
Achiote paste – Often sold in blocks at Mexican markets, achiote a blend of spices made from a base of ground annatto seeds. The flavor is earthy and peppery with a hint of bitterness, and it’s a staple in many Mexican dishes. You could also make your own achiote paste.
Banana leaves – In order to use these leaves, they need to be softened first to make them flexible enough to wrap around the meat. Do this by heating them over a gas flame or under a broiler. If you can’t find them locally, parchment paper is a great substitute.
Cochinita Pibil Recipe Instructions
No matter which way you make the braised pork shoulder, the prep work beforehand is the same.
- Prep the ingredients: First, rub the meat with salt. Toast the spices and garlic, then blend with the rest of the marinade ingredients until you have a smooth puree.
- Wrap the pork and marinate: Add a trivet or foil ring to the bottom of whichever pot you’ll be using. Wrap the meat and marinade in the softened banana leaves and tie with a string. Then, place the pot in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
- Add liquid before cooking: Once marinated, take the pot out of the refrigerator and let it warm up on the counter for about 15 minutes. This is so it doesn’t shatter when heated. Next, add water around the outside of the pot so it surrounds the wrapped pork.
Oven Braised Pork Shoulder
Bake for about 4 ½ hours at 300 degrees F. For larger cuts of meat, add up to an extra hour of cooking. The meat is done when it pulls apart easily with a fork.
Slow Cooker / Crockpot Method
Place the pot inside the slow cooker and cook on Low for 8 hours or until the meat is falling apart. Larger cuts of meat may take up to 10 hours to fully cook.
- Storage – Store any leftover braised pulled pork in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Or, freeze for up to 3 months. Allow the meat to thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
- Reheating – Heat the pork with its juices in the microwave, or in a pan on the stove top until it warms through.
NOTE: For food safety purposes, when heating leftovers, be sure that the internal temperature of the pork reaches 165 F.
Other Ways to Use Yucatan Pork
While the flavors are different than a typical pulled pork recipe, the tender braised meat can be used in many of the same ways, such as:
- In flautas and enchiladas
- Served over cilantro rice
- On nachos
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- In stuffed green peppers
Other Pork Recipes to Make
For more classic flavors, you can’t beat my Smoked Pulled Pork Barbecue recipe. Or, try one of these other spice and flavor variations:
This post, first published on Kevin Is Cooking in September 2013, was last updated with new content inn August 2020.
Yucatan Pork (Cochinita Pibil) + Video
- 4 lbs pork shoulder (boneless preferred)
- 4 tsp salt (See Note 1)
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tbsp chile powder
- 1 tsp whole allspice
- 4 whole cloves
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder (or 1/2 cinnamon stick)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp Mexican oregano
- 2 oz achiote paste
- 1 orange juiced (1/2 cup juice)
- 1 lime juiced (1/4 cup juice)
- 2 banana leaves wiped clean (See Note 2)
- 16 tortillas
- beans of choice
- 4 limes quartered
- pickled onions
- cilantro chopped
- Rub salt on all sides of the pork and set it aside.
- In a dry skillet over medium heat, add cumin, peppercorns, allspice, cloves and cinnamon stick. Toast for a minute or two until you can smell the cumin and pepper. Grind the toasted spices (I use a spice grinder or coffee grinder) to a powder.
- In the same skillet, toast the garlic cloves until they’re charred all over, then add to a blender or food processor.
- Transfer the toasted ground spices to the blender or food processor with the chile powder, oregano, achiote paste, citrus juices. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Place a trivet or a ring of scrunched up aluminum foil in bottom of Dutch oven or cooking pot. Cut 2 pieces of kitchen twine or string twice the width of your pot. Lay them across the pot in a (+) orientation, like you’re gifting wrapping a box.
- Next, place two banana leaves in the pot, in a (+) orientation, like you’re gift wrapping a box. Pour some of the marinade on the top of the banana leaves (center of pot), put the pork on top center. Pour the remaining marinade over the entire pork and carefully fold the banana leaves up and across the pork, like wrapping paper. Tie the kitchen twine together for a complete sealed package. Set the entire pot in the refrigerator for 4 hours minimum or overnight.
- Take pot from refrigerator and set on counter for 15 minutes. Meanwhile preheat oven to 300°F. Pour a 1/2 cup of water into the Dutch oven or pot and cover with lid. Bake for 4 1/2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and pulls easily with a fork. For a 6 lb pork shoulder I have cooked for 5 1/2 hours.
Slow Cooker Method
- Place a trivet or a ring of scrunched up aluminum foil in bottom of slow cooker. Cut 2 pieces of kitchen twine or string twice the length of your pot. Lay them across the pot in a (+) orientation, like you’re gifting wrapping a box.
- Next, place two banana leaves in the slow cooker, in a (+) orientation, like you’re gift wrapping a box. Pour some of the marinade on the top of the banana leaves (center of pot), put the pork on top center. Pour the remaining marinade over the entire pork and carefully fold the banana leaves up and across the pork, like wrapping paper. Tie the kitchen twine together for a complete sealed package. Set the entire pot in the refrigerator for 4 hours minimum or overnight.
- Take pot from refrigerator and set on counter for 15 minutes. Pour a 1/2 cup of water into the slow cooker and cover with lid. Cook on Low for 8 hours, or until the meat is very tender and pulls easily with a fork.
- While the meat is still warm, carefully transfer the parcel to a serving dish. Use tongs or forks, shred the meat and spoon the cooking juices over meat. Serve with warmed tortillas, beans, pickled onions, cilantro and limes.
- I use kosher salt, typically 1 tsp per pound of pork.
- Before wrapping the meat in the banana leaves, you must heat the banana leaves, either over a gas flame or under the broiler, until they soften. You can do this gently, just until the leaves are flexible. You can easily freeze any extra for another use, too. Look in the frozen food section of a local Mexican or Asian store. A substitute for the banana leaves can be parchment paper.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.