Updated: 9/28/2023 | The Best Pernil Recipe
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What Is Pernil?
Pernil is a common Puerto Rican meat dish that consists of slow cooked pork shoulder (or pork butt/leg), with crispy skin on top. The pork shoulder is marinated overnight in a sofrito blend and then slow-roasted with the skin, fat, and bone still intact. The meat is then roasted into oblivion until you can pull the meat apart with a fork. It takes at least 5-6 hours to make pernil.
The cuerito (crispy pig skin and fat on top of the pork shoulder) is the best part of the dish. Pernil is typically served shredded, but we like to pull off chunks with our fork and serve it on a taco shell, rice plate, or even salad.
Traditionally, pernil is served with arroz con gandules, a Puerto Rican rice dish cuisine. But we like to eat it in many other ways.
Pernil is a traditional holiday dish in many Latin cultures and each culture has a slightly different preparation for this popular dish. This recipe is for a Puerto Rican-style pernil, which we became obsessed with when the restaurant Addo by Chef Eric Rivera existed in Seattle, Washington.
You can also find variations of pernil from the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
What To Serve With Pernil?
There are a ton of great side dishes you can serve with Pernil, here are a few of our favorites:
- Rice Or Rice And Beans: More specifically, arroz con gandules (Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas) is the most traditional pairing with pernil. You can also eat this with plain steamed white rice. We like to accessorize our rice plates with diced tomatoes, leaf lettuce, and slices of avocado.
- Plantains: Both tostones (savory fried plantains served with mayo ketchup dip) and maduros (sweet fried plantains) go wonderfully with Pernil. We always make both for our holiday meals. We usually serve the Tostones as an appetizer and the Maduros with our meal.
- Taco Shells: We love making tacos from our tasty pernil meat. Top it with some coleslaw mix (not dressed), avocado, tomatoes, and cheese for a delicious meal.
- Salad: Pernil is a perfect way to add protein to any salad. Use the pernil drippings to add more flavor to your salad.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make Pernil:
- Pork Shoulder: I like to use a pork shoulder/butt without the skin and fat cap. You can opt for a bone-in or piece without bone. Either way, it tastes great because of the marinade. We do recommend getting a piece with a lot of fat and skin on so that you can crisp it in the end. Grocery stores in the US may call the pork shoulder a “Picnic Pork Roast” on the label, so keep that in mind.
- Garlic Cloves: You want to use lots of fresh peeled garlic cloves. We use anywhere between 10-14 pieces depending on the size of the pork butt/shoulder.
- Green Bell Pepper: The taste of the bell pepper makes the pork roast super fragrant. You’ll need half of a bell pepper without the stem and seeds.
- Large White Onion: Use half a yellow or white onion.
- Fresh Cilantro or Oregano: Traditionally, oregano is used, but it may be hard to find in grocery stores. We love using cilantro becuase it’s fragrant and is easy to find. You can add some dry oregano into the marinade.
- Seasonings: Salt, black pepper, cumin, paprika, Sazon Con Azafrán, and Adobo All Purpose Seasoning. We like to use the Goya brand but you can honestly use any brand or make your own seasoning blends.
- Olive Oil: Use sparingly to provide some lubrication to the marinade.
- Lemon and Lime Juice: You’ll need at least the juice of 2-3 limes and lemons to add to the marinade. Some recipes call for the juice of oranges, but we’ve found that lemon and lime juice is enough.
How To Make Pernil Recipe
Below we’ve broken down the process of prepping and cooking pernil into quick and easy steps. Most of the time the pork will be in the fridge marinating or slow roasting in the oven.
- Prepare the marinade. Combine the garlic cloves, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the seasonings to the food processor and process one more time. Add some oil or water if the marinade is too chunky. You want it to have a smoothie consistency. Pour the marinade into a separate bowl and prepare the meat. Add 3/4 cup of water to the food processor and stir it around the collect any extra marinade. You will use this water later during the roasting process.
- Prepare the meat. Place the meat in a large pan and slice four lines across the top of the meat, then slice four more perpendicular slices to create a checkerboard pattern. Flip the meat over and repeat the same cuts. This creates crevices for the marinade to enter and do its job.
- Add Marinade: Cover half of the meat with marinade and massage the marinade into the meat and every crevice. Flip it over and do it to the other side. If you’re using the fat cap, use the rest of the marinade by pouring it all over the fat cap. Rub it generously into the slices of the fat cap, making sure every crevice and surface is covered in marinade.
- Marinate. Cover the meat with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. You can flip it every 6-8 hours, but it’s not really necessary if you pack every crevice with marinade. If you’re in a rush, you can marinate for 3 hours and then cook the dish.
- Preheat. The oven needs to be preheated to 325°F. Remove the marinated pernil pan from the fridge.
- Add liquid. Use the marinade water that we created earlier and pour it into the pan. There should be 1″ of liquid in the pan. You can also use pork/chicken broth. This will help keep the road moisturized during the cooking process.
- Roast. Cover the meat with foil and place the roast in the oven for 3.5-4 hours. Cook on one side for 1.5 hours then flip it around the cook for another 1.5 hours.
- Turn up the heat. Remove the aluminum foil from the pan and turn the heat up to 400°F. Continue roasting the pork for another 30 minutes, or until the skin gets crispy on top.
- Test the Skin: A fun and traditional way to test if the cuerito (pig skin) on your pernil is ready is by knocking on it. If it sounds like somebody is knocking on a door, you know it’s ready! If you opted for no skin on your pernil, skip this step.
- Carve and shred. Allow the meat to cool for 20-30 minutes. They should be super crisp on the outside and tender underneath from the layer of fat cooked on top. Take a knife and fork and start to carve the meat for serving.
- Serve with rice, in tacos, or eat alone. It’s so good! We like to garnish with tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, and lime/lemon wedges.
Tips for the BEST Pernil
- Marinate: It is SO very important to marinate the pork for the full time. It is best if you can let it marinate for 1-2 full days. If you are short on time, make sure you marinate for at least 12 hours at the bare minimum.
- Don’t Skip The Garlic: We love garlic! While most recipes recommend hiding the whole garlic cloves inside the pork, we find that making deeper cuts into the pork and thoroughly massaging the marinade into the pork is what makes it super flavorful.
- Don’t Rush: This pernil will take about 5-6 hours of cooking time including cooling time after cooking (at least 3 hours in the oven). Be patient because this is how you get the meat to fall apart with a fork.
- Refrigerate Leftovers: Pernil is great for eating later. Just put the meat into Tupperware and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Pernil Recipe Video
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- 6 to 8 pound picnic pork roast (shoulder or leg roast with fat cap), cleaned and pat dry
- 12-14 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 green bell pepper, with the seeds removed and chopped
- 1 large white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 packet sazon
- 1 teaspoon adobo powder
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 limes or lemon, juiced
- Orange or lime wedges, for serving
- Add 10-14 cloves of garlic, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, salt, sazon, adobo powder, black pepper, paprika, and cumin to a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Should be the consistency of a smoothie. Set aside.
- Cut the fat cap from the back of the roast, but keep it intact and on the roast. Just fold it over so you can access the meat underneath.
- Place the meat in a large pan and slice four lines across the top of the meat, then slice four more perpendicular slices to create a checkerboard pattern. Flip the meat over and repeat the same cuts. This creates crevices for the marinade to enter and penetrate the meat.
- Cover half of the meat with marinade and massage the marinade into the meat and every crevice. Flip it over and do it to the other side. If you’re using the fat cap, use the rest of the marinade by pouring it all over the fat cap. Rub it generously into the slices of the fat cap, making sure every crevice and surface is covered in marinade.
- Pour the remaining marinade over the fat cap and rub it generously into the slices of the fat cap so that every crevice is covered in the marinade.
- Cover the meat with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. You can flip it every 6-8 hours, but it’s not really necessary if you pack every crevice with marinade.
- When the roast is ready, preheat the oven to 325°F and remove the pan from the fridge.
- Lift up the aluminum foil and pour in the marinade water until there is about 2 inches of liquid in the bottom of your pan. You can also use chicken or beef broth.
- Replace the foil and place the roast in the oven for 3 ½ - 4 hours. Roast on one side for 1.5 hours and then flip and roast on the other side for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- Remove the aluminum foil from the pan and turn the oven heat up to 400°F. Flip the meat onto the fat cap side and continue roasting the pork for another 30 minutes or until the skin gets crispy.
- Remove the roast from the oven and let it cool for 30-40 minutes before carving and shredding. The pork will be super crisp on the outside and tender underneath from the layer of fat.
- Once the meat has been shredded, serve it with rice, in taco shells, with salad, or eat alone. You can use lime and lemon wedges to add more flavor to the meat.
I follow a recipe that most closely resembles a Puerto Rican-style pernil.
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