Puerto Rican Pork Shoulder (Pernil) -Getting the Most Out of Your Meat

Hello Lovelies,

As always, I’ve been cooking my fool head off!  One meal we cook often is Pernil.  My family loves Pernil and it is so easy to make especially since I didn’t grow up with this type of cuisine. For those who aren’t aware, my darling babydoll is Puerto Rican. It is a marinated pork shoulder that is slow roasted in its own juices and is commonly made during Christmas time.  It is traditionally served with a side of arroz con gondules which is rice with pigeon peas. The pork shoulder is used as a whole piece, with the skin and the bone. Now recipes will differ per family and by region in Puerto Rico. Every grandma and mother has their own way of making it and is the kind of recipe that sets them apart.  Try asking for their recipe and you will find they will take it to the grave. I adapted this recipe for my families tastes but the basic concept is very much the same.

You will need:

  • 8-12lbs of Pork Shoulder
  • 2 Packets of Sazon or 2-3 tsps of homemade Sazon (recipe below or store bought)
  • Sofrito to taste (recipe here or store bought)
  • Fresh whole garlic peeled
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (to wash the pork)

The pork shoulder will come with a thick layer of fat on one side that offers “the best” flavor.  Puerto Ricans use every part of their meat which in this case includes the fat. This fat after the Pernil is done, is a form of chicharron or crispy pork skin that is popular among the Spanish and Latin Americas. Once the meat is cooked, it can be used a major component in a lot of Spanish cooking in things like empanadas, tacos, breakfast burritos, and pressed Cuban sandwiches. 

Rinse the pork shoulder with cold water.  Splash apple cider vinegar all over the meat to cleanse and kill any surface bacteria. Dry the meat thoroughly so the seasonings will stick. Cut the thick layer of fat separating it from the actual meat being careful to leave one side attached.  This flap of fat will turn into chicharron.

Stab the meat (not the fat) with a sharp knife to enable the Sazon and Sofrito to penetrate.  This is a fantastic step if you have had a hard day! Stab away! In these holes, put whole cloves of garlic.  

Rub on Sofrito to taste.  If you love strong flavors of cilantro and garlic simply add more.  Next, rub 2 envelopes of Sazon or make the recipe below and use 2-3 tsps. Massage the meat, getting in all of the nooks and crannies and put in a large baking pan.

You can use a disposable aluminum pan or a large roasting pan.  It will generate its own juices so there is no need to add additional liquid.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate for two days. There is a lot of meat to penetrate, so marinating for two days will give the most flavor.

Bake at 350 degrees on a lower rack for 3 hours covered and 3 hours uncovered. You can gauge cooking time after this point depending on the size of the pork shoulder.  If you want crispy skin, it may or may not need a few extra minutes to make it really crispy.  You will know when the Pernil is properly cooked if the meat falls from the bone without effort.  It will shred.

Homemade Sazon Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp ground annatto seeds (a.k.a. achiote seeds) or turmeric
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp kosher or sea salt
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

If you love Spanish flavors, you cannot go wrong with this seasoning blend.  They do sell Sazon in the store, but this homemade version is free of preservatives and added ingredients.  Add exact measurements or heaping spoonfuls and I do, it depends on your taste.  Mix completely in a mason jar.

Bottom Line:

This Pernil costs less than $20 and will feed about 8 people or more depending on the size. It will last you for several different dishes. The ingredients were all things we normally keep on hand.  If you don’t have some of the ingredients, find those plastic envelopes of spices that you can find in the Spanish aisle hanging on the shelf.  The envelopes are much cheaper than buying a whole container in the normal spice section. They normally are around a dollar per plastic envelope.

Our Pernil was 11.62lbs and gave us

  • Chicharron (snacking)
  • 9 pints of stock (the bone simmered with onion, carrots, and garlic)
  • 2 full portions for dinner
  • 3 medium tupperware container fulls of meat (to make tacos, empanadas, sandwiches, burritos, and other future meals)
  • 3 cups of pan juice which was strained from the oils/liquid fat. You can use this to make gravy or use as broth.
  • 1 cup oil/liquid fat to flavor dishes like rice

Happy Cooking!


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