Pernil is a marinated, slow roasted pork shoulder (or leg) with crispy pork skin and tender, flavorful pork underneath. It is most popular in Latin American countries around Christmas, but is delicious all year long! Serve it with arroz con gandules and watch it disappear!
Puerto Rican Pernil Recipe
When I think of Pernil, one word comes to mind – mouthwatering. I was introduced to Pernil almost 15 years ago when I met my Puerto Rican husband, Jorge. I was immediately in love (with him and the pernil!), and now that I’ve mastered this recipe, it’s hard to think about making anything else for Christmas Eve dinner!
The steps for making Pernil may seem like a lot, but it’s really actually very easy and all worth it in the end! You will never find a more tender, juicy and perfectly flavored Pernil than this recipe. Trust me, this is a dish that will impress everyone at the table!
What Is Pernil?
Pernil is a slow cooked pork shoulder (or pork leg), with crispy skin on top, that is so tender you don’t even need a knife to cut through it. The pork shoulder is marinated overnight and then slow roasted as a whole piece, with the skin (fat) and the bone still intact. The cuerito (crispy pig skin/fat on top of the pork shoulder) is then roasted until so crispy that you can knock on it to see if it’s ready! Pernil is served shredded, not sliced, and is traditionally served with Arroz Con Gandules in Puerto Rican culture.
Pernil is a traditional holiday dish in many latin cultures and each culture has a slightly different preparation. This recipe is for a Puerto Rican style pernil, as my husband, Jorge, is Puerto Rican.
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: But more specifically, Arroz Con Gandules (Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas) is the most traditional pairing with pernil! Or if you prefer, Jorge has also shared his families recipe on how to make perfect Arroz Blanco.
- 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 meal. We usually serve the Tostones as an appetizer and the Maduros with our meal.
- Pasta Salad: Ensalada de Coditos is a Puerto Rican pasta salad usually made with hard boiled eggs and sometimes with ham (Ensalada de Coditos con Jamon).
- Coquito: No Puerto Rican party is every complete without Coquito (Puerto Rican coconut eggnog). If you are feeling extra festive, I also have a great Pumpkin Coqutio recipe.
- Dessert: No dinner is complete without dessert. Here are some of our favorite Puerto Rican desserts Arroz Con Leche, Easy Tres Leche Cake, Tembleque, Creme Caramel and Coffee Flan. And if you are feeling up for it, you could always make a gorgeous homemade Roscón de Reyes!
You’ll need the following ingredients to make this flavor packed, tender Pernil:
- Pork Shoulder: I like to use a pork shoulder, but you can also use a pork leg roast or a pork butt. However, no matter what pork cut you choose to use, make sure it is bone-in, has a good amount of fat and the skin still on. Some 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.
- Green Bell Pepper: Remove the seeds and stem of the bell pepper.
- Large White Onion: you can also use a yellow onion, but a white onion is more traditionally used.
- Fresh Oregano Leaves or Cilantro: traditionally oregano is more often used, but neither herb is a wrong choice! Use whichever your family prefers.
- Seasonings: Salt, black pepper, cumin, Sazon Con Azafrán, and Adobo All Purpose Seasoning. Can’t have Pernil without Adobo!
- Chicken Broth: I use reduced salt chicken broth because there is a lot of salt already in adobo and sazon seasonings.
- Orange or Lime Wedges: optional, for serving.
How To Make This Pernil Recipe:
I know it’s looks like a lot of steps, but I have broken down the process of making pernil into many quick and easy steps. Most of the time the pork will be in the fridge marinating or in the oven slow roasting!
- Prepare the marinade. Combine some of the garlic cloves, bell pepper, and cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. Add the seasonings to the food processor and process one more time.
- Prepare the meat. First, cut the fat cap from the back of the roast, still keeping it intact and attached to the meat.
- Fold. It’ll need to be folded over so you can access the meat underneath. Then, cut deep holes into the roast, thick enough to fit a finger into the holes.
- Add garlic cloves. Stuff whole garlic cloves into the holes in the back of the roast. This will give it epic flavor! I always add a few extra garlic cloves for good measure. Never enough garlic.
- Add Marinade: Then, spoon a third of the marinade over the back of the roast and push it into all of the holes as well.
- Flip it. Once flipped, cover the top of the roast in another third of the marinade, again pushing the marinade into the holes of the roast.
- Slice it. Law the fat cap back over the roast and make 4-5 deep, long, evenly spaced slices along the top of the fat. Be sure not to cut all the way through. Then, make 4-5 more perpendicular slices to the first slices to form a check pattern on top.
- Add more marinade. 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 is covered in marinade.
- Marinate. Cover the meat with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, flipping it every 3-5 hours. Do not skip this step! It’s incredibly important to ensure you get the absolute best, full flavored Pernil!
- Preheat. The oven needs to be preheated to 350°F. Remove the pan from the fridge.
- Add liquid. Using either pork/chicken broth or water, pour in the liquid until there’s about 2 inches of liquid in bottom of the pan.
- Roast. Replace the foil and place the roast in the oven for 3.5-4 hours. Rotate the pan every hour to ensure even cooking.
- 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.
- Knock Knock: The fun and traditional way to test of if the cuerito (pig skin) on your pernil is ready is by knocking on it. If it sounds like somebody is knocking at a little door, you know it’s ready!
- Carve and shred. Before carving and shredding, allow the meat to cool for 20-30 minutes. The pork will be super crisp on the outside and tender underneath from the layer of fat cooked on top.
- Add juices. Once the meat has been shredded, pour some of the juice from the pan and the fresh orange and lime juices over the meat to combine. Serve!
Tips for the best Pernil:
- Pork With Fat: You want to pick a pork shoulder (or pork leg) that has lots of fat with the skin and bone still attached. If you use a leaner cut of pork, the meat will be very dry after slow roasting it for hours.
- Plan Ahead: Make sure you plan ahead to allow plenty of time to make your pernil. If you try to rush the marinating time or cooking time, it won’t be half as good.
- Marinate: It is SO very important to marinate the pork for the full time. It is best if you can leave it marinading for a couple of days, but need at least 12 hours at the bare minimum.
- Don’t Skip The Garlic: Hiding the whole garlic cloves inside the pork is a traditional step that is a huge key to giving your pernil ALL THE FLAVOR. Don’t skimp or skip the garlic, you will regret it.
- Don’t Rush: This pernil will take about 5 hours of cooking time including cooling time after cooking. I know, that feels like an eternity, but don’t rush it. This is how you get that fall apart tender pernil!
- Fridge: The roast can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the fridge.
- Freeze: You can also freeze this roast in Ziploc bags for up to 3 months. If you do decide to freeze the meat, freeze it in several bags, depending on how much you have left over. That way, you can take out whatever you’ll use without thawing extra meat.
To Thaw Pernil:
- Microwave: take out how much meat you need and add it to a large, microwave safe bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Set the microwave to defrost for 5 minutes, stir, then defrost for an additional 5 minutes as needed.
- Stovetop: add meat to a large non-stick skillet with 1-2 tablespoons of water over low medium heat. Stir and let the meat defrost for about 8-10 minutes, then serve immediately. Add more water if needed while defrosting.
Pernil is a marinated, slow roasted pork shoulder or leg with crispy pork skin and tender, flavorful pork underneath. It is most popular in Latin American countries around Christmas, but is delicious all year!
- 15 peeled garlic cloves, divided
- 1 green bell pepper, with the seeds removed and chopped
- 1 large white onion, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 cup fresh oregano or cilantro with large stems removed
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 packet sazon
- 1 teaspoon adobo powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 8 to 10 pound picnic pork roast (shoulder or leg roast with fat cap), cleaned and damp dry
- 3 to 4 cups chicken broth
- orange or lime wedges, for serving
1. Add 5 cloves of garlic, bell pepper, onion, cilantro, salt, sazon, adobo powder, black pepper and cumin to a food processor or blender. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Set aside.
2. 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.
3. Cut deep holes into the roast, so that you can fit your finger into each hole. Flip the roast over and cut deep holes into the back as well.
4. Stuff the remaining garlic cloves into the holes in the back of the roast. Then spoon a 3rd of the marinade over the back of roast and push the marinade into all of the holes as well.
5. Flip the roast over and cover the top in another 3rd of the marinade, again pushing the marinade into the holes of the roast.
6. Lay the fat cap back over the roast and make 4-5 deep, long, evenly spaced slices along the top of the fat, without cutting all of the way through. Then, make 4-5 more perpendicular slices to the first slices to form a checker pattern on top.
7. 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.
8. Marinate: Cover the pork with aluminum foil and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, flipping every 3-5 hours. This step is important to ensure you get the best flavor!
9. When the roast is ready, preheat the oven to 350°F and remove the pan from the fridge.
10. Lift up the aluminum foil and pour in the chicken broth or water until there is about 2 inches of liquid in the bottom of your pan.
11. Replace the foil and place the roast in the oven for 3 ½ - 4 hours, rotating the pan every hour to ensure even cooking.
12. Remove the aluminum foil from the pan and turn the oven heat up to 400°F. Continue roasting the pork for another 30 minutes or until the skin gets crispy on top.
13. Remove the roast from the oven and let it cool for 20-30 minutes before carving and shredding. The pork will be super crisp on the outside and tender underneath from the layer of fat.
14. Once the meat has been shredded, pour some of the juice from the pan and the fresh orange juice and lime juice over the meat and stir to combine.
Fridge: The roast can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the fridge.
Freeze: You can also freeze this roast in Ziploc bags for up to 3 months. If you do decide to freeze the meat, freeze it in several bags, depending on how much you have left over. That way, you can take out whatever you’ll use without thawing extra meat.
Serving Size:1 serving
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 912Total Fat: 65gSaturated Fat: 24gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 35gCholesterol: 276mgSodium: 1228mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 72g
More Latin Recipes
Looking for more latin recipes? You have come to the right place! Here are a few more of our favorites:
- The Best Mojito
- Spicy Black Bean Soup
- Instant Pot Charro Beans
- Puerto Rican Beef Sancocho
- Homemade Tamales
- Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja
- Homemade Chorizo
- Best Cheese Enchiladas
- Beef Picadillo
- Mexican Chicken Adobo
- Homemade Empanada Dough
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Making it again, about 9 months ago, my now husband and my younger brother loved this.
They were both so surprised how this turned out , I mainly did it because my husband is half Puerto Rican, and wanted him to explore his what would be tradition, and I half Mexican but both sides of my family – food is the center of everything. So I looveee trying different foods. ♥️
This recipe is excellent! I made this for Christmas and it was an instant hint. We agreed it took us back to Puerto Rico. Definitely worthy of 5 stars!
Hello, bone in or out?
Hi Melissa! We use a bone in, but you can use either!
I wanna try it soon!
Honestly my roast pork is the best in the whole world really believe me went I say it yours look delicious as well OMG
If my pork is smaller (5lbs) do I reduce the time?
Yes, I would start checking your pork around the 2.5 hour mark to see if it’s cooked through and tender yet.
Is there anything else that you would serve this with? We’ve had a lot of rice lately but really want to try this! Any recommendations or recipes would be so great. Thanks!
You can serve it with any/all sides you like! You can roast veggies, serve with rice, beans, cauliflower rice if you want to go the veggie route, yuca (boiled or fried), etc etc. The options are endless! It’s a delicious pork that will go with just about any side.
I accidentally bought a fully cooked pork shoulder what do you recommend i do as far as prep and cooking instructions. Do I need to change anything at all?
Hi Audrianna! I’m sorry, but I think you should serve your pork as is. You could possibly make a sauce to add some of the flavor for Pernil, but you can not marinate or roast an already cooked pork shoulder.
I’ve tried covering with aluminum foil, however during the time in the oven the foil sticks to the fat cap and therefore to skin making it impossible to eat as the foil is stuck in tiny flakes.
I make a tent, so the foil is not pressed directly against the pork. You can also use non stick foil!
You may spray the foil with cooking spray so foil does not stick to roast
I think I put too much oregano. What can I do to save it? Lol
I made this recipe very reluctantly because I have a recipe I have been using for years and it’s good, but THIS? Delicious! The only Pernil recipe I will use going forward.
So glad you loved it Tam!!
I have been making pernil for 25+ years. I decided to try this one out and it’s the best pernil I have ever made. My husband said to throw out my old recipe jajaja ;)
I made this today as a trial for Christmas. This is my first time making Pernil myself – my mami usually makes it, but we can’t go see her this year because of everything going on. SO. I made it and it turned out PERFECT. Honestly, better than hers, but don’t tell her! Thank you for sharing this recipe!!