Puerto Rican Pernil Made Easy
Everyone loves this crispy crunchy delicious treat. And although it's most often made around the holidays, there's no reason you can't make it more often, especially with how easy it can be. We'll show you how to do it and then you'll be able to share it with all of your loved ones.
Pernil (pork shoulder roast / pork picnic roast)
For every 1 pound of Pernil:
1.5 cloves of garlic
¼ tsp oregano, fresh
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp adobo
½ tsp oil
Whole Pernil (9-12 lbs) - 4 hours @ 350, covered. I hour @ 450 uncovered.
Half Pernil (4-5 lbs) - 2 hours @ 350, covered. 1 hour @ 450 uncovered.
Let’s start this recipe by making the spice rub we’ll use to marinate the pernil. Garlic plays a big role in this dish so I really would encourage you to start with fresh garlic, to maximize the flavor. I know there are a lot of trendy videos out there about amazing ways to peel garlic, but I’m a pretty old-school guy when it comes to peeling my garlic. I just break off the cloves, then cut off both ends of the garlic and peel back the skin.
Once your garlic is peeled, go ahead and throw all of your spices into a blender; your garlic, your adobo, your oregano, your salt, and your olive oil. As with the garlic, remember to adjust the amount of other spices, depending on the size of your pernil.
Once all your ingredients are in the blender, use the pulse function to puree the mix. You might need to take off the lid and use a spatula to move things around, in order to get an even blend.
Once pureed, your spice rub should look like a lumpy wet paste, almost like chunky peanut butter. You should still be able to see little chunks of garlic in the paste, and the color will be slightly dark, from the addition of the fresh oregano.
Once blended, cover your rub and let’s turn to preparing the pernil.
The first thing we want to do with the pernil is separate the skin from the meat. We do this for a couple of reasons. First, the skin is very impermeable, meaning that if you put spice rub on top of it it wouldn’t penetrate down into the meat. Second, separating the skin from the meat will actually help the fat underneath the skin render more quickly while its cooking, ultimately making for juicer meat and crispier skin--which is exactly what we want.
Removing the skin from the pernil takes a little bit of work, but is relatively straightforward. Start by turning your pernil so it’s skin-side down and find the piece of skin that wraps all the way around the shoulder. Now, use a pair of heavy scissors to make an incision right in the middle of this strip.
Once you’ve made the incision, begin peeling away the skin by using one hand to pull the skin away from the meat while you use a knife to repeatedly cut the fat at the intersection of the meat and the skin. A sharp knife is super important here but make sure to be careful as we don’t want any accidents.
Once you’ve loosened both flaps of skin going around the shoulder, turn the pernil over and keep going on the other side. Again, the goal here is to remove the skin, along with the layer of fat underneath, in one single piece. Just keep going with the same technique, where you use one hand to pull up the skin, while constantly slicing away at the fat still holding the skin onto the meat.
Once your skin has been removed, set it aside and let’s tenderize our pernil. Take a small knife and begin punching holes into your pernil, as deep as your knife will go, all over the surface of your pernil. You are later going to stuff these holes with your spice rub, which is what is going to give your pernil its flavor. So don’t be stingy with the holes. In addition to helping us spread the spice rub, cutting these holes in your pernil will also tenderize the meat, making it significantly easier to eat.
When you’ve finished stabbing your pernil on one side, turn the pernil over and stab the other side. When finished, you should be able to stick your whole finger into the holes, a technique which we’ll use when we spread the spice rub.
Now back to the skin. The piece of skin we removed from the pernil is actually composed of two layers. There’s the actual skin at the top, which is what gets crispy and crunchy, and there’s the layer underneath it, that is composed of fat and connective tissue. The trick here is that the underneath layer contains a lot of moisture and will actually prevent the skin from getting crispy if it doesn’t cook sufficiently, in order for the fat to render out. So in order to help get this underneath layer cook, I like to cut cross-hatches in my skin. To do this, just take a razor blade, or a really sharp knife, and score the skin in parallel lines, approximately 1-inch apart. Then turn the skin 90 degrees and repeat the process, so you have little squares of skin, 1-inch by 1-inch. In addition to helping the skin cook better, I think this also makes for a more visually appealing pernil. And it also makes the skin way easier to cut at the end.
With both the meat and skin prepared, we are ready to start marinating it. Take your spice rub and begin rubbing it generously over your pernil. Make sure to use your fingers to push the rub down deep into the holes you cut in the pernil. Once one side of the pernil is completely covered, turn your pernil over and repeat the process on the other side. Finally, rub the rest of your spice rub onto the skin, making sure to work the rub into all of the cracks and crevices you made when you cut the cross-hatches.
Once marinated, cover your pernil with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. I like to let my pernil marinate overnight, but I’ve talked with numerous people who like a longer marinade, as long as two or three days. Do whatever makes most sense for your party plans. To be honest, I’ve made pernil where I let it marinate for only 2 hours and it was still super delicious!
Once marinated, take your pernil out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Now add about an inch of water into the bottom of the pan. This water does three things. First, it prevents any drippings from the pernil from burning. Second, and relatedly, it captures all of the juices and flavors that come off of the pernil--which make for some incredibly delicious gravy. And finally, the water helps keep the pernil moist as it cooks, a true sign of great pernil.
With the water in place, cover your pernil with heavy duty aluminum foil, making sure to really seal the edges. You don’t want the steam to escape as you cook it, so press down on the edges firmly to seal them.
Now turn your oven on to 350 degrees fahrenheit and cook your pernil for two hours.
At the end of the two hours, remove your pernil and check to make sure there is still liquid in the bottom of the pan. Just be careful as you do this, because when you open the foil, it will release steam and if you aren’t careful you can burn yourself. If it looks like there is less than ½ an inch, add a little bit more water. Then reseal the edges and put the pan back in the oven for another two hours.
At the end of the second two-hour period, remove your pernil from the oven and turn your oven up to 450 degrees. I’m setting my oven on convection because I’ve found that creates a more crispy skin, but if you don’t have a convection setting, just regular 450 should be fine. Now remove the aluminum foil from your pernil. If any pieces stick to the top, just use a knife to scrape them off. Finally, sprinkle just a little bit of adobo onto the skin. This last hit of salt will help pull out any excess moisture, allowing the skin to really get crispy.
Now put your pernil back in the 450 degree oven, uncovered and cook for 40 minutes. At then end of the 40 minutes, check to see if the skin is crispy. I like to just tap the skin with a butter knife. When the skin is done, it should be extremely firm and there should be a dull thud when you tap it. If the skin is still flexible, keep cooking it, checking every 15 minutes. It took one hour and 10 minutes for my skin to get crispy.
Once your skin is crispy, pull your pernil out of the oven. Again, at this point, the skin should be a deep golden brown, and there should be an audible thud when you tap on the skin.
After taking it out of the oven, cover your pernil with aluminum foil and let it rest for 15 minutes. This ensures that the juice in the pernil will be reabsorbed by the meat, making for a more juicy, tenderer meat.
Once rested, transfer your pernil to a serving platter. I like to use a big heavy spoon and tongs to do this. And now you are ready to dig in!
Check out our instructional video, showing how to make this recipe step-by-step HERE.