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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pernil (Roasted Pork Shoulder) For Christmas Eve

Pernil is the centerpiece of the traditional Puerto Rican Nochebuena (Christmas Eve) meal.  It's a delicious alternative to turkey or ham.  Pernil takes a bit of planning and a long cooking time; however, it's easy to make and doesn't require much hands-on prep time and it's made with budget-friendly bone-in pork shoulder.  Be sure to cook more than you need for the holiday meal so you can make Cuban sandwiches later. 

Recipe For Pernil (Roasted Pork Shoulder)

8-10 lb. bone-in pork shoulder (you may also see the word picnic on the label)

For the marinade:
15 black peppercorns
18 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoon dry oregano
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
4-5 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt for each pound of meat
Optional:  I had some naranjas agrias (sour oranges), so I added some juice from them as well

Crush and mix the marinade ingredients in a pilon (mortar and pestle) or in a blender.  Allow the flavors to marry while you prepare the pork.

Lightly score the surface of the pork skin in a criss-cross pattern, as you would an Easter ham.

Using a very sharp knife, carefully separate the skin from the top of the pork shoulder, starting at the large end, peeling it back toward the small bony end of the shoulder, stopping before you completely separate the skin from the bony end.

Use your sharp knife to jab deep holes into the meat all over, turning the knife to make the holes larger.

Reserve a bit of marinade for the surface of the skin.  Rub the remainder of the marinade all over the pork, using your fingers to work it deep into the knife holes.  Carefully re-position the skin back into place and use butcher's twine to tie it securely.  Rub reserved marinade into the skin.

Place in ziptop bag.  Either double-bag or put a tray underneath in case of drips.  Refrigerate at least overnight and up to 2 days.

Perniles resting in the fridge, marinating for the big day.  We made two Perniles so there'd be plenty of leftovers for Cuban sandwiches ... yummy!

One hour before cooking, remove the pork from the refrigerator, remove it from the bags, place it on a rack in a roasting pan, skin side up, and cover with foil.  While pork is coming to room temperature, preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place pork shoulder in oven and bake for 30 minutes per pound.  Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees, remove the foil, and roast until the skin is brown and crispy, about an hour.  When done, the skin will literally sound crunchy if you tap it.  While roasting keep an eye on the Pernil to avoid burning the skin.

Although the USDA now says pork is safe if cooked to 145 degrees, this cut needs to be cooked low and slow to allow the fat to tenderize the meat and I recommend a finished internal temperature of 160 to 180 degrees.

Remove the Pernil from the oven and let it rest for 15 to 30 minutes, tented with foil.  Remove the butcher's twine and separate the skin from the meat.  Carve and shred the meat.  Cut/break the crunchy skin into bite-sized pieces.  Serve the meat on a platter with the crunchy skin on the side.


  1. Hi, can you please tell me if I cook 2 pernils at the same time, do I have to adjust the cooking time? If do how ? Thank you

  2. Buy two pernils that are roughly the same weight and you shouldn't need to adjust the cooking time to cook two at once since you're starting with the pernils at room temp and cooking for so long. We always cook two now to have planned leftovers. To be safe, always check the internal temp of each pernil when you think they're ready with a meat thermometer since there will always be variables such as the temp of the meat when it's put in the oven, differences in ovens, etc.