A traditional Christmas meal in Cuban households, this Cuban pork shoulder recipe is perfect for smaller gatherings!
Cuban cuisine is not complete without talking about (and eating) pork. Pork was the centerpiece of many family meals growing up, whether it was a whole hog for Christmas Eve dinner (known as Noche Buena), or a pork shoulder for Easter and most holidays. Enjoying the meal together as a family is the culmination of moments I enjoyed as a kid that led to everyone gathering at the table.
I’d start by traveling with my dad to get the pig. We’d head to the outskirts of town to a slaughterhouse about two to three days before the Noche Buena dinner, and my dad would pick out the pig. We would receive the slaughtered pig wrapped in plastic, laid out on a metal sheet pan, and take it home on the back of the pick-up truck. As a kid, this was one of the few times each year I would see my dad prepare a meal from start to finish, so this was something I would watch attentively.
The second step is the preparation. Using the same metal sheet pan and various tools around the house, my dad would marinate the pig with the two ingredients that belong in just about every Cuban recipe: citrus and garlic. Oregano, ground cumin, and of course salt and black pepper are also used, but citrus and garlic are a must. The marinating would take place for about two days, and depending on the year, my dad would either make his own pit with cinder blocks, fence wiring, and wooden boards, or use a wooden grilling apparatus known as La Caja China (the Chinese Box). The cooking would take literally all day, as we often planned to enjoy the meal only an hour or two before the stroke of midnight when we would exchange gifts.
When we didn’t have as many people over, my dad would make a pork shoulder in the same style, like the one I’m sharing today. He’d also roast pork for New Year’s Eve most years. Now that I am in charge of making the Christmas pork for my family, I use my grill and am still able to replicate the authentic flavors, crispy skin, and incredibly tender meat I remember from childhood.
Cuban Pork Shoulder
- 9-10 pounds bone-in pork shoulder (with skin)
- 1 head garlic minced
- 1 cup naranja agria* (sour orange juice)
- 1 tbsp sea salt
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 large sweet onion sliced
The night prior to serving, place the pork shoulder skin-side up in an aluminum roasting pan. Score the skin in a criss-cross pattern.
In a mixing bowl, prepare the marinade by adding the minced garlic, naranja agria, sea salt, ground black pepper, ground cumin, dried oregano, and lime juice. Stir the mixture until it becomes consistent.
Generously brush the pork shoulder with the marinade. If desired, store the excess marinade in the refrigerator for sauteing the onions later. Let the pork shoulder marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
Prepare the grill by splitting the coals in half to the left and right side of the grill. Be sure to have the coals lowered as far away from the grill grates as possible. Set the grill temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If you use a gas grill, only light the rightmost and leftmost burners.
Remove the marinated pork from the roasting pan, and place the pork shoulder on the center of the grill, skin-side up. Pour the remaining marinade from the roasting pan over the top of the pork shoulder.
Continue grilling for at least 3 hours (or 20 minutes per pound), or until the meat temperature closest to the bone reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the pork shoulder from the grill, and let rest for 30 minutes, or 3 minutes per pound. While the pork shoulder rests, saute the sliced onions on a skillet with the excess marinade from the night before.
Serve the pork shoulder and onions, enjoy!
Naranja agria (sour orange juice) can be found in bottles in the Hispanic section of most major grocery store chains. Bonus points if you can actual sour oranges to juice, as they are very seasonal and difficult to find.