We always have a ton of pork fat on hand and are constantly looking for ways to put it to good use. We’d been messing around with some whole pig head carnitas and watching a lot of videos of little Mexican ladies frying big batches of carnitas in pork lard in outdoor kitchens in big copper pots. One day our pork purveyor mentioned he had about 400 rabbits in his freezer so if we wanted to throw any on the smoker, he’d kindly supply all we’d need. “Hopping” at the chance for more content, we combined our present obsession with what was available to us. The idea for a carnitas preparation on these rabbits comes from the Brewer’s Table, a brewpub in Austin which was sadly taken from us by COVID-19 earlier this year. They had excellent food and beer and paired them remarkably well, but I had a rabbit carnitas dish from them once and it was a stunner.
This dish makes use of the whole rabbit, brined like chicken, smoked, pulled, and cooked in pork fat, evaporated milk, and Coca-Cola. Speaking of chicken, this recipe can be replicated on chicken thighs or leg quarters with great results. I have no idea where the evap milk and Coke came from but I know they add a little bit of richness and sweetness to the confit and finished meat.
Let us know if this recipe works for you!
2 qt water
100 g salt
1/2 C Frank’s Hot Sauce
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 TB red pepper flakes
1 tsp white pepper
1 TB Italian herb blend
2 whole skinned rabbits
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 12oz bottle Mexican Coke
1 qt rendered pork lard
Combine the water, salt, hot sauce, garlic, and spices in a container that will fit all of them and stir to combine and dissolve the salt. Add the rabbits and brine for 4–6 hrs. This can be in a lidded container or in a big bag of the zip top or vacuum sealed variety.
Once the bunnies come out of the brine, smoke them at about 250–275F for about an hour to 90 minutes or until the legs reach 165F internal.
Once the rabbits come off the smoker and are cooled enough to handle, separate the legs and bodies by simply (and brutally) ripping them off. We finished cooking the legs and the bodies separately to serve some on the bone and some pulled but if you want to pull it all, that’s cool too.
In a separate container, combine warm melted pork lard with the evaporated milk and the Coke. Pour this combined liquid over the rabbit in an oven-safe vessel and cook uncovered at 350–375F until the fat starts to bubble (about 30 minutes), then put a lid on. Finish cooking in the oven until the rabbits are slightly and crisped, and the meat is pull-able and tender, about another 30–45 minutes.
Evacuate the rabbits from the cooking fat and onto a sheet tray to cool until they are cool enough to handle. Pick the meat from the saddles, shoulders, and forelegs and reserve the whole legs.
Once all the meat is picked, mix a little bit of the cooking fat back into the cooked meat. Start with 1/4 C and mix it through, being careful not to break up the big pieces of rabbit meat. Once you think you have enough fat in there, add just a little bit more, trust me, you won’t be sorry.
Pour a little bit of fat over the legs as well when bagging or Tupperwaring them to keep them moist while they are reheating later. The pulled meat and legs can be saved to be reheated for up to seven days.
The legs can be reheated for service in an offset smoker or a direct smoker like we did. We also glazed them with our mustard bbq sauce and they came out great. The legs will reheat just as well in a pan, on the grill, or just in the oven. Same with the pulled meat. It can be re-thermed on a griddle to add a little bit of crispiness for tacos or tossed into a pasta or some fried rice.
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