We eat lunch together most days midday. Staff meal is a pretty typical thing in the food world — restaurants are known for it, but food business staff likes to break bread, too. Usually people bring their own food. But the best lunches are when someone has taken some product home, cooked, and brought it back for us all to share. Like Amelia’s mom’s staff meal pernil.

Recently Amelia Leon — she’s our administrative assistant — gave us all a real treat. She brought her parents a pork shoulder (AKA pork butt, which sounds like it shouldn’t be the shoulder but it is). Her mom made pernil — enough for their family for dinner, and leftovers for all of us for staff meal the following day. Thank you, Amelia’s mom! Here’s how she did it:

Amelia’s Mom’s Pernil
“I’m not Puerto Rican, but my husband is,” she says. “Over the years I’ve eaten pernil many, many times. I’ve been given direction by my father-in-law and pointers by other family members, but this recipe is based on experience and research. I’m a little reluctant to share this because I am not by any means an expert. But here goes:

Pork shoulder the “picnic”cut, skin-on, bone-in, whatever size is available, usually 6 to 8 lbs.
Garlic, 2 heads (or more if heads are small)
Kosher salt, 1 to 2 tsp.
Olive oil 1 to 2 tbsp.
Cumin 1/2 to 1 tsp.
Adobo for the cuero (skin), optional

1. The hardest work of this dish is cutting the cuero (skin) and attached fat layer away from the the meat so its a flap, attached by only a small amount (1/2 to 1″) on one side.
2. Clean the garlic. Cut approximately 1/3 of the cloves into thin slivers.
3. Mash the remainder of the garlic till it’s a juicy paste.If you have a pilon (mortar and pestle), the rough kind, that’s the best. If you don’t have a pilon, do your best with a chopping knife to smash the garlic. Combine the salt. I like to add cumin, about a tsp. Oregano is good, too. Add the olive oil.
4. Using a sharp knife, a steak knife works well, make slits into the meat all over to receive the garlic slivers—both sides.
5. Slather and massage the garlic-salt-cumin paste into the meat all over.
6. Salt the cuero, both sides. Sprinkle Adobo seasoning on the the top (optional).
7. Wrap the pernil in plastic wrap, and allow it to marinate, in the fridge, for at least a day. Lately I’ve been giving it 3 days. We have family who marinate pernil for a week.


  • Put pernil in oven in a deep roasting dish covered with foil at 300 degrees for 3 hours. (There will be a lot of grease).
  • Remove foil and roast for another 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender and shreds easily, though the cuero may be still be soft. (If pernil is larger, cooking time my be longer.)
  • Remove the cuero. Typically the fat attached to the skin is still substantial. Scrape off the excess fat and cut the skin in 2 to 3 inch pieces, then roast (on a cookie sheet) a bit longer to render excess fat and crisp.

(There are more precise recipes on the web. I recommend elboricua.com.)

Shred the meat and serve with wedges of lime and the crispy skin. Arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas, is a festive and common side dish with pernil. Goya has a recipe on their canned gandules that is quite good.


We enjoyed our staff meal pernil so much that we didn’t get a single picture of it! Amelia says she doesn’t have one from home, either; it always goes too fast.