Bex’s Puerto Rican Pernil for the Holidays

Puerto Rico Pernil by Bex

This Puerto Rican pernil recipe is one of the estrellas of the show at Bex Streeper’s Christmas dinner table. There are no leftovers, she says. Ever.

Bex, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, grew up in Chicago, the daughter of a Polish mom and Puerto Rican dad. When she married her husband, who is of German and Mexican ancestry, she learned to master one more Latino family cuisine: Mexican. During the holidays, she celebrates this rich and delicioso array of cultures by including food and traditions from each. To honor her Puerto Rican heritage, Bex makes this classic Puerto Rican pernil recipe, a slow-cooked cut of pork shoulder or leg that is marinated overnight and placed into a low-temp oven for hours, until the meat falls off the bone.

Watch how Bex’s pernil is made, step by step, for her family’s Christmas feast.

“Also, my family would kill me if I didn’t make it,” Bex says. (And in tribute the Mexican side of her family, she hosts a tamalada party every early December, to her mother in law’s and husband’s delight. She makes three kinds, including their family favorites: pork and red salsa tamales.)

Bex says she loves adding personal tweaks or her “cooking diva” twists, as she calls them, to all of her dishes and seeing how the recipes evolve over time. This pernil, which she has been making for the past 17 years, she explains, is the culmination of her own experimentation and insider cooking tips she learned from friends and family, gifted homecooks all.

Pernil and arroz con gandules Bex
Every Navidad, Bex Streeper makes this Puerto Rican-style pernil, slow-cooked pork shoulder, and serves it with arroz con gandules: the classic Christmas combo.

“My seasoning is strictly from observing my Dad,” Bex says, adding that many of the spice blends she uses are his. Bex credits a close family friend, Betsy Montalvo, who is like a tía and second mom to her, as the first person to teach her how to make Puerto Rican pernil.

Bex has since made this pork roast recipe her own by adding cloves of garlic into pockets she cuts into the pernil, separating the fat cap, and tweaking the seasoning mixes. Other Christmas-feast Boricua traditions in Bex’s family include making pasteles, coquito and arroz con gandules. Way to represent Puerto Rico deliciosamente, Bex!

Bex pernil mojo marinade
Bex mixes a head of garlic with olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper to make this Puerto Rican mojo used to marinate her Christmas pernil.

To try more of Bex’s family-famous Puerto Rican and Mexican recipes, start with her Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest-mofongo with shrimp and mojo sauce, her shrimp ceviche and then work your way through her guacamolesopes de carne asadachili with beef, beans and hominy, and her incredible coquito French toast. If you have a sweet tooth, this last one is for you, dulce fans.

Ready to Make Bex’s Puerto Rican Pernil for the Holidays?

Bex’s Puerto Rican Pernil for the Holidays

Recipe by Bex Streeper
3.0 from 2 votes
Cuisine: Puerto Rican


Prep time


Cooking Time

2 to 3

Marination Time

8 to 48



  • Pernil
  • 7 to 9 lbs pork shoulder, with the top layer of fat still on

  • 1 cup water

  • 1/4 cup vinegar

  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled, whole

  • 1 tsp salt

  • Mojo
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil

  • 1 Tbsp vinegar

  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 4 tsp dried oregano

  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt per lb of meat

  • 1 tsp black peppercorns


  • Wash the pork with water and vinegar. Set aside.
  • Combine all the mojo ingredients and mash in a large pilón or mortar and pestle.
  • Separate most of the fat from the pork, ensuring not to completely detach.
  • Make about 10 holes that are each about 1”- to 2”-deep throughout the newly exposed pork, being careful not to pierce through the skin. If you want to make more, go for it. You can’t have too many holes, says Bex. This is how the flavor works its way into the pork.
  • Smear the mojo all over the pork, using your fingers to push the marinade deep into each knife hole.
  • Insert 1 clove of garlic into each of the knife holes (on top of the mojo).
  • Cover the pernil in plastic wrap and let marinate in the fridge overnight at minimum and up to 48 hours maximum.
  • Ready to Slow Cook the Pernil
  • Remove the marinated pork from the fridge. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. While you’re waiting, preheat oven to 335°.
  • When the pork reaches room temperature, place it skin-side up on a rack in a roasting pan. Rub 1 tsp of kosher salt into the skin, which should be clean and dry.
  • Place the pernil on the middle rack of the 335° oven. Add about 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the roasting pan.
  • Roast for 2 hours, rotating the pernil every hour. Add a little water to the bottom of the pan as needed, so that it is never completely dry.
  • Raise the heat to 400° and cook about 1 about more hour or until it is tender. To test if the pork is ready, Bex presses the roast with a spoon to see if the meat is starting to fall apart.
  • You will know the pernil is done when you can tap the top of the skin with the back of a cooking spoon and it sounds hollow, though the skin may take a few more minutes to golden-crisp.
  • Remove the pernil from the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing and serving. Pernil is traditionally accompanied by arroz con gandules in Puerto Rican holiday celebrations.


  • To make a sauce to serve with this pernil, Bex sometimes mixes the pork pan drippings with sofrito, Puerto Rico’s essential cooking base. She reduces it for a few minutes and drizzles it over the pork slices before serving.

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