Authentic Carnitas Recipe

Authentic Carnitas Recipe

An Authentic Carnitas Recipe made quickly in the Instant Pot gives you dinner on the table in about an hour

This recipe is also adaptable for the slow cooker or in the oven, and perfect in every way!

The results are authentic carnitas cooked in a juicy citrus sauce. Carnitas are one of my top 10 favorite foods so I am always looking for a way to make it quicker. This version is my favorite recipe because of the amazing citrus sauce!

What is Carnitas?

Carnitas means “little meats” and is part of Mexican cuisine, originating from the state of Michoacán. Carnitas are made by braising or simmering pieces of pork until tender and then shredding with a fork.

Generally, carnitas are eaten by themselves, or with sides such as beans and our Spanish Rice , or used as a filling for tacos and burritos.

Carnitas single taco
Authentic Carnitas Tacos

Choosing the right type of pork for authentic carnitas

The great thing about carnitas is that the best versions are made with a big cut of pork that is relatively inexpensive.

Choose a 5-6 pound pork picnic, pork butt, or pork shoulder. The slow cooker, or pressurized cooking in the Instant Pot, will break down the meat until it is “melt in your mouth” tender. I was impressed by how quickly the Instant Pot worked on my traditional oven cooked recipe!

The secret to Carnitas is in the sauce!

My love for this sauce knows no boundaries! Don’t skip the sauce because it makes the recipe!

The citrus in the sauce helps break down the meat so that it becomes super tender, This sauce also adds a brightness to the flavor of the meat. I like to use orange juice and lime juice. You could sub in lemon luice for the lime juice or a combo of both. I use beer in my sauce, but you can substitute that with chicken stock.

Carnitas Sauce
Carnitas Citrus sauce in an Instant Pot

Dried Herbs vs. Fresh Herbs:

Oregano is a common spice in Mexican food. I used dried in mine, but if you have fresh oregano you can substitute. I use LOTS of cumin because I love the flavor, and a bit of chili powder.

Remember dried herbs are more potent and concentrated than fresh herbs so you’ll use less. Typically the ratio is 3:1 or three times the amount of fresh herbs as dry. For example, this recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, so you will need 3 teaspoons of fresh, chopped oregano.

How to make Carnitas

The initial steps for preparing carnitas in an Instant Pot are the same for a slow cooker or in the oven.

  • Cut pork into 2″ pieces, season well with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil until browned on all sides.
  • Saute in batches if necessary and do not crowd in the pan or it will steam, not brown.
  • In the IP use the SAUTE button.
  • If preparing in a slow cooker or in the oven start with a deep, heavy bottom, ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven. I use this fantastic Le Creuset pot that I have had for 20 years. I highly recommend it!
Carnitas sauteeing in oil
Carnitas sauteeing in oil
  • Drain any excess oil and then add the citrus sauce
  • If using an IP close lid securely and set vent to “sealing”. Cook on HIGH pressure for 30-minutes, and then use the natural release for about 15-minutes.
  • Remove lid, and transfer meat to a large bowl. Reserve the juice.
  • Shred with two forks and put on a large baking sheet or ovenproof dish.
  • Spoon about 1/3 of the sauce over the top and broil on high in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until the edges of the pork start crisping.
  • Remove from oven and add about 1 cup additional juice and mix to combine. If needed, add more juice.
Carnitas shredded
Carnitas Shredded

No Instant Pot? No problem!

  • If cooking in a dutch oven or a slow cooker cover with a lid after adding juice mixture.
  • Cook in a slow cooker on low for up to 8 hours, or on high for about 5 hours. You will know the meat is ready when you can easily shred with a fork.
  • If cooking in the oven, cook for about 3 hours at 275°F. Low and slow is best.
  • Once cooked, broil as you would in the above IP steps.

Serving Ideas for Authentic Carnitas:

There are so many ways to serve these amazing carnitas. The recipe makes a lot, so if you aren’t cooking for a crowd you can freeze the extra. Put servings in a freezer bag or container with some of the juice until ready to use.

Some ideas for serving your carnitas:

  • As a filling for tacos, burritos and tostadas with cilantro, lime wedges, diced onion, and sliced radishes
  • Nacho topping
  • Enchilada filling
  • As an entree with beans and our savory Spanish Rice

Looking for more Mexican dinner ideas?

Carnitas Taco with scallions
Print Recipe
5 from 6 votes

Authentic Carnitas Recipe

Authentic Carnitas Recipe made with a zesty citrus sauce can be made in Instant Pot, in the oven, or slow cooker and becomes "melt in your mouth" tender pork. Great for tacos too!
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time45 mins
Total Time1 hr 15 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 495kcal
Author: The Art of Food and Wine – Cyndy Ufkes


  • Instant Pot, Slow Cooker or Dutch Oven


Carnitas Ingredients

  • 5 lbs pork shoulder, pork picnic or pork butt, excess fat removed, cut into 2" pieces
  • 1 Tbsp Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, more if needed

Citrus Sauce Ingredients

  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 6 oz beer, medium bodied, or chicken stock
  • cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp chile powder
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp salt

Optional Garnishes

  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 2 scallions, sliced on the bias
  • 3 med radishes, thinly sliced
  • cup salsa
  • 24 small corn tortillas, serves 8 people


Make the citrus sauce:

  • In a medium size bowl mix together all sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Sauteing the Meat:

  • Set Instant Pot to SAUTE, or a deep heavy pot to medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for each batch of meat.
  • Season the pork pieces with salt and pepper on all sides.
  • Once the oil is shimmering add enough pieces to cover bottom of pot in one layer. Do not overcrowd or the meat will steam instead of saute.
    Sear meat briefly until browned on all sides, remove to a plate, and repeat with the remaining meat. When done turn off heat, drain excess fat, and add all the meat and accumulated juices back to the pot.
    Note: If using slow cooker, sear meat in heavy pan on stove and then transfer to slow cooker
  • Pour in the reserved citrus juice sauce and mix to combine with the pork.

Cooking the Carnitas:

  • If using an Instant Pot, secure the lid and set the vent to "sealing" mode. Cook on HIGH pressure for 30 minutes and follow with a natural release for 15 minutes, until float sinks.
    Carefully remove lid. Remove Carnitas to a large bowl, reserving sauce. Shred with 2 forks, add about 1 cup of the juice and toss to combine.
  • If using slow cooker, secure the lid and cook on low for about 9 hours, or on high for 5-6 hours.
    If cooking in oven, secure lid on pot and put in a 275°F oven for about 3 hours.
    Meat is done if it easily shreds with 2 forks. Remove Carnitas to a large bowl, reserving sauce. Shred with 2 forks, add about 1 cup of the juice and toss to combine
  • Turn oven broiler on HIGH.
  • Place shredded carnitas on a baking sheet and broil for about 5 minutes or until the edges begin to brown and get crispy.
    Remove from oven and add another 1 cup of reserved juice and mix to combine. Add more juice as needed. Carnitas should be moist but not soupy.

Serving Carnitas

  • Warm tortillas and serve with garnishes, and sides of rice, beans or anything that sounds good to you.
    If not using immediately, save remaining sauce in seperate container and refrigerate meat up to 3 days.
    If freezing, put in individaul serving containers, add some sauce, seal and freeze up to 3 months. Thaw in refrigerator for best results.


Calories: 495kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 40g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 116mg | Sodium: 1428mg | Potassium: 899mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 484IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 136mg | Iron: 5mg

Try these carnitas with our amazing Spanish Rice recipe

Spanish Rice
Spanish Rice

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