This is my all time favorite juicy and crispy pork carnitas recipe that comes together in minutes, but guarantees incredibly delicious results! I also provide directions for multiple cooking methods, including how to make this fantastic carnitas recipe in the oven or in the Instant pot!
Step by step recipe to make the best crispy pork carnitas in the oven, with a Dutch oven (or not), or even in the Instant Pot! Easy to make, with simple carnitas seasonings that are easy to find.
- What I love about this recipe
- Cooking methods for this recipe
- Storage instructions
- Ways to use this carnitas recipe
- Tips for making the best carnitas (oven or instant pot)
First published, May 2016.
I can’t tell you just how much joy it brings me to make this Mexican pork carnitas recipe at home! I usually make a HUGE batch, and freeze it in batches so that we can enjoy tacos, rice bowls, salads, empanadas, enchiladas etc. You know, the whole enchilada…
After years of making these authentic pork carnitas, I can say that this is guaranteed to be the only recipe you’ll need! Not only are these so flavorful, but the carnitas are juicy and crispy, all at the same time. Whether you make Dutch oven carnitas or Instant pot pork carnitas, I will show you how to get perfectly crispy results, every single time.
What I love about this recipe
Pork carnitas are essentially Mexican pulled pork. I.e. pulled pork, but with Mexican flavors and crispy bits of pork.
When it comes to pulled pork recipes, I am picky to a fault. So the fact that these carnitas are my absolute FAVORITE kind of pulled pork means that they are both ridiculously flavorful AND easy to make.
With Mexican carnitas seasoning like cumin, coriander, and citrus flavors and more, it’s no surprise how flavorful these crispy carnitas are. I’ve perfected this recipe over the years, and it’s also become an often-requested crowd favorite.
- Super easy to make – prep time is less than 30 minutes, even for a beginner (15 minutes if you’re an experienced home cook).
- Tastes just like the best, authentic pork carnitas, but without all the lard.
- An easy mix of carnitas seasoning makes this very flavorful.
- This recipe gives you step by step instructions on how to cook carnitas in a dutch oven or oven.
- Plus, it’s very easy to convert this recipe to make Instant pot pork carnitas (pressure cooker carnitas) as well! And I’ll show you how.
Cooking methods for this recipe
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with the cooking method if you’ve got all the right ingredients! Especially, a nice marbled cut of pork butt makes incredible, crispy pork carnitas, in the oven or Instant pot!
- Dutch oven – in the oven
- Any oven safe dish – in the oven
- Instant pot or pressure cooker
- Slow cooker
You can also choose one of two ways to make the carnitas crispy and caramelized. Either pan frying or broiling the pulled pork.
Pork butt or pork shoulder roast – For convenience, ask for a boneless cut. But I’ve also used bone-in cuts and have cooked the pork with the bone too. Bones do flavor the base even more.
Carnitas seasoning – The spice mix for the pork cut is very simple. The seasoning includes a mix of,
- Jalapeno or serrano peppers
- Black pepper or cayenne pepper (optional)
- Bay leaves (optional)
Some recipes call for chipotle chili mix, but I find that to be too overpowering.
Salt and a little sugar are also added for seasoning. I add a little less salt during braising.
Mojo flavored braising liquid – Classic pork carnitas recipes usually involve cooking the pork in a lot of lard (like confit). This is so that the meat will stay juicy. But we’re going to skip this step! Instead of adding lard, we will only use the fat in the cut of pork, and slow roast the pork carnitas in the oven. We will also braise the pork in a stock with citrusy mojo flavors. You will need,
- Water or stock
- Lime juice
- Orange juice
- Tequila (optional!)
- Onions (yellow onions or red onions)
The first step is to cut the pork roughly into 2 – 3 inch cubes. This ensures that the pork cooks quickly and evenly. If you buy a bone-in cut, you don’t have to cleanly remove the meat around the bone. The meat around the bone will fall off once cooked.
Next, add all the spices with the meat as well as salt and sugar, and mix to combine. I also like to add some lime zest, but that’s optional.
How to make pork carnitas in dutch oven (or in the oven)
Preheat the oven (conventional) to 275 F / 135 C.
Place all the meat in a dutch oven. Add the water, lime juice, orange juice, and milk, plus the onions, garlic and jalapenos. Stir to combine and cover the pot with the lid.
If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can use an oven safe dish instead. You can cover the pot with foil instead of a lid as well. This is how I used to make pork carnitas in the oven before I bought my own dutch oven.
Slow braise the pork in the oven for 3.5 hours. This will produce results similar to slow cooked carnitas.
Once the pork is cooked, remove it from the oven. Let it sit for about 20 – 30 minutes.
Remove the pork from the dutch oven and place it on a plate. You can also transfer all the onions, jalapenos and garlic as well – do not discard them!
Place the dutch oven on the stove (or transfer the leftover liquid into a saucepan). Cook the liquid on medium high heat until you reduce the liquid to about 1.5 cups. This can take about 30 minutes.
Once the mojo braising liquid is reduced, you’re ready to crisp up the pork.
How to make instant pot pork carnitas
I use a 6 qt instant pot for this recipe, but you can make this in an 8 qt as well.
Place the meat in the pot of your instant pot and add the water, lime juice, orange juice, milk, onions, garlic and jalapenos. Mix well.
Use the pressure cooking function. Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes, with a natural release of 15 minutes (or let it release naturally).
Remove the pot, and fish out all the pork, onions, garlic and jalapeno and place them on a plate.
Return the pot back to your instant pot and reduce the liquid to about 1.5 cups. I set the IP to the saute function for 30 minutes, and this is usually enough.
Once the braising liquid is reduced, you’re ready for the next step!
Caramelizing pork carnitas
The final step is making crispy carnitas! You can do this one of two ways,
- Broiling / grilling in the oven – This is my preferred method. I can do an entire batch at once, and I always get perfect, juicy, caramelized, crispy pork carnitas.
- Pan fry – This is also a great way to caramelize carnitas, but you have to work in batches which will take time.
Broiling / grilling in the oven
First, take the cooked pork pieces and shred the meat. Don’t shred them too finely, and keep some larger chunks as well. Skim off the fat from the reduced braising liquid.
Line a baking sheet with some foil. Spread out the shredded pork carnitas on the baking tray.
Set the oven to the broiler setting at 450 F / 232 C. Drizzle some of the reduced braising liquid over the meat and mix it in. Place the baking tray about 6 – 8 inches below the top element. Keep an eye on the pork until the meat starts to form caramelized bits. Don’t let the pork burn.
Once the meat is caramelized, remove the tray from the oven quickly and mix the meat so that more of the carnitas can crisp up. Add a little more of the liquid before returning the pork to the oven.
I like to repeat this another 1 – 2 times until I have caramelized the pork carnitas to my liking!
The crispy pork carnitas are done when the pork has beautifully caramelized pieces of shredded meat, along with juicy pieces of shredded meat. Add about 1/4 cup more of the braising liquid at the end and let it be absorbed by the meat.
Pan fry method
Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. While that’s heating, shred the meat. Make sure to keep some in larger chunks. Skim off the fat from the reduced braising liquid.
Once the pan is heated, place some of the meat in the skillet in one layer. Drizzle some of the braising liquid with the meat and mix. Let it cook over medium heat until the pork at the bottom of the pan starts to caramelize. Once it has caramelized, transfer the meat to a dish, and repeat until you have caramelized all the shredded meat.
After all the meat is caramelized, add 1/4 cup of the braising liquid and mix it in.
Carnitas can be placed in an air-tight container and stored in the fridge for about 4 days. DO NOT reheat and refrigerate the meat. Only take what you need and reheat.
You can also store carnitas in the freezer for up to 3 months!
Here’s what I do: Portion the meat per meal, and place the carnitas in air-tight containers or ziploc bags. The portions that I know I will be eating within 3 – 4 days, I keep in the fridge, and the rest I freeze.
To reheat – Simply reheat in the microwave, OR reheat in the oven.
Ways to use this carnitas recipe
These pork carnitas will transform ANY meal! But here are some of my favorite ways to enjoy them;
Carnitas rice bowl with salsa and vegetables.
Pork enchiladas with this green enchilada sauce.
My husband’s favorite – Pork empanadas made with the Fish empanada dough recipe.
Tips for making the best carnitas (oven or instant pot)
When making the carnitas recipe, there are TWO pork cuts that I recommend.
1 – Pork butt (also known as boston butt), OR
2 – Pork shoulder (also known as picnic shoulder)
Pork butt and shoulder come from the shoulder of the pig. The pork butt (boston butt) is higher up on the shoulder, whereas the pork shoulder (picnic shoulder) is just below it.
Pork butt is a fattier cut with more marbling, and is usually sold with a nice fat cap on top. The pork shoulder has less marbling. They both can be sold bone-in or boneless.
I prefer pork butt carnitas as the higher marbling makes for even more tender and juicy carnitas. But you can also just as easily make pork shoulder carnitas.
To make prepping easier, look for a boneless pork butt or pork shoulder cut. Preferably with a fat cap and no skin. The fat on the cap of the cuts will add flavor (and skimmed off at the end).
Milk can apparently act as a tenderizer for meat. However, I don’t really find that to be applicable for this recipe (since we cook the meat till it’s tender anyway). The cooked milk does add a very nice layer of flavor to the meat and the braising liquid!
You can also leave out the milk if you prefer too!
I very strongly recommend it! I don’t add a lot of salt to the meat while cooking the meat.
So, when the braising liquid is reduced, it concentrates the flavors in the carnitas, including the salt. This reduced braising liquid is added back to the shredded pork carnitas so that it seasons and adds even more flavor to the meat! It also keeps it juicy. If you don’t reduce it, the flavors will be too diluted.
Ensure the meat is cut into smaller chunks. This will cook the pork quicker and evenly resulting in delicious shreddable, flavorful pork carnitas with this recipe.
You DO NOT have to sear the meat first because you will be caramelizing the meat afterwards. This also saves time!
Make sure the braising liquid is very flavorful.
Adding milk will keep the pork carnitas juicy, while adding more flavor.
DO NOT throw out the braising liquid, and use it to keep the meat juicy even after broiling.
I’ve used both methods to make carnitas, and find they are both AMAZING! If I am short on time, I will go with the Instant pot, but if I want to cook MORE, I will use my oven (and dutch oven) to make pork carnitas!
I do prefer to use the ovens broiling setting to crisp the carnitas, over the pan frying method.
Pork Carnitas Recipe (Dutch Oven and Instant Pot)
- 1.8 kg pork butt 4 lbs (boneless, with some of the fat cap)
- 2 small onions or 1 large onion (quartered)
- 1 tbsp Mexican oregano or ½ tbsp regular oregano
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp ground coriander
- 1½ tsp black pepper (coarsely ground ) or cayenne pepper, optional
- 2 bay leaves optional
- 1 ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 5 garlic cloves you can leave them whole
- 3 jalapenos sliced lengthwise (remove seeds to reduce the heat if you prefer)
- 2 tbsp lime zest optional
- ⅓ cup lime juice
- ½ cup orange juice
- ½ cup milk or chicken stock
- ¼ cup water or stock
- ¼ cup tequila optional
Pork carnitas in the oven / Dutch oven
- Preheat the oven to 275°F.
- Cut the pork butt roughly into 3 inch pieces.1.8 kg pork butt
- Sprinkle the oregano, cumin, coriander, pepper, sugar, lime zest and salt over the meat, and mix them in well until all of the pork is coated well with the spices.1 tbsp Mexican oregano, 1 tbsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1½ tsp black pepper (coarsely ground ), 1 ½ tsp sea salt, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp lime zest
- Place the cut up pork in a dutch oven or oven-safe casserole dish. I use a 5.3 L dutch oven for this recipe.
- Add all the liquid into the dutch oven and mix the meat with the liquid.⅓ cup lime juice, ½ cup orange juice, ½ cup milk, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup tequila
- Tuck the onion, garlic cloves. bay leaves, and jalapeno inside the pork pieces.2 small onions, 5 garlic cloves, 3 jalapenos, 2 bay leaves
- Cover the dutch oven with the lid, or the oven-safe dish tightly with foil, and slow roast in the oven for about 3.5 hours. Remove from the oven and lift the edge of the foil or lid and check if the meat is fork tender (use a fork and pull apart a piece of meat). If not, cover and return to the oven for another 30 minutes (the exact time depends on the oven and the dish you use – my oven usually takes 3.5 hours, but I have left it in there for up to 4 hours occasionally).
- When the pork is tender, remove the pot from the oven. Let it rest for about 20 – 30 minutes.
- Remove the pieces of pork from the dish, and place them on a plate. Also remove the onions, garlic, and jalapeno, and place them with the meat. Discard the bay leaves.
- Return the dutch oven to the stove. If you used an oven-safe dish, then transfer the braising liquid into a pot, and place the pot on the stove. It's absolutely OK if there is a little meat / onion pieces left in the braising liquid.
- Bring the liquid to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the liquid until you have about 1.5 cups of liquid. This can take about 30 – 40 minutes on the stove.
- Once the liquid is reduced, skim off the fat on top. OPTIONAL STEP – you can add some of that fat back into the pork for very juicy carnitas, if you like.
Pork carnitas in Instant Pot
- Cut the pork into 3 inch pieces. Add the oregano, cumin, coriander, pepper, sugar, lime zest and salt over the meat, and mix them in well until all of the pork is coated well with the spices.1.8 kg pork butt, 1 tbsp Mexican oregano, 1 tbsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1½ tsp black pepper (coarsely ground ), 1 ½ tsp sea salt, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp lime zest
- Place the pork in the pot of your instant pot (I use a 6 qt IP).
- Add all the liquid into the pot and mix the meat with the liquid.⅓ cup lime juice, ½ cup orange juice, ½ cup milk, ¼ cup water, ¼ cup tequila
- Tuck the onion, garlic, jalapeno and bay leaves into the meat.2 small onions, 5 garlic cloves, 3 jalapenos, 2 bay leaves
- Place the pot in the instant pot, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. Make sure the valve is in the closed position. Follow with a natural release of 15 minutes (or let it release naturally).
- Once cooked, remove the pieces of pork from the pot, and place them on a plate. Also remove the onions, garlic and jalapeno, and place them with the meat. Discard the bay leaves.
- Return the pot with the liquid to the instant pot, and on the saute setting, let the liquid reduce. Set the saute setting for about 30 minutes. Once the liquid is reduced, skim off the fat on top. OPTIONAL STEP – you can add some of that fat back into the pork for very juicy carnitas, if you like. You should end up with about 1.5 cups of liquid or less.
Making crispy pork carnitas in the oven
- Shred the pork using two forks, but don't shred the meat too much.
- Prepare an oven tray / sheet pan for broiling by covering it with some foil.
- Place the pork on the sheet pan and spread it out evenly. Pour about ¼ cup of the braising liquid over the meat and mix.
- Turn on the broil setting in your oven and set it to 450°F. Place the sheet pan about 8 – 10 inches below the oven element (in the upper third of the oven).
- Keep the oven door open while you're broiling the meat. Let the pork caramelize and become crisp. Keep an eye on the meat since you could easily burn the carnitas at this point. Mine takes about 10 – 15 minutes, so keep an eye on it!.
- Remove the tray from the oven, and add another ¼ cup of liquid and mix the carnitas carefully. You can break up the larger pieces of meat as well. Broil it again one more time (to get more browned and crispy bits).
- OPTIONAL – Twice is enough, but you can do this step once or twice more IF you want0 even more caramelized bits of meat.
- After removing the carnitas from the oven, add another ¼ cup of liquid and mix it with the meat. Taste and add more salt and lime juice to taste.
- These slow roasted pork carnitas can be served as is, with some rice and beans. Or in tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, etc.
Tips & Tricks
Storage instructionsThese pork carnitas should be stored in an air-tight container and then in the fridge for up to 4 days. OR you can store the carnitas in the freezer for up to 3 months. Do not reheat and freeze, so store the carnitas in portions, so that you can reheat only what you need, whenever you need it.
“This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.”