Instant Pot Carnitas are so full of flavor! This Mexican-style pulled pork is smoky and citrussy, with irresistible crispy bits and a texture that’s fall-apart good. Served in warm tortillas and topped with jalapenos and a squeeze of lime, it doesn’t get much better than these Instant Pot pork carnitas!
Carnitas are tender, smoky, melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork, Mexican style. The word “carnitas” literally translates to “little meats” in Spanish. The shreds of meat might be little, but they’re big on flavor–especially pork carnitas cooked in the Instant Pot!
Traditionally, carnitas cook low and slow until tender and easy to shred, but when you make pork carnitas Instant Pot style, it’s a brilliant shortcut that gets carnitas on your plate faster. Plus, the high-pressure environment infuses the tender meat with all that citrus-and-herb goodness for incredibly flavorful pork carnitas you’ll want to serve on everything.
We make this Instant Pot carnitas recipe all the time at home, but they’re also amazing as a make-ahead camping meal. Whip up a batch, then transfer them to an airtight container, pack them in your cooler, and heat them up at your campsite later on.
These Instant Pot pork carnitas are also excellent for entertaining! Whip up a batch, serve them with warm tortillas and assorted toppings, and your gathering will be good to go.
- Boneless pork shoulder: Cut the pork into cubes for this recipe. Pork shoulder is often sold as “pork butt,” which is actually a specific part of the shoulder.
- Fresh orange & lime juices: Citrus juices add signature flavor to carnitas while also helping to tenderize the meat while it cooks.
- Assorted spices: Ground cumin adds smoky flavor, dried oregano lends earthy, Tex-Mex vibes, and bay leaf contributes an herbal note.
- Olive oil: For sauteing the onion and garlic.
- Onion: Adds flavor and a little texture to your finished carnitas.
- Garlic: We use four cloves of fresh garlic. In a pinch, you can substitute ½ teaspoon garlic powder instead, but we recommend going with garlic if you can.
- Chicken broth: Adds juiciness and flavor to the carnitas while they cook.
The best cut of pork for carnitas
Pork shoulder is the best cut of pork to use when making carnitas. Because it’s nicely marbled with a high amount of fat, pork shoulder yields the best flavor and, when cooked, stays juicy with an ultra-tender, shreddable texture.
What Size Instant Pot Do You Need?
This Instant Pot Carnitas recipe, as written, will work for any size Instant Pot, with sufficient liquid for larger-sized electric pressure cookers as well as small ones.
We use a 3-quart Duo. For three pounds of pork, it’s snug–but it does work!
How Long To Cook Carnitas In The Instant Pot?
We recommend budgeting about an hour and 10 minutes total time for carnitas in the Instant Pot. This includes 40 minutes of active pressure cooking time, including approximately 15 minutes for the Instant Pot to come up to pressure, plus 15 minutes of natural steam release.
Thankfully, it is all hands-free, passive cooking time–so you can do something else with your time!
How To Make Instant Pot Carnitas—Step By Step
First, add the pork, citrus juices, spices, and salt to a large bowl. Stir to coat the pork and set aside to marinate.
Next, turn your Instant Pot to the saute setting and drizzle in the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until fragrant and the onions are translucent.
Pour in the chicken broth and scrape up any flavorful bits from the onion and garlic. Add the pork along with its marinade into the pot and stir to mix it all together.
It’s time to cook! Place the lid on the Instant pot, set the vent to sealing, and cook for 40 minutes on high pressure.
After the 40 minutes is up, let the Instant Pot sit for 15 minutes before flipping the vent to release the remaining pressure.
Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork from the pot to a cutting board. Using a couple of forks, shred the pork. If you prefer, you can also shred it directly in your Instant Pot. Your carnitas should be very tender and come apart easily.
Crisp them up!
Before serving, you have one final step–crisping them! Choose your method for achieving that signature carnitas crisp:
- Stovetop: Set a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add your carnitas with a bit of the cooking juice. Cook until some of the carnitas are crisp and browned.
- Oven: Spread your carnitas on a large lined baking sheet and drizzle with a small amount of the cooking juice. Place under your oven’s broiler until some of the carnitas have developed a crispy top. Watch them closely to avoid burning!
- Outdoors: When you’re camping, use a cast-iron skillet on the camp stove or over the fire. Crisp your carnitas in batches if needed. Overcrowding will work against you by creating a steaming rather than crisping effect.
How To Store
To store Instant Pot pork carnitas, cool to room temperature, then transfer them to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to four days. You can also freeze carnitas for up to three months. Either way, be sure to store them with some of the extra liquid, which will help them stay moist.
To pack Instant Pot carnitas in a cooler for camping, make sure they’re in a watertight container or zip-top bag. When storing meat, it’s important to keep the cooler at 41º or below. Here are our best tips for how to properly pack a cooler.
How To Use Pork Carnitas
- Fill tacos with carnitas and top with sliced jalapeno peppers, slivers of onion, and a squeeze of lime.
- Add a stack of carnitas to a plate with a freshly grilled tortilla alongside a scoop of Mexican Street Corn Slaw.
- Top a big batch of grilled nachos and then pile on the cheese.
- Add to bowls with rice, salsa, sour cream, and veggies for easy burrito bowls.
- Sprinkle a bit into fajitas for a meaty spin.
- Use carnitas in Pulled Pork Sliders with fresh cilantro and jalapenos for a Mexican spin on the mini sandwiches.
- Fresh cilantro
- Diced onion
- Lime wedges
Prevent your screen from going dark
Place the pork pieces in a large bowl, add the orange juice, lime juice, cumin, oregano, bay leaf, and salt. Stir to combine and set aside to marinate while you prep the onions and garlic.
Turn your Instant Pot to the sauté setting. Add the olive oil and allow it to heat up.
Add the onion and garlic to the instant pot and sauté until the onions are translucent.
Add the chicken broth to the pot to deglaze, using a wooden or silicone spatula to stir and lift any brown bits up. Don’t skip this step, or you risk triggering the “Burn” warning on the Instant Pot.
Place the pork and the marinade into the pot. Stir well to combine.
Place the lid on the Instant Pot and set the vent to sealing. Cook on high pressure for 40 minutes, then let the pressure naturally release for 15 minutes.
Open the vent to release any remaining pressure, then remove the lid.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork from the pot and place it on a cutting board or in a large dish. Shred the pork using two forks.
Crisp the carnitas–Stovetop: Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork and some of the cooking liquid and cook until crispy in spots.Broiler: Place the carnitas on a lined baking sheet. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over the top. Place under a broiler for a few minutes until crisped up (keep a close eye on it!).
Serve your carnitas on warmed tortillas, topped with diced onion, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and salsa.
Calories: 296kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 25g | Fat: 21g | Sugar: 2g
*Nutrition is an estimate based on information provided by a third-party nutrition calculator