This traditional carnitas recipe is out-of-this-world tender, juicy, and delicious. These Instant Pot carnitas takes less expensive, tougher cuts of pork and turns them into juicy tender pieces of pork that explode with flavor in less time. In Mexican cuisine, these "little meats" are one of the favored traditional recipes, and for very good reasons. If you're hungry for an authentic carnitas recipe, you are going to love this recipe.
⭐ Why Use This Recipe
Easy cooking process. This traditional carnitas recipe is a great recipe if its your first time making this Mexican dish. The recipe is fool-proof and won't require a whole day to make.
Wonderful flavor. Pork shoulder is well marbled giving it . It is also a tougher cut making it less expensive. This is where the Instant Pot shines - making tough cuts of meat marvelously tender without long braising times.
Much faster. For most slow cooker traditional carnitas, it will take you up to 8 hours of cooking time. If you are roasting or braising Dutch oven carnitas you also need to monitor moisture levels so your pork meat doesn't dry out. You can pressure cook pork shoulder in less than 2 hours making this the best way.
Boneless pork shoulder is the perfect cut of pork for carnitas. Your grocer store may also call it a pork shoulder, Boston butt, pork butt. picnic roast, or blade roast. These are all cuts from the shoulder of the pig. "Butt" is an old English term that means the widest part which for a pig is the shoulder.
Some pork shoulder cuts may have more or less marbling. For the best carnitas tacos, select the cut with more marbling throughout. Source: National Pork Board
Canola Oil for searing the pork for flavor. You may also want to slightly crisp the shredded pork before add to the tortillas.
Sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Maui
Chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
Orange juice is key in a traditional carnitas recipe because it adds a bright, citrusy flavor to the pork and helps to tenderize the meat. The acidity helps to break down the tough muscle fibers in the pork, resulting in juicy and tender carnitas. Adding orange zest adds more depth to the dish.
Herbs and spices; minced garlic, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, kosher salt and black pepper.
Corn tortillas (taco size)
Cotija cheese is a traditional Mexican cheese that is the perfect flavor compliment to tacos de carnitas.
Fresh cilantro for garnish
Limes for that added punch of citrus squeezed over the top. Cut into wedges and served on the side, everyone can choose whether or not to squeeze lime juice over the carnitas.
Actual measurements for these ingredients is included in the recipe card.
Use lard (pork fat) in place of the canola oil for a really traditional Mexican pork carnitas recipe. The lard adds a richness to the pork that the canola oil does not. If neither of these work for you, use a neutral oil for cooking.
Large yellow onion or a white onion can be used in place of the sweet onions.
Flour tortillas can be used in place of corn tortillas. However, they are not as sturdy so you may want to double up your flour tortillas.
A substitute for Cotija cheese is queso fresco or one of the shredded Mexican-style cheeses that are quite common in grocery stores. Do not use the oft-recommended feta cheese as it is not close to a similar flavor.
🔪 How To Make Melt-in-Your-Mouth Carnitas
Pat pork shoulder dry. Rub pork all over with salt and pepper.
Add oil to the Instant Pot and heat until shimmering.
Sauté pork for about 8 minutes or until browned. Remove pork.
Sauté onions and garlic in the pot.
Add chicken stock, orange juice, orange zest, herbs, and spices; stirring. Return pork and juices to the pot.
Pressure cook for 60 minutes and do a natural release. Using tongs, transfer pork to a bowl or cutting board.
Using 2 forks shred pork into bite-size pieces. Discard any excess fat.
Discard the bay leaves and all but ⅔ cup liquid from the pot. Return the shredded pork to the pot and cook on Sauté, stirring often, until liquid has evaporated and pork is slightly crispy.
Meanwhile, quickly sear the corn tortillas in a skillet or comal. Top the warm tortillas with moist, tender pulled pork, cilantro, and cotija cheese. Serve with lime wedges.
🥗The Best Traditional Side Dishes
There are so many great side dishes that pair well with this traditional carnitas recipe, such as Spanish beans and rice many of which can be prepared while the pork is pressure cooking. A fan favorite is elote en vaso, a Mexican street corn in a cup. Frijole charros an authentic Mexican bean dish is always a hit and a nice alternative to refried beans.
Follow the steps for how to heat tortillas before using them so they don't crack or tear. You can keep them warm in a 200 degree F oven if you do a large number before serving.
The cooked shredded pork can also be seared under the broiler instead of in the Instant Pot. To do this, preheat the broiler. Arrange pork on a baking sheet pan and broil until desired crispness.
Pulled pork for Instant Pot Carnitas can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat, add a small amount of broth to the pressure cooker and add the shredded pork. Cook on Sauté until heated through.
Instant Pot Carnitas
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 3 ½ lb boneless pork shoulder cut into 2 pieces
- 1 tablespoon canola oil approx.
- 2 sweet onions, coarsely chopped such as Vidalia
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cups Chicken Stock or ready-to-use chicken broth
- 1 orange, zest and juice from see tip
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 bay leaves
- 24 corn tortillas (taco size)
- Cotija cheese crumbled
- Chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 lime, cut into 8 wedges optional
- Salsa optional
- Cut roast into 2 pieces that will each fit easily inside the pot. Pat pork dry. Rub pork all over with salt and pepper.
- Set your Instant Pot to sauté on Normal. When the display says Hot, add 1 tablespoon (15 mL) oil and heat until shimmering. Working with one piece at a time, add pork and cook, turning, for 8 minutes or until browned on all sides, adding more oil as needed between batches. Using tongs, transfer pork to a plate as it is browned.
- Set aside ½ cup chopped onions for garnish. Add the remaining onions to the fat remaining in the pot and cook, stirring often, for 5 to 7 minute or until softened. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until fragrant. Press Cancel. Stir in chicken stock, orange zest, orange juice, oregano leaves, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves, scraping off any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Return pork and any accumulated juices to the pot, turning to coat.
- Close and lock the lid and turn the steam release handle to Sealing. Set your Instant Pot to pressure cook on High for 60 minutes.
- When the cooking time is done, press Cancel and let stand, covered, until the float valve drops down. Remove the lid. The pork should be fork-tender. (If more cooking time is needed, continue pressure cooking on High for 5 minutes, then quickly release the pressure.)
- Transfer pork to a large bowl or cutting board. Using two forks, shred pork. Discard any excess fat.
- Meanwhile, discard all but ⅔ cup liquid from the pot. Discard bay leaves. Set your Instant Pot to sauté on High. Add shredded pork to the pot and cook, stirring often, until liquid has evaporated and pork is slightly crispy.
- Garnish with cotija and cilantro. Serve with salsa and lime wedges, if using.
Process photos 1 to 5 Courtesy of the National Pork Board, Des Moines, Iowa