This Easy Carnitas Recipe can be made in the slow cooker or Instant Pot for foolproof Mexican pulled pork that’s juicy and flavorful. Perfect for tacos, tostadas, gorditas, burrito bowls and more! (gluten free, paleo, low carb)
Seasoned with Mexican flavors like oregano, cumin, chili powder and lime juice, this easy Mexican carnitas recipe makes tender, mouthwatering pulled pork with minimal prep work.
Growing up in a Mexican household, I ate my fair share of traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes like steak fajitas, chicken tacos, chile verde, carne asada and chile colorado.
But the one recipe I always wanted to learn how to make (because it makes the best pork tacos) was carnitas.
I’m happy to say that I finally learned how to make this carnitas recipe over 5 years ago and I’ve never met a person who didn’t fall in love with it! Also, not only is it the most popular recipe on Isabel Eats, but it’ll make your house smell amazing while you’re cooking it! It’s a nice little bonus.
What are carnitas?
Carnitas are the Mexican version of pulled pork. It’s traditionally made with pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) because of the higher fat content, which helps the meat stay super tender and juicy while it’s cooked.
It can be used to make tacos (as pictured in the photos in this post), tostadas, salads, nachos, burritos, burrito bowls, quesadillas, basically everything!
This recipe is extremely easy to make and comes out perfect every single time. It’s literally fail proof! Here’s what you need to get started.
Ingredients you’ll need
- meat: pork shoulder (also known as pork butt)
- acid: lime juice
- seasonings: salt, ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, onion powder, black pepper
How to make carnitas
Cut pork shoulder into large 4-inch chunks, removing any excess fat. Place in the slow cooker. (photo 1)
Cover with lime juice, salt, ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, onion powder and black pepper. (photo 2)
Mix everything together until the meat is evenly coated with the spices. (photo 3)
Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6-8 hours. (photo 4)
When the meat is very tender, pull it apart with two forks. Mix in some freshly chopped cilantro if desired and serve. (photo 5)
One of my favorite things about this carnitas recipe is that it’s made in the slow cooker (here’s one I recommend). I usually use the high setting and slow cook it for 4 hours. It’s fall-apart tender and juicy every time!
If you have a little more time and want to use the low setting, I recommend slow cooking it on low for 7-8 hours.
Frequently Asked Questions About This Carnitas Recipe
Since posting this recipe back in 2015, I’ve received lots of great questions from readers. I want to make sure I answer the questions I get the most, so here’s the most frequently asked questions.
Are you sure there’s enough liquid in this carnitas recipe?
Yes. If you’re making this recipe in the slow cooker, you don’t need any extra liquid because pork shoulder is a very marbled cut of meat. As the meat cooks, the fat starts to render and provides enough liquid (and flavor!) for the recipe.
However, if you’re making this recipe in the Instant Pot, you will need to add some extra liquid as is required by any pressure cooker method of cooking. See Instant Pot notes below and in the recipe card.
Can I make these carnitas in the Instant Pot?
Yes! To make these carnitas in the Instant Pot pressure cooker, add all the ingredients into the pot just like you would in the slow cooker method, and then add in 1 cup of broth – chicken, beef or vegetable will all work.
Close the lid, set the vent to “sealing” and pressure cook on high for 40 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes, then manually release the remaining pressure. Shred and serve as normal.
All I have is pork loin. Can I still make this recipe?
Yes, but I would add a tablespoon or two of fat – either olive oil, coconut oil or whatever you prefer.
Since pork loin is a much leaner cut than pork shoulder, I’d also add 1/4 cup of liquid – either broth or orange juice.
Can slow cooker carnitas be frozen?
Yes. To freeze, cool the pulled pork carnitas to room temperature. Place it in an air tight freezer bag, leaving about 2 inches of room at the top to allow for expansion, and freeze. It can be kept frozen for 4-6 months.
To reheat, heat it up in medium pot on the stove or a large bowl in the microwave.
Ways to eat slow cooker carnitas
Looking for ways to use your pork carnitas? Here are some of my favorite ways to eat it throughout the week!
- make carnitas tacos (warm corn tortillas, diced onions, chopped cilantro, cotija cheese, freshly squeezed lime juice, pickled jalapenos and salsa)
- stuffed in gorditas with shredded cheese
- topped on homemade tostada shells and sopes
- in burrito bowls or on top of nachos
- on a plate with easy refried beans and authentic mexican rice
For the carnitas
- 2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder (also known as ‘pork butt’)
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup broth (chicken, beef or vegetable) *for Instant Pot cooking method only*
Slow Cooker Instructions
- Cut the pork shoulder into large 4-inch chunks. Place in the slow cooker.
- Add the lime juice, salt, ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, onion powder and black pepper. Mix thoroughly to coat the meat with all the seasonings.
- Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or on low for 7-8 hours. When tender, shred the meat by pulling it apart with two forks.
- Mix in freshly chopped cilantro if desired and serve in tacos, gorditas, tostadas, burrito bowls and salads.
Instant Pot Instructions
- Cut the pork shoulder into large 4-inch chunks. Place in the Instant Pot.
- Add the lime juice, salt, ground cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, dried oregano, onion powder, black pepper and 1 cup of broth. Mix thoroughly to coat the meat with all the seasonings.
- Lock the lid and set the steam release vent to the "sealing" position. Press the "manual" button and set the timer on high pressure for 40 minutes.
- When the 40 minutes are up, let the pressure naturally release for 15 minutes. Then manually release the remaining pressure by moving the steam release vent to the "venting" position.
- Open the lid and shred the meat with two forks. Mix in freshly chopped cilantro if desired and serve in tacos, gorditas, tostadas, burrito bowls and salads.
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