There are few things better than the perfect taco, and it’s easier than ever to achieve with this recipe for Instant Pot Carnitas! Satisfy your craving right at home in about an hour. Pork carnitas (Mexican pulled pork) are one of the simplest but most satisfying recipes you can make in your pressure cooker – crispy but tender shreds of pork in a perfectly seasoned sauce, made quickly with very little effort. You’ll be instantly addicted!
Carnitas are a classic Mexican dish that every meat-eater I know will happily devour. The name translates to “little meats” and it’s essentially Mexican pulled pork.
Classic carnitas are made from boston butt or pork shoulder seasoned with garlic, salt, oregano, and cumin that’s braised in lard until fall apart tender. Most home cooks I know (including me) will braise the roast in a dutch oven until the fat cap renders, the meat tenderizes then falls apart, and the shreds start to sizzle in the fat. It’s insanely delicious, but also time consuming, taking a good 4-5 hours for a 4-pound cut. (PS – my favorite slow braised recipe for carnitas is this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and you should definitely make it as time permits.)
Instant pot carnitas achieve 90% of the flavor, texture, and tenderness of the slow-braised version. I say 90% because, let’s be honest, a pressure cooker isn’t a perfect substitute for slow braising a hunk of pork in fat for hours and hours. But it’s close…really close.
Making carnitas in the instant pot is quick (about an hour) and yields excellent results with very little fuss and absolutely no babysitting. It’s a beginner recipe that anyone can master, even kids or your non-cooking spouse or partner.
How to make instant pot carnitas
Is there anything better than perfectly seasoned, tender-yet-crispy shreds of pork stuffed into a blistered taco shell? Few things, my friends, few things. Instant Pot Carnitas are much quicker than the classic method, and yield all of the aforementioned benefits. Citrus juices (orange and lime) add subtle flavor and help tenderize the pork, which is seasoned with plenty of garlic, cumin, and oregano (use Mexican oregano if you have it). This dish is ready in an hour and will easily feed your belly and soul for a week.
- Heat the inner pot, then add olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add four cloves of chopped garlic and saute until garlic is lightly golden brown and very aromatic – a minute or two.
- Turn off the saute feature, then add the pork pieces to the pot. Season with cumin, oregano and salt, then give the pork a good toss with the spices and sautéed garlic.
- Add orange juice and lime juice and give the pork one final stir.
- Cook on high pressure for 35 minutes, then allow for a 10-15 minute natural pressure release. Release any remaining pressure manually.
- Position a rack at the top of the oven and set the broiler to high.
- Remove the pork pieces from the cooking liquid using tongs or a slotted spoon.
- Shred the pork using two forks.
- Place the pork onto a foil-lined baking sheet in an even layer. Drizzle with half the juices from the pot.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven on the top rack and broil for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet, stir the pork, add more pan juices if the pork is very dry, then broil an additional 5 minutes.
Um, hello gorgeous. Super crispy-yet-tender and incredibly flavorful carnitas. In your pressure cooker. In 1 hour.
Definitely sprinkle with a healthy handful of chopped cilantro. Definitely drizzle a little more pan juices over the crispy carnitas. Attempt to restrain yourself from eating too much straight off the pan.
What to serve with carnitas
I’m typically hesitant to cook an entire pork shoulder or boston butt with a single flavor profile – it’s so much meat! I often opt for my dutch oven pulled pork (or the instant pot version), which can be used in many different cuisines and recipes. But carnitas are so good, and also so versatile, that I rarely give it a second thought. It also freezes like a dream, so storing half for later is a no-brainer.
We can easily burn through a meal plus leftovers in a week. Here’s some of our favorite ways to enjoy carnitas:
- The traditional way, stuffed into warmed corn tortillas and topped with cilantro and diced white onions. We go slightly off-track and serve these with quick pickled red onions, crumbled queso fresco or cojita, and chopped cilantro.
- In a burrito bowl over cilantro lime rice with sautéed peppers and onions and fried plantains.
- Over Mexican cauliflower rice with guacamole or avocado. Adding a poached egg and calling it breakfast wouldn’t be going too far.
- As the base for Tamale Pie, or stuffed into burritos or enchiladas.
Tips for making this recipe perfectly
- Use the right cut of meat. Pork loin isn’t my first choice – isn’t fatty enough to create the best flavor for a pressure cooker meal. Boston butt or pork shoulder are the best options.
- Remove the fat cap from the pork before cutting. When cooking pork shoulder or boston butt in the slow cooker or dutch oven, there is enough time and heat for the fat to render. That’s not the case with a pressure cooker method. The fat cap will become gummy, and since it doesn’t render, doesn’t enhance the flavor. Boston butt provides the most flavor through the smaller fat ribbons and meat itself, and you’ll still create very flavorful and tender carnitas even with the fat cap removed.
- Divide the meat into 2-3″ pieces. It’s certainly possible to cook the pork whole, but it takes much longer (closer to 90 minutes). Dividing the meat greatly reduces cooking time, and creates the perfect shreddable chunks for stuffing into tacos or scooping over rice.
- Carnitas must be browned for best flavor. Sure, you can shred and eat them straight from the pot if you want good carnitas. But for the best carnitas? Brown ’em up! I prefer the baking sheet/broiler method because you can brown the entire batch in one go. You can also brown in smaller batches in a heavy bottomed skillet using a splash of olive oil (or lard, if you have access to it).
How to store pressure cooker carnitas
Leftovers can be browned and then stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to five days. Store the remaining pan juices separately. Reheat in a heavy bottomed skillet in a splash of olive oil, lard, or bacon fat over medium high heat, then top with a splash of pan juices.
If you’d like to freeze for a meal later, reserve half of the shredded pork, but do not brown. Place the pork and half the pan juices into a gallon zip lock bag, press out the air, then store in the freezer for 2 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight. Spread the defrosted pork and juices over a foil-lined baking sheet. Reheat in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes, then switch to the broiler setting to brown per the recipe directions.
More easy Mexican recipes
- Mexican Cauliflower Rice
- Grilled Mexican Street Corn Stuffed Peppers
- Slow Cooker Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Ground Beef Taco Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Did you make this recipe for Instant Pot carnitas? I’d love to know how they turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below
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- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3-4 pound pork shoulder, fat cap removed, cut into 2-3” pieces
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tsp oregano, mexican oregano if you have it
- ¾ c orange juice
- ½ c lime juice
- Press the “Saute” function and allow the inner pot to head up. When the display reads “Hot” add olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add garlic and saute, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden brown, 1-2 minutes.
- Press the “Cancel” button to turn off the saute function. Add the pork pieces along with the salt, cumin, and oregano. Toss until well combined and pork pieces are evenly coated with seasoning.
- Pour the orange juice and lemon juice over the pork.
- Seal the pot, ensure the pressure valve is set to “Sealing”, and program to High Pressure for 35 minutes. Allow for a 10-15 minute natural pressure release, then release the remaining pressure naturally.
- Remove the pork using tongs or a slotted spoon and set onto a plate or into a wide shallow bowl. Shred the pork using two forks.
- Position a rack in the uppermost slot of the oven, then set the oven to broil on “high”. Transfer the pork shreds to a foil lined baking sheet and arrange into an even layer, then pour half the pan juices over the meat. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and broil for five minutes. Remove the baking sheet, stir the pork, then broil 5 minutes more.
- Enjoy warm and crispy from the oven stuffed into tortillas and topped with your favorite toppings. We like cilantro, pickled red onions, and crumbled queso fresco.