Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe

Slow cooked carnitas are one of the best additions to tacos, burritos, and quesadillas. There's just one problem for the home cook who is short on time: the "slow" part of slow cooked carnitas. With an Instant Pot and the right recipe, however, time is no problem at all. Home cook and food blogger Nathaniel Lee has just the recipe. "I regularly work on a hectic schedule often 60+ hours a week and so finding time to cook multiple meals that need a lot of attention is never easy," Lee says. Enter the Instant Pot.

"I have made several carnitas recipes in the past but they were designed for the oven, stove top, or traditional pressure cookers," Lee says. "All in all this meant they were much more involved in terms of ingredients and steps. This recipe is specifically designed for the Instant Pot and if you wanted to you could even do the final fry in it as well."

This is how to make delicious carnitas and have a meal ready in under three hours (most of which is waiting).

Gather your ingredients for the Instant Pot carnitas

You can easily find all of the ingredients you need for this Instant Pot carnitas recipe at the grocery store or your local Mexican market, but there's a good chance you already have many of the necessary spices and herbs in your kitchen. First and foremost, you'll need a pork shoulder that's around 5 pounds. Both boneless and bone-in work, so choose whichever you prefer or whatever is available.

"Pork shoulder is ideal for its connective tissue and fat content which renders into an amazing broth for braising the pork," Lee says. "Extra points for bone-in pork as the bone will add extra flavor, minerals, and gelatin. If you can't find pork shoulder, check for alternative names like pork butt, Boston butt, or pork roast."

You'll also need onion, serrano or jalapeno peppers (serrano if you're into more spice, jalapeno for less), salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and no-pulp orange juice. Don't feel restricted to just orange, however, and feel free to use mixes.

"Pineapple is the real secret with the mixed juice," Lee says, because "pineapple-orange mixed juices have more tang than orange juice. Also pineapple flavors are very commonly mixed with pork in adobada and al pastor preparations."

Make the spice rub for Instant Pot carnitas

The rub is where the flavor is, and it's the first thing to make after gathering your ingredients. Measure out and mix the salt, pepper, and cumin in one bowl for the rub. Once it's ready, put the pork shoulder in a dish and evenly cover all sides of the meat with the rub. You might notice that the oregano isn't included in the initial mix, and that's an important step to note.

"Searing is about browning the meat and creating complex flavor through the maillard reaction," Lee says. "Never sear with herbs. Fresh herbs contain water which prevents browning by capping temperatures, dry herbs burn and lose their positive flavor compounds turning into bitter unsavory notes. You want the flavor of the herbs to permeate into the liquid so it can then permeate the meat while braising in the pressure cooker, if you burn them you are literally pumping ash and char into your food."

Chop the onion and peppers for your Instant Pot carnitas

For this recipe, you're going to want to cut the onion into 1-inch pieces. The peppers, however, need to be diced (to dice something means to cut it into super small pieces versus chop, which is a more general term). If you opt for using serrano peppers, you'll need to dice two of them because they're smaller in size, but you'll only need one jalapeno. Just note that, though the serranos are smaller, they're also spicier. According to the Seattle Times, serranos are between 5,000 and 15,000 Scoville Units (the universal measurement for spice level), making them up to five times hotter than jalapenos, which are between 2,000 and 5,000 Scoville Units.

The recipe doesn't call for garlic, but if you were to add it, you'll also need to chop the fresh garlic at this point. Choose for fresh over powdered for best results here.

"Try to stay away from more dry ingredients," Lee says, "as it will make the broth more viscous and interfere with the water absorption by the pork."

Sauté the Instant Pot carnitas pork

Once you've chopped all of your ingredients and covered the meat in the spice rub, it's time to sauté the pork. Turn the Instant Pot to sauté mode with the lid off and put the pork into the pot with the fat side down first (feel free to add about 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the bottom of the Instant Pot if you have a particularly lean piece of pork).

"You sear the fat side first to render the fat out," Lee says. "This will assist in heat transfer and flavor development of all other sides. It is analogous to spreading butter on toast rather than leaving it in a cube."

While you don't have to worry about the ends of the pork shoulder, you need to brown the other three main sides of the meat after searing the side with the most fat. It should take about two minutes per side.

Cook the Instant Pot carnitas and shred the pork

Once you're done cooking the sides of the meat, add the juice, onion, peppers, and oregano to the Instant Pot, put the lid on, and set it to High Pressure. Then comes the hardest part: the waiting. Let the carnitas cook for two and a half hours under high pressure. Once that's done, you'll need to shred the pork.

Remove the pork from the liquid in the Instant Pot and put it on a baking dish to shred it. The size and consistency of the shred is up to your personal taste.

"I normally shred the pork with the tongs I remove it from the pot with," Lee says. "That said, you can definitely use the two fork method. In terms of consistency, this really depends on personal preference. Here in San Diego we get all kinds, my personal preference is for smaller, finer grain shred. But if you want the full mouthfeel and bite you can go easy on the shred and fry up larger chunks."

Fry up your Instant Pot carnitas until it's crispy

Carnitas are typically served either wet or crispy. If you prefer the former, your work here is done and you can simply put the meat back with the juices in the Instant Pot. For crispy carnitas, you'll need to fry the meat on a non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Cook it with a cup of broth until the pork is crisp.

"Frying is optional," Lee says. "Plenty of taco shops and restaurants will serve you 'wet' carnitas, which is just the roasted or braised pork in the liquid it was cooked in (think Chipotle's carnitas). Frying it and then reducing the liquid will massively increase the mouthfeel and concentrate the flavor. If you like texture to your food and want an explosion of concentrated carnitas flavor you need to reduce the water in the final product."

Don't throw away the remaining broth if you choose the crispy route. The fortified pork broth is an excellent soup starter for menudo, tortilla soup, or albondigas, Lee says.

How to serve and store the Instant Pot carnitas

Tacos are an obvious use for these carnitas. Simply put it in a tortilla with your favorite salsa and serve it alongside rice and beans for a complete meal (though carnitas tacos on their own are immensely satisfying). Burritos are another option if you're looking for a meal that's just as easy to wrap in foil and take with you on the go as it is delicious.

Another option is to add the carnitas to quesadillas. While there's a time and place for plain cheese quesadillas, the dish is made all the better with the addition of some crispy carnitas.

Unless you're serving a big group, you're going to have some leftovers. A 5-pound piece of pork is a lot of meat, after all. The carnitas will last for months in Ziploc freezer bags with the air pressed out, Lee says, and up to a week in the refrigerator. When you're ready to eat them, simply fry the carnitas back up in a pan.

Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe
4.3 from 4 ratings
Carnitas is one of the tastiest fillings you can make. The waiting can be tough, but your patience will be rewarded with a delicious meal.
Prep Time
Cook Time
intant Pot carnitas recipe
Total time: 2 hours, 40 minutes
  • 1 pork shoulder (5 lbs); boneless or bone-in is fine
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 serrano Peppers or 1 jalapeno; jalapeno will be less spicy
  • 2 cups orange or similar juice such as pineapple
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
Optional Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. Measure salt, pepper, and cumin into a bowl for a rub and set aside before measuring out oregano (don't mix it with your salt, pepper, cumin mixture).
  2. Cut onion into 1 inch pieces and dice pepper(s).
  3. Place the pork shoulder into a baking dish and apply rub to all sides of the pork. Turn the Instant Pot to sauté mode (lid stays off) and sear the fat side of the pork down to render the fat out. If you have a really lean pork shoulder, you can add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Brown 2 minutes per side on all four sides, don't worry about the ends.
  4. Add the juice, onion, peppers, and oregano to the Instant Pot, change the setting to High Pressure, close the lid and cook for 2.5 hours.
  5. Remove the pork from the liquid and place it back in the baking dish to shred the pork to your desired texture.
  6. (Optional) To fry the Carnitas and make it crispy, heat a non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Add the carnitas to the pan and fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Ladle 1 cup of broth onto the meat and cook till crisp.
  8. Garnish with your favorite salsa and serve with tortillas or rice.
Calories per Serving 429
Total Fat 30.8 g
Saturated Fat 10.7 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 120.8 mg
Total Carbohydrates 6.7 g
Dietary Fiber 1.2 g
Total Sugars 3.9 g
Sodium 640.5 mg
Protein 29.8 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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