Instant Pot Carnitas are tender, crispy, and delicious, made in less than an hour in your electric pressure cooker!
Since Brian bought me my Instant Pot on Black Friday, I’ve been in love with it. My friend Reina from The Sofrito Project just got one, too, and she loves it. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone with an electric pressure cooker who doesn’t love it. It’s just so amazing.
A few years ago I brought y’all slow cooker carnitas, where the pork slow cooks all day and gets nice and tender.
But honey, let me tell you: I don’t have much patience. Especially when it comes to food. So using my Instant Pot to make carnitas for Cinco de Mayo and having them before we went to church that night without having to cook all day or have a slow cooker or oven on all day (after This is Us, I got spooked lol! I know I’m not the only one!) was such a momentous occasion. I’m usually slaving away all day for Sunday Supper.
t was actually done in under 60 minutes, crisped up under the broiler and all. It was such an easy, great recipe. Weeknight meal type of vibes!
Is anything better than having your Cinco de Mayo or Taco Tuesday ready in under an hour? With tender, juicy, crispy pork carnitas just tossed into the Instant Pot? No, nothing is better. Don’t deny it.
What are carnitas?
Carnitas, literally “little meats”, is a dish from the state of Michoacán in Mexico.
Carnitas are made by braising a tough cut of pork in fat, preferably lard and olive oil, until tender. The process takes about three to four hours, and the result is very tender and juicy meat, which is then typically served with chopped cilantro and diced onion, salsa, guacamole, tortillas, and refried beans.
The pork is cooked similarly to confit, which is usually a protein that slow cooks in a large amount its own fat. But I love adding mojo, which is a flavorful marinade, but it give fantastic flavor, along with all the classic carnitas spices and flavors like chili, cumin, oregano, and garlic. Yum!
What cut of pork is used for carnitas?
Buy a piece of meat called the pork butt (pork shoulder, not picnic) that has a great fat cap and is well striated with fat. You want fat all through the meat so not only will it be nice and tender (more fat and connective tissue, the more tender the meat as they break down) but there will be plenty of fat to toss the meat in as you set the shredded pork under the broiler. That fat will help the meat crisp up instead of steam under the broiler.
So because we want and need a cut of pork that has a good amount of fat and has a lot of collagen and connective tissue, pork loin and tenderloin aren’t suggested for carnitas. They have little to no fat and no connective tissue. To pressure cook them or slow cook them would lead to overcooked, dry and crumbly pork.
You can get a bone in pork butt or boneless, it doesn’t matter as we are chopping the pork into cubes so it cooks quickly.
What is the difference between pulled pork and carnitas?
The biggest differences in carnitas and pulled pork are: the seasonings and flavors, and the cooking process.
With pulled pork, it’s usually made by smoking or slow cooking the pork shoulder for barbecue, with spices for that barbecue flavor. Often with brown sugar, paprika, etc. It’s served on sandwiches, covered in bbq sauce. That type of deal.
Carnitas, however, are often slow cooked in a mojo-type of cooking liquid with sour orange juice, lime juice, spices, shredded, and then thrown under a broiler coated in the rendered fat to get all those crispy browned bits. Then it’s served in tacos, tortas, tamales, and burritos.
What do I serve with carnitas?
I served the carnitas as tacos and burrito bowls for Cinco de Mayo. I served some Chipotle Copycat Cilantro Lime Rice, corn salsa, Easy Refried Beans, tons of queso fresco, Fresh Restaurant Salsa, fresh guacamole, good squeezes of lime juice, and a little avocado lime crema. Dinner was so freaking good.
We also had strawberry margaritas (which are really great non-alcoholic too, which Greyson appreciated lol.)
Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe Tips
Chop the pork into smaller pieces (about 3 inch cubes). This cuts down on the cooking time.
Do NOT put the citrus in the pressure cooker (I’m talking whole parts of oranges, limes, whatever). You will end up with the pith and seeds making the entire pot of food bitter. Just no, don’t do it. Just add the juice. Add some chicken broth if you don’t have enough juice, it will help with the cooking process.
Season the meat generously. It’s a lot of meat.
Make sure you use high pressure to cook your pork butt. After the timer goes off, let your Instant Pot go through it’s natural release cycle for 15 minutes. Before removing the lid, make sure the little ‘pressure’ bump is down and turn the pressure release vent to expel any excess steam and pressure. Safety first.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork, tongs or forks will just have the meat fall right apart.
Use a large baking sheet to shred and space out the pork in one layer so you can coat them in the fat and they all can get some crispy goodness when you throw them under the broiler.
These carnitas are perfect for all your upcoming summer parties, cookouts, and Taco Tuesdays!
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- 1 tablespoon lard or regular olive oil
- 1 (4-pound) boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3-inch chunks
- 1 large yellow onion, rough chop
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons chipotle powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup mojo criollo (or 1/2 cup fresh orange juice and 1/2 cup lime juice)
- Dump all ingredients, except the mojo criollo/orange and lime juice) into your Instant Pot. Stir together to cover all the meat in the spices, then pour in the mojo juice.
- Make sure your sealing ring is in place (safety first!) on your lid. Lock the lid onto the Instant Pot and set steam release knob to 'sealing' position.
- Press the 'manual' button' and set Instant Pot on high pressure for 30 minutes. Remember, it'll take about 10 minutes for the Instant Pot to come to full pressure, then the display will show your timer.
- When the time is up, let the pressure release naturally for about 15 minutes, then carefully turn steam release knob to 'venting' to remove any pressure before removing the lid.
- Turn on oven broiler to High heat.
- On a large baking sheet, shred the pork. Spoon a generous amount of the fat and liquid from the Instant Pot evenly over the pork. Broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the pork begins to brown and crisp up. Carefully remove from oven, spoon another generous amount of the fat and liquid from the Instant Pot, then toss well with tongs. Broil again for another 3-5 minutes to ensure all the pork gets some nice crispy bits.
- Serve immediately.
- Keeps in an air-tight container for 3 days or freeze in a freezer-safe zip-top bag for up to 3 months!
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 103 Total Fat: 7g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 17mg Sodium: 410mg Carbohydrates: 6g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 2g Protein: 5g
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.