Looking for an easy and delicious Instant Pot Carnitas recipe? Look no further! This mouth-watering dish is the perfect combination of tender pork and crispy edges, packed with restaurant-quality flavor. With the help of the Instant Pot, you can have juicy, flavorful carnitas ready in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional cooking methods.
These Carnitas would be knock-out delicious in this chicken enchilada recipe or this beef enchilada casserole. Simply swap the chicken or pork in either one for these carnitas! Then serve it up with some Mexican Rice, Refried Beans and a Margarita!
What Cut of Pork To Use
The most common cut of pork to use for Carnitas is a bone-in pork butt, which is also called a Boston butt, a pork shoulder, and maybe even a pork roast.
All four are actually cut from the shoulder, hence “pork shoulder”. The pork “butt”, also known as Boston butt, comes from the same area but is a little higher on the foreleg.
Whether you buy boneless or bone-in is a personal preference and, of course, what is available at your grocery store. The pork butt shown above is a bone-in pork shoulder.
Both bone-in and boneless will cook perfectly fine in your Instant Pot. Since you will be cutting the pork meat into cubes, you could cut the bone out if you prefer, but it is definitely not necessary. The meat will come clean off the bone after it is pressure cooked.
Trimming Pork for the Instant Pot
Trimming and prepping the pork butt for the Instant Pot is not the same as prepping it for longer “low and slow” cooking.
When you cook in the instant pot you are cooking “hot and fast” under a lot of pressure. Which does not leave time for the fat to properly render, instead it cooks up into giggly pieces of fat, not quite what you want in your Carnitas.
Therefore, to make the BEST Instant Pot Carnitas it is important to trim a lot of the fat cap from the pork butt. Trim it down as much as you can without removing the pork meat underneath. Discard that extra fat (see the right side of the photo above).
Then you want to cut the pork into large 2-3 inch pieces. This allows you to use a shorter cook time and ensures that all the pieces of pork are fall apart tender and will shred easily for carnitas.
For this Carnitas recipe you use something called Mexican Oregano. You can find this with other traditional Mexican spices and dried chilies at the grocery store. I can usually find Mexican Oregano in the produce section hanging with the dried chilies..
Oregano and Mexican Oregano are two distinct herbs with different flavors and uses.
Oregano is a common herb that is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine, particularly in Italian, Greek, and Spanish dishes. It has a pungent, slightly bitter flavor with hints of mint and pine.
Mexican Oregano, on the other hand, is a member of the verbena family and is commonly used in Mexican and Latin American cuisine. It has a sweeter, less bitter taste than oregano and has a hint of citrus and licorice.
Lemon Lime Soda
The lemon lime soda used in this recipe makes a perfect cooking base for your Carnitas. It adds the sweetness the dish needs and the lemon and lime citrus pairs perfectly with the Mexican herbs and spices.
Any lemon-lime soda will work (note I have not tried this recipe with diet soda):
- Store Brand
- Sierra Mist
How to Make Carnitas in Instant Pot
You will start by trimming the fat and cutting your large pork butt into large 2-3 inch pieces (does not have to be exact!).
Season the pork pieces on all sides with the 1 ½ tablespoon of kosher salt (make sure you use kosher salt and not iodized table salt), and 1 tablespoon black pepper.
Searing the pork pieces: there are two options when searing the pork pieces. Either do it in the Instant Pot or in a cast iron skillet on the stove top.
I generally choose the cast iron skillet because it is faster and makes a deeper golden crust (see photo above). The Instant Pot will work but you will have to do 3-4 batches and it takes a little longer.
Mix the cooking liquid: lemon-lime soda, orange juice, lime juice, chopped garlic and all the herbs/spices.
Deglaze the pan/pot (Instant Pot or cast iron skillet) with the cooking liquid, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom! If you used a cast iron skillet, pour that liquid into the Instant Pot.
Add the browned pork pieces, onions and bay leaf to the Instant Pot and nestle everything down in the liquid.
Close the pot and set to cook on high pressure, normal heat, for 30 minutes. Finish with a 10 minute natural release.
Remove the pork from the liquid and shred.
Pro Tip: I like to put the pork pieces in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Run it for about 30 seconds. It shreds it up perfectly.
To crisp up the edges of the shredded carnitas preheat the broiler. Place the shredded pork on a large rimmed baking sheet. Pour some of the juices from the Instant Pot over the pork.
Broil for 3 minutes, then flip the pork on the baking sheet and sprinkle with a little more of the cooking liquid. Broil for another 3-5 minutes.
Time to eat! There is a myriad of ways to use Carnitas, see Serving Options below.
Carnitas are almost like a blank canvas for tons of yummy Mexican Dinner ideas! Here are a few popular ways to serve your Pork Carnitas:
- TACOS!! This is probably the most popular way to eat Carnitas. Use either corn or flour tortillas. Pile them high with your favorite taco toppings. Or you can eat them more like a street taco with diced white onion, cilantro, and queso fresco.
- BURRITOS- You can use carnitas in your favorite burrito recipe. It would be a great substitute for the ground beef in these Smothered Burritos.
- BURRITO BOWLS- Just like you would find at Chipotle, create your own burrito bowl with a layer of rice, beans, carnitas, salsas, sour cream and guacamole.
- ENCHILADAS- my 100% favorite way to eat Carnitas! Sub this shredded pork for any of these enchilada recipes!
- CHILAQUILES – if you have never had chilaquiles, I highly recommend you put this dish at the top of your list.
Sauces for Your Carnitas Tacos
Storing & Freezing
Store any leftover Carnitas in the fridge, in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
To extend the shelf life of your Instant Pot Carnitas you can freeze them for up to 3 months.
When freezing, I Iike to make a big batch, then remove some before crisping in the oven. Pop that in a freezer safe baggie to save for later.
To use from frozen, thaw in the fridge overnight or thaw in the microwave. Then to get the crispy edges broil in the oven for about 3-5 minutes.
If you pull the pork pieces out of the Instant Pot and they are not fall apart tender, then they are not cooked through. Pop the lid back on the Instant Pot and pressure cook for another 10 minutes.
The answer is “it depends”! If you are cooking a whole piece of pork without cutting it into pieces, like in this Instant Pot Pork Roast, then you cook it for 15 minutes per pound. When you cut the larger pork piece into 2-3 inch pieces, like this carnitas recipe or Instant Pot Pulled Pork, it should be nice and fork tender after 30-40 minute pressure cook and a 10 minute natural release!
The answer is two fold. First, it adds a really nice flavor to the carnitas and the sweetness balances out the tartness of the lime and saltiness of the spices. It also adds some natural sugar that helps the carnitas caramelize in the oven after cooking in the Instant Pot.
Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe
- 1 cup lemon-lime soda (see note #2)
- 6 garlic cloves chopped
- ½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder or chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoon Mexican Oregano (see note #3)
- ½ teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 large white onion quartered
Trimming the Pork
- Trim any large portions of fat cap from the pork butt. Since we are not cooking low and slow the fat will not render all the way.4-5 lb. pork shoulder
- Cut the pork into large 2-3 inch pieces. If you have a bone-in pork butt, leave some meat around the bone and use it just like the other pieces (after cooking the meat will fall off the bone and you can discard the bone).
Searing the Pork
- Season all sides of the pork pieces with the KOSHER salt and pepper.1.5 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper
- Brown/Sear the pork in 2 batches, about 1 tablespoon of oil per batch. Brown the pork for about 2-3 minutes per side. PRO TIP: Highly recommend doing it in a cast iron skillet on the stove top over high heat, it will be MUCH faster than in the Instant Pot. But if using the Instant Pot be sure to turn the sauté function on high.3 tablespoon canola oil
- Meanwhile, mix together the cooking liquid.Pro tip: be sure to crush the Mexican Oregano in the palm of your hand to release the beautiful flavor!1 cup lemon-lime soda, 6 garlic cloves, ½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice, ¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice, 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder, 1 ½ teaspoon Mexican Oregano, ½ teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Pour the cooking liquid in and deglaze either the Instant Pot or cast iron skillet, wherever you browned the meat. Scrape up all the browned bits, that is FLAVOR!If you used a cast iron skillet, after deglazing pour the liquid into the Instant Pot.
- Add the browned pork pieces, onion and bay leaf to the Instant Pot, nestling it down into the cooking liquid.1 bay leaf, 1 large white onion
- Close the Instant Pot and set to cook for 30 minutes, normal heat, high pressure. Do a 15 minute natural release, then finish releasing the pressure by turning the pressure valve to vent.
- Remove the meat from the Instant Pot and shred either with two forks, clean hands or placing the (warm) meat in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and run it for about 30 seconds.
- You can use the Carnitas at the point, or crisp them up in the next step.
- If you want traditional crispy edges on your carnitas, preheat the broiler.
- Place the shredded carnitas on a large rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with a little juice from the Instant Pot.
- Pop under the broiler for about 3 minutes.
- Flip the meat and sprinkle with a little more juice. Broil for another 3-5 minutes.
- Serve your carnitas as tacos, burritos, enchiladas, burrito bowls and more!
Storing & Freezing
- Store any leftover Carnitas in the fridge, in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Some fat may turn white when it cools in the fridge, it will look normal after reheating.
- To extend the shelf life of your Instant Pot Carnitas you can freeze for up to 3 months. To use from frozen, thaw in the fridge overnight or thaw in the microwave. Then to get the crispy edges broil in the oven for about 3-5 minutes.
- Use a pork butt, pork shoulder, or Boston butt, they are all basically the same. You can use bone-in or boneless. If you have a bone-in pork butt simply cut around the bone, leaving some meat around the bone. After cooking the meat will fall right off the bone and you can discard the bone.
- It doesn’t matter what brand of lemon-lime soda you use; Sprite, 7-Up, Starry, Sierra Mist, etc… However we do recommend that you use full sugar soda, not diet soda.
- Mexican Oregano is a little different than traditional Oregano. It has a different flavor profile that marries perfectly with Mexican flavors. I can find it near other Mexican ingredients, like dried chilies, which is in the produce section of my grocery store. If you cannot find that, regular oregano will work!
If nutrition facts are provided they are calculated as an estimate to the best of our knowledge.