You can make authentic Chipotle Carnitas at home to fill tacos, burritos, or a homemade Chipotle Bowl; all you need is a secret ingredient and a slow cooker or Instant Pot.

A side shot of chipotle carnitas in a black bowl.

Forget all about a carnitas marinade—you don’t need to marinate the pork. I looked in the ingredient statement of Chipotle’s carnitas recipe and found their (not-so secret) secret ingredient: juniper berries. The berries might be hard to find, but once you do, you’re in for a real treat.

Recipe ingredients:

Ingredient notes:

  • Best pork for carnitas: Look for a boneless or bone-in pork butt roast. Depending on where you live, it could be called pork butt, pork shoulder, Boston butt, or Boston shoulder. These heavy-duty cuts of pork have a high fat content which translates to more flavor. That’s why carnitas are so, so good.
  • Juniper berries: While most Carnitas recipes use citrus juice, readers agree that piney juniper berries really make all the difference. Hunt these down to replicate the flavors you get at Chipotle. You can find them at most grocery stores or online.

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Start by seasoning the pork with salt and pepper. Then put it in the slow cooker, and add the water, bay leaves, juniper berries, and thyme.
  2. Cover the crock pot and cook on HIGH for 4 to 6 hours or LOW for 8 to 10 hours. You don’t have to do anything else; the meat should become fall-apart tender.
  3. Next, pull the pork out of the cooker and shred it with pulled meat tongs or two forks. Find the thyme, bay leaves, and juniper berries and discard them.
  4. At this point, the carnitas are ready to eat. But for crispy edges, heat a large skillet with a little olive oil in it over high heat. Add the cooked pork and some of the cooking juices, but don’t jostle the meat. Let it brown without moving.
  5. Then flip the pork and brown the other side, letting the cooking juices evaporate.
  6. You might have to work in batches to brown all the pork you need. Then transfer the crispy pork back into the slow cooker to keep warm, and serve.

Recipe variations:

  • Instant pot: Add the ingredients to the pot and cook on high pressure for 45-55 minutes with a 15 minute natural release. Remove the juniper berries, bay leaves, and thyme with a slotted spoon. Follow the instructions for browning, using the SAUTÉ function in the pressure cooker, the broiler, or on the stove.
  • In the oven: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a Dutch oven (or other large heavy-bottomed pot) over medium high heat, add a bit of olive oil and sear the seasoned meat on all sides. Add thyme, water, bay leaves, and juniper berries. Put the lid on the pot, place it in the oven, and cook for 4 hours – or until the meat comes apart easily. Remove the juniper berries, bay leaves, and thyme with a slotted spoon. Follow the instructions for browning, using the broiler, or a skillet on the stove.

An overhead shot of chipotle carnitas in a black bowl.

More delicious Chipotle recipes:

Chipotle carnitas in a black bowl.

Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat)

You can make authentic Chipotle Carnitas at home to fill tacos, burritos, or a homemade Chipotle Bowl; all you need is a secret ingredient and a slow cooker or Instant Pot.
5 from 49 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs
Total Time 4 hrs 20 mins
Servings 16 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Calories 152

Ingredients 

  • 1 (3 ½ to 4 pound) pork butt roast fat cap trimmed to 1/8-inch (see note 1)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 large sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons whole juniper berries (see note 2)

Instructions 

  • Season all sides of pork liberally with salt and pepper and place in slow cooker. To the bottom of the slow cooker, add water, bay leaves, thyme, and juniper berries.
  • Cover and cook on HIGH for 4 to 6 hours, or LOW for 8 to 10 hours. The meat should fall apart easily.
  • Transfer pork to a large bowl and shred with two forks. Skim fat off liquid in slow cooker if desired. Discard juniper berries and any thyme sprig stems.
  • For crispy edges, in a large skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil until shimmering. Add pork in batches (3 to 4 batches), along with about 2 tablespoons juice from slow cooker, and cook without moving until browned on one side.
  • Toss the pork to flip and brown the other side briefly (you want both crispy and soft pieces), until all the juice has evaporated. Return to slow cooker and repeat with remaining pork. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Best pork for carnitas: Look for a boneless or bone-in pork butt roast. Depending on where you live, it could be called pork butt, pork shoulder, Boston butt, or Boston shoulder. These heavy-duty cuts of pork have a high fat content which translates to more flavor. That’s why carnitas are so, so good.
  2. Juniper berries: While most Carnitas recipes use citrus juice, readers agree that piney juniper berries really make all the difference. Hunt these down to replicate the flavors you get at Chipotle. You can find them at most grocery stores or online.
  3. Instant pot: Add the ingredients to the pot and cook on high pressure for 45-55 minutes with a 15 minute natural release. Remove the juniper berries, bay leaves, and thyme with a slotted spoon. Follow the instructions for browning, using the SAUTÉ function in the pressure cooker, the broiler, or on the stove.
  4. In the oven: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a Dutch oven (or other large heavy-bottomed pot) over medium high heat, add a bit of olive oil and sear the seasoned meat on all sides. Add thyme, water, bay leaves, and juniper berries. Put the lid on the pot, place it in the oven, and cook for 4 hours - or until the meat comes apart easily. Remove the juniper berries, bay leaves, and thyme with a slotted spoon. Follow the instructions for browning, using the broiler, or a skillet on the stove.

Nutrition

Calories: 152kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 21gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 68mgSodium: 74mgPotassium: 384mgVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 16mgIron: 1mg
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Comments

  1. My 5 y/o likes Chipotle Carnitas. Then, once I made them according to another recipe and I thought they were pretty good, but he was like ‘no way’. So, I’m going to give this a try. Many thanks.5 stars

    1. Thank you for this! Typos make me crazy, so I appreciate you finding this one. Thanks again.

  2. Just made this for my husbands study group and thy devoured it! It’s SO good and super easy! Total keeper recipe! 5 stars

  3. I tried this recipe tonight and my husband and I are so so impressed. I used an instant pot instead of the oven for 55 minutes high pressure but used the ingredients exactly. I plan to use this recipe in the future for my usual shredded pork needs while varying the sauces (bbq, teriyaki, adobo). The juniper is subtle but necessary.5 stars

    1. YES!!! Thank you Brigette, that is so great to hear! I really need to get an instant pot. I’ve heard nothing but good things. The juniper is so interesting, I think! You’re right, subtle but necessary. Makes such a difference! Thank you so much for trying the recipe and sharing your results. :) Have a great weekend!

  4. Love the Chipotle copycat recipes.  Excellent Job you’ve done in perfecting the recipes.  You’ve renewed my passion in cooking!  5 stars

    1. Awww Diane, that’s so nice of you to say!!! I still have a few left to tackle, but I hope to get to them sooner rather than later. :D Take care!

  5. I just made pork ribs for dinned last night and have been thinking of carnitas, to make next! The recipe comes just in time! Love the flavors! Can’t wait to try the cooking method!5 stars

  6. MMMMM yum!  I could almost taste them in my tacos!! And I love that your carintas fall apart with a stern look :) 5 stars

  7. You said it, it’s the crispy edges, they are the best. The problem when I make a pulled anything is trying to stop myself from eating it by the handful as I’m shredding it and drinking the juices. I am weird that way, but I do enjoy it :)5 stars

  8. Pork carnitas is the best! Your recipe sounds so delicious. Looking forward to trying it. Thanks for sharing!5 stars