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 54 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. I was very skeptical, juniper berries? Really? I made this last weekend and the flavor was spot on! This is by far the best copycat recipe I’ve ever tried. Delicious, and so easy!5 stars

    1. Hi Kerry, well that’s great news! LOL! I know it seems so random. But it works! Which makes sense because they list it right on their website. :) Thank you! -Meggan

  2. Juniper is not commonly found in groceries near me, but I did find it at Fresh Market so if your readers have a FreshMarket nearby, try there.

  3. We made but only the outside tasted good. The inside was tasteless used all the ingredients correctly and correct amount of water for 10 hours in the crockpot. Any suggestions?

    1. Hey there, I’m sorry that happened! My first thought is, were the juniper berries fresh? I’m going to assume so. In which case, I would probably cut your pork into a few larger pieces and put it in the slow cooker that way. That way there is more surface area for the flavors to penetrate and it’s easier to get to the inside. I will try it myself and probably end up updating the recipe. That hasn’t happened to me personally, but the size of pork varies greatly. The recipe should perform as expected no matter what size piece of pork you have. So I think cutting it into large pieces would eliminate that variable. I’m really sorry about that. Thank you so much for letting me know. -Meggan

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