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. Let the carnitas party begin!
Make more Mexican recipes tonight—all the top-rated, reader-approved Chipotle copycat recipes have been cracked right here: healthy Chipotle Sofritas, crunchy Chipotle Corn Salsa, and can’t stop, won’t stop Chipotle Guacamole.
Picture this: you have a busy week ahead and maybe you already suspect there’s no time for cooking. You could go to Chipotle every night, but that adds up fast, and besides, it’s never as good by the time you get it home.
The solution? When you can’t (or shouldn’t) go to Chipotle, make Chipotle come to you—by making it yourself. Starting with a big batch of homemade slow cooked pork carnitas that tastes like a dream with zero stove time. Yes, really!
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. (I’ve got some good sources to help you out.)
Making Chipotle Carnitas for a crowd? It makes excellent party food! Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
Carnitas is the Spanish word for “little meats” which is exactly right, since it’s basically the Mexican version of pulled pork, a dish of Mexican cuisine originating from the state of Michoacán.
Carnitas are so incredibly tender because the cuts of pork are slowly simmered in fat, a technique similar to confit. You don’t need to submerge the pork in lard at home, though; this recipe tastes just as good!
After the pork is completely rendered, it’s often cooked again over high heat to crisp it up, making it mouthwateringly tender, deeply flavorful, and crispy at the same time. Sigh…
What’s the best pork cut for carnitas?
Let’s talk carnitas pork! 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 are delicious workhorses in the kitchen. They also have a higher fat content, which translates to more flavor. That’s why carnitas are so, so good.
Carnitas with pork loin isn’t the absolute best cut, because it’s so much leaner.
It doesn’t matter if it comes with the bone or not—the bone will pull away once the pork cooks—but if you hate pork bones, just ask your butcher to cut it away for you. Chances are they’ll be happy to do it.
Before cooking, you’ll need to remove (or have the butcher remove) the large fat cap (the thick layer of fat on one side of your roast) to about 1/8” and cut away any silver skin that’s on the roast.
Chipotle Carnitas seasoning and ingredients:
- Pork butt or shoulder.
- Salt and freshly cracked pepper.
- Bay leaves.
- Thyme. Fresh thyme is best.
- Juniper berries. While most recipes for carnitas call for citrus juice, Chipotle uses juniper berries for a more complex flavor.
Where to find juniper berries:
Most readers agree that the juniper berries, with their slight but distinctive pine flavor, really make all the difference in the pork carnitas. Therefore, I think it’s worth it to hunt a little bit for them. Here are some good places to start:
- Well stocked spice stores. Penzey’s, Spice House, and other gourmet specialty shops often have online shops with quick shipping.
- Amazon. I usually buy my juniper berries on Amazon out of convenience (Culinary Hill may earn money if you buy through this link).
- Sporting goods stores. Believe it or not, you may look in shops with hunting departments—wild game recipes often include juniper, and they’re known to stock them.
- Home brewing shops. Brewing at home stores carry juniper berries for adding to beer, wine, and other beverages.
Don’t give up! If all else fails, and you absolutely cannot find juniper berries, you can make a close juniper substitute by adding a sprig of fresh rosemary, a few lemon peels, and a jigger of gin (yep, gin) to the pork.
How to make slow cooker Chipotle Carnitas:
Crock pot carnitas is so easy, you’ll be making this all the time.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- At this point, the carnitas are ready to eat. You can enjoy them right now, or store them away in the refrigerator for future carnitas dinners.
How to make crispy pork carnitas:
If you prefer tender pork with crispy bits throughout, you need to brown the pulled pork. You have a few options.
On the stove:
- 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.
- Then flip the pork and brown the other side, letting the cooking juices evaporate.
- 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.
Under the broiler: Spread out the pulled pork on a rimmed baking sheet and broil for 5 to 10 minutes, watching closely.
Hint: you may have to toss the pork around as it broils, to evenly crisp the meat.
How to make Instant Pot Chipotle Carnitas:
If you need easy carnitas fast, you can cook them in an electric pressure cooker like an Instant Pot.
- Then 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.
How to make Chipotle Carnitas in the oven:
Low and slow shredded Mexican-style pork can also be done in the oven.
- To start, 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.
How to eat pork carnitas:
- Parties. Carnitas makes a wonderful party food. It has a way of disappearing quickly and doesn’t need a lot of maintenance while guests are mingling.
- Tacos. Set out some cilantro and onions, or your favorite taco fixings and let everyone make their own pork tacos exactly the way they want them.
- Burritos. Add some to Chili Cheese Burritos, or fill a giant tortilla up with rice and beans and shredded pork for a delicious easy dinner.
- Burrito Bowls, Tostadas, Quesadillas. Add forkfuls of crispy pork to all your favorite Mexican recipes.
- All by itself. (You know you want to!)
Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat Recipe)
- 1 (3 ½ to 4 pound) pork butt roast fat cap trimmed to 1/8-inch
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large sprig fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons whole juniper berries
- 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.