Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat)

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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:

Labeled ingredients for Chipotle Carnitas.

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.
    A pork roast in a crock pot with seasonings and spices.
  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.
    Someone shredding carnitas on a wooden cutting board.
  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.
    Carnitas in a silver skillet.
  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.
Author: Meggan Hill
5 from 102 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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Executive Chef and CEO at | Website | + posts

Meggan Hill is the Executive Chef and CEO of Culinary Hill, a popular digital publication in the food space. She loves to combine her Midwestern food memories with her culinary school education to create her own delicious take on modern family fare. Millions of readers visit Culinary Hill each month for meticulously-tested recipes as well as skills and tricks for ingredient prep, cooking ahead, menu planning, and entertaining. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the iCUE Culinary Arts program at College of the Canyons.

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Comments

  1. Tastes just like Chipotle’s carnitas! Great job on this recipe – I am soooo happy I found this!! For me, I only had 2 lbs of pork defrosted, and used the Instant Pot, so I did high pressure at 34 minutes, with 15 minutes natural release, with a half cup of water. I added more juniper berries and thyme (like almost double) than the recipe called for, but it tasted right. The thicker piece of meat did not shred as easily, so I used a knife to slice it with the grain. It’s great, the meat stayed moist, and I skipped the browning step (as I haven’t seen them do browning at Chipotle). I had once tried the slow cooker method with someone else’s carnitas recipe, and it turned out too dry. For someone who was complaining about the outside being tasty, but the middle being bland – at the time of shredding, you can taste test the shredded meat, and just sprinkle more salt on. This was simple and delicious. Now I just need to get the rice to water ratio right for my rice cooker for your equally yummy cilantro lime rice. THANK YOU! (I found your recipe by typing ‘carnitas juniper berries’ because I noticed Chipotle uses juniper berries.)5 stars

    1. Hi Ellen, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so happy that you were able to adjust it to your liking and adapt it as well! You’re so welcome! – Meggan

  2. Delicious!!! I make this about once a month, and have for many years. So easy to throw together before leaving for work.5 stars

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