Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat Recipe)

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.

A side shot of chipotle carnitas in a black bowl.
Pin Now To Save! PIN IT

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 meaning:

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.
  • Water.
  • 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.

  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. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Then flip the pork and brown the other side, letting the cooking juices evaporate.
  3. 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.

  1. Then add the ingredients to the pot and cook on high pressure for 45-55 minutes with a 15 minute natural release.
  2. 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.

  1. To start, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!)
5 from 19 votes

Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat Recipe)

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!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword pork
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Calories 198kcal
  • 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.

Recipe Notes

Inspired by the Chipotle Ingredient Statement for Carnitas.

Nutrition

Calories: 198kcal

Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This form collects your name, email, and content so that we can keep track of the comments placed on the website. For more info check our privacy policy where you will get more info on where, how and why we store your data.
This form collects your name, email and content so that we can keep track of the comments placed on the website. For more info check our privacy policy where you will get more info on where, how and why we store your data.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Jennifer

    Not sure what I did wrong but it Taste like plain pork.

    1. meggan

      Hi Jennifer, did you use juniper berries? They smell a little, well, piney? That should change the flavor if nothing else. I’m assuming you’ve had the pork from Chipotle. This should taste the same. If you used juniper berries, maybe they were really old? But I just kind of doubt it. I’m sorry about that. -Meggan

  2. Faith

    Thank you, this is perfect. It’s easy and I’ve made it at least three times since September of 2019. (I was having a chipotle craving for a couple of weeks) this satisfies my cravings and at a fraction of the cost because I do your chipotle rice and black beans as well. It’s so goooood. THANK YOU for doing all the work and then sharing the reward!5 stars

  3. Terri

    Updated. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I have been using this recipe for a couple years now and it’s fantastic!!! I make bowls. I make tacos. I make tostadas with it. I even freeze it, thaw it and lightly fry it up in a lil oil and add some Sazon seasoning. I also place chicken breasts in the crock pot with the pork or by themselves with these same seasonings. So good!! I cannot say enough. The juniper berries are the trick. Kinda pricey, so I buy them online and freeze them. I Will say, I like the flavors a so much that I just about triple the thyme and juniper berries. Yum! Thank you one more time!5 stars

  4. Terri

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I have been using this recipe for a couple years now and it’s fantastic!!! I make bowls. I make tacos. I make tostadas with it. I even freeze it, thaw it and lightly fry it up in a lil oil and add some Sazon seasoning. I also place chicken breasts in the crock pot with the pork or by themselves with these same seasonings. So good!! I cannot say enough. The juniper berries are the trick. Kinda pricey, so I buy them online and freeze them. I Will say, I like the flavors a so much that I just about triple the thyme and juniper berries. Yum! Thank you one more time!5 stars

  5. Lisa

    Haven’t tried the recipe yet…..but…..the ONLY place to buy spices as far as I am concerned is Penzy’s Spices, just google it. As fresh as can be with a LONG shelf life. I don’t buy them with salt, I season my own as I won’t pay the prices for salt weight in the spices I love.

    Getting to the point they have a LARGE variety of spices including Juniper Berries that are as “fresh” as a spice can be without being actually fresh.

    As for the recipe I am using it to can up a winter stash of ready to go taco meat…OMg!…Thank You!5 stars

  6. Ruth

    Looks delicious. What timing would you suggest for an Instant Pot? Thanks!  

    1. meggan

      Hi Ruth, thank you! I would suggest 30 minutes on high pressure followed by a natural release (about 15 minutes). But, I don’t know for sure since I haven’t tested it, but this is what I think based on other recipes I reviewed. Thanks! -Meggan

  7. Vada

    Where can I buy juniper berries?

    1. Meggan

      Hi Vada, I always order mine on amazon! I have updated the recipe card for others to be able to find them easily in the future. These are the ones that I like: https://amzn.to/2Vj1ExH

  8. Pamela Jakab

    Juniper berries are the game changer! I just made these today with homemade corn tortillas. Fabulous! FYI to the Pittsburgh peeps, juniper berries are available in the Strip at Penzey’s.5 stars

  9. Nancy

    I am making this in the next day or two, and I’m excited that I won’t even need to modify the recipe to be low FODMAP because it already is.

    1. Nancy

      I made this today. WAS SOOOOOO GOOD! Whole family enjoyed it! Tasted like something that had been slaved over, yet all I did was put the roast in the slow cooker before I went to bed, and spent maybe 5 minutes measuring out the seasonings. Added the seasonings in the morning, and everything was ready in time for lunch. I made this with your fajita veggies recipe, although I substituted zucchini for the onion, to make it low FODMAP. Turned out great.5 stars

    2. Nancy

      Also, our local health food store sold the juniper berries in the bulk section. I spent about $2 on a small package and probably have enough that I could make this recipe 7 or 8 times.

  10. Annie

    Do you think that you could use a pork tenderloin but half the recipe?

    1. meggan

      Hi Annie, I think it’s worth a try, and yes you can definitely cut the recipe in half. My first thought it, carnitas shreds so easily because the fat melts and so the meat just falls apart. Obviously pork tenderloin is super lean, but so is chicken breast and that shreds just fine. Right? So I think you’ll be fine. I think it will be delicious!

  11. Kristen

    Do you think this would freeze well? 

    1. meggan

      Hi Kristen, yes I think so. I would probably hang on to any liquid from the slow cooker and freeze (and reheat) the pork in that. I will put this on my list to test! Thanks for the question.

  12. Al

    Wow, definitely identical to Chipotle carnitas. I let the pork cook for around 10 1/2 hours at low (195 F). Came out great, very tender. An anecdote about Juniper berries: I was on the fence with this recipe because the only Juniper berries I could find were one of these boutique brands and it was like over 7 dollars for a little bottle. So, I’m undecided with a new recipe about spending all that. Seems like I can just go to Chipotle for what its going to cost in the end and not take any chances! But then in August I’m in Hungary, and they sell packs of Juniper berries for like what would come out to around 65 cents. So, I bring a few packs back (along with some paprika) and prepare the recipe. Awesome. Served it with the copycat rice (used less lemon and lime than called for), pico, shredded cheese and borracho beans. The only thing I might suggest, that I wish I had (but I don’t) is a fat separator. I served the pork in a rustic ceramic dish and transferred some of the ‘broth’, but was unable to separate the delicious (juniper-infused) juices from the oil that the pork rendered. Next time, will get it right. Thank you for the great recipe!5 stars

    1. Karen P

      Al if you make it the day ahead put your juice in a container on the fridge. Wallace! Next day you can take that chunk of fat off the top and it was separated quite easily.

    2. Al

      Nancy, that is true. But we dug right in. I don’t mind some of the fat being in there, but it renders quite a bit !

    3. Nancy

      I also think about getting the fat separator. Although fat from pastured animals, especially pigs is super high in vitamin D! However, my family still doesn’t digest fat very well. So this doesn’t really help for eating right after the food has cooked, but if you have time, or for leftovers, after you have taken out the meat and strained the juice, save the juices separately. After they have completed cooled in the fridge, you can just take right off.

  13. Rem

    Did the other day, wow, is just wow,
    Question, does anybody hear knows where can I purchase the Tortilla fast warmer?
    Thank you5 stars

  14. Alexandria

    Made this recipe as directed. Did it twice so I had enough to make in a pressure canner. This way no need to refrigerate or freeze it.  It will last years, but it will be hard not to eat it all up soon.  We ended up making 8 pint-sized mason jars.  Used the first jar tonight (two weeks later)  & warmed it up & had it with the chipotle lime rice. It was perfect! Amazing recipe! Thanks so much for posting!!!5 stars

  15. Jose

    really good recipe , i smoked my pork in the big green egg no smoke only lump charcoal for heat at 4 hours
    then
    in a dutch oven i added water bay leaves juniper berries didnt have fresh thyme so used powered and i pu that in dutch oven w water turn on low heat for 30 mins to bring the flavors after the meat was in smoker for 4 hours or so i put the pork in dutch oven back in smoker for about 5 hours or so shredded nicely i added a lot more juniper berries then recipe says but still tasted awesome great recipe thanks5 stars

  16. Al

    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

  17. DMNYC

    you should fix the times, recipe card says 2hrs 50mins while the instructions have it in the slow cooker for 4hrs

    1. meggan

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

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

    1. meggan

      Thank you Taylor! I am SO HAPPY to hear that! Makes my life. XO

  19. Ginger

    Made this recipe yesterday and I love it! It’s so easy, which is the best part! :)5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hooray Ginger! So glad to hear that, thanks for sharing. :)

  20. Brigette Durocher

    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. meggan

      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!

Scroll to top