Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat)

Learn the secret ingredient that makes Chipotle Carnitas stand out above all others! Then make them yourself, right in your slow cooker.

Carnitas are always a good idea. Slow-roasted, meltingly tender shredded pork belongs on everything from taco shells and buns to rice and salads.

Unlike traditional Carnitas, which are made with citrus juice (usually orange juice), Chipotle makes Carnitas with a savory, earthier spice: Juniper Berries.

Learn the secret ingredient that makes Chipotle Carnitas stand out above all others! Then make them yourself, right in your slow cooker.

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It's not even a secret if you read Chipotle's ingredient statement, by the way. The answer is right there.

The tricky part is actually locating the berries. I checked all my local grocery stores and didn't find the a-n-y-w-h-e-r-e, so I resorted to buying them on Amazon (Culinary Hill may earn money if you buy through this link).

Beyond that, it's just a bit of fresh thyme, some bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Throw it all in a slow cooker and let it do its thing.

If you want crispy edges, you can broil the pork in the oven before serving it (just toss it with the juices and broil for 5 to 10 minutes). Or, throw everything in a pan and pan-fry it.

Learn the secret spice that makes Chipotle Carnitas stand out above all others! Then make them yourself, right in your slow cooker.

Picking Your Pork

You can use either a boneless or bone-in pork butt roast. Sometimes these are called Boston shoulder pork butt or Boston butt roast. The bone isn't really a problem because the meat will be so tender by the time you're done, it'll literally just fall off.

If you prefer boneless but cannot find it, take your bone-in piece to the butcher counter and ask them to de-bone it. They should be able to do that for free and with a smile. They can also cut you whatever size piece you want. So if you find an 8-pound roast, feel free to ask them to de-bone it and just give you 4 pounds.

And that's it! Make some tacos, a salad, or a lovely burrito bowl. Devour. Repeat.

5 from 15 votes

Chipotle Carnitas (Copycat Recipe)

Learn the secret ingredient that makes Chipotle Carnitas stand out above all others! Then make them yourself, right in your slow cooker.
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

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  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. Lisa Rothschild

    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!

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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. 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 !

    2. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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

  17. 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. :)

  18. 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!

  19. Diane

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

    1. meggan

      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!

  20. 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

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