Chipotle Carnitas Recipe (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.

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 Recipe (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 30 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Servings: 16 servings
Calories: 152kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1 (3 1/2 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.

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: 152kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 68mg | Sodium: 74mg | Potassium: 384mg | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 16mg | Iron: 1mg
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  1. Kristin

    WOW- Just like Chipotle. Will be saving this recipe, it’s the best.5 stars

  2. K

    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

  3. Lindsay

    Super excited to make these. One question – are the juniper berries dry or fresh?

    1. Hi Lindsay! They are dry, hard and dry. They look a little bit like black peppercorns but 2x – 3x the size, and brown. Similar to allspice berries. You’ll find them in the spice section of the grocery store. Thank you! -Meggan

  4. Giorgio

    Súper tasty!5 stars

    1. Monica

      Thank you so much Giorgio! I am glad you loved it! -Meggan

  5. Bastion

    If you have trouble procuring pork butt/shoulder you can use tenderloin, but add some ribs to increase the fat and flavor.

    Use the juniper berries for sure, but traditional Michoacán carnitas use fresh orange juice, so don’t be afraid to add some of that to the braising water, too!

  6. Grace

    Really excited to make this recipe! Is it okay to use juniper berry powder in place of juniper berries?

    1. meggan

      Hi Grace! Do they make juniper berry powder? I mean, of course they do, I just never heard of it. :) I’m sure that will work fine. I don’t know the exact conversion (maybe it says on the bottle?) but juniper berries are really strong, so tread lightly if you’re not sure. I’ll track some down and test it for myself so I can update the post with that info. Thank you! -Meggan

  7. Danielle Wells

    Can the meat be frozen after cooked and cooled?

    1. Meggan

      Yes! Absolutely. I have done it numerous times and it works out great.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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

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