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You can think of Carnitas as the Mexican version of pulled pork. Most often served as tacos, carnitas taste warmly spiced, juicy, and slightly citrusy, with a texture that’s both fall-apart-tender and crispy. They are FABULOUS.

easy Pork Carnitas Tacos on a plate

Why You’ll Love This Authentic Carnitas Recipe

  • The BEST Taco Filling. Carnitas meat is made with pork shoulder or pork butt, a tough, marbled cut that needs low-and-slow cooking to become succulent and tender. Freshly shredded, carnitas taste fabulous, then they’re fried on the stove top or under the oven broiler until the edges are tantalizingly crispy.
  • But Versatile Too! In addition to pork carnitas tacos, you can also eat carnitas as a filling for enchiladas, tuck them into a quesadilla, turn them into a burrito bowl, make an epic grilled cheese—there’s pretty much no wrong way to enjoy them.
  • Flavorful, But Not Overly Spicy. While this recipe is packed with deep, smoky flavors and does have a bit of heat, it’s not burn-your-mouth-out spicy. If you are sensitive to spice, reduce the chipotle.
  • Stovetop Method. No special equipment needed! Carnitas are often made in the crockpot (see my Slow Cooker Carnitas) or a pressure cooker (see Instant Pot Carnitas), but my absolute favorite way to make them is on the stovetop.
pork for simple carnitas tacos

5 Star Review

“My boyfriend made this last night and we LOVED it!! Such wonderful flavor — warm but not spicy. Cannot stop raving about this.”

— Karen —

How to Make Carnitas

The Ingredients

  • Pork. Pork shoulder is the perfect choice for carnitas. It has a higher fat content, meaning the meat will be ultra tender, flavorful, and juicy. Pork butt will also work well for this recipe.
  • Orange. Orange zest and juice add that must-have citrusy flavor and a hint of sweetness.
  • Garlic + Onion. Two simple ingredients that help create big flavor.
  • Spices. Chipotle chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves come together to create the perfect carnitas spice blend. They make the carnitas taste smoky, earthy, and warm.

Carnitas Topping Suggestions

Keep your carnitas taco toppings simple, or load up ‘em with all the fixins:

The Directions

Pork Shoulder for Carnitas
  1. Prepare. Trim and cube the pork.
Zest of an orange over Pork Shoulder
  1. Add the Orange. Place the pork in a large pot, then add the orange zest and juice.
a pot of pork, onions, and seasonings for carnitas
  1. Combine. Add the garlic, onion, and spices. Pour in enough water to just cover the pork.
simmering pork in a pot for the best carnitas
  1. Cook. Bring the pot to a boil, then let the carnitas simmer over medium-low heat for 1 1/2 hours.
pork shoulder cooked for carnitas
  1. Increase the Heat. Turn the stove to medium high, then cook the carnitas for another 20 to 30 minutes.
stirring pot of pork slow cooked for carnitas
  1. Finish. Stir frequently, breaking the meat apart and allowing the edges to get crispy. Pile the carnitas meat into tortillas, add toppings, and ENJOY!
easy carnitas tacos with pork with toppings

Storage Tips

  • To Store. Refrigerate leftover carnitas in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
  • To Reheat. Rewarm carnitas on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
  • To Freeze. Freeze leftovers in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Meal Prep Tip

Trim and cut the pork up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate it in an airtight storage container until you’re ready to finish the recipe.

Leftover Ideas

Pile leftover carnitas onto a bed of lettuce for a filling salad. Add other toppings like avocado, beans, cheese, tomatoes, and green onion for extra flavor. Leftover carnitas also make a fantastic addition to an Air Fryer Grilled Cheese.

easy cooked pork shoulder for the best Carnitas Tacos

How to Serve Carnitas

  • Tacos. Our go-to. Try them topped with this Healthy Coleslaw or the avocado slaw from my Shrimp Tacos.
  • Quesadilla. Take a note from this Pulled Pork Quesadilla, but use carnitas meat for an extra layer of Mexican flair.
  • Burrito. Wrap your carnitas up in a tortilla with rice, Instant Pot Black Beans, and cheese.
  • Nachos. Swap the carnitas for the chicken in these crockpot Healthy Nachos.
  • Salad. Change up this Taco Salad by using carnitas in place of the ground turkey.
  • Right off the Stove. You must nibble a few bites of the carnitas meat hot off the pan with your fingers. This pork recipe is that kind of good.
pork for carnitas tacos

Recipe Tips and Tricks

  • Use Fresh Spices. Make sure you’re using fragrant spices. If your jars have been sitting in the pantry for a little too long and you open them up and they’re no longer aromatic, they’re due for replacement. Your carnitas meat will be better for it!
  • The Stovetop Is the Key. Because authentic carnitas recipes call for simmering pieces of pork in lard, I found that making them on the stovetop allows the meat to slowly cook down in its own fat and juices in a way that the crockpot and Instant Pot don’t replicate.
  • Don’t Skip the Crisping. What makes carnitas different than Slow Cooker Pulled Pork (in addition to the use of spices) is crispy meat that forms at the edges. It’s the best part! First, the juices cook down and concentrate, giving the meat unparalleled depth and richness. Once all the liquid cooks away, it’s easy to crisp the bits of the carnitas right in the pot (otherwise, you can crisp the carnitas in the oven, but the pot saves a dish).

Carnitas

4.75 from 4 votes
Crispy pork carnitas are the best taco topping! This stovetop method is so easy and it's my favorite way to make authentic carnitas at home.

Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 2 hours 15 minutes
Total: 2 hours 45 minutes

Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients
  

For the Carnitas:

  • 3 1/2 to 4 pounds pork shoulder or pork butt
  • 1 large orange zest and juice
  • 6 cloves garlic minced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 large onion cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

For Serving:


Instructions
 

  • Trim the pork of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  • TO MAKE ON THE STOVE (see Notes section for alternative methods): Place the pork in a large pot. Zest the orange directly into the pot, then squeeze in the juice.
  • Add the garlic, onion, chipotle chile powder, cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Pour in enough water so that the pork is barely submerged.
  • Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, maintaining a steady simmer. With a spoon, skim off and discard any foamy scum that rises to the surface.
  • Let simmer uncovered for 1 1/2 hours, adding a little more water as needed to keep the pork lightly submerged (it's OK if a few small areas poke through the surface of the liquid; you may not need to add any.
  • Increase the heat to medium high. Continue cooking 20 to 30 minutes more. All of the liquid will cook away (it looks like a ton of liquid, but it will!). Stir often, until the meat breaks apart in places and has crispy pieces throughout. If at any point the meat threatens to really burn, splash in a little water and scrape the bottom of the pot. To serve, pile meat into tortillas and add toppings of choice.

Video

Notes

  • TO MAKE IN A SLOW COOKER: Trim the meat as directed. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the spices, garlic, orange juice, and orange zest. Scatter the onion in the bottom of a slow cooker, then add the pork cubes on top. Pour the juice mixture over the pork, tossing to coat. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours or HIGH for 4 to 5 hours, until the pork is tender. Turn your oven to broil. Shred the pork in the slow cooker using two forks, then stir the shredded pork into the sauce. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the pork and toss it with more of the sauce. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes more. 
  • TO MAKE IN AN INSTANT POT: Trim the pork as directed and season it with 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit for 30 minutes. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the spices, garlic, orange juice, and orange zest. Add the onion and 1 tablespoon oil to the Instant Pot. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Turn off the Instant Pot. Pour in about half of a 14-ounce can of low-sodium chicken broth, stirring with a wooden spoon to remove any stuck-on pieces of food. Add the pork, then pour in the remaining broth and the juice mixture. Stir. Close and seal the Instant Pot lid. Cook on HIGH pressure for 45 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes. Turn your oven to broil. Shred the pork in the Instant Pot, then stir the shredded pork into the sauce. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pork to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the pork and toss it with more of the sauce. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes more. 
  • TO STORE: Refrigerate leftover carnitas in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
  • TO REHEAT: Rewarm carnitas on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
  • TO FREEZE: Freeze carnitas in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 6)Calories: 259kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 32gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 108mgPotassium: 630mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 234IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 55mgIron: 3mg

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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  1. My boyfriend made this last night and we LOVED it!! Such wonderful flavor — warm but not spicy. Cannot stop raving about this. Another great recipe, Erin!5 stars

  2. Delicious! Your directions were clear and easy to follow. The next time I will reduce the amounts of salt – personal preference.5 stars

    1. Hi Mary! So glad you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for this kind review! Also make sure you are using kosher salt and not table salt!

  3. Tried these, last night. First time making homemade carnitas. Family win. Husband and 6-year-old twins… everyone loved them. This is a keeper.5 stars

  4. I browned the pork first, I like a little bit of crispy meat. I like to serve a variety of items for everyone to make their own. My favorites for this are avocado slices, and guacamole, slices of red onion, chopped tomato and cilantro, Napa cabbage, and an orange and grapefruit salsa. The citrus salsa with Napa Cabbage is especially refreshing. Try it once and you will agree.4 stars