Chipotle lovers will love these homemade Carnitas Burrito Bowls with tender carnitas, rice, black beans, corn, salsa, and all your favorite toppings. Great for easy dinners and meal prep.
When we think of Mexican bowls, usually we think about Chicken Burrito Bowls or Taco Bowls, but it is time to switch things up and make your bowls with homemade healthy pork carnitas or chicken carnitas. The combination of the citrusy carnitas with rice, beans, and all the toppings is so delicious.
While traditional recipes take hours, slow cooking or pressure-cooking the carnitas saves time and results in a similarly tender yet crispy texture. It’s perfect for meal prep.
This recipe is just the thing you need for a flavorful weeknight dinner or a festive gathering with friends and family where everyone can build their own bowls.
Why You'll Love Carnitas Burrito Bowls
- Versatile: Carnitas bowls are the ultimate meal! These bowls can be made with any rice or greens, different toppings, and various sauces to create your ideal bowl.
- Tender and crispy: The pork turns out so tender and juicy that it practically melts in your mouth. The additional broiling helps with the Maillard reaction, resulting in more flavor development and a perfectly crispy texture.
- Meal prep: These bowls are great for meal prep. You can even freeze extra carnitas and rice for future meals.
- Easy: You’ll be surprised at how much time and effort the Instant Pot saves you in this carnitas recipe. Then just grab your favorite bowl ingredients.
What are Carnitas?
Originally from the state of Michoacán, carnitas are now one of the most popular dishes in Mexico. The word "carnitas" means "little meats," referring to the star of the recipe — tender, mouthwateringly delicious pork.
Carnitas and carnitas tacos offer a perfect balance of savory, citrusy, and spicy flavors. The pork is first slow-cooked (or pressure-cooked in this case) in a citrus marinade until it turns fall-apart tender. You can also add a slight crispiness by broiling the meat at the end, which we highly suggest.
The combination of juicy and caramelized pork, vibrant garnishes, and warm corn tortillas or rice is like nothing you’ve ever tasted before. Plus, the Instant Pot makes cooking the pork an absolute breeze without compromising flavor.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here is everything you need to make delicious carnitas at home.
- Carnitas: We recommend pork shoulder for the most flavorful carnitas, but you can also use pork tenderloin or make chicken carnitas with chicken thighs. For a quicker option, make these carnitas bowls with this quick-cooking pork taco filling.
- Onion and garlic: Onions add natural sweetness and depth of flavor while garlic imparts bold, aromatic notes. Keep them fresh for the best results.
- Chicken broth: Homemade or store-bought broth adds moisture and richness to the carnitas. Vegetable broth or water will also work.
- Citrus juice: To tenderize the meat and balance the rich, savory flavors. Use both fresh orange and lime juice for a perfect balance of sweet and tangy notes. You can also replace the lime with lemon or use more oranges.
- Seasonings: Use a combination of cumin, ancho chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper for ultra-savory, warm, earthy, and herbal flavors that hold up well to pork.
- For the bowls: Serve your carnitas over rice, quinoa, greens, or cauliflower rice. Add black or pinto beans, corn, and classic garnishes like chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, diced onion, guacamole, lime wedges, and salsa.
How to Make Carnitas Bowls
Once you make the carnitas, these bowls come together in minutes. They are great for meal prep as well!
1. Prepare the pork
Before adding the pork shoulder to the Instant Pot, it’s helpful to cut it into a few smaller pieces. This not only helps it cook faster, but it also coats more surfaces with the marinade ingredients. Toss the pork with the marinade right in the pressure cooker until it's well coated.
2. Cook the carnitas
We typically use the preset buttons on our Instant Pot. You can choose the "meat" setting if you have an Instant Pot, followed by the "pressure" button until the light on "high pressure" turns on. Cook it for 30 minutes, then allow the steam to release naturally once the cooking time is up.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, repeat the same process for preparing the pork, then add it to a slow cooker. Cook it on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 4-5 hours.
You can also use the oven method. Just add everything to a Dutch oven or oven-safe dish with a lid. Slow-cook it at 325 degrees F for around 4-5 hours, or until the pork is tender and cooked through.
3. Crisp the carnitas
While optional, broiling the carnitas adds a slightly crispy texture that complements the soft, tender meat. Spread the cooked pork out on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil it until crispy.
4. Assemble the bowls
Make sure to start by choosing and prepping the base for your carnitas bowls. We love making these with rice, quinoa, cilantro lime cauliflower rice, or a bed of greens. Then add fiber with black beans or pinto beans and some corn.
Finish the bowls with all your favorite toppings - shredded lettuce, fajita vegetables, shredded cheese, avocado, red onions, tomatoes, salsa, avocado, and more.
Best Toppings for Burrito Bowls
- Sliced avocado or guacamole
- Pico de gallo
- Fresh or pickled jalapeños
- Pickled red onions
- Sour cream or crema
- Cotija cheese or crumbled queso fresco
- Fajita vegetables
- Salsa verde or habanero salsa
Storage, Meal Prep, and Reheating
If you have leftover carnitas tacos, follow these storage and reheating tips to make the most out of your recipe:
- Fridge: Once cooled, store the leftovers in separate airtight containers for up to 4 days.
- Meal prep: Layer in the rice, beans, corn, and pork. Pack the veggies, avocado, and salsa separately to add after reheating the bowl.
- Freezer: Transfer the carnitas to a freezer-safe container or bag. You can keep them in the freezer for up to 3 months this way.
- Reheating: Reheat your carnitas in a pan over medium until warmed through, then serve them in fresh tortillas. Alternatively, you can microwave them in 30-second bursts. If you’re cooking from frozen, let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight before heating.
Variations and Bowl Ideas
Although classic carnitas bowls couldn’t be more delicious, you can also mix things up.
- Chipotle: Substitute ancho chili powder with chipotles in adobo for spicier carnitas.
- Beer-braised: Replace the chicken broth with your favorite Mexican beer, like Modelo.
- Low carb burrito bowl: Serve the carnitas on a bed of lettuce or cauliflower rice with your favorite low-carb add-ins.
- Burritos: Make burritos instead of bowls. Just add the toppings to a large flour tortilla, then roll it up with fillings like guacamole, cheese, beans, and veggies.
- Mulitas: Add a layer of carnitas and shredded cheese between two corn tortillas, then cook it until the cheese is melty. Stuff extra guacamole and salsa inside before serving!
Tips for Making Perfect Carnitas Bowls
Follow these tips to make the best carnitas!
- Use the right cut: For the most flavorful and authentic carnitas, use pork shoulder or butt. If you want something lighter, then swap in pork tenderloin or chicken thighs.
- Evenly coat with spices: Make sure the pork is evenly seasoned for the best results.
- Natural release: Allow the steam to release naturally from the Instant Pot. This will help create an ultra-tender and juicy pork texture.
- Broil: We don’t recommend skipping the broiling step. This is what gives carnitas such an addicting and dangerously delicious texture.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions about making these burrito bowls with homemade carnitas.
Of course! You can replace pork shoulder with pork loin or pork tenderloin. However, you may want to incorporate a few tablespoons of olive oil, flavorless coconut oil, or another neutral vegetable oil to make up for the lack of fat.
If you don’t like pork, you can substitute it with boneless skinless chicken thighs, but you’ll have to adjust the cooking time.
Carnitas Burrito Bowls
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2 lbs boneless pork shoulder blade roast, fat trimmed off
1/2 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp lime juice
1.5 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
4 cups cooked white rice
2 cups canned black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups corn (canned, frozen, or fresh)
2 cups shredded lettuce
2 cups cherry tomatoes, chopped
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup salsa (your choice)
1/2 cup red onion, sliced
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Make the carnitas: Cut the pork into 3-4 large pieces. Add to the instant pot or slow cooker with the remaining ingredients and toss until pork is well coated in the spices. Instant Pot: Press the “Meat” setting and then press the “Pressure” button until the light on “High Pressure” turns on. Set the time to 40 minutes using the up and down arrows. Cook and let the steam naturally release. Carefully remove the lid and shred using two forks. Crockpot: Cook on low for 8-9 hours until the pork is fork tender. For crispy carnitas, cover a baking sheet with foil. Turn the broiler on high. Spread the meat out on the baking sheet. Broil for 4-6 minutes until crispy. Toss with some of the cooking juice after broiling to add moisture back to the pork, for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the lid and shred using two forks.
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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