Make delicious, juicy, crispy carnitas tacos at home! These delicious pork tacos can be made in less than an hour with the help of a pressure cooker. Trust me, this is a Taco Tuesday recipe you don't want to miss.
Nothing beats the savory and melt-in-your-mouth meatiness of carnitas tacos! They are a classic Mexican taco for a reason and couldn't be more delicious. Serve your braised and broiled pork in warm corn tortillas, then top everything off with fresh cilantro and onion for the ultimate bite. Then use the leftovers to make delicious Carnitas Burrito Bowls.
The version I am sharing today is a lightened up, healthy carnitas, with a pork shoulder blade roast, but the recipe also works great with a more traditional pork shoulder or pork but.
What Are Carnitas Tacos?
Carnitas tacos are synonymous with Mexico, loved for their incredibly tender and flavorful pork filling. The word "carnitas" literally translates to "little meats", referring to the preparation of slow-cooking the pork until it's so tender that it’s easily pulled apart into small pieces.
Pork shoulder is infused with a blend of spices, including cumin, ancho chili powder, and oregano, then cooked with chicken broth, orange juice, and lime juice. It creates a flavor that is tangy, sweet, and savory all at once.
The result is deliciously juicy and crispy meat that goes perfectly with warm corn tortillas and fresh toppings like cilantro, onions, and lime wedges. For more taco recipes, take a look at our chicken carnitas tacos, chicken birria tacos, and baked crispy chicken tacos.
Why You’ll Love Carnitas Tacos
Carnitas tacos are the perfect summertime dish to make. Here’s why you’ll love them:
- Incredible flavors: The blend of spices and citrus juices, and the slow-cooking process results in tender pork that's loaded with flavor.
- Crowd pleaser: These tacos are always a hit at gatherings! They’re fun to eat and everyone can customize their own.
- Great for meal prep: You can make a large batch of the pork filling ahead of time, and quickly reheat it for easy meals during the week.
Looking for something faster? Don’t miss these delicious homemade pork tacos that are ready in less than 30 minutes.
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here’s a quick breakdown of what you’ll need to make carnitas tacos at home:
- Boneless pork shoulder blade roast: This protein is known for its rich flavor and ultra-tender texture. If it’s unavailable, substitute it with one of the above options.
- Onion and garlic: Fresh onion and garlic cloves provide depth of flavor. Feel free to use white or yellow onion, and adjust the quantities based on your preferences.
- Chicken broth: Adds moisture and helps tenderize the pork. You can also use vegetable broth but try not to use beef broth as it can overpower the flavor.
- Citrus juice: Both orange and lime juice give a tangy brightness that balances the rich meat. Orange and lime are more traditional but lemon will also work in a pinch.
- Spices: The combo of cumin, ancho chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper, gives the carnitas their distinctive flavor. Make sure your spices are fresh and fragrant!
- Corn tortillas: Offer a mild, slightly nutty, and sweet flavor. If you prefer, you can serve your carnitas in flour tortillas instead.
- Toppings: Complement your carnitas tacos with classic fresh toppings like cilantro, diced onion, and lime wedges for a kick of vitamin C. You can even add some pico de gallo or sour cream.
The Best Cuts Of Pork For Carnitas
Choosing the right cut of pork is the key to achieving tender, flavorful, and mouth-watering carnitas. Here's a list of the best pork cuts for the job:
- Pork shoulder: Also known as pork butt or Boston butt, this is the traditional cut used for carnitas. It's marbled with fat that renders down during slow cooking, resulting in juicy, flavorful meat.
- Pork picnic roast: This cut comes from the lower part of the shoulder. It's also a great choice for carnitas as it's fatty and flavorful.
- Pork tenderloin: For a lighter option for carnitas, you can use pork tenderloin. It just won't turn out quite as juicy as traditional carnitas with pork shoulder.
- Boneless country-style ribs: These are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the pork shoulder. They're meatier but still have enough fat to make your carnitas juicy and tender.
- Pork belly: While not traditional, pork belly can be used for fattier, richer carnitas. It's incredibly flavorful but might be too rich for some.
How To Make Carnitas Tacos
1. Choose And Prepare Your Pork
The first step in making perfect carnitas tacos is selecting the right cut of pork. As mentioned earlier, pork shoulder is a great choice due to its marbling that renders down during cooking, but if you want a lighter option, reach for pork tenderloin.
Once you've selected your cut, trim off any excess fat and cut it into large chunks. This increases the surface area of the meat, allowing it to better absorb the flavors of your seasonings.
2. Season The Pork
Traditional carnitas recipes keep it simple with a blend of cumin, ancho chili powder, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add the pork to your Instant Pot and thoroughly coat the pieces with the seasoning blend. We suggest massaging the spices into the meat to infuse more flavor.
3. Cook The Pork
Add the onion, garlic, broth, and citrus juices, then set your Instant Pot to the "Meat" setting on "High Pressure" and let it work its magic. The combination of citrus and savory elements not only tenderizes the meat but also gives it an incredible depth of flavor.
4. Broil The Pork
After the pork is done, it's time to make your carnitas crispy! Spread the cooked pork out on a foil-covered baking sheet and broil it for a few minutes. This step gives the carnitas that signature crispy texture while keeping the inside tender and juicy. After broiling, toss the meat with some of the leftover cooking liquid to rehydrate and add more flavor.
5. Assemble Your Tacos
Warm your corn tortillas in a dry skillet for the most pliable texture, then fill them with your crispy pulled pork carnitas. Top everything with fresh cilantro, diced onion, and a squeeze of lime, or get creative with garnishes like queso fresco, pickled red onions, and a few teaspoons of salsa.
Best Toppings for Carnitas
Classic carnitas are almost always served with cilantro, onion, and lime juice. From there, they may have a tomatillo-based green salsa, spicy red salsa, or avocado salsa like guacamole or creamy salsa verde.
With that said, you can get as creative as you like with your taco toppings. Here are some fun toppings to try.
- Add some sweetness with grilled pineapple salsa or mango black bean salsa
- Add lots of spice with a homemade habanero salsa
- Make the carnitas smokier with creamy chipotle sauce
- Break from tradition and add shredded cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes
- Add some homemade pico de gallo for texture
Side Dishes For Carnitas Tacos
There are so many Mexican side dishes you can serve with carnitas tacos. Here are a few traditional and non-traditional options to choose from:
- Beans: Enjoy your tacos with a side of black beans, Frijoles Charros, slow cooker pinto beans, or Borracho Beans.
- Salads: Prepare a Black Bean and Corn Salad, Mexican Street Corn Salad, or Cucumber, Avocado, and Tomato Salad for a lighter option.
- Vegetables and more: Pair them with some Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice, Mexican Street Corn, or Spicy Cabbage and Corn Slaw. You can even turn your carnitas tacos into nachos by serving them on top of tortilla chips with cheese.
Storage and Reheating
If you have any leftover pork carnitas tacos, here’s how to store them:
- Fridge: Once cooled, transfer the carnitas to an airtight container for 3-4 days.
- Freezer: For anything longer than a few days, freeze the carnitas for up to 3 months. Just make sure everything is in a freezer-safe bag or container.
- Reheating: You can warm carnitas in a skillet over medium or in the oven at 350F. Just make sure to thaw them in the fridge overnight if you’re cooking from frozen.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions about making carnitas tacos.
Yes! If you can’t find lean pork shoulder, traditional pork shoulder, pork picnic roast, or boneless country-style ribs make good replacements.
Although it’s not necessary, the only way to achieve an authentic tender-yet-crispy carnitas flavor without cooking it in lard is by broiling it. That’s why we don’t suggest skipping this step!
Of course! If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can just as easily cook carnitas in a Crockpot on low for 8 hours or in the oven at a low temperature until the pork is fork tender.
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- 2 lbs boneless lean pork shoulder (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
- 8 corn tortillas
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- 1/4 cup onion, diced
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Instant pot: Cut the pork into 3-4 large pieces. Add to the Instant Pot with remaining ingredients and toss until pork is well coated in the spices. Press the “Meat” setting and then press the “Pressure” button until the light on “High Pressure” turns on. Set the time to 30 minutes using the up and down arrows Cook and let the steam naturally release. Slow cooker: Add everything to the slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours until the pork is fork tender. Pork tenderloin will cook in 3-4 hours.
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.
For traditional carnitas, use a boneless pork shoulder. It will give you that juicy, rich carnitas flavor. For a leaner option, swap in a pork shoulder blade roast, pork tenderloin, or center-cut pork roast. Adjust the cooking time, since these cuts cook more quickly and can dry out.
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