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Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe

Tacos are my family’s favorite dinner. After 15 years of living on a budget and eating real food, I learned that they are the perfect dinner solution for every season. These Instant Pot carnitas are just one of the endless possibilities, and they are one of my favorite Mexican-inspired dishes.

Tacos are the perfect way to make family-friendly real food dinners that are loaded with veggies, protein, and any other good stuff you want to add.

Chicken? Beef? Pork? There’s a taco for that.

Gluten-free? Use corn tortillas.

Dairy-free? Traditional tacos don’t even use cheese or sour cream. They taste amazing when they are made the right way.

Plant-based or vegetarian? Burritos and meatless tacos, here we come.

Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe Kids Love

Today I’m going to show you how to make Instant Pot carnitas that will please the whole family. Carnitas are a taco made from flavorful pulled pork (that’s a pork roast, pork butt, or boneless pork shoulder), and they are rich in animal fat and flavor.

If you cook them the right way, they are full of those delicious crispy bits that make carnitas some of the best classic taco fillers.

Traditionally, you serve your shredded pork tacos on corn tortillas with just the crisp-tender meat, diced onions, cilantro, and salsa or hot sauce. I’ve fed this to my onion-hating family, and even they agree that the flavors just sing.

However, I like to give my family the option to top their tacos however they like. This gives the kids a chance to exercise their autonomy while they fill their plates. They decide what goes on their tacos. This is what makes carnitas and other tacos such a perfect meal for families.

We have a plant rule at our house. When you make your plate, you have to fill it with some plants. I have kids who don’t like certain veggies, so they always skip those. But they get extras of the ones they do love (or tolerate).

I have one kid who doesn’t like meat in his tacos at all. He fills it with cheese – and then eats his protein on the side along with his vegetables.

Family-Friendly Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe

I usually make these carnitas one day and then we graze on it for one or two more meals after that. Feeding a family every day takes a lot of work, so I prefer to use the “cook once, eat twice” (or three times!) method.

We’ll have tacos one day, then rice with the leftover meat for budget-friendly burrito bowls another day, and if there is any left after that, I’ll sprinkle it onto a tray of nachos the next day.

Honestly, we never get tired of these flavors, so we never complain about eating similar meals three days in one week. There are so many different ways to top your tacos or burrito bowls, or nachos, that it never gets old.

This is especially good news if you are on a budget, because there are a ton of ways to save money with these ingredients (see my tips here).

If you have allergies, this recipe is especially forgiving. We have gluten, dairy, egg, and corn allergies at our house, and this recipe works for everyone.

Where to Buy an Instant Pot

This is the 6-quart Instant Pot I started out with. After a few years, we added an 8-quart partly because I knew I would use two at the same time often enough, partly because it was the Prime Day sale, and also because I wanted more space for certain recipes. Both are a pretty basic model and you don’t need more bells and whistles than that!

If you’re deciding on size, most people say it’s better to get a deal on the 6-quart and just have 2 rather than go big, BUT if your family has 5 or more people or you really like to batch cook or do more than a pound of beans, the 8-quart may be the best choice. My full Instant Pot review and buying guide for features, size, and model.

If you’d like to shop directly at Instant Pot’s website instead of Amazon (or just compare prices), check them out here.

You can even get a carrying case to travel with it! See my review of the Instant Pot carrying case we have.

If you’re still on the fence about adding an Instant Pot to your kitchen appliance arsenal here are my Instant Pot pros and cons.

Carnitas in the Instant Pot

Making Instant Pot pork carnitas takes 3 simple steps. To make really good carnitas, you need to follow all of them – especially the final step. The pictures in this post should show you the difference when you follow all three steps. That’s how you get all of those delicious crispy bits that make carnitas unforgettable.

Step 1. Brown the Meat

You can do this in several batches in the Instant Pot, using the sauté setting, but you will get the best results if you brown it in a large skillet on the stove. The sides of the Instant Pot are too high to properly brown the meat, and you will end up steaming it more than browning it.

I know, I know, I hate using extra dishes. But this was worth it to me. Decide if it’s worth it to you. And if it’s not? I’ll never know.

Step 2. Cook in the Instant Pot

Add all of the ingredients into the Instant Pot and cook for 30 minutes. This step is simple and straightforward. You don’t even have to stir it. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.

Using the Instant Pot means you can prep the carnitas in the morning before work, so they are ready to go when you get home. Or if you work from home or stay home with your kids like I do, you can put dinner in the Instant Pot whenever you get a chance in the mid morning or early afternoon. Either way, let it sit until you are about 20 minutes from dinner time and then move on to step 3.

Tip: if you don’t have an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker, use your slow cooker and cook the meat all day.

Step 3. Crisp the meat

This is the most important step in cooking the carnitas. You could stop here and serve them. They are technically cooked at this point, and they taste pretty good. But you will miss out on serious flavor if you do.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. It will be fall-apart tender, but resist shredding it. Bake at 450 F for 10-15 minutes, until the edges of the meat are brown and crispy and the juices are mostly gone.

See the pictures for reference. Note the difference between before you put it in the oven and after. Night and day. So delicious. So worth it.

After the carnitas are finished in the oven, shred the meat with two forks and serve them in tacos however you like. Traditionally, carnitas tacos are served on corn tortillas with diced onion, cilantro, salsa, and hot sauce. I’m not gonna tell you how to eat your tacos, but if you have never tried them this way, I highly recommend you give it a shot.

You’re Just *7 Days* Away From Easier Meals with Your Instant Pot

Whether you have a few fav meals in your Instant Pot or still aren’t using it regularly yet, I can show you the secrets to SAVE time (and money) with my favorite appliance!

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Best Quick Carnitas Recipe

Altogether, this carnitas recipe takes about 30 minutes to prepare, not counting cook time. I like cooking them in the Instant Pot because it gives me flexibility to go about my day, knowing dinner is mostly already taken care of.

Counting cook time, it will take you about an hour and 30 minutes to prepare this dinner, including chopping all of the ingredients and prepping the tacos.

Because this meal feeds my family for several dinners, this is a good trade off for my time. If I bring the kids in to help chop vegetables and prepare the tacos (skills they learned in Kids Cook Real Food!), I save even more time while my kids practice important life skills.

Flavorful, Quick Carnitas Recipe

Traditionally, carnitas are cooked with the simplest of seasonings. Everyone has a different combination they love the best, and some of the most authentic recipes (according to the internet) use only salt and maybe some garlic.

In my opinion, it’s all in how you cook them. Don’t skip the three cooking steps. You can skip some of the spices if you need to. The lime juice and orange juice add amazing flavor to the final product, but they aren’t absolutely necessary to a good carnita taco. Experiment, make this recipe work for you, and enjoy another real food dinner in the instant pot!

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Instant Pot carnitas

Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe

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  • Author: Stephani Jenkins
  • Prep Time: 30
  • Cook Time: 50
  • Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Instant Pot
  • Cuisine: Mexican
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

This recipe is a family favorite in our house! We can cook it once and it will feed us for several meals!


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 34 lb. pork butt roast
  • 1/4 c. lard or avocado oil
  • 1/2 c. fresh orange juice (save two of the peels)
  • 2 juiced limes (save two of the peels)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Add 1/2 c. water or broth
  • 1 Tbs. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase), plus more for salting the meat
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • Your favorite taco fixings (traditionally, you serve carnitas with corn tortillas, diced onion, cilantro, salsa, and hot sauce)


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Instructions

  1. Using a sharp knife, cut the meat into large 2-inch chunks.
  2. Heat the lard or oil in a large skillet on the stovetop or the Instant Pot on the sauté setting. You will get better results if you use the skillet instead of the Instant Pot to brown the meat. I know, I know, I hate using extra dishes. But the sides of the Instant Pot are too high to properly brown the meat, and you will end up steaming it more than browning it.
  3. While the lard heats, generously salt (Use the code kitchenstewardship for 15% off of your first purchase) the meat on all sides. Brown the meat in the skillet until it is dark brown, then flip it with a pair of tongs to brown the other side.
  4. While the meat browns, arrange the onion, lime peels, orange peels, garlic cloves, and bay leaves in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Pour in the water or broth.
  5. Measure out the rest of the seasonings into a small bowl.
  6. Use the tongs to transfer the meat to the Instant Pot. Pour the orange juice and lime juice over the meat and then sprinkle it with the seasonings. Close the Instant Pot, seal it, and set it to cook on high pressure for 30 minutes.
  7. When the Instant Pot is finished cooking (you can either wait for the pressure to release naturally or use the quick-release button), preheat the oven to 450 F. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the meat onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Discard the orange peels, lime peels, and bay leaves. The meat will be fall-apart tender, but resist shredding it.
  8. Bake it for 10-15 minutes, until the meat is nicely browned and the juices are almost gone.  Remove the baking sheet from the oven and shred the meat with two forks.
  9. Traditionally, carnitas are served on heated corn tortillas with diced onion cilantro, salsa, and hot sauce. I’m not gonna tell you how to eat your tacos, but I highly recommend you try the traditional toppings at least once!
  10. Store leftovers in a glass (preferred) or plastic container in the fridge for up to three days.

Notes

For Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas: Follow the same recipe, but cook the meat, onions, seasonings, etc. in your slow cooker for 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low. 

A Quick Note on Ingredients: Traditionally, carnitas are cooked with the simplest of seasonings. Everyone has a different combination they love the best, and some of the most authentic recipes (according to the internet) simply use salt and maybe some garlic. In my opinion, it’s all in how you cook them. Don’t skip the cooking steps (brown, cook, then crisp). You can skip some of the spices if you need to. The lime juice and orange juice add amazing flavor to the final product, but they aren’t absolutely necessary for a good carnitas taco. Experiment, make this recipe work for you, and enjoy another real food dinner in the Instant Pot!


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 3-4 oz,
  • Calories: 752
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 537mg
  • Fat: 49g
  • Saturated Fat: 17g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Protein: 70g
  • Cholesterol: 245mg

Add this recipe to your meal plan and let me know what you think!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

2 thoughts on “Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe”

  1. These are the best carnitas I’ve ever made. I almost didn’t try this recipe because of the extra pans/steps but I’m so glad I did! I knew if Stephanie recommended it, that it would be worth it and she did not disappoint.

  2. I made this last night and it was delicious! Although I think I’ll leave the lime peels out next time, I think they made the meat taste bitter.

    I also made the whole recipe in my enameled Dutch oven. That way it was all in one pot so less dishes. I seared the meat on the stovetop, added the liquid, cooked it in the oven at 300 for 5 hours, then shredded the meat in the pot and put it back in the oven without the lid at 420* for 20 minutes to brown. It worked great!






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