The Instant Pot is perfect for making Carnitas. Made with pork shoulder, this Instant Pot Carnitas recipe serves up crispy pork carnitas that are perfect for sandwiches, street tacos, or even served on its own. It also stars in the Instant Pot Tamale Pie recipe and is a good filling for air fryer taquitos.
The keys to good carnitas are a long cook time, the use of citrus juices, and crisping in the oven. If you do not have access to an oven, you can still enjoy the carnitas. Crisping them just adds another level of goodness to something that is already darn tasty!
Instant Pot Carnitas: Start with Pork Shoulder (aka Pork Butt)
Pork shoulder is the traditional cut of meat for carnitas and pulled pork. I had a small, around 4 or 5 pound, pork shoulder in the freezer and it fit the Instant Pot perfectly. I suggest cutting yours in half for the best fit. You can choose a pork shoulder that has the bone or that is boneless. Mine happened to have the bone in it.
Do not trim the fat from your pork shoulder. The fat is what, over the longer cooking time, melts away and created tender and moist meat. Trimming the fat can result in tougher and drier cooked pork. Even though this recipe crisps the carnitas in the oven, you still want them to have a level of tender and moist goodness.
Spices for Instant Pot Carnitas
The must have spices for carnitas are Chili Powder, Cumin, a powdered pepper, and Italian seasoning or Oregano. I use both a smoky Chipotle powder and Ancho chili powder, which adds a great flavor boost. I also add coriander. This is what differentiates Instant Pot Carnitas from Instant Pot Pulled Pork. Both are a form of pulled pork, but the carnitas have a different flavor profile from the Mexican spices.
Mix the spices up in a bowl and give those chunks of meat a good rub. You can sear the pork pieces if you like, but it really is not necessary. If you do, be sure to deglaze the Instant Pot with some broth before pressure cooking to avoid any burn notices.
Pressure Cooking Carnitas
Saute some onion in the pot and add garlic. Then pour in the juices and chicken stock. Carnitas are traditionally made using orange juice and lime juice. Put on the lid, set the Instant Pot to sealing, and pressure cook on high pressure for 90 minutes.
I find that 90 minutes is pretty much the magic number for getting really tender meat from roasts in the Instant Pot. Yes, you will see recipes that use less time, and the meat can get cooked in less time, but it won’t necessarily be as tender. The other key is to natural release for at least 20 minutes. I often let it natural release the entire way. That usually takes 25-30 minutes or so. This isn’t a quick process, but it is a heck of a lot faster than slow roasting or smoking the pork.
Shred the Pork Carnitas
Once the pork is done, reserve the liquid and onions. Don’t dump that! Now it is time to shred. Pull the pork using two forks, or, get yourself some handy dandy Bear Claws Pulled Pork Shredders! I love the shredders because they have nice big handles and make quick work of making pulled pork.
Shred the meat into nice bite-sized pieces.The bear claws and the tenderness of the pork make it particularly easy.
Crisping the Instant Pot Carnitas
To make crispy Instant Pot Carnitas, put the pulled pork on a baking dish and spoon about one third of the reserved liquid and onions over it. Pop it under the broiler for about 5 minutes until it starts to crisp up. Pull it out, stir, add another third and put i back in for another five minutes or so. Pour the rest of the juices on before serving.
If you are not making crispy Instant Pot Carnitas, then pour about a third of the liquid over your pork before serving and discard the rest. You can strain out the onions if desired, but I like to leave them in.
I like to serve my carnitas as street tacos with Instant Pot Refried Beans. I also will just eat it as it’s one meal, especially on low carb days. Finally, you can use the carnitas in this fabulous Instant Pot Tamale Pie recipe!
However you serve your carnitas, you are sure to enjoy them!
Instant Pot Carnitas Recipe
- 1 (4-5 pound) pork shoulder (aka Pork Butt), cut in half.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 small onion diced or cut in thin slices.
- 6 cloves of garlic, sliced or minced
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning
- 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon Chipotle powder
- 1 teaspoon Ancho Pepper powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- In a small bowl, mix the oregano, cumin, chipotle powder, ancho pepper powder, salt, and pepper.
- Rub the pork shoulder pieces with olive oil and the seasoning mix.
- Set the Instant Pot to “Saute.” Add oil and sear the pork pieces, turning approximately every 60 seconds until browned on all sides.
- Transfer the pork to a plate.
- Saute the onions until translucent, about three minutes.
- Add the garlic and saute for about one minute.
- Pour in the chicken stock, orange juice, and lime juice.
- Place the Pork in the pot.
- Pressure cook on manual high pressure for 90 minutes.
- Natural release for 20 minutes, followed by quick release.
- Remove the pork to a cutting board and retain the liquid.
- Turn on the oven broiler to 500 degrees or high.
- Shred the pork with two forks or pork shredding claws.
- Transfer the pork to a large baking sheet and spoon about a third of the leftover juices over the pork.
- Broil for 4-5 minutes until the edges of the pork begins browning and crisping.
- Remove the sheet from the oven and spoon a remaining third of the juices over the pork, and broil for an additional 5 minutes until the meat is crispy.
- Remove the sheet and spoon the remaining juices over the pork.
- Serve in tacos, sandwiches, tamales. or as a stand along dish