Pork Carnitas | Instant Pot recipe

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This Instant Pot Carnitas recipe is made with tender-cooked pork shoulder seasoned with the perfect blend of spice and a splash of citrus, and served street-taco style

An overhead picture of a serving dish with Instant Pot pork carnitas with sour cream, limes, diced tomatoes, and tortillas

WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE

It cooks up easy, has great flavor, and most of the cook time is hands-off. Best of all, it’s ready in a fraction of the time it would take to make traditional oven-roasted carnitas.

I first had pork carnitas at a small local restaurant about 10 years ago, and I’ve been in love ever since. The fresh orange juice brings a fresh zing that really sets these easy street tacos apart.

It’s an easy way to change up Taco Tuesday or to serve to friends and family.

These carnitas are one of our favorite Instant Pot pork recipes. If you’re looking for more great options to make with pork shoulder, keep in mind our Pork & Hominy Stew (Quick Posole), Easy Pressure Cooker Pulled Pork, and Instant Pot Kalua Pork.

Overhead picture of the ingredients for Instant Pot carnitas, including onion, oranges, spices, lime juice, oil, salt, pepper, jalapeños, and cubed pork.

INGREDIENTS YOU NEED

Here’s what you need to make these flavorful street tacos in your Instant Pot:

  • Boneless pork shoulder. This cut of meat is tough and layered with fat, which makes it perfect for pressure cooking. (Look for pork butt or Boston butt at the grocery store.)
  • Oil. We use olive oil for flavoring before cooking and vegetable oil (optional) if you’d like to crisp up the meat after cooking.
  • Broth or water. Use chicken broth for more flavor. 
  • Spices. Use a mix of oregano and cumin, plus salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Orange juice. This bright citrus is key to carnitas’ unique flavor. 
  • Onions and garlic. These are a major flavor component of 
  • Jalapenos. If you’re worried about the heat, you can reduce it to one, but they do lend some great flavor to the dish.
  • Tortillas. We really like the small, ##-inch size Mission flour tortillas. They’re a little thicker, which makes them a little more durable. 
  • Toppings. We love to serve these with homemade pickled onions, queso fresco, fresh tomato/tomatillo salsa, and chopped cilantro.
Overhead picture of all the ingredients added for making pork carnitas in an Instant Pot.

How to Make Pork Carnitas in an Instant Pot

This easy recipe will work in any brand of electric pressure cooker, including the Instant Pot, Ninja Foodi, or Power Pressure Cooker XL.

Add the fresh orange juice and water to the cooking pot. 

Salt and pepper the pork really well. Then mix the olive oil with the oregano and cumin and rub it all over the pork. Dice the pork into bite-size pieces. Place the diced pork in the cooking pot, and put the onions, garlic, and jalapenos on top. 

Select High Pressure and 30 minutes cook time. After pressure cooking, wait 10 minutes then release any remaining pressure.

Note: The meat and vegetables will release liquid as they cook, so you don’t need to add additional liquid if you’re making this in a 6-quart pressure cooker. 

Overhead picture of pork carnitas cooked in an Instant Pot.

Place a strainer over a large bowl and strain the meat, allowing the cooking liquid to drain into the bowl. (You can discard or retain the onions and jalapenos, whichever you prefer.)

If you wish to crisp up your meat before serving, preheat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and about a third of the pork. Fry the pork over high heat, turning once, until crispy, about 3 minutes. (Keep an eye on the pork and remove sooner if any of the onions or pork are cooking too quickly.)

Remove to a serving bowl. If needed, add a little more oil to the pan and repeat the steps with more pork. Just prior to serving, ladle a little bit of the strained cooking liquid over the browned meat.

A serving dish with pork carnitas with sour cream, limes, diced tomatoes, tortillas, and an Instant Pot in the background.

Spicing Up or Down Carnitas

You can easily customize the amount of heat in this recipe.  If you like things quite hot, feel free to add more jalapenos or other spicier peppers.

To tone it down, you can reduce it to one or even half a jalapeno. I wouldn’t remove them entirely since they add a great flavor to the meat. 

Make sure you’re removing all the seeds and inside membranes, which carry a lot of heat.

You can also substitute Anaheim peppers if you want a pepper flavor with less heat.

Instant Pot pork carnitas with diced tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro, with fresh limes and more cilantro in the background.

Serving Carnitas

We love serving these carnitas street taco style, topped with pickled onions, queso fresco, fresh salsa, and fresh cilantro. 

I also like to let everyone serve themselves, one taco at a time, to prevent the tacos from getting soggy.

Tip: We love the pickled red onions with this dish. (If you’re skeptical, so was I the first time! I don’t love onions but they really add flavor and texture to this dish.) 

Pork Carnitas from the Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook - featuring 45 degree shot of a white platter with three carnitas in a white corn tortilla with chopped cilantro, sour cream, and pink pickled onions garnished on topp

Frequently Asked Questions about Making Pork Carnitas

Can I make carnitas ahead of time?

Absolutely! I prefer to pressure cook the carnitas, then allow them to cool, add a little of the strained cooking liquid, and refrigerate until needed. Then they warm up nicely during the pan-fry portion of the recipe. 

Do I have to cut the pork into pieces?

Cutting the pork before pressure cooking gives you a quicker cooking time. However, if you shredded pork carnitas, you can use a whole pork shoulder. I like to cut the pork shoulder into four equal-sized pieces and cook for 60 minutes. Make sure to check your pork with an instant read thermometer and the pork should be well above 140F.

How long can I store leftover pork carnitas in the fridge?

Store cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. 

Can I freeze pork carnitas?

This recipe freezes well! I like to freeze leftovers in individual portions in freezer-safe baggies. Add a little more of the cooking liquid to each bag to help keep the meat moist.

Pork-Carnitas-Taco-Browned-Pressure-Cooking-Today

More Flavorful Mexican and Tex-Mex Dinner Recipes

We love making Mexican-inspired dishes in the Instant Pot. Here are a more favorites:

  • Creamy Chipotle Chicken has the perfect balance between spice and creaminess. 
  • This Chile Verde is a delicious shredded pork recipe wrapped in fluffy masa dough. 
  • Our Shredded Beef Enchiladas are perfect, made with soft flour tortillas in a slightly-spicy sauce and topped with melty cheese.
  • These Easy Fish Tacos are a fast weeknight meal with a tasty chipotle slaw.

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Instant Pot pork carnitas with diced tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro, with fresh limes and more cilantro in the background.

Pork Carnitas in the Pressure Cooker

Yield: 8 - 12 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

These pork carnitas are pressure cooked until tender and seasoned with the perfect blend of spice and zesty orange juice, and served street-taco style.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds boneless picnic pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, about 2 large oranges
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped*
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and ribs removed, chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, optional, for frying
  • Street size flour tortillas, for serving
  • Toppings, including queso fresco, fresh tomatoes or tomatillo salsa, fresh cilantro, lime juice, and sour cream, as desired

Pickled Red Onion, optional for serving

  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced and quartered
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Instructions

If making the pickled onions

  1. In a small bowl, combine the red onion and hot water. Let soak for 1 minute, then drain well. In a small mason jar, whisk together the cider vinegar, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Add the red pepper flakes and onion to the jar. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour, then refrigerate until needed. Drain before using.

Pork Carnitas

  1. Salt and pepper the pork liberally. Dice into small, bite-size pieces. Mix the oregano and the cumin with olive oil and rub this paste all over the pork until evenly distributed.
  2. Add orange juice and water to the cooking pot. Place the pork in the pressure cooking pot and top with the onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Select High Pressure and set the cook time for 30 minutes. When the cook time ends, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes, then finish with a quick pressure release. When valve drops carefully remove lid.
  3. Set a large strainer over a large bowl. Drain the pork into the strainer. If desired, remove the onion and jalapeño peppers. Reserve the liquid.
  4. If desired, you can crisp up the meat. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and, working in batches, fry the pork over high heat, turning once, until crispy, about 3 minutes. (Watch the ingredients closely—sometimes the onion can cook quicker than the pork and the batch will need to be removed immediately if that happens.) Add more vegetable oil if needed.
  5. Remove the pork to a serving bowl and ladle a little bit of the strained cooking liquid over the browned meat. Serve immediately on tortillas with pickled onions and your favorite toppings.

Notes

*If you plan to remove these prior to serving, leave these veggies chopped larger. If you plan to serve them with the meal, chop them to your preferred size.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 588Total Fat: 41gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 147mgSodium: 429mgCarbohydrates: 14gFiber: 2gSugar: 7gProtein: 39g

Nutrition information is calculated by Nutritionix and may not always be accurate.

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Update: I’m adding some pictures to show the final browning step.

Pork-Carnitas-Taco-Cooked-Pressure-Cooking-Today

There will be large chunks of onion and small jalapeno pieces when you remove the meat from the cooking pot to the strainer.

Pork-Carnitas-Taco-Browned-Pressure-Cooking-Today

Make sure you’re using high heat and that your oil is hot before you add the meat to the saute pan so your onions don’t burn.

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