I’ve perfected a Whole30-friendly and low carb porktastic Instant Pot Carnitas recipe that will rival what you’d order at your favorite taqueria! It’s so simple and delicious that you’ll make homemade carnitas all the time!

An overhead shot of a platter filled with Nom Nom Paleo Instant Pot Carnitas, lettuce leaves, diced onion, jalapeños, sliced avocados, and lime wedges. There is a red banner at the bottom that says paleo, gluten-free, and low carb

Our family always craves this tender Mexican shredded pork, particularly once it’s crisped up in a hot skillet. Whenever we go out for tacos, carnitas is our filling of choice.

At home, I’ve tried to pass off crisped-up Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Kalua Pig (or Slow Cooker Kalua Pig) as carnitas, but apparently, I didn’t raise no dummies.

My kids will happily gobble up the crispy, tender pork, but both of them will occasionally remark that the flavors just aren’t the same. “This is good kalua pig, mom. But it’s not carnitas!” They know that carnitas has a deeper, richer flavor profile—even if they don’t know exactly what goes in the recipe.

A closeup of Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas ready to eat.

What is carnitas?

Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish that consists of pork shoulder cooked with onions, garlic, oregano, orange, and warming spices like cumin—so yeah, it’s a little more complex than Kalua Pig. Typically, the pork is slowly braised on the stovetop or oven, but I’ve come up with a faster and just as tasty method with an Instant Pot!

Can you use another protein?

Although carnitas is normally a pork dish, you can a different protein if you don’t eat pork. I wouldn’t use anything too lean because you don’t want to choke down dry and powdery meat.

You can use boneless and skinless chicken thighs—just make sure to decrease the cooking time to 10 minutes under high pressure.

If you want to substitute beef, the best options are cubed chuck roast, boneless short ribs, or brisket and you can follow the recipe exactly the same.

Can you cook this in a slow cooker?

Yes! Cook the carnitas on low for 8 to 10 hours or until the meat is easily shreddable with two forks.

What are some good side dishes?

When I’m feeling fancy, I serve my carnitas with these dishes:

Leftover makeover ideas

I always make extra carnitas because you can use the leftovers in so many dishes!

Crispy carnitas can be featured in these dishes:

The leftover carnitas can be stored in the leftover liquid in the fridge for up to four days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. When I want to reheat the carnitas, I discard the fat cap and dig out the pieces of meat and throw them in a hot skillet. The reserved cooking liquid can also be a tasty base for soups and sauces!

Time to make Instant Pot Carnitas!

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt, more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoons crushed dried oregano leaves, preferably Mexican
  • 1 medium orange (I like using Cara Cara)
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon ghee, avocado oil, lard, or favorite high temperature cooking fat (optional)
  • 1 small white onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
  • 1 head butter lettuce, leaves removed, washed and spun dry (Siete’s grain-free tortillas are awesome as well.)
  • 2 Hass avocados, peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, sliced (optional)
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 3 limes, quartered

Equipment:

All my favorite kitchen tools are listed here. My favorite Instant Pot model is this one.

Method:

Grab your boneless pork shoulder roast (a.k.a. Boston butt) and cut it into 2-inch cubes.

Slicing pork shoulder roast into 2-inch cubes

Plop the pork in a large bowl and sprinkle on the salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and oregano.

Seasoning the pork shoulder cubes with salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and oregano

Toss well to coat. Then, transfer the seasoned pork to the Instant Pot insert.

Toss the cubes in the seasoning to coat them.

Use a vegetable peeler to peel wide strips of zest off the orange. Stay close to the surface, making sure you don’t peel into the white pith, ’cause that stuff is bitter.

Peel the zest off the orange with a black vegetable peeler.

Add the strips of orange zest to the Instant Pot, along with the garlic, quartered yellow onion, and bay leaf. 

An overhead shot of Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas with the raw ingredients.

Cut the bald orange in half and juice it.

Juicing the zested oranges for the Instant Pot Carnitas

Pour the juice into the Instant Pot insert…

Pouring the the orange juice into the Instant Pot for the carnitas recipe.

…and stir to distribute.

An overhead shot of someone mixing the carnitas ingredients in the Instant Pot

Place the insert into the Instant Pot and lock the lid. Make sure the valve on the lid is pointed at the “Sealing” position. Press the  “Manual” button or “Pressure Cook” and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. (Stovetop pressure cooker users should cook under high pressure for 30 minutes.) Then, let the pressure release naturally (about 20 minutes).

The front display of an Instant Pot Duo Plus.

If the pressure hasn’t completely released after 20 minutes and you’re hungry, manually vent the pressure by turning the release valve on the lid. Open the lid and discard the garlic, onion, and bay leaf.

Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. You can shred and serve the pork as-is, or store it in the fridge (with all the liquid/fat) for up to 4 days (or in the freezer for up to 4 months).

A pair of tongs holding a cooked cube of Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas

Me? I prefer to eat crispy carnitas, so I always fry up the meat in a cast iron skillet until there are crunchy bits, before serving on lettuce leaves (or grain-free tortillas) and piled high with taco toppings.

How to fry up crispy carnitas

Heat up a large cast iron skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of your favorite cooking fat. Grab the pork out of the fridge and dig out the pieces of carnitas.

A stainless steel container of Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas from the refrigerator with hardened fat on top

Shred the meat up with your fingers.

Shredding cold Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas by hand.

Once the pan is hot, add the pork and fry, stirring occasionally, until it reaches your desired crispness.

Frying Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas in a cast iron skillet until crispy

While the pork is getting crispy, combine the diced white onion and cilantro in a bowl. Also, wash some butter lettuce leaves, slice up the avocados, radishes, and jalapeños. Grab your favorite salsa, and cut up some lime wedges.

Arranging Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Carnitas on a platter with cilantro, lettuce, sliced avocados, jalapeños, limes, and radishes.

Last but not least, grab your plate and assemble your own delicious tacos!

Instant Pot carnitas in a bowl with lettuce, limes, avocados, and jalapenos.

[Originally posted on April 18, 2017. Updated with new information and photos on January 27, 2021.]


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2022).


PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD

Instant Pot Carnitas (Paleo, Whole30, Low Carb)

4.94 from 43 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour 25 minutes
Servings 6 servings
I’ve perfected a porktastic Instant Pot Carnitas recipe that will rival what you'd order at your favorite taqueria! 

Ingredients  

  • 3 pounds boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoons crushed dried oregano leaves preferably Mexican
  • 1 medium orange I like using Cara Cara
  • 6 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 large yellow onion peeled and quartered
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon ghee avocado oil, lard, or favorite high temperature cooking fat (optional)
  • 1 small white onion finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro minced
  • 1 head butter lettuce leaves removed, washed and spun dry (Siete’s grain-free tortillas are awesome as well.)
  • 2 Hass avocados peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 radishes thinly sliced
  • 2 jalapeño peppers sliced (optional)
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 3 limes quartered

Instructions 

  • Grab your boneless pork shoulder roast (a.k.a. Boston butt) and cut it into 2-inch cubes.
  • Plop the pork in a large bowl and sprinkle on the salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Toss well to coat. Then, transfer the seasoned pork to the Instant Pot insert.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to peel wide strips of zest off the orange. Stay close to the surface, making sure you don’t peel into the white pith, ’cause that stuff is bitter. Add the strips of orange zest to the Instant Pot, along with the garlic, quartered yellow onion, and bay leaf. 
  • Cut the bald orange in half and juice it. Pour the juice into the Instant Pot insert and stir to distribute.
  • Place the insert into the Instant Pot and lock the lid. Make sure the valve on the lid is pointed at the "Sealing" position. Press the  “Manual” button (or “Pressure Cook” if you have the new IP-DUO Plus60) and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. (Stovetop pressure cooker users should cook under high pressure for 30 minutes.) Then, let the pressure release naturally (about 20 minutes). 
  • If the pressure hasn’t completely released after 20 minutes and you’re hungry, manually vent the pressure by turning the release valve on the lid. Open the lid and discard the garlic, onion, and bay leaf. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. You can shred and serve the pork as-is, or store it in the fridge (with all the liquid/fat) for up to 4 days (or in the freezer for up to 4 months).
  • If you prefer crispy carnitas, heat up a large cast iron skillet over medium heat with a tablespoon of your favorite cooking fat.
  • Grab the pork out of the fridge and dig out the pieces of carnitas. Shred the meat up with your fingers.
  • Once the pan is hot, add the pork and fry, stirring occasionally, until it reaches your desired crispness.
  • While the pork is getting crispy, combine the diced white onion and cilantro in a bowl. Also, wash some butter lettuce leaves, slice up the avocados, radishes, and jalapeños. Grab your favorite salsa, and cut up some lime wedges.
  • Last but not least, grab your plate and assemble your own delicious tacos!

Video

Notes

Make the carnitas ahead of time on the weekend and taco night will be a breeze during the week!

Nutrition

Calories: 479kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 55g | Fat: 21g | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 7g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Like this? Leave a comment below!

About Michelle Tam

Hello! My name is Michelle Tam, and I love to eat. I think about food all the time. It borders on obsession. I’ve always loved the sights and smells of the kitchen. My mother was (and is) an excellent cook, and as a kid, I was her little shadow as she prepared supper each night. From her, I gained a deep, abiding love for magically transforming pantry items into mouth-watering family meals.

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139 Comments

  1. I’m so happy you reposted this, Michelle. I looked for this just a few months back and couldn’t seem to find it. This is our favorite carnitas recipe! The other ones we’ve tried are just too tomato-based.

  2. 5 stars
    When this recipe came out my gym buddy made it and told everyone must try. over the past few years everyone I introduce this to go gaga over it.
    I never leave reviews but here’s a lil twist I made to the recipe. after meat and liquid come out of the pressure cooker, i understand Michelle discard the liquid and crisp the meat. I thought, there’s so much fat in the liquid, what if….. so I boil it all down, meant and liquid, use spatula to crush the meat. in the end when water evaporates I’d crisp the meat to preference. it’s AMAZING.
    never noticed I could put it in omelet, to be tried next time.

  3. Love this recipe but now have to double (maybe triple!) the recipe. Do I do them in separate batches or can I at least double it in one batch? If so, how does cooking time change? Thank you!

  4. 5 stars
    I have tried this and YES, you have perfected your original carnitas recipe. It rocks above any other I’ve tried and is our new fav! The orange peel and boosted amount of seasoningsb are dead on for a can’t-get-enough carnitas platter. NomNom YUM!

  5. I’m going to attempt this in my slow cooker (as opposed to an instant pot). Could you tell me how long and what temp you’d recommend (i.e. low for 8 hours or what not)? Thank you!

  6. So excited to make this today, purchased everything for it. In a furnished rental temporarily, saw their instant pot (mine’s packed) and realized it doesn’t work. No slow cooker here (how can this be?) Can you tell me how I would cook it on the stove? Kind of lost without a recipe. Thank you!

    1. You’ll have to add a little more liquid (maybe 1/2 cup broth). Cook covered on the stovetop for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender.

  7. I always remove the strips of orange peel at the end when I take out the onions and bay leaf. Am I not supposed to do that? Are we supposed to eat the cooked orange peel?

  8. 5 stars
    Great recipe and so easy to make. I doubled the portion and because we don’t mind eating the same thing over and over again, we’re covered for at least a week!

  9. 5 stars
    Oh my heavens. I made this exactly as written for the pork. I was lazy so I just made some chipotle/honey/lime mayo and had some shredded cabbage in the fridge and viola! Definately will makethis deliciousness again. Thank you!