Use your Instant Pot to make the most amazing carnitas (Mexican pulled pork), in about an hour and a half. Pork shoulder cooked to absolute, fall-apart perfection with a vibrant mojo sauce, this recipe is sure to please a big crowd. It’s really easy to make too!
What are Carnitas?
Carnitas simply means “little meats” and is a traditional Mexican dish. It is commonly made by braising the meat in lard or oil for several hours. But don’t worry! We have a fantastic alternative to the lard and the long cooking time – your Instant Pot pressure cooker. We don’t use any lard at all, but rather a mix of spices and juices to create a vibrant flavor that will infuse our tender and juicy pressure cooked meat.
Back in the day, (Yes, we still employ that phrase!) carnitas used to take anywhere from 4 ½ to 12 hours (for diehard barbecue aficionados) to bake to get that fall-apart luscious meat. But, now that so many of us have an Instant Pot sitting on our counters looking like a cheerful robot from the future, we feel like we’ve been transported to a brave new world where carnitas only takes 90 minutes to make.
“Whoa. Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K.” ~ Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure in Instant Pot Cooking
The ingredients for our Instant Pot Carnitas are listed in two sections: the herbs and spices for the shredded pork and the ingredients for the mojo sauce. These are the two main components for carnitas. We’ve kept the ingredient list as simple as possible with ingredients you either already have on hand or that are readily available at most supermarkets.
What kind of pork for carnitas?
We start with a 3-4 lb. boneless pork shoulder/butt. This is the most common pork used for both pulled pork recipes and for carnitas. You can certainly use a bone-in pork shoulder/butt, but you’ll need to cut around the bone, which isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s just one more step. The meat gets cut into cubes of about 1 ½ – 2″ in size. No need to be perfect here. You can also trim away the fat and discard as desired.
How do we make simple pulled pork into tasty carnitas? Simple, we add a mojo sauce that gives the pork the most amazing, tangy, vibrant flavor. We do this with a mixture of chicken broth, orange juice, lime juice and grapefruit juice. You can use juice from bottles or squeeze the juice right from the fruit. All are important in the flavor profile, but if you’re missing the grapefruit juice, just increase the orange juice and lime juice. The mojo sauce also includes onion and garlic. Optional ingredients are smoked hot paprika and a cayenne pepper.
Use a large bowl or zip-top bag and mix the chili powder, cumin, oregano salt and pepper with the pork. Get all the pieces of pork good and coated.
Next start add the olive oil to the Instant Pot and use the sauté setting on high. Once the temperature is reached, the pot will beep and now it’s time to add the meat. Since we’re using 3-4lbs of meat, it’s recommended to do this step in two batches.
As we sear the meat we’re also “blooming” the spices, bring out even more flavor. After we’ve sautéed all the meat, there will be a lot of “fond” on the bottom of the pot. Fond, in cooking terms, is simply all the little bit stuck to the bottom of a pan or pot. And guess what? These little bits are loaded with flavor. Pour in ¼ cup of the mojo sauce and use a wooden spoon to “deglaze” the bottom of the pot. We want all those tasty little bits, we just don’t want them stuck to the bottom. This step is important! Failing to do so can result in a “burn” notice during cooking.
Pressure Cook for 30 Minutes
Now we add the remaining mojo sauce to the Instant Pot, add the seared meat, and pressure cook on high for 30 minutes. Then we let the pressure naturally release for 15 minutes. Quick release any remaining pressure after the 15 minutes are up.
Shred the Meat
♪ SHRED, SHRED, SHRED! ♪SHRED, SHRED, SHRED! ♪SHREAD THAT MEAT, YA! ♪
Give the meat a couple of minutes to cool down before you start shredding it. Also, if you have a kitchen buddy you can call on to help you shred the meat, you might want to do that. You’ve made enough meat to feed a very happy group of people, so an extra set of hands will only make the process go a little more quickly.
Or, if you have a potato masher, let’s multitask that little tool, shall we? Because the meat is so supple, if you just mash and twist, that will make quick work out of shredding the carnitas.
Faster shredding = Faster getting the platter of meat to the dinner or picnic table.
Crisp The Meat In Broiler
Some may call the step optional, some may call it necessary. Here’s the thing, right now you’re ready to shred the meat and serve. And it will be awesome! But, if you want that classic carnita crisp, spread the meat on a sheet pan and coat it with about a cup of the juices. Then place it under the broiler for 5-10 minutes.
You want the crispy meat.
You need the crispy meat.
Don’t get us wrong, the meat that hasn’t been crisped is still delicious and wildly full of flavor. But, once you get the crunchy textural contrast on those beautiful pieces of pork – well – you’ll truly understand the magic of the carnitas.
Ready to Serve!
Serve your carnitas on a flour tortilla with a little red onion and fresh cilantro and some additional juice poured over the meat. This a classic way to serve carnitas. Of course, there’s other toppings that go perfectly with carnitas. Pico de gallo and fresh pineapple are excellent toppings. Have you ever heard of watermelon radishes? Pickled watermelon radish sliced thin is an amazing topping for carnitas. And of course, you can always just add your favorite salsa and sour cream.
Other fun add-in’s and add-on’s
I mean, the list of fun stuff to add in or on is endless. Here’s just a few things to consider…
- Thinly sliced scallions
- Tomatillo salsa
- Black or purple radishes (or the watermelon radishes we mentiond!)
- Cotija or Oaxaco cheese
- or our very own Sweet and Chunky Mango Salsa
Sure, we’ve piled our carnitas sky high with add-on’s, but that doesn’t mean we’re done with our plate. Oh, no!
Let’s partner up our instant pot carnitas with some amazing side dishes. How about our Best Damn Instant Pot Spanish Rice? Or, our Best Damn Instant Pot Refried Beans? You know the carnitas will love that! Why not round out our meat heavy side dish with our Best Damn Instant Pot Vegetarian Chili?