Upgrade your tacos with this tender, flavor-packed Chicken Carnitas, made in an Instant Pot or slow cooker! This delicious Mexican pulled chicken is ideal for tacos, enchilada filling, or taco salads.
The Most Flavorful Pulled Chicken!
I am always looking for meal prep protein recipes. Often, protein is better when cooked fresh, but this recipe is one that just gets more flavorful as it sits for a couple days!
Carnitas is traditionally made with pork, but this spin-off is a great way to enjoy the flavors with chicken instead! The pork is caramelized on the exterior, slow cooked until it falls apart, and then crisped up to concentrate the flavor.
While not authentic, this chicken carnitas is worth learning to make at home!
The chicken is marinated in a sweet and sour combination or orange and lime juice, with plenty of garlic, cumin, and oregano, for that authentic Mexican flavor.
This recipe uses an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker, so use whichever gadget you have or prefer to use.
Once the chicken is falling-apart tender, the juices are concentrated and the chicken crisped around the edges by broiling it. This step is optional, but recommended for the full crispy carnitas experience!
What You’ll Need
- Chicken Breast or Thighs (boneless – I order my chicken from ButcherBox to ensure it’s the healthiest meat possible! Use this link for a special offer on your first box.).
- Avocado or Olive Oil
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper
- Orange Juice (fresh squeezed from mandarins, for the sweetest taste!)
- Lime Juice (fresh squeezed is always a good idea!)
- Garlic (fresh! Quality matters for the best flavors.)
How to Make Chicken Carnitas in an Instant Pot
Step 1: In a small bowl, whisk together the orange and lime juice with the garlic, salt, cumin, and oregano.
Step 2: Set the Instant Pot to Saute, and allow to heat up for 3-5 minutes prior to adding the oil. Brown the chicken for a couple of minutes each side, until it starts to brown. Remove the chicken, and add more chicken pieces, being sure not to overcrowd the pot (which will steam the chicken and not allow it to brown).
Step 3: Add the marinade into the Instant Pot, along with all the browned chicken pieces.
Step 4: Pressure Cook the chicken on Manual for 20 minutes. If using chicken thighs, reduce cooking time to 15 minutes.
Step 5: Remove chicken from the Instant Pot, and shred it with a fork. It will just fall apart when pressed.
Step 6: Add the chicken along with 1/3 of the juices left in the pot onto a baking tray. Broil the chicken for about 4 minutes.
Step 7: Flip the browned chicken over, and drizzle with another 1/3 of the marinating liquid. Return to the broiler for another 4 minutes.
Step 8: Serve the crisped up chicken carnitas with cilantro and chopped onions.
How to Serve Mexican Pulled Chicken
Chicken Carnitas Tacos
Warm corn tortillas, and then layer on pulled chicken, cilantro and onions. I love shredded lettuce and pico de gallo on my tacos. Sour cream and avocado are great additions as well!
Chicken Burrito Bowls
Make a Chipotle Style burrito bowl healthier with these Low Carb Burrito Bowls. These are on a bed of Mexican Cauliflower Rice. Use the chicken carnitas as a topping! You can also make a more classic bowl with rice, black beans, and your favorite toppings, like sour cream, salsa, and guacamole.
This flavorful pulled chicken is magic in enchiladas! Use corn tortillas, white cheddar cheese, and this delicious, zesty homemade enchilada sauce.
Chicken Taco Salads
Add this chicken to the top of a giant salad made with crisp romaine lettuce, tomatoes, olives, cheese, and whatever dressing you love on your taco salads. I personally love to just use salsa. This Avocado Salsa Verde is my favorite!
FAQ & How to Store Chicken Carnitas
How to Store Carnitas: Store leftover chicken in an air tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Can I freeze carnitas?: Absolutely! I wrap it up tightly in freezer bags, and freeze it in individual portions for up to 3 months. It’s a great meal prep idea so lunches are quick and healthy! Allow chicken to thaw at room temperature and then stir fry it to reheat.
Can I make Chicken Carnitas in a Slow Cooker?: Yes! Instead of an Instant Pot, brown the chicken in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the browned chicken pieces to a slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3 hours. Finish the recipe in the oven as directed in this recipe.
- 3 pounds chicken breasts or boneless chicken thighs, cut into large chunks
- 3 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- Add all marinade ingredients into a small bowl, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Heat Instant Pot on the saute setting for 3-5 minutes to allow to get hot. Add avocado oil, and several chunks of chicken. Don't overcrowd, or the chicken will not brown. Season with salt and pepper, and turn chicken to sear all sides.
- Remove browned chicken from the pot, and add more chunks of chicken. Repeat until all chicken is browned.
- Turn the Instant Pot off Saute, and set it to Manual for 15 minutes (for breasts). Return all the chicken to the pot, and pour the marinade over the top. Seal the lid, and allow the chicken to pressure cook. Set to Manual for 10 minutes if using chicken thighs.
- Preheat oven to Broil (the following steps are optional but help concentrate the flavors and crisp up the edges of the chicken).
- Allow the pressure to release through the steam valve, then remove chicken from the pot. Shred the chicken with forks (leave some in chunkier pieces), and place on a large baking tray.
- Pour 1/3 of the marinade left in the pot over the chicken, and broil for about 4 minutes.
- Flip the chicken over, and add another 1/3 of the marinade.
- Serve chicken drizzled with the remaining juice from the pot. Garnish with onions, cilantro, and lime wedges, if desired.