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Tender, flavorful chicken carnitas are made quickly and easily in the Instant Pot. Perfect for tacos, burritos, or taco salads, this recipe is loaded with flavor and one of our favorite dinners! My entire family loves this twist on traditional pork carnitas.

Zoomed out photo of a chicken carnitas taco with Instant Pot chicken carnitas.

🤨 Can You Have Carnitas Without Pork?

I know what you’re thinking. “Cheryl, carnitas are pork. You can’t have chicken carnitas.” And technically, you’re right. Well, you’re half right.

Typically, traditionally, carnitas equals pork. It’s braised or roasted, then shredded and used in tacos, burritos, nachos, etc. Likewise, barbacoa is a similar dish, traditionally made with beef.

Translated literally, though, “carnitas” means “little meats” – referring to the small shreds of “carne”, or meat, that you end up with. In this specific recipe, our carne of choice is chicken rather than pork.

🍊 What Makes This Recipe So Good

  • Instant Pot chicken carnitas are quick, easy, and full of delicious flavor. The tender chicken thighs are seasoned with a simple blend of spices, then pressure cooked with onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and citrus juices.
  • This protein is super versatile, great for anything you’re craving. Use chicken carnitas anywhere you’d typically use shredded Mexican chicken or traditional pork carnitas. Tacos, nachos, burrito bowls, stuffed sweet potatoes, stuffed peppers… you name it! The leftovers are pretty dang tasty and versatile, too.
  • Instant Pot chicken carnitas go one step further than our usual shredded chicken recipes, finishing the cooking process off with a few minutes under the broiler. It’s a simple step that crisps up the shredded chicken beautifully and really pushes it over the top!

Chef’s Tips

  • Store your leftover carnitas in an airtight container, and make sure you add some of the reserved cooking liquid, too! That way, the meat stays tender and juicy, and is less likely to dry out when you reheat it.
  • You’re welcome to skip the broiler step if you don’t want crispy bits of chicken. Just keep in mind that not broiling the chicken after cooking it in the Instant Pot will give you a more typical shredded chicken than chicken carnitas.
  • Chicken carnitas freeze well if you’re looking for a protein to stock up on! Just let the chicken cool completely, then transfer it to a sealable food-safe freezer bag or airtight container. Include some of the cooking liquid, then seal the container and pop it in the freezer. Instant Pot chicken carnitas can be frozen up to 3 months. To reheat, defrost the chicken in the fridge overnight, then warm it in a skillet over low heat or in the oven at 325° Fahrenheit until the meat is just warmed through. Don’t forget the broiler if you want crispy carnitas!
Close-up of a chicken carnitas taco with Instant Pot chicken carnitas.

♨️ Don’t Miss These Pressure Cooker Recipes

Recipe By: Cheryl Malik
5 from 1 vote

Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas


Prep 15 minutes
Cook 45 minutes
Total 1 hour
Juicy chicken carnitas – perfect for tacos, burritos, nachos, and more – made quick and easy in the Instant Pot.
6 servings

Equipment

  • Small bowl
  • small whisk or spoon
  • Large plate
  • Instant Pot or similar pressure cooker
  • Tongs
  • Large wooden spoon or silicone spatula
  • Cutting board or large bowl
  • 2 forks or hand mixer
  • Broiler
  • Large bowl optional, for crispy carnitas
  • baking sheet
  • parchment paper

Ingredients

For the Chicken Carnitas

  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt more or less to taste
  • ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper more or less to taste
  • 6 medium boneless, skinless chicken thighs approximately 1 ½-2 pounds total
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil avocado oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.
  • 5 cloves garlic pressed or minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion sliced, approximately 8 ounces total
  • 1 medium jalapeño pepper stem removed, seeds removed, pepper minced
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • cup orange juice or juice of one large navel orange
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 1 bay leaf

For Crispy Chicken Carnitas (Optional)

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil avocado oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.

Instructions

  • Add 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper to small bowl. Whisk or stir ingredients together until well blended.
  • Place 6 medium boneless, skinless chicken thighs on large plate or cutting board. Sprinkle spice mixture evenly over chicken thighs, then flip chicken thighs over and season other side. Set aside.
  • Set Instant Pot to Sauté mode. Add 1 tablespoon neutral oil to Instant Pot insert and heat oil until shimmery.
  • Place seasoned chicken thighs in Instant Pot, laying thighs directly on bottom of insert. Work in batches as needed to avoid overcrowding.
  • Sear chicken thighs 1 to 2 minutes, then flip chicken thighs over and sear other side 1 to 2 minutes more. Once chicken thighs are golden on both sides, transfer chicken to plate and set aside. Repeat with remaining chicken thighs.
  • Once all chicken thighs have been seared, add 5 cloves garlic, 1 medium yellow onion, and 1 medium jalapeño pepper to empty Instant Pot insert. Sauté ingredients, stirring occasionally, 4 to 5 minutes or until onions have softened.
  • When onions have softened, pour in 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth. Stir to incorporate, scraping bottom of insert to loosen any browned bits of garlic, onion, jalapeño, or chicken that may be stuck to insert. Once any bits of food are loose, turn off Sauté mode.
  • Add ¼ cup fresh lime juice, ⅓ cup orange juice, ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro, and 1 bay leaf to Instant Pot and stir to incorporate.
  • Return all seared chicken thighs to Instant Pot. Secure lid on Instant Pot with valve in Sealing position. Set Instant Pot to Manual High Pressure for 8 minutes. Instant Pot will pressurize, then cook time will begin.
  • When cook time ends, immediately Quick Release pressure. Use caution – escaping steam will be very hot.
  • Carefully remove lid and set aside. Transfer chicken thighs to cutting board, and reserve cooking liquid in Instant Pot. Using 2 forks, shred chicken into pieces of desired size. Alternately, place chicken in large bowl and use hand mixer to shred.
  • Preheat broiler to high and position oven rack 8 to 10 inches beneath heating element. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

For Regular Chicken Carnitas

  • Spread shredded chicken out evenly across prepared baking sheet. Ladle small amount of reserved cooking juice over chicken, then place baking sheet in preheated oven.
  • Broil chicken 4 to 5 minutes. Watch chicken closely to avoid burning.
  • When satisfied with doneness of chicken, carefully remove baking sheet from oven. Set aside to cool slightly, then serve chicken carnitas warm as desired.

For Crispy Chicken Carnitas

  • When chicken is shredded as desired, transfer chicken to large bowl if not in bowl already.
  • Drizzle 2 tablespoons neutral oil and ¼ cup reserved cooking liquid from Instant Pot over chicken in bowl, then toss chicken to fully coat in liquids.
  • Spread shredded chicken out evenly across prepared baking sheet, then place baking sheet in preheated oven.
  • Broil chicken 4 to 5 minutes. Watch chicken closely to avoid burning.
  • When satisfied with doneness of chicken, carefully remove baking sheet from oven. Set aside to cool slightly, then serve chicken carnitas warm as desired.
  • Broil: You’re welcome to skip the broiler step entirely if you don’t want any crispy bits of chicken. Skipping it will leave you a more typical shredded Mexican chicken rather than chicken carnitas.
  • Leftovers: Refrigerate leftover chicken carnitas with reserved cooking juices in an airtight container. Reheat leftover carnitas on the stovetop or in the microwave.
  • Make it Gluten Free: Be sure your chicken broth is 100% gluten free with no potential cross-contamination.
  • Make it Paleo/Whole30: Use fresh juice from 1 large navel orange. Do not use orange juice concentrate or store-bought orange juices as they contain added sugar and aren’t compatible with these diets. Be sure your chicken broth is 100% compliant.

Approximate Information for One Serving

Serving Size: 1servingCalories: 256calProtein: 27gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.02gCholesterol: 126mgSodium: 594mgPotassium: 496mgTotal Carbs: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gNet Carbs: 7gVitamin A: 207IUVitamin C: 23mgCalcium: 44mgIron: 2mg
Nutrition Disclaimers
Number of total servings shown is approximate. Actual number of servings will depend on your preferred portion sizes.
Nutritional values shown are general guidelines and reflect information for 1 serving using the ingredients listed, not including any optional ingredients. Actual macros may vary slightly depending on specific brands and types of ingredients used.
To determine the weight of one serving, prepare the recipe as instructed. Weigh the finished recipe, then divide the weight of the finished recipe (not including the weight of the container the food is in) by the desired number of servings. Result will be the weight of one serving.

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2 Comments

  1. This sounds so delicious! Can’t wait to try this!5 stars

    1. Avatar Jessica | 40 Aprons Team says:

      Be sure to let us know how you like it once you try it! 🙂

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