Need more Chipotle Mexican grill meat in your life right now, but don't live near this popular U.S. restaurant? We've got your back with our copycat Chipotle pork carnitas recipe. The meat is cooked in the slow cooker and then crisped in a skillet for tender meat that is smoky, juicy, flavorful, and absolutely irresistible.
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What are carnitas?
Carnitas are Mexican pulled pork tacos, and it means "little meat" because the slow cooked meat is pulled apart and crisped by searing it in hot oil. This cooking technique makes this meat totally irresistible! Our recipe can feed 20 people with a ½ cup serving size, so it's perfect for an outside backyard gathering this summer.
Is Chipotle Mexican Grill's pork carnitas spicy?
No, it tastes more savory then spicy, there is a just a hint of spice, but overall it's mild. Our copycat version is also mild, so it's perfect for children.
Is pork carnitas cooked with chipotle peppers?
Yes and no. The secret ingredient to this popular meat is crushed juniper berries, which are added to the slow cooker. The chipotle chili powder is added later, just before the meat is crisped in a skillet.
What are juniper berries?
Juniper berries come from juniper bushes. When fresh, they are blue in color and slightly smaller than a blueberry. Since there are some varieties of juniper berries that are poisonous, it's best to buy your juniper berries instead of picking your own. Juniper berries are usually sold dried and can be used whole, crushed or ground into a powder.
Juniper berries are tart, and have a piney, citrusy flavor and a woodsy sweet smell. They are commonly used in cooking for marinades, stuffings, and spice rubs with pork, duck, venison, rabbit, and beef. Whole berries can last up to 2 years when stored in an airtight container.
You can find juniper berries (affiliate) in the spice section of high-end grocery stores, the hunting section at sporting good stores, home brewing shops, or online from stores like Penzey's, Spice House, or Amazon.
What type of pork is best for this recipe?
You'll want a roast that has some fat on it, so pass on the pork tenderloin, as it is too lean. Pork shoulder, butt, or picnic roasts are all good choices. You can use bone-in or boneless. For this recipe, we used a 7-pound boneless roast. If you choose bone-in, add a pound or two to the overall weight if you want to get 10 cups of shredded meat.
What are the calories for one serving?
For a ½ cup serving size, there are 261 calories and 1.9 g of carbs. This recipe is also high in protein and iron. For more nutritional information, please scroll to the end of the recipe card.
How can I make this in a Dutch oven?
Yes, our Chipotle recipe can be adjusted if a Dutch oven is more your style.
- Cut a boneless pork shoulder into 2" cubes, pat dry and rub with salt and pepper.
- Place the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, minced garlic, and crushed juniper berries into a Dutch oven and add enough chicken broth to barely cover the meat.
- Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours. Remove the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and crushed juniper berries with a slotted spoon.
- Turn up the heat to medium high and cook uncovered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid has evaporated.
- Remove meat and allow to rest and cool then shred with two forks.
How can I crisp the shredded pork in the oven?
If you don't want to pan fry the shredded meat, simplify the process by using the oven. Note, if you want it really crispy, you'll have to pan fry the meat.
- Line two large baking trays with foil. Evenly spread out the shredded meat that's been tossed with dried spices.
- Crisp the meat under the broiler for 5 minutes. Take it out and pour on 1 cup of pot juices. Mix it around.
- Place back under the broiler for another 5 minutes. Once it's out, pour on another cup of pot juices and serve hot.
Can I make carnitas ahead of time?
Yes, you can make all of it ahead of time and then keep it warm in a crock pot if you're making this for a large gathering. If you are making this for your family, it's best to make most of this ahead of time, up to a day in advance, then crisp it up just before serving.
Can you freeze this recipe?
Why certainly! Shredded pork freezes very well. You can freeze it two ways: before it's crisped in the skillet or after. With either way, it's a good idea to freeze it with some of the pot juices to keep it more moist. Freeze it an airtight freezer zip top bag or a freezer friendly container for up to one month.
How do you serve pork carnitas?
- Chipotle Style Burrito Bowl: use cilantro lime rice, black beans, fajita veggies, pico de gallo, corn salsa, guacamole, shredded monterey jack, and shredded Romaine lettuce.
- Other Mexican Dishes: soft tacos, nachos, or tostados all taste fantastic with this meat
- Veggies: grilled, roasted or sauteed, like our copycat Chipotle fajita veggies
How to Make
Gather all the ingredients: kosher salt, black pepper, minced garlic, bay leaves, thyme, juniper berries, chicken broth, and a pork shoulder butt roast.
To crush the dried juniper berries, put a tablespoon in a sandwich ziploc bag and pound it a few times with a meat mallet. Repeat until all 3 tablespoons are crushed. Crushing the juniper berries will help release more flavor into the meat, so don't skip this step.
Mix the salt and pepper together and use a fork to prick the meat all over, then rub the spices into the roast. Spread the minced garlic on top of the meat.
Carefully place the roast into the slow cooker. Add the bay leaves and the crushed juniper berries.
Next, add the fresh thyme sprigs and the chicken broth.
Cover with a lid and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours.
Check the temperature of the meat with a digital thermometer; it should have a minimum temperature of 145 F.
Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and juniper berries with a slotted spoon.
Remove the roast and allow it to rest on a large grooved cutting board to catch any juices. If you would like to tent the roast with foil, feel free to do so. It will take at least one hour for it to cool enough to handle.
Keep at least 3 cups of the pot juices to use later when crisping up the shredded meat and when freezing leftovers. This recipe yields 4 cups of pot juices. When the juices cool, the fat will rise to the top; just skim that off.
Once the meat has cooled enough to handle it, shred it with two forks or your bare hands. The picture below has larger pieces of meat, which is standard for pulled pork.
For this copycat Chipotle recipe, we wanted it to have a finer texture, so we pulled it apart some more and also cut it into shorter pieces. This makes the meat very easy to eat and gives it a pleasing texture.
Once the meat is pulled to your liking, add the 8 dried spices. These will give the meat a lovely color and more flavor with a hint of spice from the dried Chipotle chili powder.
Mix the finely shredded meat with the dried spices so it is well coated.
In a 10-inch heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering, then evenly spread out 2 cups of the shredded meat. Allow the bottom half of the meat to crisp up for a couple of minutes, so resist the temptation to mix it around.
Once crisped, flip the meat over with a metal spatula and add the pot juices for additional flavor, color, and moisture.
Cook for another 2 minutes or until the juices have evaporated. Place in a bowl and repeat the pan frying process with the other 8 cups of meat.
Serve warm with pan fried flour tortillas, red onions, avocado slices, a squeeze of lime juice, and other favorite taco toppings, like avocado cilantro dressing.
- Use the Dutch oven cooking method instead of the crock pot.
- Crisp up the pulled pork on a baking tray under the broiler instead of in a skillet.
- Use juniper berries for a tart, piney, citrusy flavor.
- Take the time to finely shred the meat; it will have better texture and be easier to eat.
- For extra crispy meat, pan fry it in olive oil. (Chipotle uses rice bran oil.)
Other Mexican Recipes You'll Love
- Copycat Chipotle Fajita Veggies
- Cowboy Caviar
- Avocado Cilantro Dressing
- Vegan Refried Beans
- Vegan Burrito Bowl
- Vegan Taco Salad
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Copycat Chipotle Pork Carnitas
For the Slow Cooker Cooking
For the Carnita Seasoning
For Crisping the Meat
- ½ cup + 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 cups shredded pulled pork
- 2 ½ cups cooking juices, from the pork
Cooking the Meat in the Slow Cooker
- Pat dry the pork shoulder with paper towels. Poke holes in the meat with a fork.
- Mix together the kosher salt and the freshly ground black pepper, then rub it all over the pork.
- To crush the dried juniper berries, place 2 teaspoons in a sandwich ziploc bag and pound with a meat mallet. Repeat until all the berries are crushed.
- Place the meat into a large crock pot. Place the bay leaves, fresh thyme sprigs, crushed juniper berries, and the minced garlic on top of the pork. Pour the chicken broth around the edges.
- Cover the crock pot and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 to 8 hours. To check if the meat is done, use a meat thermometer; it should have a minimum internal temperature of 145 F.
- Remove the bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and juniper berries with a large slotted spoon, then discard. Keep 3 cups of the pot juices for later.
- Place the roast on a large cutting board and allow the meat to rest and cool.
- Once the meat is cool, discard any fat, then pull the meat apart with two forks or with your fingers. You should get around 10 or 11 cups of finely shredded meat.
Crisping the Meat in a Skillet
- Mix together the carnita seasonings in a bowl, then mix it into the shredded pork with your hands.
- Heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat until it shimmers. Add 2 cups of the shredded meat and cook for 2 minutes without stirring to get the underside crispy.
- Flip the meat over with a metal spatula, mix in ½ cup of pot juices, and cook for another 2 minutes. If necessary, turn the heat down a bit for the last 2 minutes. Repeat until all the shredded meat is crispy.
- For the best flavor, use juniper berries for a tart, piney, citrusy taste.
- Finely shred the meat while it's still warm; it will have better texture.
- Pan fry the shredded meat in olive oil (Chipotle uses rice bran oil) for the crispiest meat.