These are, without a doubt, The Best Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas ever! Made quickly in the pressure cooker, the shredded chicken turns out juicy, tender, and crispy every time. Crockpot and stovetop instructions included!Jump to Recipe
Tangy, juicy chicken is just minutes away! The Best Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas are full of so much flavor and can be used in too many dishes to count. You’ll want to make it again and again!
The deeply flavored cooking liquid made from fresh juice, onions and garlic, and chicken broth tenderizes the chicken thighs and makes each bite extra moist and delicious. Making this recipe in the Instant Pot will speed up the process but it can also be done in your slow cooker or on the stove instead. The shredded chicken goes under the broiler for a quick crisp to finish, and then you’re free to dig in!
Grab some tortillas and fill them with your crispy carnitas, Cabbage Slaw, guacamole, and a Mexican Street Corn Salad on the side. Paired with a fresh Pineapple Margarita, I promise it will be the best meal you’ve had in a long time!
What are carnitas?
This Mexican dish is usually made from pulled pork. Cooked low and slow and basted in its own juices, the heavily seasoned pork carnitas end up so tender, flavorful, and easily shreddable. The recipe is quite easy to make and can even be made with chicken or beef instead.
Carnitas go well in all kinds of Mexican dishes. Stuff them into a tortilla with other fillings to enjoy as a taco, burrito, or quesadilla, or make a batch for meal prep and add it to grain bowls or salads throughout the week.
Ingredients you need
- Chicken thighs – I made this recipe using 4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs. They turn out so much more flavorful and tender than if you were to use the breast meat.
- Onion and garlic – For a little extra flavor.
- Mexican seasonings – Classic Mexican seasonings, like cumin, chili powder, oregano, and garlic powder, are used to season the chicken. As it pressure cooks, the seasonings go deep into the meat and give it zesty flavors and a little heat.
- Chicken broth – To deglaze the pan. I find chicken broth is the best option here but you can use vegetable broth if that’s all you have at home.
- Orange and lime juice – These fresh juices not only make the shredded chicken carnitas extra tangy, but the acid helps tenderize the meat. The two create a nice balance that doesn’t turn out overly sweet.
How to make chicken carnitas in the Instant Pot
- Prepare and sear the chicken: Pat the chicken dry and season them with the Mexican seasonings on all sides. Turn the Instant Pot to Saute mode and add in some oil. Sear the chicken thighs one or two at a time on both sides before transferring each one to a plate.
- Saute the onions and garlic: Pour in some oil and saute the onions until they’re soft and golden brown. Next, add the garlic. Deglaze the pot with the chicken broth and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the flavorful brown bits stuck to the bottom. Pour in the orange and lime juice and bring it to a simmer.
- Let it cook: Place the seared chicken back into the pot, turn off Saute mode, and cover with a lid. Use the “Chicken” setting to pressure cook the chicken carnitas for 10 minutes. When it’s done, vent the pressure completely and remove the lid.
- Shred the chicken: Shred the chicken thighs on a cutting board first, then place in a bowl. Pour in some of the cooking liquid, stir, and add the mixture to a baking sheet.
- Make it crispy before serving: Broil the chicken in the oven until it’s nice and crispy. When it’s done, serve the carnitas in tacos, on a salad, or on nachos!
Prepare and season the chicken according to the recipe instructions and saute the onions and garlic in a large soup pot. Pour in the broth and juices, add the chicken, and bring it up to a simmer. Place the lid on top and let it simmer for about 45 minutes (this will depend on the size of the chicken thighs).
When the meat is cooked through (or registering as 165ºF on a meat thermometer), transfer it to a cutting board. Shred the meat and add it back into the pot. Keep it simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated (you can always drain it if it’s taking too long). To finish, broil the carnitas in the oven or serve right away.
Slow cooker instructions
Prepare and season the chicken thighs before adding them and the rest of your ingredients to a slow cooker. Stir and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours or on HIGH for 2 to 4 hours. When the chicken is cooked through, broil it on a sheet pan in the oven with a bit of the reserved liquid, and then serve!
How to serve carnitas
The options are endless! The shredded chicken can be added to all of your Mexican favorites, like quesadillas, tortilla soup, tacos, nachos, burritos, and enchiladas. Street Corn Salad and Smashed Potatoes would be the best side dishes.
To complement the variety of flavors, add fun toppings or fillings to your dishes along with the carnitas. Red or green salsa, crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, cilantro, and sliced radishes would all be delicious with the chicken.
Want to lighten things up for weekday meal prep? Serve the carnitas in a burrito bowl with rice, cauliflower rice, or greens. Don’t forget the sauteed peppers and onions, shredded cheese, avocado, and pickled onions to transform it into a well-rounded meal.
Storing and freezing
You can keep the leftover chicken in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Feel free to reserve the cooking liquid to add some flavor and moisture to the leftovers as well!
To freeze chicken carnitas, place the cooled batch in a sealed ziploc bag with all of the air removed. They freeze well for up to 3 months. Make sure the let them thaw in the fridge before reheating.
To reheat, cook the chicken in a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. It should be warmed through after 10 or 15 minutes. If you like them extra crispy, reheat the carnitas on a baking sheet under the broiler in your oven.
More Mexican-inspired dinner recipes
Make dinner exciting again with these flavorful and delicious recipes:
- Chili Lime Chicken Burgers
- Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup
- Chili Lime Shrimp Tacos
- Smoked Salmon Street Tacos
If you give The Best Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas a try, let me know what you think. Leave a comment and don’t forget to take a picture tag me on Instagram or use #lenaskitchenblog to be featured in my stories! I love seeing what you come up with!
The Best Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas
- 1 ½ lbs chicken thighs 4 large boneless and skinless thighs
- ½ tbsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ½ tbsp oregano
- ½ tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp kosher salt or more to taste
- 4 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 medium onion diced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ cup chicken broth low sodium
- ¼ cup orange juice no pulp, freshly squeezed if possible
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ½ cup cilantro freshly chopped for serving
- 1 lime cut into wedges for serving
- Pat the chicken thighs dry using paper towels. Combine the cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt, garlic powder in a small bowl. Sprinkle the seasons over the chicken on both sides.
- Heat the Instant Pot on the Sauté setting and pour in 1 tablespoon of oil. Working with 1 or 2 chicken thighs at a time, sear the chicken on both sides for 1 minute each. Transfer each thigh to a plate when done.
- Add in 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and onions to the pot and saute for 2 minutes. Once soft and golden brown, stir in the garlic and cook for 20 seconds.
- Stir in the chicken broth to deglaze the Pot. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any flavorful brown bits stuck to the bottom. Next, pour in the orange juice and lime juice and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer for about 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken back into the Instant Pot. Turn off Saute mode, secure the lid, and pressure cook on the 'Chicken' setting for 10 minutes depending on the size of the thighs. Allow the pressure to release on the 'vent' setting. Let it vent completely before removing the lid.
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to the 'broiler' setting. Remove the chicken thighs to a clean surface or cutting board and shred the meat using 2 forks.
- Transfer the meat to a large bowl, drizzle ¼ cup of cooking liquid over the chicken, and toss to coat. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil all over the surface of a baking sheet. Add the chicken and pour 1 tablespoon of oil on top. Stir to coat evenly.
- Broil the chicken for 10-12 minutes, stopping halfway to toss the chicken and drizzle another 1-2 tablespoons of cooking liquid on top. Rotate the pan for even broiling.
- Top with fresh cilantro and lime wedges. Enjoy as a taco bowl with lettuce, pickled onions, and any of your favorite toppings, and a side of chips. Serve in a taco shell for taco night or add to nachos.
- Prepare and season the chicken according to the recipe instructions and saute the onions and garlic in a large soup pot.
- Pour in the broth and juices, add the chicken, and bring it up to a simmer.
- Place the lid on top and let it simmer for about 45 minutes (this will depend on the size of the chicken thighs).
- When the meat is cooked through (or registering as 165ºF on a meat thermometer), transfer it to a cutting board. Shred the meat and add it back into the pot.
- Keep it simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated (you can always drain it if it’s taking too long).
- To finish, broil the carnitas according to the recipe instructions or serve right away.
- Prepare and season the chicken thighs before adding them and the rest of your ingredients to a slow cooker.
- Stir and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours or on HIGH for 2 to 4 hours.
- When the chicken is cooked through, broil it on a sheet pan in the oven as per the recipe instructions and then serve.