Carnitas, Meet Instant Pot

I have to tell you about my latest love affair. No, it's not with my soon-to-be husband (although, indirectly, it is). It's with the Instant Pot. My soon-to-be husband gets the credit, since he ordered the Instant Pot. Not one to swoon over the kitchen gadgets—I've never owned a slow cooker or a pressure cooker or even a rice cooker—my serious and swift infatuation with the Instant Pot was surprising.

Many others have waxed poetic about the benefits of the multi-cooker, so I won't go into all the pros and cons. I will just say that I find the ability of the Instant Pot to cut down on kitchen mess (you can sauté right in the pot, saving pans and helping decrease oil splatter on the stovetop) to be a real win.

Pork: "I was browned here." Photo by Posie Harwood

Beyond the tidiness factor, the reason I keep cooking nightly with the Instant Pot is because it yields such exceptional results with certain types of dishes. For any meat where you want to achieve a meltingly tender, pull-apart texture, the Instant Pot gives you that in far less time than braising or roasting or slow-cooking. Cooking your meat under pressure also infuses it with much more flavor, and faster, than other forms of cooking. So it's ideal for dishes that have bold spices and marinades.

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Case in point: carnitas. This recipe is wildly simple to make in the Instant Pot. Just brown your pork shoulder, using the sauté function, quickly. Then add all your other ingredients (spices, chicken stock or beer, garlic, lime juice, and so on) and cook under pressure for a mere 20 minutes! You then allow the pressure to release naturally, which takes the full cooking time to 40 minutes, but this is all hands-off cooking time. So you can just swan about dancing to 80s dance tunes or folding laundry or doing push-ups, and think about the delicious dinner you're going to eat not-too-later.

Photo by Posie Harwood

Once the meat finishes cooking, you will think there is way too much liquid left over. But, once you shred the meat and let it sit and cool, the liquid gets absorbed and you end up with juicy carnitas that don't get dry. However, the liquid amount can vary slightly depending on how juicy your meat is, so you can always spoon out some of the liquid and reserve it, adding it back in only if the meat is dry. If you don't need it, just discard it, or find use for it in a different sauce.

Don't have an Instant Pot? That's okay. I will not slap you on the wrists. And yes, you can still make excellent carnitas. Just follow the recipe but brown the meat on the stovetop. Then transfer all the ingredients with the meat to a large Dutch oven and cook in a 300° F oven for about 3 hours. If you have a slow cooker, you can do the same thing (brown the meat on the stovetop and then transfer it to your slow cooker with all the other ingredients) and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 10 hours.

Don't have an Instant Pot? You can still make excellent carnitas.

I love to make a double batch of these carnitas on the weekend so I can stretch them for a few meals. In these photos, I used them in a classic taco dish. Heat up a few corn tortillas, pile them with carnitas and pineapple salsa (or any salsa you like), a squeeze of lime, and some avocado if you want a heartier dish. Top with cilantro and hot sauce and call it dinner.

When I make them as tacos, I like to take the shredded meat and cook it in a large pan quickly over high heat with a little oil. I press the meat down into a single layer with a spatula so it gets really crisp on the edges. This step is optional, but I love the juxtaposition of texture when it's partly fork-tender and partly golden and crunchy. You can also achieve this by spreading the carnitas on a sheet pan and sticking it under the broiler for a few minutes (watch it carefully so it doesn't burn).

Photo by Posie Harwood

I also love to cook them with diced potatoes in olive oil until crispy, making a faux Mexican hash. Carnitas are fantastic over rice with a poached egg cracked on top. Make a grain bowl with cooked farro or quinoa, stir in the carnitas and spoon a spicy Sriracha yogurt sauce over the top. You can turn your carnitas into a casserole (take a cue from shepherd's pie and layer them with mashed potatoes, diced vegetables, and grated cheese on top). You can transform them into a sandwich: toasted ciabatta, spicy mayonnaise, crisp lettuce, carnitas, avocado, tomato, and cheese.

That's the kind of creative dinner variety we can all use, especially in our busiest weeks!

How to you treat your carnitas? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Anna
  • Luciana
  • Smaug
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Anna August 24, 2018
When you double the recipe, do you make any changes other than the quantities?
Luciana May 29, 2018
This was wonderful - thanks, Posie!
Smaug March 17, 2018
The very essence of carnitas is that it is browned AFTER it is cooked- which the author does for some applications as an added step, but it is central to the nature of the dish, otherwise it's just shredded pork shoulder (not a bad thing). It is not a spicy dish at all- marinades are usually a simple combination of lime and salt, but all sorts of salsas and condiments may are used in final presentations.