Carnitas are classic Mexican pulled pork that can go with just about any Mexican cuisine. Serve carnitas alongside these 35 sides for a feast everyone will remember.
No matter the kind of Mexican cuisine you’ve got planned for your next get-together, carnitas are the perfect protein choice.
This slow-cooked, perfectly seasoned, crisp pulled pork is magical on nachos, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, or salads. The name carnitas roughly translates to “little meats” and that’s what it is… little shredded meat, perfect for so many different Mexican dishes.
Even better, you can achieve this amazing flavor with very little work. Carnitas are a great recipe for the slow cooker or Instant Pot!
The secret to great carnitas is to start with a fatty piece of pork. As the meat cooks slowly, the fat melts giving each piece the perfectly tender texture that melts in your mouth.
The only thing that can make carnitas more enjoyable is what you serve it with. Plenty of sides and toppings compliment the flavor of this protein and help balance out the salty meat for a meal everyone can love!
Carnitas are pork and, more specifically, pork butt or pork shoulder. Both of these cuts of meat (which are almost the same) have a higher fat content which produces tender, flavorful meat that easily shreds when cooked. Any other cut of pork will not be the same and may turn out dry or tough.
Authentic carnitas must be made with pork butt or pork shoulder. If you want to attempt a similar recipe with a different cut of meat, you may need to add a bit of oil and broth to the marinade to add some fat and liquid to the meat.
Carnitas are Mexican pulled pork. Both recipes call for the same cut of meat, but the seasoning differs greatly. Carnitas are seasoned with orange juice, lime juice, cilantro, and spices common in Mexican recipes. Pulled pork or slow-cooked pork can be seasoned with similar spices or given an American twist with barbeque sauce.
Carnitas and pulled pork are also prepared differently. Pulled pork is often cooked or smoked in one piece. Carnitas are chopped before cooking so the spices can soak into every crevice. Once cooked, pulled pork is simply shredded and served while carnitas are coated in marinade and broiled to concentrate the flavor and give the meat a smoky finish.
Carnitas go with so many different meals so it’s a great idea to make a large batch and reuse the meat throughout the week. If you want to make carnitas ahead of time, I would suggest reserving some of the meat’s juice and broiling the meat just before using. This way you ensure you get perfectly caramelized meat for each use.
Carnitas are a great dish to make at home because there are so many ways to make them and have them turn out fabulous. You can cook them slowly in a slow cooker or oven or speed up the process in an Instant Pot. No matter what tool you have on hand, it’s possible to make carnitas at home.
Pork carnitas freeze and save very well. Again, if you plan to save carnitas to use later, I would save the broiling of the meat until just before you serve. To freeze, shred the meat and save it in a freezer ziploc bag. Save the reduced cooking liquid in a separate bag. To prepare, thaw the liquid, drizzle it over the meat, and then broil.
The meat can be frozen for several months before serving.
You can also save leftover carnitas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days. Use the meat for pork carnitas tacos, Mexican salad, or any delicious meal you can think of!
- These carnitas from A Little and a Lot can be made in the slow cooker or Instant Pot
- Isabel Eats shares her pork carnitas recipe to be made in the oven or instant pot.
- Authentic Carnitas from My Kitchen Escapades are broiled to perfection and full of flavor
- You can control how spicy or mild your carnitas are. Most recipes call for chipotle peppers, cayenne pepper, and chili powder and it’s easy to adjust these three spices to your preference.
- Don’t rush it. Carnitas are designed for low and slow cooking. That’s the only way to get the most tender, delicious meat.
- Adjust your liquid to your cooking method. Instant pots and slow cookers hold onto more liquid than a pot in the oven. Keep an eye on the amount of liquid your meat is releasing and make adjustments accordingly. You do not want your meat to go dry during the cooking process! Add some chicken broth if you notice it drying out.
- Don’t skip the broiling. Broiling the meat is an extra step and when you pull perfectly tender, fragrant meat out of your slow cooker you may be tempted to throw it in a burrito and call it good… but do not skip the broiling. The caramelization of the meat gives it the most delicious flavor and is truly what makes it carnitas.
- Save the leftover cooking liquid to use it in soup or stew.
What to Serve With Carnitas Meat
Sides: Homemade warm tortillas, black beans, refried beans, Mexican street corn, avocado salad, jicama, green salad, cilantro lime rice, corn tortillas, tortilla chips, Mexican rice, sweet potatoes, flour tortillas
Toppings: Tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, chimichurri sauce, cabbage, sour cream, diced onions, fresh cilantro, queso fresco, red onions, lime wedges, salsa verde
Main dish: Pork tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, huaraches, baked potato, taco salad, enchiladas, quesadillas, tostadas, soup
Recipe to Serve with Carnitas
Check out these 35 delicious recipes you can make at home to serve with your Carnitas!
Instant Pot Cuban Black Beans
Avocado Salad Recipe
Instant Pot Sweet Potatoes
Homemade Pico de Gallo
Mango Pico de Gallo
Homemade Guacamole Recipe
Easy Mexican Street Corn with Tajin
Blow away your taste buds with this Mexican street corn with Tajin. It’s easy to get the taste of authentic elote at home with a few simple ingredients! Grill or roast ears of corn on the cob, then slather them with mayonnaise and sour cream or Mexican crema. Top them to your heart’s desire with cotija, Tajin, and cilantro.
These tasty little oven-baked Mexican potatoes are twice cooked, then tossed in a spicy flour and cornstarch coating to make each bite perfectly crispy.
Quick Mexican Pickled Red Onions
Quick and easy Mexican Pickled Red Onions Recipe using red onions and vinegar as its base. A very popular 5-ingredient condiment in Mexico for tacos, tostadas, tortas, and more!
Chili Lime Rice Recipe
The ever-popular cilantro lime doesn’t quite get made the same in our house. We make this version of Jalapeno Lime Rice in this house. It takes your cilantro lime rice up a notch with a touch of heat. I prefer this over any other cilantro lime rice.
This lime crema is what takes your food to the next level! This rich, creamy, and zesty dip is what you need to drizzle over everything from tacos and fajitas to soups and salads. All it takes is just 4 ingredients and 5 minutes to make this tasty crema.
Instant Pot Mexican Pinto Beans
If you’re looking for the best filling, flavorful homemade Instant Pot Pinto Beans Recipe, then look no further. With no need to pre-soak the beans and full of healthier every pantry staples, you can have dinner on the table in about an hour!
Learn how to make avocado sauce with this easy Avocado Crema, a tasty recipe to spice up any Mexican-inspired dish. Made with fresh avocados, Mexican crema, lime juice, and cilantro, this light and creamy vegetarian sauce is versatile and is ready to add a burst of flavor to your weekday menu.
Growing up in Texas means I eat my fair share of southwestern-inspired dishes. This cowboy caviar takes me back to summer nights with family. Fresh and satisfying, it’s a crowd-pleaser. You can easily double the recipe if you have a full house.
This recipe for Homemade Tortillas yields soft and chewy flour tortillas and is easy to make with 5 ingredients. Skip the store-bought tortillas and make these for tacos, quesadillas, or wraps.
Mexican Corn Salad with Chiles, Lime, and Parmesan
Mexican Corn Salad contains all the flavors of street stall corn on the cob. Sweet corn is roasted in the husk and then tossed with rich, creamy butter, freshly squeezed lime juice, diced Jalapeño chiles, and red pepper flakes and then topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Poblano Avocado Sauce
This Poblano Avocado Sauce is a great flavorful dip for chips or topping for tacos! It’s made with roasted poblanos, cilantro, and lime juice.
How To Make Refried Beans
Learn how to make refried beans at home! It’s easy and inexpensive whether you’re starting with canned beans or cooking them from scratch. Ready in under 30 minutes, this vegetarian refried beans recipe is the best!
Roasted Corn Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Make these delicious stuffed Poblano peppers with your favorite dairy-free cheese or cheddar. They’re fabulous both ways!
Quick and Easy Pickled Serrano Peppers
These quick and easy Pickled Serrano Peppers are a bright, fresh, spicy way to add flavor to everything from sandwiches to salads to breakfast!
Easy Spanish Rice
Easy Spanish Rice, also known as Mexican Rice, is a simple and delicious way to make rice more exciting and a must-have side dish at any Mexican night or Tapas dinner party. Perfect fluffy rice with smoky paprika and a hint of chilli and it is all made in one pot. It’s super versatile too.
Baked Tortilla Chips
Homemade Baked Tortilla Chips are so easy to make, with just 4 ingredients. Using store-bought flour tortillas, simply cut them into triangles, season them with an olive oil, salt, and lime mix, and bake until perfectly crispy and dip-able. You will never buy a bag of tortilla chips again!
The made-from-scratch Mexican Cornbread recipe is moist and filled with colors and flavor. Serve it with your favorite fiesta entrées, with chili, soup or a bowl of pinto beans.
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa Recipe
Roasted Tomatillo Salsa is easy to make and tastes incredible. Green Salsa Verde is big on flavor and low in calories and carbs. Use this fresh salsa as a fun and delicious vegan appetizer with tortilla chips or bake it into your favorite enchilada recipes.
Introducing the Bloody Maria, a south-of-the-border twist on the classic Bloody Mary and its distant cousin the Bloody Caesar. The Bloody Maria drink utilizes tequila to compliment the earthiness of the tomato juice, the spiciness of the hot sauce and horseradish sauce, and the brightness of the lime.
How To Make Tostada Shells
Stop buying stale tostadas, you can make your own tostada shells at home. Fresh from the oven, warm and crispy. You are just 10 minutes away from the perfect tostada shells.
Churro Ice Cream Tacos
These Churro Ice Cream Tacos have a buttery, cinnamon sugar shell, creamy ice cream filling, and a rich chocolate coating. Top them off with bright sprinkles and you have a fun, cool summer treat that everyone will love!
Cilantro Lime Brown Rice
Cilantro Lime Brown Rice is our stovetop version of Chipotle’s brown rice recipe. Make it for a flavorful and healthy Tex-Mex side dish!
This guava margarita (also called a guavarita) is a unique twist on the classic margarita. It’s the perfect cocktail for Cinco de Mayo and can easily be made for a large group.
Pineapple Margarita on the Rocks
We invite you to embark on a journey to paradise as we unveil a fresh pineapple margarita on the rocks. Bursting with the vibrant flavors of fresh pineapple, zesty lime juice, invigorating orange juice, and a splash of Cointreau and tequila, this cocktail is destined to transport you to sun-kissed beaches and swaying palm trees with every sip.
This easy Mexican Coleslaw is all of your favourite Mexican flavours mixed into a healthier and lighter coleslaw. Shredded cabbage, carrots and onion in a creamy yogurt based dressing with cumin, chilli and paprika. Add it to tacos, burgers, salads and sandwiches. Coleslaw just got even better!
Cheesy Cilantro & Sour Cream Rice
Cheesy cilantro and sour cream rice is a delicious take on Mexican rice. Say hello to your new favorite taco night side dish!