There are almost as many ways to make carnitas as there are people who make them. Some recipes are minimalist: just salt, pepper, and pork. Others go baroque, adding orange juice, Coca-Cola, chipotle marinades, cream, and endless spices. So when I set out to develop an Instant Pot carnitas recipe, I called a guy who’s eaten more tacos than anyone I know: José R. Ralat, taco expert, Texas Monthly contributor, and author of the upcoming book American Tacos: A History and Guide to the Taco Trail North of the Border.
Traditional carnitas have to be cooked in their own fat (manteca). The taco filling is normally made from pork shoulder, but it can be any other cut of pork, or even beef or lamb. “It speaks to the adaptability of the dish,” Ralat says. He recommends adding “slices of oranges, anything that will deepen the flavor of a meat that’s already naturally sweet. Earthy spices: cumin, star anise, clove.”
Orange slices are perfect for Instant Pot carnitas. Often recipes will call for the pork to be slow-cooked in a braising liquid until it evaporates, leaving the tender cuts of meat to crisp in their own fat. But while the Instant Pot conveniently reduces cook time, it doesn’t allow much liquid to escape. Two small sliced oranges—combined with the juices from the pork—provide just enough liquid for the braise, while allowing the meat to crisp quickly under a broiler to finish.
Serve these crispy, sweet pork carnitas with guacamole, lime wedges, some truly lethal salsa, and fresh, warm corn tortillas.
Instant Pot Crispy Pork Carnitas
2 small oranges, cut crosswise into ½-inch slices, divided use
4-5 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into large (2- to 3-inch) cubes
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
5 whole cloves
2 whole star anises
1 bay leaf
Layer the slices of one orange in the bottom of the Instant Pot. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, and add the vegetable oil. Working in batches, brown the meat. You don’t need to be fussy about it, since the meat will be crisped later—two seared sides on each piece is plenty. As each batch is finished, add it to the Instant Pot on top of the orange slices. When you’re finished browning, add one cup of water to the pan, and use a spoon to scrape up all the brown bits. Add this liquid to the Instant Pot.
Sprinkle the meat with cumin, garlic, cloves, star anise, and the bay leaf. Add the slices of the second orange, and put the lid on the Instant Pot. Cook at maximum pressure for 35 minutes. Ideally let the pressure come down naturally, but you can release it manually if you’re in a hurry.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the meat from the Instant Pot and place it on a sheet tray. Try to leave the clove, star anise, bay leaf, and orange slices behind. The meat should be soft enough that you can smash it with the back of the spoon. Broil it on high, using forks to turn and shred the meat every couple minutes, until the carnitas are good and crispy, about 6 to 10 minutes total, depending on your broiler.
You can make the carnitas crispier than you think. Just don’t incinerate them. If you don’t have a broiler, you can crisp them in a skillet on the stovetop.