Tacos Carnitas

The best Carnitas Tacos start with the best carnitas that readers call, “AMAZING!!!” “BIG HIT,” “TRULY THE BEST” and “Literally the best recipe I’ve ever found on Pinterest.” The pork is supremely juicy, mouthwatering fiesta fireworks thanks to a few elevating ingredients and so easy to make ahead in the slow cooker or instant pot.  Top the tacos carnitas simply or with provided recipes for avocado crema, corn salsa, or pineapple salsa and sink your teeth into the best tacos ever!

Watch How to Make Carnitas Tacos

top view of carnitas tacos piled with pork carnitas


You will love this Carnitas Tacos Recipe

  • FLAVOR EXPLODING CARNITAS. Exceedingly juicy, coated in a cumin-chipotle spice rub, then slow cooked with orange juice, lime juice, onions, and jalapenos.
  • ELEVATED INGREDIENTS. A wet rub marinade sets this recipe apart, not only infused with spices but liquid smoke, tomato paste and soy sauce for complex dimension. The liquid smoke adds an undeniably smoky flavor that makes the carnitas tacos taste drool worthy authentic.
  • CARAMELIZED CRISPY BURNT ENDS! This piece de resistance crisped up quick and easy in the oven.
  • CHARRED TORTILLAS. Learn how to achieve that restaurant char without a grill!
  • SERVING OPTIONS. I’ve included topping recipes for corn salsa, pineapple salad, pico de gallo, guacamole and more!
  • SHORTCUT TOPPINGS. Store-bought options included for those busy nights.
  • HAND’S OFF EASE. The slow cooker does most the work while you prep the toppings.
  • ENTERTAINING FAVORITE.  Make ahead, dizzyingly delicious, everyone builds their own carnitas tacos – what’s not to love?!
top view of serving carnitas taco recipe on a plate
ingredient icon

Carnita Tacos ingredients

The carnitas tacos ingredients may look lengthy, but, the recipe comes together quickly! Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Corn tortillas:  Corn tortillas are a must for that extra robust, nutty, sweet corn flavor. Freshly made or homemade corn tortillas are best or packages that say, “organic” or “made in small batches.”  I love La Tortilla Factory Corn Tortillas. You can find them at Sprouts, Whole Foods and at many major grocery stores.  You can also pick them up on Amazon here.  They are more expensive than the flimsy, dry, cheap packages BUT so worth it!  
  • Toppings: I’ve included a section full of ideas!
  • Pork butt/shoulder: Use 4-5 pounds pork butt or pork shoulder. Both come from the front of the pig (not the rear). If you have a choice between pork butt and pork shoulder, use pork butt, often called Boston butt. It is named after the barrels (butts) pork used to be stored in around the time of the Revolutionary War. Pork butt has more fat marbling throughout the meat so it emerges more fall-apart-tender. Be sure to trim off any excess fat.
  • Orange and lime juice: Freshly squeezed is best, but you may use a quality bottled brand.
  • Liquid smoke: This can be found next to the barbecue sauces in your grocery store and adds a wonderfully smoky flavor. I tend to use mesquite over hickory flavor, but both will work.
  • Onion: Use yellow onion for its sweet pungent depth.
  • Jalapeño: Remove the veins and seeds so the tacos carnitas aren’t too spicy.
  • Tomato paste: This is the backbone of the wet spice rub so please don’t skip! I promise the recipe won’t taste like tomatoes in any way.
  • Soy sauce: Use reduced sodium soy sauce so there is wiggle room to salt to taste.
  • Brown sugar: This is necessary to balance the spicy, tangy smoky flavors in the wet spice rub.
  • Bay leaves: Adds a lovely depth of flavor to the pork.
  • Seasonings: This carnitas tacos recipe is packed with spices AKA flavor! You’ll need ground cumin, dried oregano, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, pepper, ground chipotle chili pepper and salt.
showing how to make carnitas tacos recipe by shredding the pork

Carnitas Taco substitutions & Variations

  • Make it spicier: Add additional chipotle chili powder or cayenne pepper to the spice rub, or add additional minced jalapeno.
  • Swap in chipotle peppers in adobo sauce: Instead of a jalapeño and chipotle pepper, add 1-2 canned chopped chipotle peppers. Be careful, chipotle peppers are much more potent than jalapeños because the include the seeds!
  • Use pineapple juice: Add ½ cup of canned pineapple juice to the slow cooker in addition to the orange juice and lime juice. You may use all orange or pineapple juice in a bind.
  • Onion substitute: Use a total of 1 tablespoon onion powder instead of fresh.
  • Add minced cilantro to the slow cooker: For a zesty, citrusy punch. 
  • Add cheese:  Top the shredded pork with freshly shredded cheese and place back in the oven to melt.
  • Make it saucy: Instead of broiling the pork, drain off excess juices then add: ½ cup enchilada sauce, ¼ cup salsa, 4 oz. green chilies, and brown sugar and hot sauce to taste.
  • Use chicken: Swap the pork for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Coat the chicken in the spice rub and add directly to the slow cooker, no need to sear first.
  • Use flour tortillas: The carnita tacos won’t have the same nutty corn sweetness, but go for if if its your preference.
  • Add beans: Add your favorite beans – warmed refried beans, black beans, kidney beans etc. to the base of the tacos.
  • Add veggies: Grilled bell peppers, corn, zucchini, sweet potatoes, etc. are all tasty piled on the pork.

How to make Carnitas Tacos

Let’s take a closer look at how to make carnitas tacos with step-by-step photos (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Sear pork. Sear the pork on all sides in sizzling hot oil to seal in the juices and caramelize the sugars in the meat. 
showing how to make carnitas tacos by searing tacos in a cast iron skillet
  • Step 2: Add wet rub. Whisk the ingredients together in a small bowl, then massage the rub all over the pork. It might seem counter intuitive to season the meat after searing, but the brown sugar in the rub can easily burn when seared. The spices will still penetrate the meat, as it slowly cooks.
a collage showing how to make carnitas tacos by whisking together a spice rub and rubbing it all over the pork butt
  • Step 3: Add slow cooker ingredients. Add the pork to the slow cooker along with orange juice, lime juice, onions, jalapeños, and liquid smoke.
showing how to make carnitas tacos by adding pork, orange juice, lime juice, onion, jalapeno to slow cooker
  • Step 4: Slow cook. Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or on HIGH for 5-6 hours, or until tender enough to shred. Shred the pork, then add it back to the slow cooker for 20 minutes to soak up the juices.
showing how to make carnitas tacos by slow cooking until tender, then shredding the pork
  • Step 5: Get crispy! Add shredded pork to two baking sheets in an even layer. Drizzle with some of the remaining juices and bake for 15 minutes then broil to desired crispiness, watching closely so meat doesn’t burn. Drizzle with additional juices and toss.
showing how to make carnitas tacos by broiling the ends until crispy
  • Step 6: Make toppings. We love serving carnitas tacos with corn or pineapple salsa! For the corn salsa, you can grill the corn or char it on the stovetop, then simply combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. For the avocado crema, simply whirl in the blender.
showing how to make carnitas tacos recipe by combining salsa ingredients together in a bowl
  • Step 6: Assemble tacos. Serve warm in tortillas with favorite toppings!
pork carnitas tacos being served with cilantro, salsa and pic de gallo

Pork Carnitas Tacos recipe tips

  • Set yourself up for success with the right cut of pork. Do NOT use pork loin or pork tenderloin. Both cuts are lean cuts of pork and will not work for shredding in this recipe.
  • Sear for flavor and moisture.  Searing the pork creates the Maillard reaction resulting in rich, deep, complex flavor and prevents the surface of the pork from becoming dehydrated. Sear ALL sides of each piece of pork until deeply golden.
  • Use a cast iron skillet for searing. Cast iron gets piping hot without ruining the finish of your pan and retains heat exceptionally well for even results.  
  • Use a high smoking point oil for searing.  Do NOT use olive oil because it has a lower smoking point. Overheating will not only smoke you out but can adversely impact the oil’s flavor and produce low levels of harmful compounds due to the high antioxidant content in the oil.
  • Chipotle chile pepper: If you’re not familiar with this spice, it’s 1000% worth picking up. It’s made of jalapeno peppers that are smoked, dried and crushed -so it’s not just spicy but smoky too! It is easy to find at your grocery store under any of the following names: “chipotle chile pepper,” “ground chipotle chile,” or “chipotle powder.”  If you don’t keep it stocked – you want to.  I use it in all of my Mexican recipes!
  • Cook until tender. If your carnitas pork isn’t crazy tender, cook on!  This means the proteins needs more time to break down and tenderize. Even 30 more minutes can make the world of difference between “okay” and melt-in-your-mouth fabulous.
  • Use quality tortillas. You can taste the difference!
  • Char tortillas. It’s best to use the grill or the flame of a gas stove to achieve the authentic nutty char. Using the microwave or oven won’t achieve the same flavor.
  • Add something creamy. Tacos should always include a creamy element to marry all the textures together whether avocado crema (my personal fav), avocados, or sour cream.
tacos carnitas being served on a plate in corn tortillas with lime wedges

What to serve with Carnitas Tacos

Pick from the following to serve alongside your carnitas tacos:

Pork Carnitas Tacos toppings

Toppings can transform the flavor profile of your tacos every time! Feel free to be as minimalistic or as over the top as you’d like! The carnitas tacos recipe is shown with corn salsa (the winner of my IG poll), but I love it equally with pineapple salsa (both recipes included in the recipe card).

  • Corn salsa:  I’m obsessed with its sweet, smoky, crunchy, juiciness. The texture explosion is mesmerizing!
  • Pineapple salsa:  The sweet and tangy salsa pairs beautifully with the tangy, subtle sweet heat of the carnitas.
  • Pico de gallo:  This fresh tomato salsa adds a vibrant, punchy freshness.  Use my homemade pico de gallo recipe or store bought.  You can make the pico de gallo ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.  Bring to room temperature before serving.
  • More salsa optionsBlack bean corn salsaavocado corn salsa, or mango salsa– all SO good!
  • Avocado Crema:  A marriage of avocados, sour cream and lime juice, is wonderfully silky, tangy and just takes minutes in your blender.  The luscious, refreshing tanginess cuts through and compliments the robust, smoky flavors and my favorite for every taco recipe!
  • Guacamole:  Use my sensational homemade guacamole recipe, your favorite recipe, or store bought.
  • Avocados: Chopped or sliced avocados are the easiest avocado option and add a wonderful creaminess. Make sure to add freshly cracked salt and a squeeze of lime.
  • Pickle red onions: One of my all-time favorite condiments!  They are tangy, punchy fantastic with a slight crunch.
  • Cilantro:  If you skip the pico de gallo, load on fresh cilantro and tomatoes instead for a fresh, zesty flair.
  • Jalapeños or hot sauce: Amp up the heat with chopped or sliced jalapeños or I particularly love these sweet and spicy pickled jalapeños from Trader Joes.  They are similar to candied jalapenos but a little less sweet AKA perfection.

Carnitas Tacos Recipe FAQs

Do you eat carnitas with flour or corn tortillas?

Carnitas are traditionally served with corn tortillas. The slightly sweet and nutty flavor of corn tortillas complements the savory and rich taste of the slow-cooked, braised pork carnitas. However, personal preferences vary, and some people may choose to enjoy carnitas with flour tortillas.

What is the difference between carnitas and pork tacos?

“Carnitas” refers to a specific style of pork taco, so while all carnitas tacos are pork tacos, not all pork tacos are carnitas tacos. When people refer to “pork tacos,” they might be using a more general term that includes various ways of cooking pork for tacos like in this recipe. Carnitas, however, refers to slow-cooked or braised pork that boasts a savory bright citrus flavor that’s shredded and often charred in the oven or stove top before serving in tacos.

What’s the difference between carnitas and asada tacos?

The main difference between carnitas and asada tacos is carnitas tacos are made from pulled pork and asada tacos are made from grilled steak. The carnitas are slow cooked, seasoned with citrus (orange and lime), garlic, bay leaves, oregano, cumin, for a savory bright citrus flavor that melts in your mouth. Carne asada tacos, on the other hand, feature an earthy, robust savory blend of spices that tastes juicy, rich and smoky from the grill. Both varieties are popularly topped with pico de gallo, and guacamole.

up close of carnitas taco showing how juicy the carnitas are




©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

top view of serving carnitas taco recipe on a plate

Carnitas Taco Recipe

The best Carnitas Tacos start with the best carnitas that readers call, “AMAZING!!!” “BIG HIT,” “TRULY THE BEST” and “Literally the best recipe I’ve ever found on Pinterest.” The pork is supremely juicy, mouthwatering fiesta fireworks thanks to a few elevating ingredients and so easy to make ahead in the slow cooker or instant pot.  Top this carnitas tacos recipe simply or with provided recipes for avocado crema, corn salsa, or pineapple salsa and sink your teeth into the best tacos ever!
Servings: 12 -16 tacos
Total Time: 9 hours 45 minutes
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 9 hours

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  • 4-5 lbs. boneless pork butt/Boston butt, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded, deveined, minced

Carnitas WET RUB

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 tsps EACH dried oregano, salt
  • 1 tsp EACH chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp EACH smoked paprika, pepper
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon ground chipotle chili pepper



Quick Corn Salsa

  • 4 ears sweet corn, shucked
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1/3 cup diced red onions
  • 1-2 jalapenos, seeded, deveined, minced
  • 1/3 cup packed cilantro, minced
  • 1 tablespoon  lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste



Corn Salsa

  • OPTION 1: GRILL CORN. Lightly brush each ear of corn with olive oil. Grease and heat grill to high heat (450 degrees). Once hot, add corn and close the lid. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, rotating the corn until the sides are lightly charred, about 10-12 minutes, closing the lid in between rotations. Set the corn aside and allow to cool enough to handle. Cut the kernels off of the cob and transfer to a large bowl.
  • OPTION 2: SKILLET CORN. Cut the kernels off of the cob. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char approximately 5-7 minutes. Transfer kernels to a large bowl.
  • ASSEMBLE: Add the remaining Corn Salsa ingredients to the bowl and toss to combine. Season with additional lime juice and/or salt and pepper to taste. Time permitting, let rest 30-60 minutes, at room temperature, for the flavors to meld.


  • Option 1: Open Flame (gas stove or grill). This is the best method for charred smoky flavor (pictured). Add the tortillas directly to the burner of your grill or gas stove over medium-low then flip with tongs once they are charred on one side. Take special care not to over-char, especially less quality tortillas, or they will become brittle and break. You still want the tortillas soft and pliable.
  • Option 2: Skillet. Heat a skillet (or griddle if you have one) to medium-high heat (do not grease). Heat each side of the tortilla for approximately 20 seconds until warm and soft. You are not looking for char marks with this method.
  • Option 3: Microwave. Working with 5-7 tortillas at a time, stack tortillas on a microwave safe plate and wrap with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 20 seconds on high, then repeat at 10 second intervals, as needed ,until warmed through.
  • Option 4: Oven. Create separate stacks of about 5 tortillas each, then wrap each stack in foil. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes or until heated through (you can bake all stacks at once).


  • Serve carnitas in warm tortillas with toppings of choice such as pineapple or corn salsa, avocado crema and Cotija cheese (pictured).



Simple Pineapple Salsa

  • 4 cups diced fresh pineapple
  • ⅓ cup diced red onion
  • 1-2 jalapenos, seeded, deveined, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus more to taste 
  • ⅓ cup cilantro, minced (measure before chopping)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients. Season to taste and chill until ready to use.

Meal Prep

You can make all the components of this carnitas tacos recipe ahead of time, then assemble the tacos when ready to serve:
  • Cook pork: Cook the slow cooker carnitas until tender enough to shred, then shred the pork into large sections. Let your slow cooker sit at room temperature for a bit so the ceramic insert can cool down. Next, cover, and place ceramic insert into the fridge. When ready to enjoy, heat on LOW for about 1- 1 ½ hours to heat through, then finish shredding and continue with the recipe as written.
  • Prep toppings: Prep any salsa, cheeses, etc. a day ahead and store in airtight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Prep tortillas: Char the tortillas, then store in an airtight container. When ready to use, working in 5 at a time, wrap the tortillas in dampened paper towels and microwave for 20 seconds or until warmed.

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