Chicken Carnitas Recipe

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Tender, juicy, flavorful, crispy caramelized chicken carnitas of your dreams! This is an award-winning carnitas recipe that your tastebuds will fall in love with. Oven, stove top and slow cooker methods included.

Baking sheet of chicken carnitas, cilantro and limes

Chicken Carnitas

Okay, so the award was given by my Salvadorian better half, which should really count for something, right..?! But if there was a carnitas award out there, this recipe would take it home. It’s that legit!

Enjoy them in tacos or alongside this  Autumn salad + Sweet Potato Rounds.

What are carnitas?

Little shredded pieces of meat, originally from Michoacán Mexico, and traditionally made out of braised pork shoulder then quickly fried in its own fat/lard (confit in chef’s lingo) for that caramelization to happen.

We are going to use dark meat chicken instead and caramelize them under the broiler flames, clean, healthier, easy and delicious!

Although they are fabulous in tacos, I served mine inside of perfectly roasted acorn squash bowls. This combination is divine! I made sure to season the inside of the squash really well with similar Latin spices as the carnitas. Dreamy! 

I braised organic boneless skinless chicken thighs with the juice from 2 oranges from the tree (you can also use beer), and a good dash of Latin spices mixed together. Cover tightly with a lid and cook them slowly until they fall apart when touched with a fork.

Pot of chicken carnitas cooking in gravy

Now for the Secret Sauce!

You need to save all that gravy that forms from the chicken cooking in the orange juice and the spice mix. As soon as it comes out of the oven use two forks to shred it right in the same pot you cooked it in. Then transfer everything to a broiler proof dish, secret sauce and all, and give it a quick drizzle of wild honey or maple syrup. This is how we are going to achieve the nice caramelized edges under the broiler, while keeping the chicken carnitas moist and tender at the same time.

I mean, I might just throw this recipe together for Thanksgiving you guys, such non involved recipe that delivers like a Boss!

Black cookie sheet with shredded chicken carnitas

Reasons to Make This

  • I can literally fill my cast iron dutch oven with it and make 5 different dinners. I mean taco night just got a carnitas makeover for realzzz!
  • Variation – If you want to give them an Asian spin, just add 1/5 cup of low sodium soy sauce to the mix and sprinkle sesame seeds on top before broiling. So good!

Tray of Asian style chicken carnitas with red chili and orange wedges

Black cookie sheet with shredded chicken carnitas and limes

What to Serve with Carnitas

Chicken carnitas recipe

note: since first posting this recipe I got to see what is behind the food on our plates. Immediately we became a plant-based family, for the animals, the planet and our health, best life decision we’ve ever made. Here’s the insanely delicious version for jackfruit carnitas + mushroom Vegan Carnitas

Chicken carnitas recipe
5 from 16 votes

Chicken Carnitas Recipe

The most tender, juicy, flavorful, crispy caramelized edges chicken carnitas recipe of your dreams! 
Print Recipe
Prep Time:10 minutes
Cook Time:1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time:1 hour 40 minutes


  • 3 lb chicken thighs boneless skinless
  • 2 oranges juiced ( may be replaced with beer)
  • 3 strips orange peel
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tbsp honey
  • 1/4 c pepitas toasted
  • 1/3 c cilantro leaves + edible flowers for garnish
  • 2 limes cut into wedges
  • 3 acorns squash for serving optional

Chicken Carnitas Seasoning:


  • Oven Method:
    Preheat your oven to 325”F.
  • In a large cast iron dutch oven add 2 tbsp of olive oil and layer the chicken thighs on top. Sprinkle with the chicken carnitas seasoning: sea salt, garlic and onion powder, cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes and chili powder. Add the garlic cloves and orange peels.
  • Pour the orange and lime juice over the top and give everything a good toss to coat. Cover with a tight lid and transfer to the preheated oven for 1 1/2 hours until the chicken i tender and falls apart when stabbed with a fork.
  • Use two forks to shred the chicken in the same pot you cooked it in then transfer it to a broiler proof baking sheet or dish. Drizzle the carnitas with the honey all over the top and broil for a few minutes until caramelized at the edges. Make sure to keep a close eye on the carnitas so they don’t burn.
  • To cook the acorn squash, preheat oven to 400”F.
  • Cut the acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Cut a thin slice off of the bottom of each acorn squash half so it sits flat during baking.
  • Rub the inside of each acorn squash with a little olive oil and sprinkle generously all over with sea salt, red pepper flakes, freshly cracked black pepper and cumin. Roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour until tender and caramelized around the edges.
  • Serve the carnitas inside the roasted acorn squash bowls, sprinkled with the pepitas and garnish with the cilantro and edible flowers if available. Serve with lime wedges, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and sour cream.

Chicken Carnitas Stove Top Method:

  • Follow all of the above steps and finish the braising process on the stove top on low flame, until the chicken falls apart, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Transfer to a broiler proof dish together with the juices and caramelize under the broiler following the instructions above.

Slow Cooker/ Crock Pot Method:

  • Add the chicken thighs together with the carnitas seasoning, orange juice, lime juice and orange peel to the bowl of your slow cooker. Toss to combine well. Cook for 7-8 hours on low or about 5 hours on high, until the chicken is fork tender.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 442.5kcal | Carbohydrates: 34.3g | Protein: 40.5g | Fat: 17.1g | Saturated Fat: 3.3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 10.3g | Cholesterol: 152.7mg | Sodium: 958.5mg | Fiber: 5.3g | Sugar: 8.7g
Course: Main Dishes
Cuisine: Spanish
Servings: 6
Calories: 442.5kcal
Author: Florentina

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  1. 5 stars
    I tried the oven method, and did not broil or use honey. It was delicious. I will add more liquid next time, as there was none left after 1.5 hr baking. It was beautifully caramelized, but on the verge of a burn disaster.

  2. Ok I really cheated – – I had 3 plain cooked chicken breasts and no ideas. My husband said “make carnitas”. Well despite living in Arizona I have never made or eaten carnitas but I found your recipe, cubed the chicken, picked some oranges off our tree and added half the amount of all the spices. My kitchen smells divine. fortunately we already have refried beans, guacamole, Pico de Gallo and tortillas in the refrigerator. Both my husband and I are lucky tonight. Thanks! I’ll make the complete recipe one of these days.

  3. 5 stars
    I made the carnitas but skipped the squash. With a little manchango, salsa, and squeeze of lime, these made the best tacos I’ve eaten in a long time. Dynamite recipe, we’ll done!

  4. Im from Texas, but now live in North Dakota, where the only good Mexican food is from your own kitchen! I make this all the time and everyone always loves it! I recently tried it in my instapot and they were done and fall-apart tender in 58 minutes. I reduced the remaining broth before putting it all under the broiler, since there is a lot of liquid remaining in the instapot.

  5. 5 stars
    Hi Florentina,
    My husband and I absolutely love this recipe. However we use the crockpot method and noticed the cloves of garlic are omitted from that one. Is there a reason for that or just a matter of personal taste?