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 did not do the acorn part, but used for tacos instead. And wow, absolutely delicous. Definately a keeper. I did not use as much chicken as the recipe said (about 800 grams) but kept everything else, spices, juices. But I reduced the leftover juice and mixed with chicken before drizzling it with honey and broiled it. Even though I am so full now I can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow. Thank you so much for this recipe.

  2. These sound great! I am going to a Mexican themed potluck dinner with a health conscious group. I am going to make these. I am planning on making them and bringing them with me so that I don’t have to use the hostesses oven. Do you think they will get soggy if they are in a casserole covered with tin foil? Suggestions?

    1. Ideally you would throw them under the broiler for a few minutes before serving. Regardless, even if you make them at home they won’t get soggy if the sauce doesn’t cover the top. You do want the sauce on the bottom to keep them moist tough, I hope that makes sense 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    We have made this recipe twice and it is outstanding. So very delicious. My wife and 10 year-old both love it too. Once we served it acorn squashes, we all like it in tacos with toppings such as avocado, green onion, greek yougurt, cole slaw…the list goes on and on. We just love it!!

    Quite easy to make. Once we used boneless chicken breasts, the other time thighs. They both turned out wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this recipe!

    1. I’m so happy to hear this Andy! These chicken carnitas are my go to for a crowd. For a last minute dinner I just charr some tortillas and make a quick chimichurri to turn them in Tacos de carnitas.

    1. I still would Becca, just because you get that incredible caramelization around the carnitas, however totally up to you. They really are wonderful just straight out of the pot as well. Enjoy!

  4. 5 stars
    We had this for dinner tonight. Just now. Like 15 minutes ago. And I just had to rush to tell you that they were AWESOME. They were so good! If we weren’t gushing about how good they were, we weren’t talking lol! They are definitely better than any we’ve had at restaurants. Thanks Florentina! (And in case you’re wondering, we used tortilla because we couldn’t find acorn squash boo)

    1. Hi Jolina, first of all I am so Happy you guys loved the carnitas so much, of course your comment made my day 🙂 Thank you !
      As far as the acorn squash goes, I honestly make it a lot during the colder months, such a filling gluten free meal, but right now I am using this carnitas recipe to make chicken Tacos de Carnitas and drizzle them with a chive pesto or chimichurri. Let me know If you try them that way ~ Florentina Xo’s

    1. Oh no, what happened ? This one is so easy, really can’t mess it up, hope you give it a go, fail proof carnitas recipe or your money back 😉 ~Florentina

  5. 5 stars
    So, I promise you, I am NOT stalking you, but I made this also a few weeks ago! Same story as all my other posts, there were no left overs and everyone loved it! My husband’s family only ever makes pork carnitas so to try this they were all skeptical. But it turned out delicious. Added it to my recipe binder 😉

    1. I am laughing so hard right now , you are too funny! And you are welcome to stalk my blog all you want. So happy the chicken carnitas were a hit, I can never make enough myself ~ Florentina Xo’s

  6. 5 stars
    Cilantro, lime, and chicken?! You need not even ask and the answer is an emphatic yes from me! Your addition of garlic and other seasonings in this wonderful chicken dish puts it completely over the top! Thanks for sharing this creation; I am in love!

  7. Oh Yummy. These look good. I don’t eat pork and seems like here in Miami that’s the only carnitas they have lol. Will be pinning this for later