Pork Tacos (Carnitas)

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Juicy pork is seasoned with citrus and spices to create ultra-flavorful Mexican inspired pulled pork, or Pork Carnitas! Make pork carnitas tacos for a quick dinner, or throw it in a burrito bowl for an easy lunch!

Looking for more taco inspiration? You should make my beef barbacoa or slow cooker pulled pork for a delicious twist on taco night.

side shot of three pork carnitas tacos topped with tomatoes, cilantro, and onions


 

Pork Tacos Recipe

This Pork Carnitas recipe will absolutely thrill you! This Mexican-inspired pork recipe has a flavor like you would not believe. Pork tenderloin is seasoned with salt and pepper, brown sugar, chili powder, orange juice, lime juice, and more. To summarize, these crispy, juicy pork shreds are sweet, a tad tangy, a little spicy, and 200% delicious. Yes, that’s double delicious.

Most of the time, when I make pork carnitas, I pack the meat into soft flour tortillas to make pork carnitas tacos. They are unbelievable – no words can describe the incredible flavors and textures. And when you pile some sour cream, sliced avocado, and diced tomatoes on top? Flavor. Explosion. Pork carnitas is also great in burrito bowls, regular burritos, salads, etc. It doesn’t matter what you put it in as long as you experience the amazingness! If you’re not into pork, make my Instant Pot Chicken Carnitas!

Overhead close-up shot of three pork carnitas tacos served on a round plate with pico de gallo

What Are Carnitas?

Carnitas is basically shredded or pulled pork. Or, in this case, it’s pork cut up in small pieces because we want it done quickly, and we want it done now! The pork is marinated or braised with seasonings, resulting in tender, juicy, flavorful shreds of – or small chunks – of meat. Typically pork shoulder or pork butt is used to make this dish, but today we’re going to use pork tenderloin because it’s quick.

Ingredients For Pork Carnitas

  • Pork: You’ll need about 1.5 pounds of pork tenderloin, cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • Seasoning: Salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste), oregano, ancho chili powder, and ground cumin.
  • Cooking Oil: I generally use avocado oil or olive oil.
  • Onion: Grab a small yellow onion, finely diced.
  • Garlic: Minced.
  • Sugar: Round up some light brown sugar before starting.
  • Citrus: You’ll need some orange juice and the juice of a small lime.
  • Optional: Flour tortillas (for tacos), diced avocado, pico de gallo, and cilantro (for garnish).
Cubed raw pork tenderloin in a skillet with seasonings set in the center.

How to Make Carnitas Tacos

It won’t take you more than 30 minutes to put these carnitas pork tacos together, and everybody will love them.

  1. Season the Pork: Cut up the pork tenderloin and season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  2. Cook the Onion: Heat olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add onions to the oil and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 15 seconds, or just until fragrant.
  3. Add Pork to the Skillet: Season with brown sugar, chili powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until pork is cooked through.
  4. Stir in Orange Juice: Continue to stir and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add lime juice and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly.
pork carnitas in a skillet with two forks, 3 slices of lime, and a branch of cilantro

Tips for Success

  • What If I Don’t Have Pork Tenderloin? That’s alright. You can use pork shoulder (butt) or really any other cut of pork. Keep in mind, depending on the cut of pork, you may have to adjust the cooking time if using something other than pork tenderloin.
  • Don’t Overcook the Pork. Easy to say, but not always easy to do! You want the pork to be juicy and tender, though, and not tough and dry. The best way to gauge if pork is done is to use a meat thermometer, and make sure the pork reaches 145˚Fahrenheit.
  • Alternative Cooking Methods. Season the pork tenderloin with all of the spices before cutting it into bite-size pieces, and then cook until done. Then, shred the pork with two forks, or cut it with a knife, and add it back to the skillet to cook in the orange juice as described.
A single pork carnitas taco topped with tomatoes and onions.

Serving Suggestions

Carnitas pork tacos are really good stuffed with diced tomatoes, slices of avocado, corn kernels, some salsa, and sour cream. You can do virtually the same thing but in burrito form.

If you want to keep things simple, serve your flavorful shredded pork over a bed of white or brown rice. Quinoa will work, too. Another way to keep things simple is to add the pork carnitas to an easy cobb salad – or make a bed of lettuce, dice up some extra veggies, add the pork, and voila! You’re ready for lunch or dinner. A pulled pork quesadilla? Yes, please! Cheesy shredded pork is so, so good.

Overhead shot of three pork carnitas tacos served on a round plate with pico de gallo

How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat Leftovers

Store leftover pork carnitas in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days or freeze them for 2 to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight and then reheat.

To reheat, put the pork back in the skillet on the stovetop over medium heat. Cook until warmed through. You may need to add a little extra liquid – possibly some orange juice or some cooking oil.

Common FAQs

Can ground pork be used?

Absolutely! Follow the recipe, and use ground pork instead of pork tenderloin.

Can lemon juice be used instead of lime juice?

Sure, you can use lemon juice in place of lime juice, but just keep in mind that the taste will differ slightly due to the distinct flavors of each citrus.

What goes well with pork carnitas?

Pork carnitas are served in warm tortillas accompanied by salsa, cilantro, chopped onions, and guacamole. You can also serve carnitas in a burrito bowl with fiesta rice or as a topping for salads. I will sometimes serve them alongside sweet potato wedges and tomatillo salsa.

What is the point of orange juice in carnitas?

Using orange juice in the liquid for carnitas tenderizes the pork, providing acidity that helps soften the meat, add flavor, and make it juicier.

More Pork Recipes to Try

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4.67 from 36 votes

Quick Pork Carnitas Tacos

Juicy pork is seasoned with citrus and spices to create ultra-flavorful Mexican inspired Pork Carnitas!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients 

  • 1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin,, cut into small bite-sized pieces
  • salt,, to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper,, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil,, or olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion,, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic,, minced
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 small lime,, juiced

Optional

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Instructions 

  • Cut up the pork tenderloin into small bite-sized pieces and season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  • Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add diced onions to the heated oil and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 15 seconds or just until fragrant.
  • Add the pork to the skillet; season with brown sugar, oregano, chili powder, and cumin. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until pork is cooked through.
  • Stir in orange juice; continue to stir and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add lime juice and continue to cook for 2 more minutes.
  • Remove from heat. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly.
  • Serve in tacos, burritos, over rice, and/or on salads.

Notes

  • Pork Choice: You don’t have to use pork tenderloin. You can also use pork shoulder or any other cut of boneless pork but remember that depending on the cut of pork, you may have to adjust the cooking time.
  • Don’t Overcook: You want the pork to be juicy and tender, not tough and dry. The best way to gauge if pork is done is to use a meat thermometer – pork is cooked through when its internal temperature reaches 145˚F.
  • Shredded Pork Method: Season the pork tenderloin thoroughly with all the spices before slicing it into pieces. Once cooked thoroughly, shred the pork using two forks or chop it finely with a knife. Afterward, return the pork to the skillet and let it simmer in the orange juice as instructed.

Nutrition

Calories: 309kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 111mg | Sodium: 100mg | Potassium: 793mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 204IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.

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46 Comments

  1. Louise says:

    Amazing!!!!

    Was an easy recipe and things we also have in the pantry,

    I added some Red Bell Peppers and sliced baby corn was absolutely delicious everyone enjoyed them. Thanks for this recipe!

  2. Robin Burres says:

    I love it, it was easy

    1. Katerina says:

      I’m glad to hear that! Simple and delicious recipes are the best. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Kaolu Plunkett says:

    Hi there! I want to recreate this recipe and was wondering if I would be able to replace pork tenderloin with canned pork? I’ve been trying to find a recipe that uses canned pork but i haven’t come across a single site that uses it 🙁

    1. Katerina says:

      Hi there!
      Yes, you can definitely use canned pork in this recipe. Since canned pork is already cooked, you’ll just need to heat it through instead of cooking it for 10 minutes. About 3 to 5 minutes should work. Let me know how it turns out for you. 🙂

  4. Tim F says:

    Wonderful combo – added red peppers and cut it smaller to cook faster. It has amazing flavor. Keep up the great suggestions

    1. Katerina says:

      I’m delighted you enjoyed the combination and found the addition of red peppers and smaller cuts for faster cooking to your liking! The flavors sound amazing. I’ll definitely keep the suggestions coming. Thank you for your kind words!

  5. Deb says:

    I used 3 boneless center cut pork chops instead of a tenderloin. This recipe was both easy & delicious and an excellent change of pace from ground beef tacos.

    1. Katerina says:

      That sounds like a fantastic substitution! It’s great to hear the recipe was easy, delicious, and offered a nice variety. Using pork chops instead of tenderloin for tacos is a creative twist. Thanks for sharing your experience! 🙂

  6. Gabrielle says:

    I don’t have orange juice can I use pineapple juice?

    1. Katerina says:

      You sure can use pineapple juice. It’s important to note that pineapple juice has a different flavor profile, which could affect the flavor – not a lot, but still, I just want you to keep that in mind.

  7. Maria says:

    My family enjoyed this dish again!