This delicious Chicken Carnitas recipe is the perfect easy weeknight meal. Juicy chicken thighs are seasoned generously with the all the best Mexican spices, then slow cooked with onion, jalapeño, and citrus until fall-apart tender. This crockpot meal is packed with flavor and a hit every time!
Chicken Carnitas – The EASY Way!
As I’m sure you all know, I love a good crockpot meal. And this chicken carnitas recipe is one of my favorites! All of the classic Mexican flavors infused into juicy shreds of chicken that can be served any way you like? Does it get better than that?
This crockpot meal takes just a few minutes to throw together and tastes great fresh or reheated!
Why I LOVE this recipe!
- So Flavorful – The chicken thighs are smothered in the perfect blend of sweet and spicy seasonings, then they’re slow cooked with the onion, jalapeño, and oranges. The low and slow cook time gives them tons of time to soak in all of those flavors.
- Throw and Go – With just 10 minutes of prep, this really is the best throw-and-go recipe. Just quickly prep the ingredients, then toss everything in the crockpot and let it work its magic. Come back in 8 hours to the juiciest, most flavorful chicken you could imagine.
- Versatile – Serve your chicken in tacos, burritos, over nachos, in a rice bowl, in soup, or just stand at the crockpot shoveling forkfuls of it into your mouth. It really is so versatile!
- Great Leftovers – Shredded chicken stores beautifully either in the fridge or for longer in the freezer. This recipe makes plenty, so I love to plan for leftovers and have dinner ready to go for the whole week.
What to Serve with Chicken Carnitas
Since this dish has made with those classic Mexican food flavors, it will pair well with many of your favorite Mexican side dishes. There are both classic options and some healthy options to keep it light.
Side Dish Ideas
- Easy Mexican Rice – Take a quick 25 minutes to put together this super simple Mexican rice recipe. It’s loaded with tons of flavor and comes together in just one pan.
- Mexican Roasted Vegetables – Taste the rainbow with a side of these roasted veggies tossed with lime juice and taco seasoning. These roasted veggies are a light, but incredibly flavorful side dish option.
- Mexican Street Corn Casserole – Round your meal out with a pile of this comforting street corn casserole. It’s sweet, spicy, creamy, and perfect alongside chicken carnitas.
- Sautéed Peppers and Onions – Keep your meal simple with the classic fajita veggie duo. These sautéed veggies are ready in a total of 11 minutes!
You can choose one or add a few sides to make a wholesome, well rounded dinner.
This Chicken Carnitas recipe is as simple as promised! Just 10 minutes of prep for a family friendly meal.
In this section I am going to go through a few tips and tricks I use when making this recipe to get the absolute best and most delicious results.
Make sure to scroll to the bottom for the FULL recipe card.
Ingredients + Substitutions
- Dry Rub – Our spice blend consists of a sweet and spicy combination of cumin, chile powder, salt, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground black pepper.
- Chicken Thighs – I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, but chicken breasts will work too if that’s what you prefer.
- White Onion – Chop the onion, but make sure the pieces are big enough that it can easily be removed before serving.
- Jalapeño Peppers – I love to add jalapeño to give the chicken a little kick of heat, but feel free to omit if you like less spice.
- Oranges – Orange juice adds citrusy flavor, but also helps break down the muscle fibers in the meat for an even more tender and juicy texture.
- Roughly chop the onion – Normally you would dice onion up pretty small. In this case, you want the chunks to be larger so you can easily pick them out before serving the chicken. They’re used to add flavor during the cooking process, but not served with the chicken.
- Be thorough with the seasonings – Make sure you rub the chicken thighs generously all over with the spice rub. We want that delicious flavor in every, single bite.
- Shred right away – Chicken shreds best when it’s hot, so shred it up as soon as you can after cooking.
- Crisp it – Once the chicken is shredded, spread it out onto a baking sheet in a single layer and let it bake for a few minutes at 425ºF. This isn’t totally necessary, but it does give the chicken shreds those crispy edges that are found in classic carnitas.
- Save the juices – Leave the extra cooking liquid in the crockpot, then spoon it over the chicken when serving. It adds more moisture and flavor!
Recipe Short Cuts
If you need to make this recipe, but are extra short on time, here are a few ideas that can help make this recipe even faster!
- Cook on High – Feel free to speed the cooking process a little bit by setting the crockpot to high instead of cooking on low. This will cut the time in half (3.5-4.5 hours), but the texture of the chicken won’t be quite as tender and juicy.
- Make it Ahead of Time – Chicken carnitas is delicious leftover, so make extra and store it in the fridge or freezer to easily reheat whenever!
If you love this recipe as much as we do and want some quick ways to change it up for variety, these little tips will do the trick!
- Chicken Carnitas in the Instant Pot– To prepare this in the pressure cooker, place all ingredients in the Instant Pot as directed below. Add an additional 1/4 cup chicken broth or water. Cook on high pressure for 12 minutes (time can vary based on altitude and size of pot.) Quick release the pressure, and continue with recipe as directed.
- Crockpot Pork Carnitas- See our full recipe for our super popular crockpot carnitas here!
Freezer Meal Instructions
Making this chicken carnitas recipe into a freezer meal is simple! Follow the steps below and you can store this recipe in the freezer for up to 4 months.
- Prep the veggies, season the chicken, and slow cook as directed. Shred the chicken while warm, then let it cool completely.
- Store the cooled, shredded chicken in an airtight container and store it in the freezer for 3-4 months.
- When you’re ready to serve, thaw overnight in the fridge, then warm on low on the stove or in the oven to crisp the edges.
Chicken Carnitas Leftovers
If you have leftovers after making chicken carnitas, then it is your lucky day! They save and reheat well, and can make the start of another delicious dish.
To save leftovers, separate into meal sized portions and then place in an airtight container and store:
- in the refrigerator for 3-4 days
- in the freezer for 3-4 months
Here are a few ways to repurpose those leftovers and give them a delicious makeover!
- Shredded Mexican Chicken Casserole – Swap these chicken carnitas in for the plain shredded chicken in this simple and delicious Mexican casserole.
- Chicken Taco Casserole – Make your leftovers into a delicious and filling meal with a can of refried beans, a little bit of cheese, and all the best taco toppings.
- Loaded Enchilada Soup – Use the leftover shredded chicken in place of the ground beef in my one pot enchilada soup recipe.
or use our pork carnitas recipes and make them chicken carnitas instead!
- Carnitas Street Tacos
- Carnitas Enchiladas
- Carnitas Bowls
- Carnitas Nachos
- Carnitas Quesadilla
- Carnitas Burrito
More Chicken Recipes
If you enjoyed this recipe, I really hope you will take a moment to grab a few more easy recipes for another busy night!
You can check out all of my chicken recipes here, or see a few of our readers favorite recipes below.
- Green Chili Chicken Corn Chowder
- Chicken Tinga Tacos
- Chicken Burrito Casserole
- Million Dollar Chicken Salad
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Crock Pot Chicken Carnitas
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp chipotle chile powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
In the slow cooker
- 4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1 white onion roughly chopped
- 3 jalapeno peppers
- 2 oranges
- Make the dry rub by combining all of the ingredients and mixing to combine.
- Place the chopped onion and whole jalapeno peppers in the bottom of the crock pot. Squeeze the juice from oranges and place the rinds in with the onions and peppers.
- Coat the chicken on all sides with the seasoning mixture and pat it in. Place the chicken thighs in the crock pot on top of the onions and peppers. Pour the orange juice over the chicken thighs.
- Cook on low for 7-9 hours.
- Remove the chicken thighs and shred with a fork, removing and discarding any fatty areas.
- Preheat oven to 425˚F. Place shredded chicken in a thin layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 6-10 minutes or until the chicken edges are crispy to your liking to create the signature texture of carnitas. This step can be skipped if you don't want crispy edges.
- Strain juices and discard onions, jalapeno and orange rind. Spoon juices over chicken when serving.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and brands of ingredients used.)
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