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Air Fryer Carnitas—Perfect for Tacos!

Air Fryer Carnitas are your answer to the perpetual question of what to cook for dinner on a busy weeknight. The pork turns out juicy and flavorful with enticingly crisp edges.

High angle shot of 3 carnitas tacos on a plate with more carnitas on a cutting board in the background.

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An air fryer is the perfect tool to achieve perfectly cooked carnitas in just a fraction of the time it would take in an oven or on the stove. This carnitas recipe is quick to make in terms of hands-on prep time and cooking, though it is best to marinate the pork for a good long time.

What Are Pork Carnitas?

Carnitas, which translates to “little meats” in Spanish, is a Mexican dish typically made with pork that is braised or roasted until it is tender and then shredded. It is then often fried to crisp up the edges and caramelize the meat.

Crispy carnitas best taco meat (or burrito filling or nacho topping!)

This Air Fryer Pork Carnitas recipe is perfect for tacos or burritos, taquitos, or as a topping for rice bowls, salads, or nachos. For me, nothing beats a spoonful of delicious pork carnitas wrapped in a warm tortilla and topped with Mexican Pickled Onions in lime juice and a drizzle of Salsa Verde.

Overhead shot of the ingredients needed to make air fryer carnitas tacos.

Ingredients You Need to make Air Fryer Pork Carnitas

The ingredients you need to make crispy carnitas in the air fryer are pretty simple. Here’s what you need for this easy air fryer carnitas recipe:

  • Pork: I use boneless pork shoulder or butt. This fatty cut is full of and flavorful, so it’s perfect for carnitas.
  • Orange juice: Orange juice adds acidity to the marinade, which both helps tenderize the meat and gives it complex flavor.
  • Cilantro: Fresh cilantro adds a bright, herby flavor to the carnitas.
  • Oil: You can use any type of oil that you like to cook with. Olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, or avocado oil are all good choices.
  • Jalapeno pepper: The jalapeño adds a bit of heat to the carnitas, but you can omit it if you don’t like spicy food.
  • Taco seasoning: Taco seasoning is a blend of spices that adds a lot of flavor to the carnitas. You can use store-bought taco seasoning or make your own by mixing together chili powder, cumin, paprika, and garlic powder.
  • Salt: Always opt for additive-free salt like kosher salt or sea salt for cooking.
  • Pepper: Freshly ground black pepper adds a bit of a kick.
  • Corn tortillas: Corn tortillas are the traditional choice for carnitas tacos, but you can use flour tortillas if you prefer, or use the carnitas as a topping for a salad, nachos, or a rice bowl.
  • Onion: Diced purple onion adds a nice bit of color, crunch, and flavor to the carnitas tacos. I like to add Pickled Onions in lime juice!

How to make it

This Air Fryer Carnitas recipe is simple to make. The hands-on and cooking time are minimal. It is best to give the pork plenty of time to soak up the marinade. Here’s how to make air fryer shredded pork carnitas:

  1. Toss together the pork and some of the taco seasoning, then top with the oil, orange juice, jalapeño, and cilantro.
  2. Let marinate for 6 hours (or overnight).
  3. Create a foil catch tray for the air fryer basket and place pork, along with the marinade, in the tray.
  4. Air fry until the meat is very tender. Flip the pork once during cooking to make sure that both sides brown and crisp up nicely. If the meat doesn’t fall apart when tested with a fork, give it another 15 minutes in the air fryer.
  5. Remove the pork and shred the meat. Add the remaining taco seasoning and mix.
  6. Warm the tortillas and load with the pork, onion, and cilantro.
  7. Enjoy!
Low angle shot of carnitas tacos with carnitas meat and an air fryer in the background.

Tips and Tricks

  • When it comes to carnitas, you want some fat in the meat. That’s what makes it so juicy, flavorful, and crisp on the edges. Pork shoulder or butt is really the best cut of meat for this dish. If you want a leaner dish, you can use pork loin, but the meat won’t be as succulent and flavorful. You could also substitute pork belly for a very rich, fatty version.
  • Don’t have time to marinate the pork for hours? No problem! You can still achieve delicious and flavorful pork by marinating the pork for at least an hour before cooking.
  • It’s easiest to shred the pork while it’s still hot, so do that shortly after you remove it from the air fryer.
  • If you want to crisp up the pork, add it to a large skillet (heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in the skillet first) and cook, tossing occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  • Customize your carnitas by adding any toppings you like, such as avocado, salsa, or sour cream.
  • Carnitas can be made up to 3 days ahead of time.
  • You can store your Air Fryer Carnitas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Reheat leftover carnitas in the air fryer to crisp the edges up again.

Serving Suggestions

There are so many ways to enjoy these pulled pork carnitas! Here are a few ideas:

  • Tacos: Serve the carnitas in warm corn or flour tortillas with your choice of toppings like diced onions, cilantro, salsa, and sour cream.
  • Burritos: Roll the carnitas up in a large flour tortilla with beans, rice, salsa, and cheese.
  • Salad: Top a bed of greens with the carnitas, diced avocado, cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of vinaigrette.
  • Nachos: Layer tortilla chips, carnitas, beans, cheese, and your favorite toppings on a baking sheet and broil for a few minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Try pairing them with Homemade Corn Tortillas, Homemade Flour Tortillas, Mexican Pickled Onions,  Pickled Jalapenos, Instant Pot Refried Beans, Instant Pot Mexican Black Beans, Mango Habanero Salsa, or Salsa Verde. Mexican Street Corn Salad, Elote, or Air Fryer Elote are all great sides.

Low angle shot of 3 carnitas tacos on a white plate with lime wedges.

Making carnitas in an air fryer is a quick and easy way to enjoy this delicious Mexican dish. With its crispy exterior and tender interior, this recipe is sure to become a new family favorite. So why wait? Break out your air fryer and give these carnitas a try!

Closeup, low angle shot of two air fryer pork carnitas filled tacos.

Air Fryer Carnitas

Robin Donovan
This flavorful Mexican dish made of pork that has been marinated in spices is quick and easy to make. The result is crispy pork that is perfect for shredding and using as a filling for tacos, taquitos, or burritos or as a topping for salads, nachos, or rice bowls.
4.94 from 16 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Marinating time 6 hours
Course Main Course, Main Dish Recipes
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8 servings
Calories 441 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2 pounds pork shoulder or butt
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 jalapeño diced
  • 4 tablespoons taco seasoning divided
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 red onion diced

Instructions
 

  • In a mixing bowl add the pork and the spices (2 tablespoons taco seasoning). Top with the oil, juice from the orange, jalapeño, and cilantro. Mix and add pork and mixture to a storage bag. Place in the fridge overnight or for 6 hours.
  • Create a foil catch tray for the air fryer basket and add the pork shoulder. Pour over the remaining marinade and cook at 350°F for 45 minutes. Turn the pork at 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pork and shred the meat. Add the remaining taco seasoning and mix.
  • Dice the onion. Warm the tortillas and load with the pork, onion, and cilantro.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

1. You can make the carnitas ahead and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in the air fryer at 350°F for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. You can also freeze carnitas. Store in an airtight container or freezer-safe resealable plastic bag for up to 3 months.

Nutrition

Calories: 441kcalCarbohydrates: 19gProtein: 2gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0.02gSodium: 410mgPotassium: 93mgFiber: 3gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 118IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 35mgIron: 1mg
Keyword 5-ingredient tacos, air fryer, burritos, carnitas, mexican pork, pork shoulder, taco meat
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By on January 5th, 2023

ABOUT ROBIN DONOVAN

Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 50 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners5 Ingredient Cooking for TwoSushi at HomeThe Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. → More about Robin

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