Piney, citrusy juniper berries and tender pork roast meld together to create this tender, juicy, and amazingly delicious low carb pork carnitas recipe.
Carnitas (aka pork carnitas) is a really yummy Mexican dish. The name “carnitas” translates in English to “little meats”–probably because, once cooked, the pork carnitas are shredded into, well, little meats!
My rendition of pork carnitas is a little different than some. It uses juniper berries. Technically, juniper berries aren’t berries at all. In reality, they edible cones (like pinecones only juniper cones). They have fleshy, tightly-knit scales which give it the appearance and feel of a berry.
I use juniper berries in this recipe because they add a unique, piney, citrusy tone to the dish. Most people can’t guess what this flavor dimension is, but everyone (with the exception of a few picky kiddos) who has tried my pork carnitas love this unusual taste.
Cooking the Pork Carnitas
In my recipe, I present two different ways to cook the pork carnitas–in a slow cooker (Crock Pot) and in a pressure cooker (Instant Pot).
My preferred method for this recipe is the slow cooker because the low and slow cooking does an amazing job merging the flavors while at the same time producing a tender, juicy meat.
Shredding the Pork Carnitas
There are several ways to shred any meat (pork, beef, chicken, etc.). But I’m going to share the methods I have used (including my favorite one).
Forks. Ah, the good old fashioned fork (or “threek” if it has three prongs–leave me a comment by the way if you are reading all my bla bla before the recipe, it is necessary to keep Google search happy, and it’s always nice to know my effort writing up the bla bla is read occasionally). Using two forks, you simply break apart the cooked meat with the prongs.
Bear Paws. I prefer these over forks. My mother-in-law bought a pair of Bear Paws one year for Christmas. Really though, they remind me more of James Howlett’s (a.k.a. Logan a.k.a. Wolverine–you know, of the X-Men) claws. I often pretend to extend my own metal-coated claws from my knuckles as I grab the bear paws and shred the meat.
Stand Mixer. I suppose a hand mixer would work too. The stand mixer is my absolute favorite way to shred meat. I trim excess chunks of fat off the meat as I pull it from the crock of my slow cooker and put it into the bowl of my KitchenAid stand mixer. Then, using a paddle attachment, I beat the meat. It literally only takes maybe 30 seconds. If there is a LOT of meat (say I doubled the recipe), I’ll do this in batches so the bowl doesn’t overflow or splatter hot meat (or hot meat juices) onto anyone.
Crisping the Pork Carnitas
After cooking the pork carnitas, I really like to crisp them up! This crisping step is totally optional, but completely adds a LOT of flavor and texture.
Once the pork roast has been shredded, I spread it out over a silicone-lined sheet pan (parchment paper or just a light coating of nonstick cooking spray on a naked sheet pan work too). Then I lightly spray the top of the meat with some nonstick cooking spray (I use avocado oil cooking spray). Then it goes into the oven on the broil setting for 5 to 10 minutes or so. I keep an eye on it, sometimes rotating the pan partway through to ensure even crisping, until it has achieved a lovely crispy top (but you don’t want to overdo it or it’ll dry out the meat).
Serving the Pork Carnitas
Serve these carnitas with low carb tortillas and your choice of toppings–cilantro, cheese, tomatoes, avocado, guacamole, onions, salsa, ranch dressing, etc.
Also, don’t forget to add some non-starchy veggies as a side! Cilantro lime cauliflower rice would be one excellent idea.
Low Carb Juniper Berry Pork Carnitas
- 4 pounds pork roast (butt or shoulder), cut into 3-inch by 3-inch chunks (excess fat trimmed)
- 2 medium limes, zested and juiced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 jalapeño, chopped (remove seeds and membranes to lower the heat; to amp up the heat, chop up a tablespoon or two of jarred jalapeños instead)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
For the Rub
- 1 to 2 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon juniper berries
- 2 teaspoons mineral salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon THM Gentle Sweet (or equivalent sweetener of choice)
- 3 whole bay leaves
For Pressure Cooker (Omit for Slow Cooker)
- 1 cup chicken broth (for pressure cooker ONLY)
Prep the Meat
- Place the pork chunks into the slow cooker or pressure cooker pot.
- Add the lime zest, lime juice, garlic, jalapeño, and Worcestershire sauce.
- In a small bowl, mix together all the rub ingredients.
- Dump the rub into the crock and, using your hands or tongs, mix everything together until all the meat is decently coated in the rub.
For Slow Cooker (Crock Pot)
- Pop the lid on the slow cooker. Allow to cook on LOW for 8 hours or on HIGH for 4 hours.
For Pressure Cooker (Instant Pot)
- Add the 1 cup chicken broth.
- Pop on the lid. Make sure the valve is set to seal. Set the timer to 45 minutes.
- Once done, release pressure naturally.
- Preheat your oven on the broil setting.
- Shred the meat with forks, Bear Claws, or a mixer.
- Spread the shredded meat over a silicone or parchment lined sheet pan.
- Lightly spray the top of the meat with nonstick cooking spray.
- Pop in the oven with the broil option on for 5 to 10 minutes, turning the sheet pan halfway through, or until desired crispiness is achieved. Be careful not to over-crisp or it will dry out.
- Serve with low carb tortillas with cilantro and/or any other toppings you like.