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Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas Recipe

by Jeanette on January 22, 2014 · 31 Comments
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This Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Carnitas recipe is a lightened up version of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s pork carnitas. Great in salads, burrito bowls, and tacos, it’s a versatile recipe that freezes well too.
Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas Style

If you’ve ever eaten at Chipotle Mexican Grill, you might have tried their carnitas, made with pork shoulder or butt. One of my boys loves the carnitas burrito. Traditionally, carnitas is made with a fatty cut of pork that is slow braised or roasted, and then fried or sauteed.

According to Chipotle’s website, their carnitas is made with pork, lard, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, thyme, juniper berries and sunflower oil. I found a recipe from Melissa d’Arabian that sounded more interesting to me so I used that as a starting point and added thyme and juniper berries like Chipotle.

Traditionally, carnitas is cooked in lard and seasoned with chile, cumin, oregano, marjoram, thyme, bay leaf and garlic. Once the carnitas is cooked, it’s shredded, and served with cilantro, onion, salsa, guacamole, tortillas and refried beans.

Today’s recipe is a lighter carnitas recipe made with skinless, boneless chicken thighs, which mimics the texture of pork with significantly less fat. To make this low-fuss, I made this chicken carnitas in a slow cooker and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The chicken can be easily shredded or cut into strips the next day. Of course, if you want to serve it the same day, you can too.

I crisped up the chicken pieces in a little oil to mimic the texture of pork carnitas.

Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas Style
For more Chipotle Mexican Grill inspired recipes, check out my Slow Cooker Chipotle Style Black Beans and Chipotle Style Cilantro Lime Brown Rice.

5 from 1 reviews
Slow Cooker Carnitas Style Chicken
Prep time
Total time
This chicken is great on top of salads, in burritos, burrito bowls and tacos.
Serves: 8
  • 3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few dashes ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 juniper berries
  • juice from one orange
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  1. Combine all ingredients except oil in slow cooker, mixing well to coat chicken with spices. Cook on high for 4-5 hours until tender. Remove from slow cooker and cool; shred or cut into bite size pieces. When ready to serve, heat oil in skillet and cook chicken pieces until browned and a little crispy.

Chicken Carnitas Nutrition Label

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  1. Jeanette, this looks wonderful. I really like re-making fattening meals using chicken thighs – always my favorite part of the chicken! I have never been to Chipotle – for a long time there wasn’t one around here, but for a chain, I hear they do a pretty good job of using ingredients that are sourced as locally as possible. We plan to give it a try soon, but in the meantime, maybe your carnitas can fill the bill for us!

    • Thanks Donalyn – we use chicken thighs a lot in place of pork. My kids actually don’t like the taste or smell of pork that much, so it makes my life easier getting them to get eat leaner cuts of meat in place of pork.

  2. This sounds and looks so good. I’m wondering what size of slow cooker you’re using for this recipe. Mine is a little on the small size, so I might have to halve the recipe to fit it in. Going to try this for burritoes asap.

  3. What a mouthwatering slow cooked chicken, Jeanette! This looks so scrumptious and easy. Perfect for weeknights and game day!

    • Thanks Georgia – this is super easy. Just made another batch today. Leftovers are excellent for tossing into just anything.

  4. Really, 15 min prep ends up with this delicious chicken carnitas… VERY tempted. I want a Japanese home bakery (bread machine) too and have been debating about the cabinet space to put these gigantic gadgets (I want to hide everything in the cabinets… that’s prob my issue!). I’d be cooking this at least once a week with a slow cooker. Your family is so lucky!

    • I just made this again today and used the chicken for enchiladas. It is hard to decide between all the fun small appliances. My slow cooker is really old – I think it must be at least 25 years old!

      • My slow cooker is old, too, and cumbersome to drag out, so I slow cook in my oven. I use a dutch oven pot with a lid and cook following crock pot recipes in my oven on 225 to 275, depending on the low or high setting the recipe calls for. The bonus is it helps keep the kitchen extra warm in the winter. (I don’t slow cook in the summer!!!) Excited about trying this for dinner tonight!

  5. What a awesome recipe especially since I love using my slow cooker in the winter time. Can’t wait to give these a taste!

  6. congratulations on the good result of Healthline’s Best Health Blog
    Contest of 2013. In our website we talked about it with a post! Congratulations again and see you soon!

  7. Love the sound of chicken ‘carnitas’!

  8. Yum and yum! I could eat this up!

  9. Love the spicy crust on there. This looks wonderful!

  10. I think you’re on a roll with the slow cooker!

    • It’s been so cold this winter, and with the recent water damage in my kitchen, the slow cooker came in handy.

  11. The walking is a great idea and I must start it, Jeanette. Love all your recipes. Have a Wonderful Weekend

  12. MJ Reynolds says:

    Can you use boneless chicken breasts with this recipe? Thanks.

    • Yes, you should be able to use boneless chicken breasts – you probably don’t need to cook it as long as they are dryer.

  13. Lilies Hsiao says:

    What can I use to substitute juniper berries? I can’t find it in the grocery stores. Thank you.

  14. Hi there! I just subscribed to your blog — everything looks so great, and very HEALTHY (just like the title says!). One question about the slow cooker Chicken Carnitas recipe. Have never seen and don’t know where to get Juniper berries… what purpose do they serve in the recipe/is there a substitute that might be easier to come by? Thanks!

  15. This looks so yummy! I don’t have a slow cooker :( but would love to try this recipe! If I cook it in the oven, what temp should I use and for how long?

    • Jeanette Jeanette says:

      Anne – I would add some chicken broth or water to the recipe and either cook it in a pot on the stove on low heat, rather than in the oven.

  16. I noticed a few other people have asked the same question about the juniper berries and your reply both times was to just leave them out. But if I DO want to add them (for the best flavor), are they straight off the juniper bush? Or do you dry them and grind them up first, sort of like a peppercorn? Thanks!

    • Hi Margaret, I used dried whole juniper berries only because I don’t have access to fresh. If you have fresh juniper berries, I’m guessing they would be even better than dried. I added them whole.

      • Hi Jeanette, I finally found some juniper berries at Gelson’s Market (a Southern California chain store) so I gave this recipe a try and my whole family loved it! Delicious flavor and super easy! I used my very old 3 1/2 quart crock pot and followed the recipe exactly. I cooked the chicken thighs in the crock pot the first day and cooked it until crispy in a cast iron skillet the next day. It looked just like your picture! We made tacos with the chicken, chopped onions, cilantro and some cotija cheese. Thanks for the recipe!

  17. Thanks for the nice recipe, Jeanette.

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