This chicken carnitas recipe is an awesome lower calorie substitute for traditional pork shoulder carnitas. Boneless skinless chicken thighs are braised until they’re fall-apart tender then broiled to make crispy carnitas without frying in lard like traditional Mexican carnitas.
In less than an hour, you’ll have tender and juicy pulled chicken that’s perfect for macro friendly tacos de carnitas, quesadillas, burrito bowls, and more!
Ingredients for Chicken Carnitas
Rick Martínez mentions in his latest cookbook, Mi Cocina, that the best Mexican carnitas are simple salt, pepper, and pork combinations. My recipe has a few more components to elevate the chicken, but I like to think it’s still rather simple.
he mentions the best Mexican carnitas are simple salt, pepper, pork combinations. My recipe has a few more components to elevate the chicken, but I like to think it’ still rather simple.
Here’s everything you’ll need:
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- Olive Oil
- Diced Onion and Minced Garlic
- Orange Juice and Beer (I used non-alcoholic)
- Salt, Dried Oregano, and Ground Cumin
- Optional: Ground Cinnamon and Cloves
You can braise with any liquid—even water. But without the unctuous fat of pork shoulder, this is your chance to pack as much flavor as possible into your chicken carnitas.
Beer Substitutes for Cooking
If you don’t have a beer or non-alcoholic beer on hand, chicken broth would be the next best thing. I’ve seen cooks recommend using ginger ale and soda as beer substitutes, but I’m not sure they fit the flavor profile here.
Chicken Carnitas Without a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot
Slow cooking is pretty much a requirement when making carnitas with larger, tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder. You have to give all the connective tissues enough time to break down and become tender.
There’s nothing wrong with slow cooking—it’s great—I just wanted a faster option for last minute dinners. And chicken carnitas made with chicken thighs is the perfect solution.
Braising Chicken Thighs
The rules still apply with chicken thighs. They need to be held at a higher internal temperature (140ºF to 195ºF) for a while to allow connective tissues to dissolve into gelatin. This makes the chicken tender and juicy.
Chicken thighs are good at an internal temp of 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but they’re even better at 195.America’s Test Kitchen
Braising over a low heat in a flavorful liquid is a great way to achieve this in a shorter time, and that’s what this recipe calls for. After browning one side of the chicken thighs in olive oil, you’ll add the rest of your ingredients, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the chicken is tender and easily pulls apart. That’s it!
How to Serve Carnitas
You can’t go wrong with tacos. I like warming tortillas in a skillet before topping with guacamole, chicken carnitas, queso fresco, salsa macha, and lime juice. This chicken is also great with simply diced white onion and cilantro with a squeeze of lime.
Since you’ll have roughly two pounds of chicken, here are some recipes that would work great for using leftovers:
- air fryer chicken quesadillas
- baked meal prep quesadillas
- carnitas tamale pie
- leftover carnitas bowls
- cheesy chicken air fried taquitos
- carnitas enchiladas
I hope you enjoy your chicken carnitas! If you do, I always appreciate recipe reviews. And if you have a question about this recipe or any ingredients, I’ll be happy to answer your question in the comments below.
- 2 pounds Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 2 Tablespoons (32g) Olive Oil
- 1/2 (100g) White Onion, diced
- 4 cloves Garlic, minced or grated on a microplane
- 12 oz Non-Alcoholic Beer (or your choice of braising liquid)
- Juice of 1 Navel Orange (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
- Pinch of Ground Cinnamon and Cloves (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and place smooth-side-down in the skillet.
- Cook for 4-5 minutes until the chicken easily releases from the pan and is golden brown. Flip and cook for another 30-60 seconds before transferring to a plate or bowl.
- Add the onion and garlic, stirring in the remaining oil and rendered chicken fat until the garlic is fragrant, about a minute.
- Add a few tablespoons of the beer to deglaze the skillet and scrape any fond and crispy bits off the bottom of the pan. Once clear, reduce the heat to low and add the remaining beer, orange juice, and dry seasonings. Stir well.
- Leaving the seared side up, place the chicken back in the skillet in the braising liquid. Cover and cook over low heat until the chicken is fall apart tender, about 15-20 minutes. Preheat your broiler in the final 5-10 minutes with a rack in the top half of the oven.
- Transfer the chicken to a bowl and increase the heat under the pan to reduce the remaining braising liquid while you pull the chicken apart with forks or tongs.
- Add the chicken back to pan and remove from the heat. Stir everything together before placing under the broiler for 6-8 minutes until the chicken is as crispy as you'd like.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 4 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 210Total Fat: 11gCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 22g