January 22, 2013

Pressure-Cooked Carnitas

I love my pressure cooker. I love it so much that I’ve started taking it with me to friends’ houses, and once even to a cabin during a ski trip. It’s gotten to the point where when I ask my friends, “what do you want me to make when you come over this Saturday?” they reply, “I don’t know, Judy, something in your pressure cooker?”

While my friends and family tease me, they have always been wowed by the results. Meats like these carnitas, vegetable soups, and risotto are just some of my new favorite dishes to make. Having learned these techniques, I can apply them to other recipes, or add my own flavors, which allows me to be more creative in the kitchen.

Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer

Recipe Tags

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carnitas, plate-up

We love serving this dish with our Pressure-Cooked Fresh-Corn Tamales and Refried Bean Foam.

Pressure-cooked carnitas, shredded


Shred the meat, using two forks, if serving the carnitas in a burrito or taco.

Steamed Duck Bun


We have several variations of this technique in Modernist Cuisine at Home, such as our Braised Duck with Steamed Buns.

Carnitas, step 1


Freezing extra stock in ice cube trays makes it easy to store.

Carnitas, step 6


Add the pork to the reduced liquid and simmer until the meat browns and the liquid is reduced to a glaze.

Carnitas, step 3


To quickly depressurize the pressure cooker, run the rim of the lid under cold water.

Additional Tips and Substitutions

Steps 1– - 4
  • We like to leave all of the tendons and sinews in the meat. If you don't care for them, trim them off before cooking the pork.
  • For extra flavor, use bone-in, skin-on pork shoulder. Pressure cook it with the pork stock at 1 bar / 15 psi for 2 hours. You can then use the skin to make our Pressure-Cooked Chicharrón (see page 222 of Modernist Cuisine at Home).
  • You can buy pork stock, or make your own (see page 86 of Modernist Cuisine at Home).
  • You can also substitute water for the pork stock.
  • If you choose to make your own pork stock, freeze extra stock in an ice cube tray for easy storage.
  • Set the burner on high to bring the pressure cooker up to 1 bar / 15 psi. Once it reaches full pressure, turn the burner down, keeping just enough heat to maintain pressure.
  • When cooking finishes, remove the pressure cooker from the heat and let it depressurize naturally, or run the rim of the lid under cold water to depressurize it more quickly.
  • Before straining the liquid, you can refrigerate the meat and liquid together overnight for added flavors (and to give you the ability to work ahead).
  • You can also cook your carnitas sous vide. Cook the pork and stock together at 65°C / 149°F for 36 hours.
Steps 5– - 7
  • Achiote paste can be found in Mexican grocery stores. You can also make your own by following the recipe on page 219 of Modernist Cuisine at Home.
  • For extra kick, try adding a little ancho powder.
  • Cook the strained liquid over high heat until it has reduced by at least two-thirds and is syrupy.
  • If you are going to serve your carnitas in tacos or burritos, shred the meat, using two forks. Otherwise, let them stay as they are, or cut them into bite-size pieces.
  • Our favorite way to serve carnitas is in our Pressure-Cooked Fresh-Corn Tamales with our Salsa Verde, with Refried Bean Foam and Pressure-Cooked Chicharrón on the side.
  • The carnitas freeze very well, so if you have a large-enough pressure cooker, consider doubling or even tripling the recipe.
  • A traditional recipe for carnitas requires that you cook off all of the liquid until the meat becomes crispy. We prefer using the power of a pressure cooker to braise the meat. It might not be exactly traditional, but we think it's delicious, and you will, too! In fact, we've applied this technique to all sorts of meats in Modernist Cuisine at Home. Some variations include Pork Shoulder Fricassee with Apple and Morels, Korean Short-Rib Lettuce Wraps, Pork Belly Adobo, and Braised Duck with Steamed Buns.
  • To read what The Wall Street Journal has to say about pressure cookers, click here.

Check out our Modernist Seven-Layer Dip recipe, which use our carnitas as the first layer.



  1. Jim January 22, 2013 Reply

    Made these last weekend. They were delicious and lasted all week (1 person). It was my first recipe from modernist cuisine at home and it was a good choice, super easy.

  2. Funkyjhero January 23, 2013 Reply

    Does running cold water over the lid serve any purpose, apart from being quicker? Eg does it affect the texture of the meat compared to releasing with the valve?

  3. Franklin January 25, 2013 Reply

    Made this last weekend and it was outstanding. The flavor was a little mild for my taste despite adding two pureed, re-hydrated dried ancho chili’s to the cooking liquid. I think more Achiote paste and maybe a higher scoville rating chili would make it even better. I also thoroughly browned the pieces of pork in a cast iron skillet before pressure cooking just because I like the texture better. Overall a great recipe and much faster / easier than the traditional method.

  4. downs1000 February 4, 2013 Reply

    Uh – OK so I got some rave reviews for Super Party Sunday with Modernist techniques!!! Made the carnitas but I didn’t stop there. I turned them into my favorite sandwich EVER – The Cuban. Got some parbaked Baguettes, carnitas, dijon and mayo mixed together, ham sliced pickles then put them in the oven wrapped in foil (very tightly) to melt cheese, slice and serve! AMAZING! Carnitas, in my opnion, are sometimes too salty but these were not. I did marinate the pork ahead of time and added some chipotle puree with adobo sauce while reducing the liquid. Perfect hint of spice but okay for everyone to eat.

  5. Ian March 1, 2013 Reply

    I made these this weekend and they were great. That said, I made my own achiote paste (which meant also making my own garlic confit per the book). I’d like a little more clarification than the book gives for this step. Am I really meant to add the confit’d garlics to my coffee grinder? None of the oil? This seems like it would really muck up my grinder. I just used a food processor for this step, which, after a fairly long time, seemed to produce an okay grind/paste. After adding the amount of liquid specified, however, I was left with nothing that looked like a paste, but rather was fairly watery. I had never seen achiote paste, so had no idea if that’s what it was supposed to look like. Can you clarify some of this for me? The end result of the carnitas we great, but I’m with Franklin in saying I’d have liked a bit more kick – I added a little cholula sauce after the first one.

  6. ian_tuck March 3, 2013 Reply

    I left a comment yesterday requesting some clarification of the recipe, and it was deleted? Can you tell me why?

    • Judy March 4, 2013 Reply

      Hi Ian,

      Your comment was awaiting moderation. It is now visible. To avoid this, we suggest that you register with modernistcuisine.com. If you are logged in, your comments will automatically become visible and won’t go into the moderation queue.

  7. Allan Lederman March 5, 2013 Reply

    I tried this recipe last weekend when I had some friends over for dinner and it turned out so good – the people I had over all wanted the recipe, which I handed over and told them about this site :D! Thanks, Allan.

  8. Iona Wildeman March 9, 2013 Reply

    Pressure-Cooked Carnitas Great stuff

  9. Calvin March 18, 2013 Reply

    Would this same pressure-cooking technique work for barbacoa? If so, would you have any recommendations for seasoning adjustments?

  10. Clem May 8, 2013 Reply

    Made this tonight using bone-in pork shoulder steaks. After two hours, the meat fell apart when grabbed with tongs and the fat just melted into the meat with the slightest pressure. Wonderful stuff on corn tortillas with a little crema.

  11. United Pressure Cooker September 15, 2015 Reply

    Nice post. It was great to learn something new and good.Pressure cooked food are really healthy and nutritious for health. I even love to cook in pressure cooker. It is really good to learn and experiment to cook new food for your friends and family.

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