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Flavorful Chicken Carnitas are made with marinated chicken thighs that are cooked until tender and juicy. Then, they’re shredded and can be served in a variety of ways, from tacos to bowls or nachos. The best family dinner that tastes better than what you would get at a restaurant!

Looking for other chicken dinner ideas? You may also like my Chicken Al-Pastor, Chicken Tinga or my Air Fryer BBQ Chicken. They are all so easy and super tasty!

A round bowl with greens, rice, and tomatoes, topped with shredded chicken carnitas.
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Chicken carnitas is one of my favorite things to order at our local Mexican restaurant. 😍The crispy exterior and tender, juicy interior of the meat just can’t be beat. Because my whole family enjoys chicken carnitas so much, I knew I had to try coming up with my own homemade recipe. I have to say, these turned out even better than I could have expected and they’re a winner with my entire family!

Serve this meal alongside this simple and delicious cold spaghetti salad.

Recipe highlights

  • Minimal ingredients are needed and this is easy to make.
  • Lighter than using pork, like in the traditional recipe, yet still has a wonderful authentic Mexican flavor.
  • Can be served in a variety of ways, from tacos to burrito bowls!
  • The perfect meal prep that keeps well for days and can be used in different meals throughout the week.

Ingredients you will need

ingredients to make chicken carnitas.
  • Chicken thighs: For this recipe, you’ll need boneless, skinless chicken thighs. These are super juicy and flavorful!
  • Onion: Thinly sliced sweet onion adds a slightly sweet and savory taste to the chicken.
  • Oranges: The acidity that will tenderize the chicken and add delicious fresh flavor.
  • Olive oil: Will ensure that the chicken is plenty moist.
  • Garlic: Fresh garlic brings a subtle kick that’s sure to please.
  • Seasonings: A blend of red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, and dried oregano for incredible flavor.

See a full list of ingredients and quantities in the recipe card below!

Variations/substitutions

  • Chicken breast: While chicken thighs will make the juiciest carnitas, chicken breasts also work well.
  • Other citrus: You can use lemon or lime juice instead of orange juice, if you’d like.
  • Make it spicy: For extra heat, cook the chicken with sliced jalapeños.

How to make this recipe

Pouring marinade over onions and chicken.

Step 1: Place the thighs and sliced onion in a deep dish. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. In a jug, whisk the orange juice, zest, oil, garlic, pepper flakes, paprika and oregano. Pour this mixture over the chicken and move around to coat.

Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 30 minutes (or refrigerate overnight).

Step 2: Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 30 minutes (or refrigerate overnight).

Chicken thighs cooking on a sheet pan.

Step 3: Once you’re ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 425ºF. Remove the chicken from the marinade and transfer to a sheet pan. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until almost cooked through.

Spreading shredded chicken on a sheet pan.

Step 4: Remove the chicken from the oven and carefully shred it using 2 forks. Spread the shredded chicken around your sheet pan and broil for 4-6 minutes, stirring each 2 minutes, or until it start to get golden and slightly crisp.

Chicken carnitas served in a white bowl with rice, lettuce, tomatoes and jalapeños.

Step 5: Serve the chicken carnitas in bowls or tacos.

My Pro Tip

Recipe Tip

  • Boneless, skinless chicken: I highly recommend using boneless, skinless chicken for easier shredding.
  • Don’t skip the broiler: This is the way to give your carnitas that crispy, crunchy texture that they are known for. Just about 4 to 6 minutes is all that it takes.

Frequently asked questions

What are carnitas made of?

Carnitas means “little meats” in Spanish and are traditionally made using pork along with seasonings and lard. It is braised or simmered for several hours until it is tender enough that it can be shredded. In this recipe, we’re replacing the pork with chicken and using a quick-cooking method for delicious shredded meat that’s lighter.

How do you eat carnitas traditionally?

The most common way to eat carnitas is by making a taco. You can use flour tortillas, corn tortillas or hard taco shells to place the carnitas inside along with toppings like lime juice, onions, fresh cilantro, and salsa.

Why orange in carnitas?

Just like in marinades, the acidity of the orange juice helps to break down the meat so it’s tender and shreddable and adds depth of flavor as the meat cooks.

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Serving suggestions

One of the best things about chicken carnitas is that it’s super versatile and tastes great too! Here are some of my favorite ways to serve it:

  • Burrito bowls: The easiest way to serve chicken carnitas is bowl-style! Add it to a bowl with my easy Cilantro Lime Rice, black beans, pico de gallo, and sliced avocado for a filling and flavorful meal.
  • Tacos: Chicken carnitas is the perfect addition to taco night! Pair this with soft or crispy tortillas, lettuce, diced tomatoes, and shredded cheese.
  • Burritos/quesadillas: This meat is a great filling for burritos or quesadillas. Add other ingredients like rice, beans, and cheese.
  • Nachos: For a fun meal idea, make chicken carnitas nachos. Layer tortilla chips with the shredded chicken, cheese, salsa, jalapeños, and any other toppings you like.

Storage recommendations

Chicken carnitas make great leftovers. You can also use it for meal prep! Here’s how to store it:

  • In the refrigerator: Transfer the shredded chicken to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  • In the freezer: Store in a freezer bag for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
  • Reheating: Reheat in the microwave or over the stove on medium heat until warmed through.
Chicken carnitas served with rice, jalapeños, and tomatoes.

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5 from 1 vote

Quick and Easy Chicken Carnitas

By: Rena
Servings: 4 servings
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Marinating time: 30 minutes
Total: 1 hour
A round bowl with greens, rice, and tomatoes, topped with shredded chicken carnitas.
Flavorful Chicken Carnitas are made with marinated chicken thighs that are cooked until tender and juicy. Then, they're shredded and can be served in a variety of ways, from tacos to bowls or nachos. The best family dinner that tastes better than what you would get at a restaurant!

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 organic oranges, zest and juice of
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Optional to serve:

  • shredded lettuce, cooked rice, halved cherry tomatoes or pico de gallo, jalapeño, avocado, Mexican cheese, etc

Instructions

  • Place the thighs and sliced onion in a deep dish. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  • In a jug, whisk the orange juice, zest, oil, garlic, pepper flakes, paprika and oregano. Pour this mixture over the chicken and move around to coat. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 30 minutes (or refrigerate overnight).
  • Once you're ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 425ºF. Remove the chicken from the marinade and transfer to a sheet pan. Bake for around 20 minutes, or until almost cooked through.
  • Remove the chicken from the oven and carefully shred it using 2 forks. Spread the shredded chicken around your sheet pan and broil for 4-6 minutes, stirring each 2 minutes, or until it start to get golden and slightly crisp.
  • Serve the chicken carnitas in bowls or tacos.

Notes

Storing recommendations:
  • In the refrigerator: Transfer the shredded chicken to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 4 days.
  • In the freezer: Store in a freezer bag for up to 2 months. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
  • Reheating: Reheat in the microwave or over the stove on medium heat until warmed through.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 300kcalCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 34gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0.03gCholesterol: 162mgSodium: 749mgPotassium: 563mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 691IUVitamin C: 5mgCalcium: 48mgIron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, tex mex
Tried this recipe?Mention @healthyfitnessmeals or tag #healthyfitnessmeals!

About Rena Awada

Hi, I’m Rena! Welcome to my blog. I am here to help you prepare delicious, light, fresh meals that your whole family will love!

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5 from 1 vote

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