This easy recipe for chicken carnitas tacos is the best way to use up leftover or chicken or turkey! They can me made in just 15 minutes with only 5 simple ingredients.
Anytime I have leftover chicken or turkey meat in the fridge, this recipe for carnitas is an immediate go-to because it's quick, easy and I always have all the ingredients on hand. These chicken (or turkey) carnitas aren't exactly traditional, but they make a fast and satisfying meal out of things you probably already have in your kitchen.
Why this recipe works
- Super simple, beginner friendly recipe that anyone can make.
- Utilizes leftover chicken or turkey meat - from the chicken you made last night, a store-bought rotisserie chicken or even a Thanksgiving turkey!
- This basic recipe can be gussied up by adding different seasonings and toppings.
- Chicken carnitas can be added to more than just tacos, try them in burritos, quesadillas, bowls and more.
- Chicken or Turkey Meat - It doesn't matter if it's chicken, turkey, freshly cooked, leftover, rotisserie, white meat or dark, plain or seasoned, it just needs to be shredded into little bits. Just avoid anything that has a heavy flavoring that you may not desire in a taco. These carnitas are one of my favorite ways to use up leftover Thanksgiving turkey (check my tutorial for how to carve a turkey to get the most meat!)!
- Neutral Oil - This means any type of flavorless oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, etc.
- Tortillas - I love a traditional taco made with corn tortillas, but by all means use flour tortillas if thats what you prefer.
- Taco Toppings - The carnitas are flavored very simply - the texture is what makes them shine! Extra flavor is added with the toppings. Diced white onion, cilantro and lime is traditional, but feel free to gussy them up with avocado, guacamole, salsa, hot sauce or anything else you'd like! Try them with my Chipotle Guacamole, Jalapeño Hot Sauce, Guajillo Chile Hot Sauce, Easy Tomato Salsa or Salsa Verde!
Step by step instructions
- Heat the oil in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium high heat.
- When the oil is hot (it will be shimmering), carefully add the chicken or turkey meat (*see note) to the pan and spread it out into an even layer. Let it sit undisturbed for 1-2 minutes so it can develop a crust on the bottom.
- Season with salt and give it a stir. Continue cooking, giving a stir every few minutes until the meat is golden brown and crisp - about 8-10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pan, allowing any excess oil to drain off.
- Warm the tortillas by briefly grilling them, toasting them over a gas flame or popping them in the oven or microwave for a minute.
- Fill the tortillas with the chicken or turkey carnitas, then top with onions and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, avocado or guacamole, hot sauce, salsa or anything else you enjoy.
Tips for success
- Use a cast iron or non-stick pan and make sure it's very hot.
- Let the meat sit undisturbed for a minute or two before tossing it around to allow it to brown and get crisp on the bottom.
- Don't skimp on the salt, but taste your meat first to avoid over salting.
- Add different seasonings to up the flavor change the profile.
- Try them with my Chipotle Guacamole, Jalapeño Hot Sauce, Guajillo Chile Hot Sauce, Easy Tomato Salsa or Salsa Verde!
Carnitas is a Mexican specialty of pork shoulder that has been braised low and slow to get tender and then shredded and fried to crisp in its own fat. It originated in Michoacán Mexico and and is typically seasoned with orange, garlic and a bit of cumin. While pork is traditional, chicken is often used as a substitute.
Did you make this recipe and LOVE it? Please leave a star ⭐️ rating and/or comment to help other readers. I absolutely love hearing from you and do my best to answer all questions and comments. I love seeing when you make my recipes, so please tag me @ColeyCooks on Instagram and I will repost!Print