What is a Carnitas at Chipotle and How it Differs From Barbacoa

If you’re a fan of Mexican cuisine, then you’ve likely heard of Chipotle Carnitas and wondered what it is and why it is such a beloved dish at Chipotle.

Carnitas at Chipotle is a Mexican cuisine consisting of slow-cooked pork shoulder meat for at least 8 hours on low flame seasoned with aromatic spices. Carnitas has a savory and slightly sweet flavor profile and a crunchier texture which differs from Barbacoa, a slow-roasted barbecued beef option at Chipotle. 

In this article, we’ll explore what is a Carnitas at Chipotle, what they are made of, and how you can cook it at home. We’ll also explore the Barbacoa at Chipotle and how it differs from Carnitas.

What are Chipotle Carnitas?

What is  Carnitas at Chipotle

Carnitas, which translates to “little meats” in Spanish, is a traditional Mexican dish from Michoacán. The Chipotle Carnitas features a mouthwatering combination of juicy, slow-cooked pork seasoned to perfection with a blend of savory spices and herbs.

The restaurant serves this cuisine with burritos, bowls, tacos, salads, or even as a topping for nachos. 

What is Carnitas burrito made of?

Chipotle makes their Carnitas by seasoning pork with spices and herbs, including juniper berries, thyme, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves. The seasonings infuse the meat with a unique and delectable flavor, resulting in mouthwatering Chipotle Carnitas.

After seasoning, the meat is slow-cooked in a braising liquid for at least eight hours. This process allows the pork to absorb the spices’ flavors and the braising liquid, resulting in tender, juicy, and flavorful meat.

How do you cook fully-cooked Carnitas?

If you’re in the mood for Carnitas but don’t want to break the bank by going out to eat it, you can quickly cook this delicious Mexican dish at home. 

But before starting the cooking process, gather all the ingredients required for the recipe to ensure a smooth cooking experience.

Here is what you’ll need while making Carnitas:

  • 1 pound fully-cooked Carnitas
  • 2 tablespoons of cumin
  • 1 cup of lard or vegetable oil 
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 diced onion
  • 2 diced Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • Bay leaves, garlic, thyme, oregano, and juniper berries
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Now, since your ingredients are ready, you can start cooking the Carnitas. Here’s what you need to do.

1. Prepare the Seasoning

Take 1 pound of pork, wash and dry it, and season the meat with oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper on all sides to thoroughly marinate it. 

Seasoning the carnitas

2. Slow Cook the Pork

Put one cup of lard or vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or a large stovetop pot on the stove, heat it at high temperatures for five minutes, and place the marinated pork into it to cook each side for four minutes. 

Once the meat has a brown crust on all sides, transfer it to a slow cooker and add bay leaves, dried thyme, juniper berries, garlic, onion, Chipotle peppers, chili powder, and chicken broth. Bring the meat to a simmer and cook on a low flame for at least 8 hours.

INFO: You can also use an air fryer to cook the carnitas instead of the slow cooker.

Slow cooking the carnitas

3. Shred the Meat

Remove the pork meat from the slow cooker after cooking, add it to a bowl, and shred it with two forks. Next, add lime juice, cilantro, salt, and pepper to adjust the seasoning, and your Carnitas are ready to serve with rice, tortillas, or beans.

Shredding the Carnitas meat

You can also microwave the shredded pork meat for a few minutes to let it absorb any remaining liquid and become more crispy. Make sure to use a bowl with microwave safe symbol.

What does Carnitas from Chipotle taste like?

The Carnitas from Chipotle usually tastes savory and slightly sweet. But you can also add other flavors according to your liking. 

For instance, you can mix 1 or 2 minced canned chipotle peppers to add a spicy and smoky flavor or substitute the broth with orange and lime juice to make it citrusy. You can also swap the pork with boneless chicken or garnish the Carnitas with salsa, cotija cheese, and minced red onions.

Why did Chipotle stop selling Carnitas?

Chipotle stopped selling Carnitas at some locations due to a violation of its animal welfare standards by one of the major pork suppliers. The violation specifically pertained to the housing conditions for the pigs, which did not meet Chipotle’s humane treatment requirements.

As a result, Chipotle suspended the supplier and stopped selling Carnitas at about a third of its 1724 locations.

What is Barbacoa at Chipotle?

Barbacoa at Chipotle

Barbacoa is a delicious meat option at Chipotle, which is slow-roasted and barbecued until it becomes juicy and tender. Chipotle typically uses the meat from the pork shoulder or butt and marinates it with bay leaves, cloves, oregano, and pepper adobo sauce overnight to give it a rich texture. 

The meat is then cooked in a pit over a low flame until it reaches the perfect level of tenderness. Once ready, the beef is shredded and served with tacos, beans, or tortillas. 

What is the Difference Between Chipotle Carnitas and Barbacoa?

There are some noticeable differences between Barbacoa and Carnitas at Chipotle regarding the type of meat used, cooking methods, carbs, and flavors.

1. Type of Meat Used

The type of meat used is the most apparent difference between the two dishes. Barbacoa features tougher cuts of beef. On the flip side, Carnitas utilizes meat from pork shoulder or butt as it has a high-fat content. 

Pork for Carnitas

2. Cooking Methods

The cooking methods of these two cuisines are also different. For instance, you need to cook the Barbacoa beef over a low open fire to give it a rich flavor. In Cartinas pork, you’ve to boil and braise it in a stovetop pot and brown it for a crispy texture.

3. Carbs

Barbacoa and Carnitas are keto-friendly for those on a low-carb or keto diet. Carnitas could be a better choice as it has 1g carbs, 190 calories, 8g fat, and 27g protein per serving compared to Barbacoa’s 2g carbs, 170 calories, 7g fat, and 24g protein per serving. 

4. Flavors

While both dishes are flavorful, Barbacoa tends to have a heartier texture and a deeper taste. On the other hand, Carnitas has a softer flavor profile and a crunchy texture from browning it during the cooking process.


In this article, we’ve explored what is a Carnitas at Chipotle and how it compares to Barbcoa regarding meat used, flavor, carbs, and cooking methods. We’ve also discussed how you can cook fully-cooked Carnitas at home and why Chipotle stopped selling them. 

We hope this article has provided everything you need to know about Mexican Carnitas and can now satisfy your tastebuds with this delectable cuisine.

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I am a kitchen appliances expert with years of experience on my back, which motivated me to share insightful tips with people who face issues while cooking, defrosting, melting, or reheating their food. I’m also a food enthusiast and spend my free time traveling the country, trying out the best recipes, reviewing cookware products, and sharing my experiences with others.