Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (2024)

, who I’m thrilled to partner & share with you all throughout 2021. ALDI is my favorite one-stop-shop for dinner any night, but especially taco night! All thoughts & opinions are my own.

Everything you love about carnitas…in 30 minutes or less!

I’ve been on a serious Mexican food kick lately. Whether we’re ordering tacos from our favorite neighborhood spot or DIY-ing it at home, carnitas is always a go-to. After all, it’s hard to beat the succulent, rich flavor of pork that cooks low & slow. When carnitas cravings don’t happen with much foresight, though, it creates quite the dinnertime conundrum. That’s exactly how this Chicken Carnitas recipe came to be.

I’m honestly a little giddy about this recipe because it’s so good. It replicates the flavors & textures of traditional pork carnitas, with a dramatically reduced cook time thanks to chicken!

The chicken gets that signature carnitas flavor from a quick & zippy citrus marinade & here’s the kicker – it’s an easy & healthy sheet pan dinner that bakes up in less than 20 minutes. Plus, it’s super versatile. You can make chicken carnitas tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, taco salads, nachos, tostadas…anything!

Best yet, everything you need to make a chicken carnitas feast is available at ! ALDI is my favorite one-stop-shop for dinner any night, but even more so on taco night. They carry everything you need for an amazing chicken carnitas tacos spread – chicken, beautiful winter citrus (which is used in the carnitas marinade, but you can also use it to make a seriously good winter citrus pico de gallo), tortillas, & toppings a-plenty – & it’s all available at the best prices.

this Recipe for Later!

Next time you’re at ALDI (or next time you place a curbside or Instacart order online!), be sure to grab all of your favorite taco fixings, because these are guaranteed to be a new taco night fave! ♡ Read on to learn more about these Chicken Carnitas orjump straight to the recipe& get cookin’!

Wait, what are chicken carnitas?

Carnitas directly translates to “little meats,” but most commonly refers to the Mexican pulled pork we all know & love. Originating in Michoacan, Mexico, carnitas is traditionally made by braising or roasting pork shoulder. While the ingredients used in carnitas vary by region, the resulting dish is always succulent, juicy, fall-apart tender perfection.

So, what are chicken carnitas, then? This recipe draws inspiration from the flavors & textures of traditional pork carnitas. Chicken thighs soak up a fresh & zippy citrus marinade & bake on a sheet pan until completely juicy & tender. Since chicken is so much leaner than pork, chicken carnitas cook up much faster than pork carnitas, which is great for busy weeknights, & I promise they deliver big flavor, too!

This easy chicken dinner starts with a quick carnitas marinade.

The zippy, citrusy marinade is what makes this chicken carnitas recipe shine. It’s made with just a handful of simple ingredients & it’s so easy to throw together, but it adds so much bright flavor to the chicken.

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (2)

You will need….

  • Chicken– You canuse either chicken thighs or chicken breastsfor these chicken carnitas. Since they’re baked & broiled for a crispy finish, I prefer using thighs since they’re a little more forgiving & don’t dry out easily. If you choose to use breasts, either pound them out flat or butterfly them by slicing them in half lengthwise. This helps to ensure they cook evenly & quickly, creating juicier chicken carnitas.
  • Citrus– True to pork carnitas, the base of this chicken carnitas marinade is a combination of fresh orange & fresh lime. Use both the zest & juice for maximum flavor.
  • Aromatics– Namelygarlic, jalapeno, ground cumin, & dried oregano. Pretty simple!
  • Olive oil– Just the littlest bit brings it all together.

Suggested marinating time Due to the amount of citrus in the carnitas marinade, you won’t want to let the chicken marinate for too, too long. Aim for at least 20 minutes & no more than 8 hours.

Quick meal prep tip I suggest prepping the marinade ahead of time to make your chicken carnitas dinner even more effortless. Mix up the marinade & store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The day you plan to make chicken carnitas, simply give it a shake, pour it over the chicken & let it sit until dinnertime. Seriously easy!

How to make chicken carnitas:

The beautiful thing about this chicken carnitas recipe? It’s some straight-up sheet pan magic. Once the chicken has marinated, a sheet pan does the rest of the work!

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (3)
Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (4)

Here’s how it happens…

  1. Transfer the chicken to a sheet pan: Transfer the marinated chicken to a quarter baking sheet. Be sure to drain & discard any excess marinade so the chicken roasts evenly.
  2. Bake: Pop the pan in the oven & bake until the chicken is just nearly cooked through. It takes about 15-18 minutes depending on the thickness of your chicken.
  3. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. My favorite trick for the easiest shredded chicken is a trusty stand mixer. The paddle attachment does all the work & creates perfectly pulled chicken.
  4. Broil for crispy chicken carnitas: Place the shredded chicken back on the sheet pan & pop it under the broiler for a few minutes, until the edges are browned & crispy. Easiest carnitas ever!
Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (5)

How to serve carnitas:

Aside from its ease & flavor, the one thing you’ll love most about this chicken carnitas recipe is its versatility. You can build any of your favorite Mexican & Tex-Mex dishes around them – chicken carnitas tacos, burritos, burrito bowls, taco salads, nachos, tostadas…you name it!

My go-to is a hybrid chicken carnitas taco salad-meets-burrito bowl situation. Pile your favorite salad greens in a bowl with rice or quinoa, black beans, crispy chicken carnitas, & whatever other toppings you love most.

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (6)

A few toppings ideas to get you started:

  • Salsa– The Specially Selected Salsas at ALDI are amazing!
  • Queso fresco or shredded pepper jack, or sour creamoryogurtfor extra tang. If you want a fun dairy-free sauce, trycashew crema– we have an original, a smoky chipotle, & a cilantro lime versionhere on PWWB!
  • Fresh veggies– Thinly slicedjalapeno, finely dicedred onion, halved or quarteredcherry tomatoes, radish matchsticks, etc.
  • Slicedavocado, or a big ol’ dollop ofguacamole!
  • Loads of fresh lime juice & finely chopped cilantro
  • & so on…

Take it over the top with Winter Citrus Pico de Gallo…

If you really want to take your chicken carnitas dinner over the top, you have to try Winter Citrus Pico de Gallo. While developing these chicken carnitas, I played around with the idea of swapping fresh tomatoes with beautiful winter citrus in a quick & fresh pico, & it turned out too good not to share!

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (7)

Winter Citrus Pico de Gallo Peel, segment, & roughly chop 2 Cara Cara oranges & 1 grapefruit. Finely dice 1/2 red onion & 1 medium jalapeño. Add everything to a small bowl with a handful of roughly chopped cilantro. Stir & season with freshly squeezed lime juice, salt & ground black pepper to taste. Prep it while the chicken is in the oven & serve with your chicken carnitas – easy!

…& to really make an occasion out of it, don’t forget the chips, whip up a batch of guac, & make yourself a quick Paloma! Taco night perfection!

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (8)

I can’t wait for you to try this easy Chicken Carnitas recipe. We’re seriously obsessed, & I know you will be too. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutteronInstagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡

More Recipes Like This:

Easy Sheet Pan Dinners

  • Chicken al Pastor
  • Broiled Sheet Pan Salmon and Veggies with Capered Lemon Dill Sauce
  • Sheet Pan Pollo Verde (Easy Salsa Verde Chicken)

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (9)


Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (10)

Easy Sheet Pan Chicken Carnitas

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 21 reviews

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 60 minutes
  • Yield: serves 4
  • Category: Tacos, Burritos & Enchiladas Recipes, Main Dishes
  • Method: Sheet Pan, Baked
  • Cuisine: Mexican & Tex-Mex
  • Diet: Gluten Free
Print Recipe


A new weeknight dinner favorite: Sheet Pan Chicken Carnitas! Chicken thighs marinate in a fresh & zippy carnitas-inspired sauce made with citrus, jalapeno, & cumin, & bake until completely juicy & tender. Finish them under the broiler for the easiest crispy carnitas you’ll ever make!



  • 1 1/2 pounds Kirkwood Fresh Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs (see Recipe Notes)
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 large, juicy oranges, zested & juiced
  • 2 large, juicy limes, zested & juiced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 medium jalapeno, deseeded as desired & finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Simply Nature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Stonemill Ground Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon StonemillOregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • for serving, as desired: charred Pueblo Lindo White Corn Tortillas, cilantro lime rice, Simply Nature Organic Black Beans, sour creamorcashew crema,pickled red onions, freshly choppedcilantro,Pueblo Lindo Queso Fresco orcheese of choice,salsa of choice, winter citrus pico de gallo (see blog post above), lime wedges, etc.Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (11)


  1. Marinate the chicken:Add the orange zest & juice, lime zest & juice, garlic, jalapeno, olive oil, cumin, oregano & kosher salt to a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add in the chicken thighs & yellow onion. Toss to combine. Set aside to marinate for at least 20 minutes or marinate in the refrigerator (covered) for up to 8 hours.Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (12)
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F, arranging the oven racks such that one is in the center of the oven & one is 4-6 inches under the broiler. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil for easy clean up, as desired, and set aside.Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (13)
  3. Bake the chicken: Transfer the marinated chicken & onions to the prepared baking sheet, draining & discarding any excess marinade. Bake on the center rack for 15-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken thighs. The chicken should be nearly cooked through. Remove the chicken from the oven to shred, and meanwhile preheat the broiler.Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (14)
  4. Shred the chicken carnitas:Carefully shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces – you can do so using 2 forks, or my favorite trick: pop the chicken thighs directly into in a stand mixer & let the paddle attachment do the work for you (I swear this works!). Transfer the shredded chicken back onto the baking sheet.Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (15)
  5. Broil for crispy chicken carnitas:Place the baking sheet under the broiler. Broil 4-5 minutes, turning the pan halfway through, until the chicken carnitas are browned & slightly crisp. Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (16)
  6. Serve: Place the crispy chicken carnitas in tortillas for tacos or a bowl with rice & beans for burrito bowls, finishing with your favorite taco night toppings of choice: sour cream/Mexican crema, pickled red onions, cilantro, etc. Enjoy!Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (17)


  • Can I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead? Yes. I prefer thighs since they’re flavorful & stay really nice & juicy through roasting + broiling, but you can swap them out with breasts if you prefer. Either pound the breasts out flat or cut them in half lengthwise (butterflied) to ensure they roast up evenly. Skip broiling (Step 5), as the breast meat will dry out.
  • Storage & freezing: Leftover chicken carnitas will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days. It’s also a wonderfulfreezer staple since you can easily thaw it out and use it on tacos, nachos, taco salads, burrito bowls, etc. for an easy dinner down the road. To freeze, transfer cooled chicken carnitas to a freezer bag or container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost by placing in the refrigerator overnight to thaw, or by submerging the freezer bag/container in room temp water for 20-25 minutes.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this sheet pan chicken comes from prepping the marinade. Whisk it up in advance to get a head start on your chicken carnitas – it’ll take 10 minutes, tops:
    • Thinly slice 1/2 yellow onion, storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
    • Prep the marinade according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Store in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The day you’d like to make carnitas, all you have to do is toss the chicken into the marinade – so easy! Marinate for at least 20 minutes or marinate in the refrigerator (covered) for up to 8 hours.

Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography byRachel Cook, Half Acre House.

Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (18)

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Chicken Carnitas {Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipe} - PWWB (2024)


What kind of meat is used for carnitas? ›

Carnitas — which means "little meats" in Spanish — is a Mexican pork dish. An inexpensive, heavily marbled cut of pork, such as boneless Boston butt, pork shoulder or picnic ham, is braised or simmered for several hours with seasonings and lard until it is so tender that is can be shredded.

Should chicken be cooked before shredding? ›

You can use pre-cooked or fresh-baked, boneless chicken pieces, although if the meat is still warm the shredding process is easier. Here's how to do it: Remove any skin from the chicken pieces.

How long should I boil chicken breast to shred? ›

In as little as 20 minutes, you'll have moist shredded chicken to enjoy!
  1. Cover! In a large sauce pot, cover chicken breasts with cold water or stock. ...
  2. Cook! Bring the water to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes! ...
  3. Shred! We wait until the chicken has cooled but is still warm before digging into it with two forks!
Apr 8, 2024

What is carnitas seasoning made of? ›

Then we use the usual suspects! Black pepper, cumin, sweet paprika but you can use hot or smoked if you desire, onion and garlic powder, oregano, marjoram, bay, thyme and in my case a bit of ancho chili powder.

What's the difference between carnitas and carne asada? ›

Carnitas is made with pork that has been braised or slow-cooked until it's fork-tender. Carne asada is made with beef that has been grilled to perfection.

Is there an easy way to shred chicken? ›

Step 1: place your cooked chicken breast or thighs in a deep bowl. Step 2: use a hand mixer on low speed to carefully break apart the chicken into shreds. Step 3: continue with step 2 until your chicken is evenly shredded. You may need to shred larger pieces apart as you go to get nice, even shreds of chicken.

Is it better to shred chicken hot or cold? ›

Is it better to shred chicken hot or cold? It's best to shred chicken when it's hot or warm and not when it's cold. It's much easier to pull the chicken apart with your hands or forks when it's warm. However, if you are cutting or slicing chicken, it's easier to do so with a knife when it's cold.

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