Leftover Turkey Carnitas Tacos Recipe

Last Update: November 20, 2023

This recipe turns leftover Thanksgiving turkey into Mexican-inspired carnitas. Find out how to upcycle more leftovers — stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin — as part of the series. 

Yield: 4 servings (8 tacos)
Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes


For the carnitas: 

1 lb leftover turkey, bone-in and dark meat preferred 
1 large orange, peel and ½ cup juice
2 limes, peels and ¼ cup juice
1 small yellow or white onion, skin on, cut into quarters 
4 garlic cloves, peeled 
2 Thrive Market Organic Bay Leaves
1 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Paprika
1 teaspoon Thrive Market Organic Ground Cumin
Thrive Market Avocado Oil or high-heat oil of choice 

For your taco bar: 

½ head green or red cabbage
2-3 limes, quartered
Sea salt flakes
1 small red onion, finely chopped 
Thrive Market Organic Refried Black Beans or Pinto Beans
Thrive Market Grain-Free Taco Shells or tortilla of choice
Salsa verde or salsa of choice
½ cup cilantro, chopped
2 small avocados, diced or sliced
Sour cream or cotija cheese

Note: This recipe can easily be doubled!


Take leftover turkey and break it down as best you can into roughly 3- to 5-inch pieces, bones included. 

Using a peeler, peel 4 large strips from the orange skin and 4 strips from the lime skin. 

In a medium pot, add the turkey, citrus peels, orange and lime juices, onion, bay leaves, garlic cloves, paprika, and cumin. It should all fit snugly together. Add enough water to cover ingredients halfway (not fully submerged), and cover with a lid, leaving it slightly ajar.

Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to maintain a low simmer. Let simmer for 40-45 minutes, or until the meat falls off the bones. The liquid will reduce slightly. 

While the turkey is simmering, prepare taco toppings.

With a mandoline or peeler, thinly slice the cabbage, add to a bowl with 1 tablespoon lime juice and a pinch of flaky salt. Toss to combine, then set aside to marinate and soften.

Finely chop the red onion, add to a small bowl, and set aside. 

Gently warm the beans. 

Once the turkey is ready, turn the heat off and remove the pieces from the pot with tongs and set onto a plate. Reserve 1⁄2 cup of the simmering liquid and discard the rest. 

With the tongs, remove the turkey bones and discard. Pull/shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. You should have roughly 3 cups of pulled turkey. Add 2 tablespoons of the simmer liquid to the meat and toss so the turkey absorbs the liquid.

Heat a large cast iron or nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a couple tablespoons of avocado oil. Once heated, add half the turkey or less, careful not to overcrowd the pan. Add a pinch of flaky salt and let sear. Once every 40-60 seconds, stir and toss the turkey meat, letting more of the edges crisp up, roughly 6-7 minutes total. Make sure your burner isn’t too high so the turkey doesn’t burn; you want to sear it lightly, creating deep golden crispy edges. Add a splash of avocado oil if the pan gets too dry. 

Once the turkey has nice crispy edges, remove meat and add to a bowl. Add another tablespoon of simmering liquid over the meat, tossing gently until it aborbs fully. 

After your first batch of turkey, wipe the pan clean and repeat with the next batch, adding another tablespoon of simmering liquid to the finished crisp turkey. 

Assemble tacos with preferred toppings.

Recipe credit: Aubrey Devin

Photo credit: Elisha Knight 

Download the recipe PDF here. 

This article is related to:

Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Recipes

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Laura Levin

Laura Levin is Thrive Market’s Associate Director of Content. Her kitchen is always stocked with at least 6 bottles of Thrive Market Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

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