You know it's going to be a good party when these sheet pan carnitas nachos make an appearance! Slow-cooked, tender pork carnitas meet crispy tortilla chips, gooey melted pepper jack cheese, and hearty black beans, and that's just the beginning.
These hearty carnitas nachos are also topped with bright, fresh garnishes like chunky pico de gallo salsa, a cool lime sauce, thinly sliced jalapeños, and tangy quick pickled red onions. These are all my favorite nacho toppings, but you can definitely get creative and customize them to your own tastes too!
Toasted to cheesy perfection on a sheet pan for easy cleanup, these nachos are always a crowd-pleaser!
Why I Love This Recipe
Thanks to my sister, who has a firm "if there are nachos on the menu, we must order them" rule, I've eaten a lot of nachos in my day. (When she and I did a weekend trip to Vegas, we ordered nachos at least five times in three days. Including a brunch trip to Nacho Daddy, whose menu consists primarily of, you guessed it — nachos)
The worst nachos, imo, are the ones where chips are piled high and then toppings are added on top. This means the outer layer of chips has plenty of cheesy goodness, meaty toppings, beans, and other good stuff, while the inside is bare and plain.
No one wants to eat nachos that feel like a bad game of Jenga, where everything goes sliding off when you pull the one chip you want. This leaves the chips underneath plain and sad once the top layer is gone.
So when I began developing my own nachos recipe, I knew I wanted a good arrangement of chips and toppings so that you're always getting a bit of both.
The trick to pulling off crispy nachos with plenty of toppings that don't all go sliding off is assembling and toasting the chips, carnitas, cheese, and beans in two layers. It's a little fussier, yes, but so worth it. This helps the cheese hold everything together and creates so many pockets of melty, cheesy, meaty filling hiding in between all those chips!
Split between a group, nachos are a great party food, but split between two or three people these sheet pan carnitas nachos can definitely be a complete meal! (I said it, that makes it true, don't @ me if you disagree.)
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make these sheet pan carnitas nachos! See recipe card (at the end of the blog post) for ingredient quantities.
- Tortilla Chips - There are only two brands of chips I trust for nachos: Tostitos or Santitas (white or yellow corn chips). They are my two favorite brands for perfectly salted tortilla chips with the right crunchy texture. Tostitos are a classic and can be found anywhere, but Santitas are a more budget friendly option if you can find them (though I don't believe they have a "party size" bag). I prefer a restaurant style triangular chip for nachos, but this will also work with rounds or scoops — you may just need more tortilla chips to fill the pan.
- Carnitas - I usually use my sous vide carnitas here (they freeze nicely, so I save leftovers when we make them so I have them on hand to make nachos whenever I want!), but you can use store-bought prepared carnitas too.
- Pepperjack Cheese - I love pepper jack cheese for nachos because its got a bit of a kick to it. Other cheeses that will work here are are monterey jack cheese, colby jack cheese, cheddar jack cheese, or a combination of them!
- Red Onion - You'll use diced red onion in the black beans and thinly sliced red onion crescents to make the quick pickled red onion topping.
- Black Beans - One 15 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained.
- Garlic - I use fresh garlic cloves, but you can use garlic paste or jarred garlic if you prefer.
- Jalapenos - Thinly sliced. Remove the seeds if you prefer less heat!
- Cumin and Smoked Paprika - Ground cumin and smoked paprika give the black beans a warm, earthy, smoky flavor that is so nice.
- Salt and Pepper - I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt which has larger crystals that dissolve quickly. It's also half as salty as other types of kosher salt. If you're using a different type of salt, even a different brand of kosher salt, cut the amount of salt in half. Black pepper can be freshly cracked or pre-ground, both are fine!
- Greek Yogurt (or Sour Cream) - Finishing these toasty carnitas nachos with a drizzle or dollops of a cool, creamy lime sauce is the perfect counterbalance to the heat from the cheese and jalapenos.
- Limes - You'll need some lime juice to make the lime yogurt sauce, and for quick pickling the red onions, but you'll also want some lime wedges to serve on the side.
- Cilantro - Fresh cilantro. This will be used in both the black beans and can be used in the lime yogurt sauce. Finely minced cilantro can also be a great final garnish to your sheet pan carnitas nachos.
- Pico de Gallo - Nachos aren't nachos without a chunky fresh pico de gallo salsa. I usually buy this prepared from the store instead of making it myself, but you do you!
- Vegetable Oil - For cooking the aromatics in the beans. Other neutral oils like canola, corn, or grapeseed oil will also work.
- Cotija Cheese - Not pictured. Cotija cheese is a Mexican cow's milk cheese with a crumbly texture and a milky, salty flavor that really ties the whole pan of nachos together. Technically optional, but I really do recommend it!
If you REALLY love melty, cheesy nachos — you can absolutely go ahead and double the amount of cheese you use here. If you don't want a ton of heat, use a combination of pepper jack and another cheese from the "jack" family!
How to Make Black Beans for Nachos
The first step is to make the black beans. This is honestly the longest and most time consuming part of making carnitas nachos (as long as you're using leftover carnitas) and it's basically just a bunch of stirring. So it's really quite simple.
Heat a bit of oil in a small pot. Cook the onion until soft, then add the garlic and cook one minute more. This keeps the garlic from burning.
Then stir in the cumin, paprika, and salt, pepper, and cilantro.
Add the black beans and stir well, cooking them down for a minute or two, before you add the water.
It's pretty hands off from here on out! Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Keep an eye on it for the next 15-20 minutes; the beans will absorb the water as they cook, so make sure you're stirring occasionally so the beans don't stick to the bottom of the pot.
Set the beans aside to cool while you prep the rest of the nacho toppings.
Prep Ahead: You can make these black beans for carnitas up to 3 days in advance. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to assemble!
Lime Yogurt Sauce and Quick Pickled Red Onions
I love the cool, creamy lime yogurt sauce with the warm flavors of the beans and carnitas, and the tangy, acidic red onions add a really nice brightness and crunch!
As a practically minded home cook who doesn't like wasting food, I also really appreciate that these two carnitas nachos toppings use a lot of the same ingredients!
I usually make both of these while the beans are simmering.
Make the simple lime yogurt sauce: Whisk together Greek yogurt, lime juice, lime zest, salt and pepper.
Make quick-pickled red onions: Combine thinly sliced red onion with lime juice and salt. Let sit until ready to use.
Prep Ahead: Make both the sauce and the quick pickled red onions up to three days ahead! Store them in airtight containers in the fridge until ready to use.
Assembling Carnitas Nachos
Before you begin assembling your carnitas nachos, make sure you have all your toppings ready to go. Grate the pepper jack cheese, crumble the cotija, etc.
Once you've got all the toppings ready, and the oven preheated to a warm 350°F, assembly is easy.
You can use a bare sheet pan (18x13") here, but for easy cleanup, I recommend lining it with parchment or aluminum foil.
Start with a layer of nachos — try to get them all the way to the edges of the pan.
Then top with grated pepperjack cheese, carnitas, spoonfuls of black beans, and thinly sliced jalapenos.
Finish with more cheese — this will help the next layer of nachos stick!
Pop it in the oven for about 10 minutes to get the cheese nice and melty.
Next, add another layer of nacho chips.
Try to anchor some of them in the melty cheese on the layer below.
Repeat the other topping layers again. More shredded cheese, carnitas, black beans, and thinly sliced jalapenos.
Pop it in the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese bubbles and the chips look toasty at the edges.
Now it's time for the fresh toppings! Some things just don't handle the oven well, and it's nice to have some bright fresh flavors in addition to the toasty ones. So it's best to save these for last. Nachos are best served immediately, but you'll still want to wait until right before serving to add any wet or fresh toppings.
If you need to reheat the nachos before adding the topping to get the cheese melting again, pop the sheet pan under the broiler for 30-60 seconds.
Dollop with fresh pico de gallo salsa, quick pickled red onions, and then drizzle with the lime sauce. When I'm feeling fancy, I like to use a piping bag for the lime sauce, but you can also just use a fork to drizzle it in messy zig zags. across the top!
Finish with crumbled cotija cheese, and if you want to add any more of the grated pepper jack cheese, go for it.
This is also the perfect time to add some dollops of your favorite easy guacamole, although that's totally optional. There's so much flavor happening here, I usually serve the guac on the side instead of on top of the nachos.
Substitutions and Variations
If you know how to make the recipe fit a certain diet, let the reader know here. Don't fake it - only provide guidance on topics you have actual experience with.
- Whole Fat Greek Yogurt - Instead of full-fat Greek yogurt use sour cream! Sour cream is certainly the more typical ingredient choice, I just always have a big tub of plain Greek yogurt in my fridge so it's a more practical option for me to use that. You could also use 5% fat Greek Yogurt but I wouldn't recommend using 2% or 0% fat. You need the fat to provide thickness and creaminess!
- Jalapenos - Instead of jalapenos, use red Fresno peppers, Anaheim peppers, or Banana peppers. For a more mild heat, use finely diced poblano pepper or green bell pepper instead.
- Vegetarian - Leave the carnitas out of it, or use a plant-based carnitas meat substitute.
- Black Beans - If you don't have black beans, pinto beans or red kidney beans will also work well.
- Cumin and Paprika - You can sub in 1 teaspoon of your favorite taco seasoning mix, or your favorite chili seasoning blend.
Carnitas nachos do not store well, unfortunately. There's just too many wet/dry ingredients that make it really hard to preserve the crispy texture of the chips. Your only choice is to enjoy them all in one sitting (oh no, how sad for you).
You can make the black beans, lime yogurt sauce, and quick pickled red onions up to 3 days in advance. Store them in airtight containers in the fridge until ready to use. The lime yogurt sauce will need to be stirred again before use.
Yep! Shredded chicken, BBQ pulled pork, shredded braised short ribs, ground beef or turkey will all work well too!
Sheet Pan Carnitas Nachos with Black Beans
Beans for Nachos
- 15 ounces canned black beans (rinsed and drained)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- ½ medium red onion
- 3 cloves garlic (minced or grated)
- 1½ teaspoons diamond crystal kosher salt (use half as much of any other brand)
- ¾ teaspoons black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons finely minced cilantro (optional, plus more for garnishing)
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Quick Pickled Red Onion
Lime Yogurt Sauce (Lime Crema)
Carnitas Nachos Assembly
- 18 ounces tortilla chips (one "party sized" bag)
- 1½ cups carnitas (prepared according to package directions)
- 1 jalapeno (thinly sliced into rings, seeds removed for less heat)
- 8 ounces pepper jack cheese (grated, see notes for other cheeses)
- ½ cup pico de gallo
- ⅛ cup cotija cheese (crumbled)
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro (optional, for garnishing)
Black Beans for Nachos
- Rinse and drain one can of black beans. Set aside.
- Finely chop half a red onion. Heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes until soft. Then add minced garlic and cook 1 minute more.
- Stir in cumin, paprika, salt, pepper, and cilantro.
- Add the beans to the pot and stir well, then add water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat until ready to use.
Lime Yogurt Sauce
- Whisk greek yogurt, juice of half a lime, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper together in a small bowl until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Quick Pickled Red Onions
- Thinly slice half a medium red onion vertically root to tip. Place in small jar or container with lime juice, salt, and pepper. Shake well. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Carnitas Nachos Assembly
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil for easy cleanup.
- Arrange a layer of tortilla chips on the bottom of the sheet pan. Try to get a fairly even layer all the way to the edges as best you can.
- On top of the chips, sprinkle about a third of the grated pepper jack cheese. Follow that with about a third of the carnitas, half the beans, and a third of the jalapeño slices. Finish with another quarter of the grated pepper jack cheese. Pop the whole sheet pan in the oven for about 10-13 minutes to get the cheese all nice and melty.
- Repeat the layers: tortilla chips and another third of the cheese, followed by the remaining carnitas, black beans, jalapeno slices, and cheese. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese and the edges of some of the chips start to brown slightly.
- Finish with fresh toppings — dollop on the pico de gallo, quick pickled red onions, and crumbled cotija cheese. Dollop the lime yogurt sauce all over or put it in a piping bag (or plastic bag with a corner snipped off) to do a fun zig zag over the top. Finish with more crumbled cotija and/or fresh cilantro leaves if desired.
- Serve hot (for melty cheese!) with quartered lime wedges on the side.
- You can use monterey jack cheese, colby jack cheese, cheddar jack cheese, or a combination of them in addition to or instead of pepper jack cheese for less heat.
- For less heat from the jalapenos, remove the seeds and ribs before placing them down.
- If you're using store bought carnitas, make sure they are fully cooked before use.
- Nachos are best prepared immediately before serving for maximum cheese melting goodness. You can prepare the nachos without the fresh toppings a couple hours ahead of time, but pop them back in the oven for 10 minutes or under the broiler for 1 minute before adding the fresh toppings and serving.
- The beans, lime sauce, and quick pickled red onions can be made up to 3 days before assembly and stored in the fridge until ready to use.