Slow Cooker Carnitas
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Juicy, melt-in-your-mouth, tender pork is the star of my slow cooker carnitas recipe. After cooking the meat all day long, I like to make mine as crispy as possible for delicious taco and enchilada filling!
If you’re familiar with my blog, you know that I’ve got a bit of a thing for carnitas. I’ve made this flavorful taco and enchilada filling in my Instant Pot, and I’ve also made the traditional and authentic Mexican recipe. This one calls for a crockpot (and your stovetop!) for seasoned meat that will fall apart at the touch of your fork.
How can my slow cooker carnitas be so juicy and tender, and yet crispy at the same time? I get these results through the use of my specially seasoned rub and about 10 hours in the crock pot slow cooker. Then, I crisp up the pork to perfection in a skillet before serving (completely optional). And that, folks, is how you get juicy and crispy results every time!
Mexican cuisine often involves a spicy blend of seasoned meat, fresh veggies, and corn tortillas. It’s a combination that I constantly go back to and one that I try to recreate here on the blog.
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Boneless Pork – Opt for boneless shoulder (sometimes called pork butt) for your slow cooker carnitas. You’ll want to use skinless too as it’s a lot easier to shred with a fork once it’s been cooked.
- Oranges, Carrots, & Onions – You’ll add these fruits and veggies to the crockpot with the shoulder. You may not associate orange with this dish, but the citrus will add even more flavor and help tenderize the meat!
- Bay Leaves & Chicken Stock – You can feel free to sub in orange juice for the chicken stock! It plays nicely with the oranges already in the mix.
- Rub – When it comes to cooking meat, I can’t say no to a good marinade or rub. It just adds so much more to the recipe. My rub is made with:
- Garlic cloves
- Brown sugar
- Mexican Oregano – You can substitute regular oregano if needed!
- Serving Add-Ons – Trust me – the meat is so delicious you’re going to want to eat it on its own. I’ve been known to eat it right out of the pan! But, I will admit, it is much better when enjoyed with:
- Corn tortillas – Use flour varieties if you prefer.
- Refried Beans
- Sliced White Onion
- Chopped Fresh Cilantro
- Lime Slices
- Pica de Gallo
- Salsa Verde
- Roasted Tomato Salsa
- Pickled Carrots
HOW TO MAKE SLOW COOKER CARNITAS
1. Prep the Meat. Add all of the ingredients for your rub to a small bowl and combine. Use your hands to apply the rub all over the meat, being careful to cover the entire surface. This part can get a little messy!
2. Slow Cook. Put the shoulder in your crockpot with the fatty side up. Add the oranges, carrots, onion, bay leaves, and chicken stock (or orange juice if that’s your preference). Cover and cook on Low for 10 hours – or on High for just 6 hours.
3. Crisp. Remove the meat from the cooker. Let it cool a little, then shred it using two forks. You could then serve as is, but I can’t say enough good things about crisping it first! Heat a bit of oil in a large skillet and remove some of the cooking liquid from the crockpot. In batches, fry the shredded meat while pouring some of the cooking liquid over it. The results will be a perfectly caramelized filling!
4. Serve & Enjoy. Serve your slow cooker carnitas with warmed tortillas, refried beans, and your choice of toppings!
What’s the Difference Between Pulled Pork and Carnitas?
While both recipes call for slow cooking, pulled pork and carnitas do have their differences. The spices in both are quite different. What’s more, after pork carnitas has been slow-cooked, the meat is usually placed in a skillet for frying or in the oven for browning. The added crispiness sets it apart from pulled pork!
What Cut of Pork is Best for Carnitas?
If you want to serve up the best pork carnitas, you can’t use any old cut of meat. Opt for pork shoulder, which is also referred to as pork butt. Some recipes will say to use bone-in or bone-out, which is technically valid, but I prefer boneless. Whichever you choose, you do need to make sure the skin is removed!
Can You Put Raw Pork in a Slow Cooker?
Most definitely! Using your crockpot ensures more juicy and tender results. After you’ve applied my specially seasoned rub to the meat, cook for about 10 hours before transferring to a skillet to fry.
This recipe first appeared on Kevin Is Cooking February 10, 2013 (to celebrate my birthday!) and has been updated with slow cooker/Instant Pot instructions, new photos and a video.
Here’s a look at what my old photos looked like back in 2013…
We quadrupled the carnitas batch for a party of 40 friends and I used my iPhone with the yellow kitchen lights on. Really quality pics! I used to add fresh cilantro and orange concentrate to the boil and have since refined the recipe.
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Slow Cooker Carnitas
- 6 lbs boneless pork shoulder pork butt
- 2 oranges cut in half
- 2 large carrots cut in half
- 1 onion cut into quarters
- 3 bay leaves
- 3/4 cup chicken stock
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp oregano Mexican or regular
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- flour or corn tortillas
- refried beans
- 2 white onions sliced
- 1 bunch cilantro chopped
- 3 limes sliced
- pico de gallo
- salsa verde
- roasted tomato salsa
- pickled carrots
- Combine the rub ingredients together in a small bowl. Use your hands to apply the rub over the entire surface of the pork.
- Place the pork butt in the slow cooker, fat side up. Add the oranges, carrots, onion and bay leaves and pour the chicken stock (or orange juice) over and cover.
- Slow cook on low heat for 10 hours, or high heat for 6 hours.
- Use a slotted spoon to carefully transfer the pork carnitas to a serving platter. Allow the meat to cool slightly, then shred by hand or by using two forks. Eat as is, but BEST if crispy.
- Remove and discard cooked orange and vegetables from cooking liquid. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over high heat add a tablespoon of oil and fry shredded carnitas meat in batches, pouring 1/4 cup of cooking liquid in and simmer until juices have evaporated and meat is crispy and caramelized.
- Serve with hot tortillas, refried beans, sliced onions, tomato slices, cilantro, limes and salsas of choice.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
Add a spicy salsa verde or salsa rojo to the carnitas recipe !
I’ve got lots of fantastic salsas here on the site. I hope you check them out Shane!
Wow, got this in the crockpot this morning and the whole house smells wonderful. I can’t wait to serve this for dinner. Your recipes are wonderful. I bet your whole family loves everything you cook. Thank you very much.
Thanks for the kind words Kim, hope everyone enjoyed them!
I’ve made this recipe about 5 times now. Its delicious. I’ve tried pressure cooking as well as higher heat to cook it faster but low-and-slow in the crockpot for 10 hrs tastes significantly better than the shortcuts. I made this again yesterday but cooked at high heat for the first hour and a half to get it up to temp faster. After 10hrs total the meat literally fell apart. I also think its important to get everything packed in tight in the crockpot so that the rendered fat and added liquids can cover almost everything. I cut the shoulder into large chunks so that I can pack it tighter and ensure that the entire fat cap is on top. While it cooks it looks like you are making boiled shoe leather but half of that liquid is actually fat. I think this approximates cooking in a vat of lard and helps to keep the meat extra juicy.
Another happy reader! So glad you enjoy this one and appreciate you taking the time to come back and let me know Kevin.
I bought a 6 lb bone in shoulder picnic cut at a local market ,it was under 8.00.I removed the bone and skin flap, My Wife thought I was wasting My time with this cheap cut. I followed Your instructions and cooked it in orange juice .I plugged it in before I went to bed and the aroma woke Us up during the night. It was amazing, My Wife cracked some eggs and made Her version of machaca. We had some great tacos And I took some and added a little sugar free barbeque sauce and had a Lovely pulled pork sandwich. This can go in many directions and make much more top quality meat then You would think. We put half in the freezer for later. Thanks so much for the recipe.
That’s awesome, so happy you guys enjoyed it. I love this for leftovers and making enchiladas as well!
They are indeed Linda. Thanks for stopping by!
So easy and wonderfully tender. I love carnitas with fresh cooked tortilla.
Indeed Dave, one of my go to’s for a great meal (and with lots of leftovers) too!