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If you're looking for a delicious and easy Mexican dish, you've come to the right place! These carnitas are delicious, tender bits of slow cooked shredded pork from the crock pot made crispy under the broiler. It's the perfect recipe for a weekend meal or planned-ahead weeknight dinner!
There is literally nothing I love more as a mom than feeling accomplished that I have dinner on the table at a respectable time. Which is why I love dinners that can be either made really fast or ones that cook super slow all day, thrown into the crockpot in the morning and ready to set on the table by dinner.
That is exactly why we have these easy slow cooker carnitas on the blog! This is a great recipe for the super busy parent or for a great summer dinner party since we are using the slow cooker (with a very brief stint under the broiler) it won't heat up your house in the hot weather and the prep is incredibly fast and easy.
There's a ton of delicious citrus flavor, savory garlic and onions, juicy, crispy shredded pork, and the best part? This recipe makes plenty of leftovers for excellent future Taco Tuesday freezer meals.
- Origins of Carnitas
- How to Make Crispy Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
- Other Amazing Mexican Cuisine Faves
- How to Serve Pork Carnitas
- How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat Leftover Carnitas
- More Instant Pot and Slow Cooker and Recipes:
- Tools I Used in this Recipe
- 📖 Recipe
- How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat Leftover Carnitas
Origins of Carnitas
Carnitas are a popular dish not only in Mexico but all over the world. They've become a popular slow cooker recipe for their delicious flavor and easy prep!
Carnitas, the slow cooked and crispy pork dish that originated in the Michoacan is a classic meal from Mexican cuisine.
The term carnitas means "little meats" in Spanish. Carnitas are slow-cooked pork shoulder until it's nice and tender just as they do with pulled goose or duck confit in France. It can be slow-cooked by braising in beer or stock, but it is traditionally slow cooked in its own fat until tender, then the heat is ramped up until the pork is nice and crispy.
How to Make Crispy Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
What I love so much about this is how simple it is to just kinda do a quick prep, throw everything into the slow cooker, and then chopped up and broiled on a baking sheet until we have delicious and juicy browned pork. Super easy!
First, choose your 'butt'. Pork butt, that is! Pork shoulder is also called pork butt, it isn't actually coming from the behind of the pig, don't worry. You'll want a boneless pork butt for easy separating, and a nice fat cap. This fat is really important for imparting that traditional carnitas flavor as it cooks, it also helps fry up the pork on under the broiler for those browned crispy bits.
Next, prep the ingredients. Cut the pork shoulder up into about 4 to 6 pieces and put them into the slow cooker. These smaller pieces will cook much faster than one giant piece of meat, but if you're going to be out all day, keeping the pork butt whole is just fine.
Quarter the yellow onions and smash some garlic cloves. I measure garlic cloves with my heart, y'all, I suggest you do the same. Not too much of a garlic lover? Just add two of them. Love garlic? Throw a whole head in there (just chop it in half horizontally first).
Now throw in all your spices, the chicken stock, the citrus juices and let that baby just go all. freaking. day. long. Go run some errands, go to work, get the kids to school, all of that. Let the slow cooker work its magic on your dinner.
Oh, snap! Dinner time! Guess what? You now have super tender pork so it's time to shred and broil it into delish carnitas. Pull the meat out of the slow cooker and shred them using forks, they should fall apart easily.
Put the meat into a nice even layer on a baking sheet and pour some of that fat that rendered in the slow cooker onto the meat. Give a nice little tossy-toss and then put under the broiler. You'll probably have to give it another little toss, just to make sure all the meat gets some browning action, but this whole process takes less than 10 minutes.
Boneless Pork Butt. There are two parts to the pork shoulder: the 'picnic', which is where we get that delicious hams from, and the 'pork butt' which is also called the 'boston butt'.
That cut is the one we are looking for! It's well marbled with plenty of juicy, flavorful fat which is why it's perfect for slow cooking and the best cut of meat for pulled pork crockpot carnitas.
Garlic and Onions. Nothing smells better than these two together!
Spices and Herbs. This is where we can bust out all those fun, tasty flavors. A little cumin, some chili powder, definitely grab those bay leaves, and get the Mexican oregano at the grocery store if you can find them (iuf not, check your local hispanic market!).
Other Amazing Mexican Cuisine Faves
A cocktail we love that is super refreshing year-round? These easy Mexican grapefruit palomas! We serve these in the summer in pitchers when friends come around for our famous Taco Tuesdays, they're fresh and bright and a fantastic drink with rich food.
Y'all have been obsessing over these Instant Pot birria tacos. And I totally don't blame you, because we are just as crazy about them!
Make these amazing chipotle lime steak fajitas when you get a chance because they are so good your whole family will ask for seconds and thirds.
How to Serve Pork Carnitas
Now that you have a platter full of delicious carnitas, what do you do with them?! Besides stealing piece after piece off the baking sheet, you can eat this crispy carnitas recipe any way you like! Need a few ideas? Don't worry, I got you, honey!
On Top of Pizza: Ever had barbequed chicken pizza? I absolutely love this crazy fusion with mexican food. Make some homemade pizza and top it with some pulled pork before throwing it into the oven. You'll end up with extra crispy bits!
In Quesadillas: my son will never turn down a quesadilla! They're one of my favorite things to put into his school lunches for a tasty, savory treat.
With Breakfast: I love how versatile this is, even at breakfast. Swap the ham for pulled pork on your eggs benedict, hash them up in a cast iron skillet with breakfast potatoes, scramble them with eggs. The whole family will enjoy it!
Makin' Nachos: we're talking plenty of cheese sauce, crispy corn tortilla chips, sour cream, refried beans, plenty of guac, salsa, and tons of pork. Like tons.
Homemade Chipotle Night Burrito Bowl: my absolute favorite way of having carnitas (okay besides tacos, because who doesn't love a good taco?!). Serve your family a fun chipotle night at home buffet style with flour tortillas, fresh veggies, pico de gallo, and all your other favorite toppings.
Carnitas Tacos: Of course we're going to talk about tacos! The best things in the world can be put into taco form! Get your crispy slow cooker carnitas into warm corn tortillas and put on alllllll the toppings! Or go traditional with mexican carnitas street tacos made with homemade tortillas. So good and with these juicy carnitas, you're going to need the two tortillas.
Taco Topping Ideas
Tortilla Options: Nothing better than fresh warm tortillas! You can make some homemade corn tortillas, store-bought flour tortillas, or cassava tortilla made from yucca! Choose your favorite type for tortillas and dive in.
Get the cheese: After making birria tacos these past few years, it's rare that I don't make a taco with plenty of cheese! Use whichever type you like but my personal suggestions? Oaxaca cheese, cotija cheese, or queso fresco work so well in this!
Fresh Veg!: Get that crunch and flavor going, honey! Sliced red onion, shredded butter lettuce or red cabbage slaw, bell peppers, or even sliced jalapeno for some heat!
Do the sauces: Add on all your favorite sauces. I love a good salsa verde, fresh pico de gallo, a good spicy restaurant-style salsa, that so-freaking-good orange salsa taquera, a little lime crema, and homemade guacamole.
How to Store, Freeze, and Reheat Leftover Carnitas
This pork roast makes a LOT of meals. It's perfect for a big family get together, a festive party, or for freezer meal prep.
Store the carnitas meat in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can reheat them in the oven at 325 degrees F or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl or plate until hot.
You can also freeze the pork in freezer-safe bag or sous vide bags (like the ones from Foodsaver). Freeze them as flat as you can, not only does this help freeze them more quickly and help them thaw quicker as well but you safe serious freezer space!
Thaw the carnitas pork in the fridge overnight or put in a sous vide water bath (honestly, my favorite way) at about 120 degrees F for an hour or until completely thawed and heated through. It's a two in one situation there!
You can make amazing pork carnitas in your electric pressure cooker in a fraction of the time! My Instant Pot Carnitas recipe is super easy to follow, the only real difference is the amount of cooking liquid needed for the pressure cooker.
Two reasons why your pork is dry or tough. One: you used the wrong cut of meat. Leaner cuts like pork loin and pork tenderloin don't have enough fat or connective tissue to become fall apart tender so they'll dry out during the long cooking process. Add some oil and an extra cup of orange juice to avoid dry pork.
If you used pork butt but your meat is tough, it probably needs more time especially if it's a large piece of meat or you have more than the amount in the recipe. Let that big guy cook until it's ready to fall apart, it may need a couple more hours.
The main difference between carnitas and pulled pork is that carnitas are traditionally slow cooked in their own fat until crispy, while pulled pork is usually cooked in a slow cooker with liquid until it's nice and tender. In the case of my recipe, we are slow cooking the pork in its own fat and some broth until tender, then broiling it in its own fat until crispy to get the same effect.
Carnitas are also usually chopped or shredded, while pulled pork is typically served in larger pieces on sandwiches.
Finally, carnitas are a traditional Mexican dish, while pulled pork can be found in many different cuisines.
Yep! You can totally just throw the pork into the slow cooker and cook until it's done. It's totally safe.
You can absolutely sear the pork in a frying pan with a little oil before slow cooking if you want, but I find that we don't need to sear to get the Maillard Reaction in this recipe because we are broiling the pork to make it brown and crispy.
Yes! Authentic carnitas are slow simmered in a large pot of pork fat until tender, then the heat is turned up to crisp the pork up into delicious carnitas.
More Instant Pot and Slow Cooker and Recipes:
- Slow Cooker Apple Butter
- Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon
- Authentic Southern Slow Cooker Green Beans
- Instant Pot Beef Stew
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Slow Cooker Crispy Carnitas
- 4 lbs pork shoulder
- Juice of 3 oranges
- Juice of 2 limes
- Zest of one orange
- 2 cups chicken broth
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chipotle powder
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 yellow onion quartered
- 5 cloves garlic smashed (or one whole head, halved, if you love garlic)
- 2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Cut pork shoulder (also called boston butt or pork butt) into 6 large pieces for faster cooking. If you want it to cook for 8 hours, leave it whole.
- Place the pork into the slow cooker, then add all of the other ingredients in. Slow cook for 8 hours on low or 6 hours on high. The pork will be tender enough to shred with a fork when it's ready.
- Use tongs to remove the pork from the slow cooker, then shred the meat on a cutting board using two forks. Place all of the shredded pork onto a rimmed baking sheet in a thin layer.
- Set your broiler on high. Use a ladle to spoon out some of the liquid from the slow cooker and pour it over the pork. Toss the meat in the fat and juices until all the pork is covered, then place the baking sheet under the broiler for five minutes.
- After five minutes, carefully pull the baking sheet out, toss the shredded meat again to expose the non-crispy pork that was at the bottom to the top, and place in the oven for another 3-5 minutes until crispy yet again.
- Serve the crispy slow cooked carnitas however you want. Our suggestion: carnitas street tacos!