The slow cooker is perfect for making tender and flavorful pork carnitas. And once they're ready, I like to crisp them up under the broiler.
Although it takes a few hours to make, this is a truly easy, hands-off recipe, where the slow cooker does (almost) all the work.
There's nothing quite like slow-cooked meat. Whether pot roast, goulash, or oxtails, the experience of eating tender, savory, well-cooked meat is pure comfort. I love steak just as much as anyone, but slow-cooked meat is my true love.
And when you use your slow cooker, it's not just comfort food that you're cooking - it's also truly easy meals that generate lots of yummy leftovers! For working people, the ability to toss a few ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning, then come back home to a home-cooked meal, is priceless.
You'll only need a few simple ingredients to make slow cooker carnitas. The exact measurements are listed in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
Boneless pork shoulder: I usually get a 3-lb. roast. It's the perfect size for a family meal plus some yummy leftovers!
To season: I like to use kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper.
Fresh orange juice: Definitely use fresh-squeezed orange juice here, not juice from a carton.
Oil spray: Avocado oil is a neutral-tasting oil. It has a high smoke point, making it ideal for high-heat cooking methods such as broiling.
It's so easy to cook carnitas in the slow cooker! You simply place the pork shoulder in the slow cooker with some seasonings and allow the slow cooker to do all the work.
Scroll down to the recipe card for detailed instructions. Here are the basic steps:
Season the pork. Mix the spices and rub them all over the pork.
Cook. Place the seasoned pork in your slow cooker. Squeeze the fresh orange juice on top. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours.
Shred the meat. When the meat is fully cooked, it is so wonderfully tender, that it's the easiest thing to shred it with two forks right inside your slow cooker. As you shred, mix the shredded meat with the cooking liquids.
Broil to crisp it up. Spread the meat on a greased rimmed broiler-safe baking sheet. Spray it with oil and broil until crisp. Drizzle the meat with the remaining cooking juices and serve.
The best thing about pork carnitas is the wonderful combination of soft, juicy pieces of shredded meat and crispy, caramelized pieces.
To achieve this, traditionally you would fry the cooked, shredded meat in several batches. But to make life easier, I simply spread the meat on a rimmed pan, spray it with oil, and broil until about half of the meat is browned and crispy.
Frequently asked questions
They are basically Mexican pulled pork. Instead of barbecue sauce, the cooked and shredded meat is flavored with a wonderful mix of spices, including oregano, cumin, and a touch of cinnamon.
It's one of our favorite dinners as a family. As a cook, I love it because it is so easy to make, and the next day I get yummy leftovers. This is one of those dishes where leftovers taste even better the next day!
The best cut for this recipe is pork shoulder. It's wonderfully fatty and flavorful. You could also use pork loin, but that's a much leaner cut. If you use it, the meat will not be as flavorful and will not crisp up as well.
I also don't recommend using pork tenderloin in this recipe. It's too lean, so the dish could turn out quite dry. It's better to use it for roasted pork tenderloin or for bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin.
You probably didn't cook them for long enough. They really do need the full 8 hours on LOW, and in this particular case, I don't recommend cooking them on HIGH for 4 hours.
Low and slow is the way to go if you want to ensure the connective tissue softens and melts.
Alternatively, if you've used a leaner cut such as pork loin, this could also result in tough or dry meat. It's best to use a pork shoulder.
No, you don't. You actually want to shred it right away. It's true that normally it's important to allow a roast to rest before slicing it. But here, you want to shred it immediately while it's hot and very soft and mix it with pan juices.
Traditionally, you serve carnitas inside tortillas, as tacos. But they're just as good in lettuce wraps (the soft round leaves of Boston lettuce work well).
You could also layer the meat on a bed of shredded lettuce (or baby spinach leaves) and top it with your favorite condiments. Tasty options include sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and shredded cheese.
Sometimes I serve this dish on a bed of cauliflower rice. It works well to soak up the yummy juices.
You can keep the leftovers in the fridge, in an airtight container, for 3-4 days. Reheat them gently, in the microwave, covered, on 50% power. This is one of those dishes where the leftovers are just as good as the freshly made dish.
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Crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas
- 3 lb. boneless pork shoulder
- 1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (not fine salt)
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 medium orange juiced
- Avocado oil spray
- Use paper towels to dry the pork shoulder. If it comes tied in butcher twine, carefully remove it.
- In a small bowl, mix together the kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne. Rub the mixture all over the pork.
- Place the pork in your slow cooker pan. Squeeze the fresh orange juice on top. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours, until the meat is fall-apart tender.
- Use two forks to shred the meat, right in the slow cooker pan. Be careful - the pan and cooking liquids will be very hot. Mix the shredded meat well with the cooking liquids.
- Preheat your oven to broil. Line a rimmed broiler-safe baking sheet with foil and spray it with oil. Spread the carnitas on the baking sheet. Some of the cooking juices will remain in the slow cooker - keep them on warm. Spray the carnitas liberally with oil and broil them until crispy, 3-4 minutes.
- Drizzle the carnitas with the remaining cooking juices. Serve immediately.