Well-seasoned slow cooker carnitas are cooked until melt-in-your-mouth tender, then crisped up under the broiler.
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.
What are carnitas?
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 ingredients you'll need
You'll only need a few 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!
Kosher salt and black pepper: If using fine salt, you should reduce the amount you use, or the dish could come out too salty.
Spices: Garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Spices are delicious, but make sure they are fresh. A stale spice can easily ruin a dish!
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.
How to make slow cooker carnitas
It's very easy! 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.
- Slow 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. Use two forks to shred the meat right inside the slow cooker. As you shred, mix the shredded meat well with the cooking liquids.
- Broil to crisp it up. Spread the meat on a greased rimmed broiler-safe baking sheet. Spray with oil and broil until crisp.
- Serve. Drizzle the meat with the remaining cooking juices and serve.
What cut of pork to use?
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.
Get those crispy bits using your broiler!
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.
The final step of making this recipe is just as important! 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 shredded meat on a rimmed pan, spray it with oil, and broil until about half of the meat is browned and crispy.
How to serve slow cooker carnitas?
Traditionally, you serve them 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 slow cooker carnitas on a bed of cauliflower rice. It works well to soak the yummy juices.
What to do with the leftovers?
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 taste great!
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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. 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 until crispy, 3-4 minutes.
- Drizzle the carnitas with the remaining cooking juices. Serve immediately.