If it weren’t for my peculiar food blogger need to constantly test new recipes, this Slow Cooker Carnitas is the dish I’d cook for a crowd every single time.
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Meltingly tender pulled pork slow cooked with Mexican spices and citrus juices, then crisped up at the edges in the oven just so, carnitas are:
- Make-Ahead Marvelous. You can prep the recipe hours in advance and leave it warming in the slow cooker, or fully cook the day before and reheat.
- Big-Batch Beautiful. Whether you need to feed a crowd, stock your freezer, or just love leftovers (ME!), you’ll be pleased with this recipe’s generous yield.
- Dump-and-Go. This is an EASY carnitas recipe. No need to precook any of the ingredients. Simply add them to the crockpot, stir, and walk away.
- Gush-Worthy Guaranteed. Whenever I make crockpot carnitas (or Instant Pot Carnitas), my friends react the same way: they freak out. YOU MADE THIS?! It’s uhhh-ma-zing!
Carnitas are an easy, do-ahead, big-serving, self-esteem-boosting surefire hit—that is my kind of recipe!
How to Make Pork Carnitas
Whenever I have the option to choose my own taco plate, carnitas are guaranteed to be on it.
This recipe is the best of my (extensive) sampling of authentic carnitas recipes, made easy for you in the slow cooker.
Pulled Pork vs. Carnitas
The difference between pulled pork and carnitas is the final cooking method. Carnitas and pulled pork are both slow cooked, but carnitas are finished in the oven to help them crisp up at the ends.
- Pork. The best cut of meat for carnitas is pork butt or pork shoulder. Both cuts of meat become perfectly tender and juicy when slow cooked (this is key!) and contain the ideal amount of fat. Pork is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
If you’d like to make carnitas on the healthy side, you can swap leaner pork loin; check it very early to make sure you do not overcook it. Also, note that it won’t shred *as* easily. See this post for Instant Pot Pulled Pork for tips.
DO NOT use pork tenderloin for carnitas; it will dry out and not shred (instead, try this Instant Pot Pork Tenderloin).
- Orange and Lime Juice. Although these are orange slow cooker carnitas, they do not taste like orange juice. The orange juice and lime juice merely brighten the overall flavor of the carnitas and give them the perfect hint of acidity and sweetness. The outcome will be similar (but healthier) than a popular Coke slow cooker carnitas recipe.
- Spices. Chipotle chile powder, cumin, and chili powder add smokiness, depth, and warmth. Oregano brings a touch of earthy, herby flavor and is classic in Mexican cooking.
- Garlic + Onion. These two are working in the background from the start to build rich flavor.
No matter how you choose to serve these carnitas, toppings are non-negotiable. Here are some of my favorites:
- Avocado. Both sliced avocado and guacamole are scrumptious. Try my recipe for the Best Homemade Guacamole.
- Cilantro. Fresh and tasty.
- Cheese. Either feta or queso fresco would be wonderful.
- Onion. Sliced, diced, or Pickled Onions add pop.
- Jalapeño. For a nice kick.
- Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream. Cool, creamy, and tangy.
- Trim and cut the pork. Season with salt.
- Stir the juices, garlic, and spices together. Add the onion to a slow cooker.
- Add the pork and juice mixture to the slow cooker, tossing to coat.
- Cook slow cooker carnitas on LOW for 5 to 6 hours or on HIGH for 4 to 5 hours.
- Shred the pork and coat it in the sauce. Transfer the pork to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.
- Broil the carnitas for 3 to 5 minutes. Add a little extra sauce over the top of the pork and toss. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes more. Serve as desired and ENJOY!
Can You Cook Pulled Pork in the Slow Cooker Too Long?
While it’s difficult to cook pulled pork too long in the slow cooker (if you’re using the correct cut of meat), it can start to become mushy because of the ingredients in the sauce. If you’re going to leave the pork in the slow cooker for an extended amount of time, make sure to switch it to the “keep warm” setting to deter overcooking.
Making This Recipe without A Slow Cooker
If you do not have a slow cooker, I believe you can turn this into a Dutch oven carnitas recipe.
- Trim, cut, and season the pork as directed. Prepare the orange juice mixture as directed.
- Add the onion and pork to a large Dutch oven on the stovetop, then pour the juice mixture over the top. Stir to coat.
- Let it simmer slowly over low heat until it’s fall-apart tender, stirring occasionally.
- Shred the meat and finish the carnitas in the oven as directed.
Ways to Use Pork Carnitas Meat
- Tacos. Carnitas make a scrumptious filling for tacos (for a different flavor profile, try Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Pork Tacos).
- Quesadilla. Tuck carnitas and cheese into a tortilla for a tasty quesadilla. (If this sounds tasty, don’t miss my Pulled Pork Quesadilla.)
- Salad. Top a bed of lettuce or Mexican Salad with carnitas for a protein boost.
- Burrito Bowl. For a copycat Chipotle carnitas bowl, swap the chicken in this Chipotle Bowl recipe for this carnitas.
- To Store. Refrigerate carnitas in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F, in a pan on the stovetop, or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze carnitas in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, trim and cut the pork. Refrigerate in an airtight storage container until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Up to 1 day in advance, you can also fully prepare the recipe as directed. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat as directed just before serving.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Slow Cooker. Perfect for slow cooker carnitas.
- Baking Sheet. A must-have tool in every kitchen.
- Liquid Measuring Cup. Easily measure and mix ingredients in one place.
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Let me know what you thought!
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Crock it and rock it, carnitas style!
Frequently Asked Questions
While I prefer the broiling method for crisping my carnitas, you can crisp them on the stovetop instead. Make sure to use a cast iron or similarly heavy-bottomed skillet. Add a little oil, then cook over high heat until crisp. Simmer with a little cooking liquid at the end.
Yes, this recipe is gluten free as written. However, if you’re using store-bought orange juice (not squeezed directly from an orange), I recommend purchasing one that has orange juice as the only ingredient.
This carnitas recipe is smoky, but it is not overly spicy. If you prefer your carnitas with more of a kick, you can add cayenne pepper to taste (or top your carnitas with jalapenos).
Slow Cooker Carnitas
- 4 to 5 pounds boneless pork butt (Boston butt, or pork shoulder)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice from about 1 large orange
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 3 cloves garlic minced, about 1 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground oregano
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 yellow onion diced
- Flour or corn tortillas or cooked brown rice
- Toppings of choice: chopped fresh cilantro and feta or queso fresco, sliced avocado, sliced or diced onion, diced jalapeno
Trim the pork of excess fat and cut into 3 to 4-inch cubes. Season the meat on all sides with salt.
In a mixing bowl or large measuring cup, stir together the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, chipotle chile powder, cumin, oregano, chile powder, and black pepper.
- Scatter the onion in the bottom of a 6-quart or larger slow cooker.
Add the pork on top of the onion, then pour in the orange juice mixture. With a large spoon, turn the pork pieces to combine the ingredients and coat the pork with the juices on all sides.
Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours or HIGH for 4 to 5 hours, until the pork is fall-apart tender and shreds easily with a fork.
- Place a rack in the upper third (but not topmost) rack of the oven and preheat the oven's broiler to high. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
With two forks, shred the pork directly in the slow cooker, discarding any large bits of remaining fat. Stir the pork in the sauce to coat it evenly, then use a slotted spoon to scoop the pork onto the prepared baking sheet (it's OK for some of the juices to come with it). Spread the pork into an even layer.
- To warm the tortillas, wrap them in foil and pop them into the oven’s center rack while the pork broils. Or, you can heat the tortillas in a dry skillet on the stove.
- Broil the pork for 3 to 5 minutes, until the edges of the pork begin browning and crisping up (don't walk away! It can quickly start to burn).
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Spoon a little sauce over the top, lightly toss and stir the pork to expose unbroiled sides. Return the pan to the oven and broil for 3 to 5 minutes more (the meat should become nice and crispy at its edges). Repeat once more if you'd like your pork a bit more crisp. Enjoy hot, piled into warm tortillas or over rice with toppings of choice.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate carnitas in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze carnitas in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
- Adapted from my Instant Pot Carnitas.
READ: Slow Cooker Carnitas