Pork carnitas have never tasted this good to me. Partly because carnitas are a natural fit for the slow cooker, and partly because I've been eating kale salads for the past couple weeks.
If carnitas are even slightly on your radar it's worth trying out a slow cooker version. The lower temperature of a slow cooker helps keep the carnitas moist and you'll get a batch that will rival anything you can get North of the Border (or even South of the Border).
Pork Carnitas Slow Cooker Recipe
We're starting with a 2 lb. cut of pork shoulder. This cut can be used in a wide range of pulled pork recipes; it's also worth noting that sometimes you'll see pork shoulder referred to as pork butt.
Here's a snapshot of the spices we'll use to give the shoulder a quick massage.
2 teaspoons Mexican oregano (regular oregano is fine)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon chipotles in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons salt
freshly cracked black pepper
dollop olive oil
Don't fret if you don't have adobo sauce on hand as it isn't crucial here. You can either omit it or substitute 1-2 teaspoons of chili powder.
Cut off any excess bits of fat and chop the remaining pork into big chunks, approximately 2-3 inches. Thoroughly rub the spices into the chunks of pork while saying Carnitaaaaaaas...
To sear or not to sear, that is the question. Giving these chunks a quick sear in a skillet is commonly done to caramelize the surface and enhance flavor. (Here is some info on searing). But I think one of the advantages of the slow cooker is the ease of use. It's so refreshing to just throw the ingredients in, flip it on, and head out for the day. So I did not sear the pork for this batch but feel free to experiment with that.
As the pork cooks it will release quite a bit of liquid. Flavoring these juices is the key to a vibrant batch of carnitas, so we'll add a host of fresh ingredients that will liven up the liquid and eventually infuse back into the carnitas.
So we're using:
4 garlic cloves
Of those ingredients I think the orange is the most important as the citrus undertone works really well in this recipe.
Add the pork, onion, jalapeno, and garlic to the slow cooker and then squeeze as much orange and lime juice onto them as you can. I add the leftover orange pieces to the slow cooker as well but that is optional.
You can cook these carnitas on low for 6-8 hours or on high for approximately 4 hours. I used the high setting for this batch and 4 hours later here's what they looked like:
Tender, fall-apart pork swimming in a citrus pool of goodness. Carnitaaaaaaaas...
It seems like the best way to know they're done is to pull one of the pork pieces apart. If fully cooked inside and nearly falling open on its own then you are close to chowtime.
Remove the orange pieces and any other big veggie chunks you don't want in there, and then shred the pork using two forks or a spatula. It will pull apart easily so you can do this directly in the slow cooker if you want.
And now the crucial step: taste for salt level. Pork is hypersensitive to salt amount so it's worth taking a taste here to confirm it's properly seasoned. If not, add a bit more; it's amazing how much this can enhance the flavor.
It's already delicious at this point and very tempting to just start gobbling it up, but it's worth giving it another 10-15 minutes in the slow cooker to let the juices infuse a bit more into the shredded pieces.
Okay, one last decision to make. Carnitas are frequently served crispy, or at least partially crispy. While not required, there are two easy methods to accomplish this. First, you can add them to a hot skillet with a thin layer of oil and cook them until the juices evaporate and they crisp up on one side. Or you can put them under the broiler in your oven for five minutes or so.
Either method will work. I put these under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes before getting hangry and pulling them out.
Okay, now you've got a batch of vibrant carnitas that can be used in wide range of dishes...
But there is one combo above all the others that is worth trying if you've never had it: carnitas tacos loaded with Salsa Verde, raw onion, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.
The best combos always seem to be the simplest and this one is no exception; it's easily one of the most rewarding taco combos I've ever had.
If you made the effort to make these carnitas I think it's worth it to make a homemade batch of salsa. Tomatillos are a natural partner for pork so I guess it's no surprise that they work so well with these carnitas.
Here is the easiest way to whip up a batch of Salsa Verde.
I'll put details in the recipe box below (or here), but basically you are just roasting the tomatillos and combining everything in a blender. It's super easy and a freshly made Salsa Verde makes these carnitas tacos a homemade meal that you'll return to again and again.
And don't forget one last squeeze of lime. A burst of citrus acidity is the perfect final touch for these carnitas.
This batch will easily serve 5-6 hungry people if not more, so you'll probably have leftovers. I think they keep best if swimming in the juices, so be sure to keep those. For example, I only crisped up half of this batch and stored the other half in the juices in an airtight container in the fridge. That would probably be conducive to freezing too but I haven't tried that with this recipe yet. (You can also use the leftovers to make a mind-blowing Mexican Cuban Sandwich.)
Okay, enough chatting. Feel free to use the comments section below if you have any questions, but now it's time to eat some Carnitaaaaaaaaaaas....
Pork Carnitas Slow Cooker Recipe
- 2 lbs. pork shoulder
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 jalapeno
- 1 orange
- 1 lime
- 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon chipotles in adobo sauce
- 2 teaspoons salt
- freshly cracked pepper
- olive oil
For the tacos:
- 12-16 corn tortillas
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- finely chopped cilantro
- 3-4 limes
For the Salsa Verde:
- 4 tomatillos
- 1/2 onion
- 1 garlic clove
- 10-15 sprigs cilantro
- 1 serrano pepper (jalapeno is fine too)
- In a mixing bowl combine the spice rub ingredients: 2 teaspoons oregano, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 tablespoon adobo sauce, 2 teaspoons salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a dollop of olive oil.
- Trim off any excess fat from the pork shoulder and chop it into large chunks, approximately 2-3 inches wide. Add to the mixing bowl and thoroughly rub the spices into the pork chunks.
- Add the pork to the slow cooker, along with a roughly chopped onion, 4 peeled garlic cloves, and a jalapeno. Squeeze as much orange and lime juice into the slow cooker as you can. I add the leftover orange pieces to the slow cooker but this is optional.
- Cook for 6-8 hours on low, or approximately 4 hours on high. When the meat pulls apart easily and is fully cooked on the inside it is done.
- Remove any large veggie pieces and shred the pork pieces using two forks or a spatula. Taste for salt level and add additional salt if necessary (very important!). Let the shredded pieces cook for another 10-15 minutes in the slow cooker so the juices can infuse into the shredded meat.
- To crisp up the carnitas, you can either cook them in a skillet over medium-high heat with a bit of oil until the juices evaporate and one side crisps up, or you can cook them under the broiler in the oven for 5 minutes or so.
- To make pork carnitas tacos, warm up 12-16 corn tortillas. Each tortilla gets carnitas, Salsa Verde, finely chopped onion, cilantro, and a final squeeze of lime.
- To make Salsa Verde, pull the husks off the tomatillos and give them a good rinse. Cut the stems out of the tomatillos. Roast the tomatillos in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until they start to turn army green. Add tomatillos to a blender along with 1/2 onion, 1 garlic clove, 10-15 sprigs cilantro, and 1/2 of the serrano pepper. Pulse blend and taste for heat level, adding more serrano if necessary.
- Store leftover carnitas in their juices in an airtight container in the fridge.
Update: here's a Carnitas recipe using the oven.
We also use pork shoulder to make some heavenly Chili Verde.
And our latest recipe is for these Barbacoa Beef Burritos.
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You talk about brining meat all the time, but not here. I assume that means you think it's not necessary when using the slow cooker? Comments?
Hey Tom! Yeah my appreciation for brining is only a few years old, but it's also less important in this slow cooker version that has a final step of letting the shredded pork simmer in the leftover juices for a bit.
If you're curious, here is a brined Carnitas oven version. Cheers.
This sounds fabulous! Keeping in mind that the only stupid question is the one not asked . . . could the onion, garlic, and chile fished out of the carnitas be used to make the salsa verde?
Hey Lynne, yes absolutely! I've gotten a couple notes from peeps who do this and love it, but for some reason it's not a regular part of my routine. Will add it to my list though. Cheers.
Thank you for sharing this amazing Carnitas recipe. We so enjoyed the explosion of flavours and this will definitely be a favourite dish...well at least until I try your ‘brined’ version.☺️
Wow! This is fantastic! Thank you, 'tis amazingly hard to stop nibbling on.
I have question. Do you think by omitting the jalapeño will affect the final outcome?
Thank you in advance
Hey Luz! You could easily omit the jalapeno and still get a good result. Cheers.