Seasoned perfectly and slow cooked all day until the meat shreds effortlessly, Pork Carnitas is so flavorful and marvelous served over rice, in tacos or burritos, and piled high on top of nachos!
A while back Smithfield sent me a pork shoulder roast to try. My husband saw the box and said, “So this is what we would consider a really good mail day.” Ha. Yes. Yes, indeed.
I knew immediately what I was going to do with it. I’d wanted to make a Cuban mojo sauce and Pork Carnitas forever, and this was destiny calling. I’ve been making this recipe ever since and quite regularly. We love it so much…and so does everyone else.
Carnitas simply explained is a Mexican version of pulled pork. However, authentic carnitas are made with lard, the seasoning is different, and after being shredded, the pork is sautéed in a fry pan. The insides are juicy and tender, while the outside is golden and crispy.
We don’t typically have a bucket of lard stocked in our kitchen, but this recipe does not disappoint! The combination of orange juice and lime juice tenderize the meat, releasing acid and natural sugars, so the pork falls apart effortlessly. And the spices permeate into every bite. It’s incredible.
Your options for using carnitas is long because they’re so versatile. Tortillas practically beg for them – think tacos, burritos, taquitos, quesadillas or enchiladas. Or as a topping for nachos is amazing. They’re perfectly at home in street tacos with Guacamole and Pico de Gallo for a simple dinner and make an epic taco bar for entertaining.
Slow cooker Pork Carnitas – Why We Love It
- Quick prep: All you need is 10 minutes of prep. Then set it and forget it!
- Natural ingredients: Only a small list of ingredients and they’re all natural. Nothing weird, nothing hard to find.
- Flavor: The pork slow cooks for hours, soaking up all the wonderful spices and citrus flavors. Amaaazing.
- Versatile: Think of all your favorite Mexican dishes. Eat it with rice and beans, in a taco, a burrito bowl, make nachos – so many options.
- Freezer friendly: It freezes and reheats like a dream, so dinner in the future is even easier.
- Great for entertaining: This recipe makes a good amount, perfect for having friends over for a taco bar!
Pork Carnitas Recipe
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to make this Cuban Style Pork Carnitas recipe:
(Scroll below to the printable recipe card for details and measurements.)
- Pork shoulder: Pork shoulder (or sometimes called Boston Butt) is the best pork cut for pork carnitas.
- Onion and Garlic: These provide wonderful aromatics and flavor.
- Citrus: Orange juice and lime juice are key for flavor and tenderizing the meat.
- Olive oil: This adds moisture and richness.
- Spice rub: A simple, but awesome mix of cumin, dried oregano, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes are combined and rubbed all over the pork. We also toss in a bay leaf.
How to Make Pork Carnitas in the Crock Pot
Carnitas are SO easy to make in the crock pot. 10 minutes of prep, then walk away for the day. Here’s a brief summary:
(Don’t miss the detailed printable recipe card below and the video.)
- Prep the pork shoulder: Make sure your pork doesn’t have any skin and remove excess fat (but not all.) It can be boneless or bone-in. Make slits in the pork with a paring knife.
- Rub the pork with spices: In a bowl, combine the citrus juices, olive oil, and seasonings, then rub liberally all over the pork.
- Slow cook: Place pork in the slow cooker, along with the onion, garlic, bay leaf, and remaining juices from the bowl. (It will look like very little liquid, but after hours of cooking, the pork will break down and create more juices.) Cover, and cook on low for 8 hours.
- Shred: Transfer pork to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using tongs or two forks, shred into thick chunks.
- Crisp: Pan fry until golden and a little crispy, soaked with the slow cooker juices.
Tips for Success
- Use a pork shoulder: Pork tenderloin or pork chops tend to produce a dry solid chunk of pork and resist attempts to shred properly. Pork shoulder has a lot of connective tissue and is able to remain tender and moist through a low and slow cooking method.
- Boneless or bone-in? You can use boneless or bone-in, keeping in mind that bone-in might take a little longer to cook.
- Trim some of the fat, but not all: You’ll want to trim some of the fat off, but not completely, as it will help keep the pork moist as it cooks.
- Marinate overnight: I rarely do this, BUT if you have time and can remember, I do recommend marinating the pork overnight, for even more incredible flavor. Combine everything in the slow cooker the night before then place it in the fridge (the insert, not the base). Take it out in the morning and let it warm slightly, then set it to cook.
- Fresh or bottled juice? You’ve all heard me plead over the years to use fresh citrus in recipes, but for this carnitas recipe, I actually prefer bottled lime juice and orange juice. GASP! I know, I know. I find that the flavors from bottled are more concentrated and provide more flavor. But if you have fresh citrus to use up, go for it!
- Cook on low: This is definitely a dish that is meant for low and slow for optimal results. Don’t cook on high to rush it. If you’re super pressed for time, this can be made in a pressure cooker (see below.)
- Ideal temperature for cooked pork: The pork is done cooking when it reaches between 202 and 205 degrees F and pulls apart easily.
- Do I have to pan fry? For the best tasting carnitas, definitely brown the cooked shredded pork in a skillet. But no, you don’t have to – just shredding and drizzling with the slow cooker juices is still fantastic.
Oven or Instant Pot Methods
- Can Carnitas be made in an Instant Pot? Yep! This is a great alternative if you’re in a time crunch. Close and seal the Instant Pot. Press manual setting and cook 50 minutes on high. Once the pressure has built and the time has elapsed, let the pressure release naturally for 15 minutes before fully releasing the pressure. Proceed with Step 5 of the written recipe.
- Oven method: Don’t have a crock pot or instant pot? No problem, make it in the oven. Follow the written recipe, but place the pork and liquids in a roasting pan or Dutch oven. Cover pot with lid, place in a 300 degree F preheated oven, and cook for 3 hours. Remove lid and cook for an additional 1-2 hours, or until pork is very tender and easily separates when pulled with a fork (and an internal temperature of 205 is reached.) Add a bit more water if it’s drying out. A nice golden crust will form by cooking it this way, so there’s no need to pan fry after shredding.
How to Store Leftovers
If you know you’ll have leftovers, we recommend shredding the pork, but don’t pan fry. Then store pork and juice in separate airtight containers in the fridge for up to 3 days or in freezer-safe bags/containers in the freezer for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge. Then reheat the juice (it will have solidified from being cold) and pan fry the pork, drizzling with the juice.
If you’ll be serving a group and need to keep it warm, pan-fry ahead of time and transfer back to the slow cooker on the warm setting, then drizzle with the juices to keep it moist, and cover loosely (you don’t want it to steam.)
What to Serve with Pork Carnitas
We enjoy pork carnitas so many ways – think of all your favorite Mexican dishes. Try them stuffed in enchiladas, burritos, tacos. Make a burrito bowl or even sliders. On top of tater tot nachos or pile them on top of Rice and Beans or Cilantro Lime Rice. This pork pairs so well with Guacamole, fresh Pico de Gallo, crunchy sliced radishes or pickled red onions, and our beloved Mexican Street Corn Salad. If you’re feeling up to it, there’s nothing like using Homemade Corn Tortillas, instead of store-bought. Now, who’s hungry?!
More Mexican Recipes:
Pork Carnitas – Slow Cooker
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup lime juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 small sweet onion , sliced thin
- 6 cloves garlic , peeled and smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 pound boneless pork shoulder roast
- homemade tortillas , for serving
- cilantro lime rice , for serving
- pickled red onions , for serving
- pice de gallo , for serving
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, lime juice, salt, cumin, oregano, red pepper flakes, and pepper.
- Make slits in the pork with a paring knife and rub liberally all over with the oil mixture.
- Place pork in the slow cooker, along with the onion, garlic, and bay leaf. Pour the remaining juices from the bowl over the pork.
- Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until an internal temperature of 202 degrees F is reached.
- Transfer pork to a cutting board and let cool slightly. Using tongs or forks, shred into thick chunks.
- You can enjoy as is or take it a step further by crisping it up in a pan, which is recommended!
- To pan fry: warm a tablespoon of oil in a nonstick skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid over-crowding, spread the pork in the pan in an even layer, drizzling with some of the juices. Once the juice evaporates and the bottom of the pork is golden and crispy, sear it quickly on the other side and then remove from the skillet. You want it browned all over, but not dry.
- Serve as desired. You can't go wrong with any of our suggestions!
- Note: If f you have time and can remember, I do recommend marinating the pork overnight, for even more incredible flavor. Combine everything in the slow cooker the night before then place it in the fridge (the insert, not the base). Take it out in the morning and let it warm slightly, then set it to cook.
- Note: More serving suggestions, storage, tips, and alternative cooking methods are included in the full article.