These slow cooker pork carnitas are equal parts crispy, juicy, and delicious, and thanks to the slow cooker, they’re incredibly easy to make!
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Slow cooker carnitas are one of those proteins that taste WAY harder (and fancier!) than they are and because of this, they’re the all-star protein when it comes to serving a crowd. One of our favorite things about carnitas is that they are super versatile. They can be enjoyed taco, burrito bowl, or nacho-style, and leftover carnitas make for the yummiest add to a breakfast hash or scramble!
What are carnitas?
Carnitas are, essentially, pork that has been well seasoned, cooked, shredded, and then crisped. The crisp on the outside of really yummy carnitas is what sets it apart from plain ole shredded pork. Because carnitas are made with a fattier cut of pork (pork shoulder/butt), they have this amazing ability to get nice and crispy in the oven while still staying really tender and juicy.
What cut of meat is carnitas?
We use a pork shoulder (also known as a pork butt) to make carnitas because this fattier cut allows the finished product to be crispy on the outside while still being tender and juicy on the inside.
- Pork shoulder – to start, you’ll need a 4-5 pound pork shoulder (sometimes called a pork butt), tenderloin, or large-cut “carnitas pieces” cut into 4 or 5 large chunks.
- Butter – you’ll also need a ¼ cup of butter (4 tablespoons) divided.
- Spices and seasonings – to season the pork, we’ll use 1 tablespoon of sea salt, 2 teaspoons of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of ground cumin, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, and a ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper.
- Orange juice – to add a really nice brightness to the pork, we’ll throw a ½ cup of orange juice into the slow cooker too.
- Lime juice – a ¼ cup of fresh lime juice (the juice from about 2 limes) adds a punch of acidity to the carnitas and really rounds everything out.
How to Make
Thanks to the slow cooker, the cooking process really couldn’t be any easier, y’all! Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Melt the butter – melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in either the slow cooker insert (over a hot stovetop) or in a large frying pan. While the butter is melting, set the meat out on a plate.
- Season and sear the pork – sprinkle all sides of the pork with the spice blend and then add the seasoned pork to the hot melted butter. Sear on all sides for about 4 minutes over high heat, or until a brown crust starts to form (but before it burns).
- Add the orange juice and slow cook – if cooking in the slow cooker insert, transfer the insert to the slow cooker, add the orange juice, cover, and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours. If cooking in a pan, transfer the browned pork (and all juices) to the slow cooker and follow the same timing instructions.
- Shred the pork – once cooked, use two forks to shred the pork into 1-inch pieces.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Toss the pork with butter and lime juice + bake – toss the shredded pork with the butter and lime juice, then spread it out onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 425°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are starting to look a little crispy.
- Assemble and serve – assemble the tacos with the carnitas, cilantro, lime wedges, flaky sea salt, and serve!
How to Enjoy
Carnitas can be enjoyed in so many different ways! Here are a few of our favorites:
- Tacos – stuff them in your favorite tortillas + top with cilantro, pico de gallo, sour cream, or any other of your favorite taco toppings!
- Burrito bowls – fill a bowl with rice, beans, carnitas, salsa, and guacamole for a really yummy burrito bowl.
- Nachos – this is such a delicious option for carnitas. Find our very favorite loaded carnitas nachos here!
- Breakfast scramble – scramble leftover carnitas with eggs for a really delicious breakfast option – enjoy this next to a bowl of fruit or breakfast burrito-style!
You can find our very best carnitas *pro* tips below!
Use a different protein – you can use chicken thighs or breasts, a pork loin roast, or a pork tenderloin instead of a pork shoulder/butt. If you choose to go this route, though, you’ll want to add more butter to the slow-cooked meat than the recipe calls for before putting it into the oven to crisp. This will help make up for the missing fat in a leaner protein!
Use different citrus – feel free to use grapefruit or lime juice instead of the orange juice here.
Don’t over shred the pork – really good carnitas are sometimes left in larger chunks, so be careful not to shred your pork *too* finely. You’ll want to shred it enough so that it’ll fit in a taco, but not nearly as much as you would, say, shredded chicken. Because of this, this is a really good time to shred with two forks rather than a stand (or hand) mixer.
Save the bone – if you use a bone-in piece of pork, be sure to save the bone. It’ll make a really good bone broth or you could use it to season beans or soup. If you are interested in saving it, but aren’t ready to use it yet, store it in a large freezer-safe bag in your freezer until you’re ready to use it!
Dispose of the slow cooker liquid carefully – be sure not to pour the liquid from your slow cooker down your sink. Because a lot of it is actually rendered fat (even if it looks just like broth), it can actually clog your pipes. Instead, pour it into a jar to cool and then throw it away.
Frequently Asked Questions
Absolutely! That’s the beauty of a slow cooker, actually, and one of my very favorite reasons to use it.
You don’t have to brown your meat in a skillet before cooking it the rest of the way in a slow cooker. While it does build a greater depth of flavor, skipping that step will still result in really delicious carnitas. In fact, there have been MANY nights where I’ve skipped this step in the name of saving time and dishes, so I completely get it!
Your slow cooker pork shouldn’t be dry, but if it is, you may be using too lean of a cut of pork. Remember, for carnitas, you really want to go for it with a pork butt or shoulder because the fat content present in this cut allows for the meat to stay really juicy after slow cooking and oven crisping!
YOU CAN! If your small appliance of choice is an Instant Pot, don’t fret! Carnitas can absolutely be made in that magical machine also. Here’s our Instant Pot carnitas recipe.
Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
- 1, 4-5 pound boneless pork shoulder cut into 4-5 large pieces
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- Corn tortillas for serving
- Cilantro for garnish
- Lime wedges for garnish
- Flaky sea salt for garnish
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in either the slow cooker insert (over a hot stovetop) or in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.
- Add the salt, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and pepper to a large bowl and stir to combine. Add the pork to the bowl and toss to coat with the seasoning.
- Once the butter is melted and starting to bubble, add the pork to the skillet, working in batches if needed to make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan. Sear pork on all sides for about 4 minutes over high heat, or until a brown crust starts to form (but before it burns).
- Transfer the pork to the slow cooker, then pour the orange juice over the pork. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours, until the pork easily shreds with a fork.
- Once the timer goes off, use two forks to shred the pork into 1-inch pieces.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Transfer the pork to a rimmed baking sheet, then toss the pork with the melted butter and lime juice and spread it out onto a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 425°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are starting to look a little crispy.
- Assemble the tacos with the carnitas, cilantro, lime wedges, flaky sea salt, and serve!