Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (2024)

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Sara Kate Gillingham

Sara Kate Gillingham

Sara Kate is the founding editor of The Kitchn. She co-founded the site in 2005 and has since written three cookbooks. She is most recently the co-author of The Kitchn Cookbook, published in October 2014 by Clarkson Potter.

updated May 2, 2019


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Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (1)

Spicy, savory, and tender pork shoulder.

Serves15Makesabout 30 small tacos





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Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (2)

We started this website to help people cook more often and more joyfully, with the idea that the kitchen is the hearth of the home, the warm place. It is by spending time there that we connect and grow.

But sometimes it gets so hot in the summer, you have to draw the line. A few straight days of humidity and 90°F weather, and I do not feel like being in the kitchen at all, let alone putting together a big meal.

A few years ago, in the dog days of summer, when the temperatures didn’t dip below 90°F for a few days straight, I did something you might think was nuts: I slow-cooked a pork butt. Now, whenever I have a crowd to feed and it’s “too hot to cook,” it’s the slow cooker that does the work.

Here’s my plug for using your slow cooker in the heat: You can make a lot of food at once without heating up the whole house. You can also do any grunt work — and for these carnitas, smashing some garlic is the only real work — in the morning when it’s cool, and set the cooker to work during the day, or you can prep in the evening and set the cooker to work while you sleep.

You really don’t need a recipe for cooking in a slow cooker. The basic formula is to place spices with the meat in a slow cooker and cover with liquid (broth, juice, wine, beer, etc.). Cook on LOW for the most tender meat. Chicken is done in as little as four hours, while darker meats like longer cooking times. Cooking on HIGH speeds up the cooking, but the meat is not as tender.

Here’s an example using my version of carnitas (usually pork simmered in lard, but in this case, slow-cooked in juice and beer). Any of these spices can be left out or substituted; this is just my usual formula. The same goes for the chipotle peppers — substitute other peppers, or leave them out, although make sure to amp up other flavor agents, like garlic and spices.

Sometimes butchers have many sizes of shoulder to choose from, other times the selection is limited to one general size. A smaller piece of meat still works, but may cook faster.

Tester’s Note

The original recipe is unconventional and not a traditional carnitas, to be sure, but this slightly spicy derivation is still delicious in its own right. The cinnamon adds a hint of sweetness, cayenne adds heat, and chipotles add spiciness and smokiness to perfume the tender pork. Feel free to omit any of these if they’re not your speed.

Since I like my carnitas browned, I added easy broiling instructions so that you can crisp up the braised pork easily in one big batch after it comes out of the slow cooker. I have half of this stashed away in my freezer for a busy future weeknight, and I can’t wait to break it out and make tacos or a mean dinner salad!

Christine, May 2018


Spicy, savory, and tender pork shoulder.

Makes about 30 small tacos

Serves 15

Nutritional Info


  • 1

    pork shoulder or pork butt (7 to 8 pounds with bone, 6 to 7 pounds if boneless)

  • 2 tablespoons

    kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon

    dried oregano

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon

    cayenne pepper (optional)

  • 8

    garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

  • 4

    individual chipotle chiles from a can of chipotles en adobo

  • 1

    (14- or 15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

  • 2 to 3 cups

    liquid, such as orange juice, beer, low-sodium broth, or a combination


  1. Trim any excess surface fat from the pork and discard. Cut the pork into two pieces if needed to fit in a 6-quart or larger slow cooker. Sprinkle evenly with the salt, cumin, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and cayenne if using. Place in the slow cooker.

  2. Place the garlic and chipotles around the pork. Pour the diced tomatoes and their juices and the liquid around the pork. Cover and cook until the pork is fork tender or falling off the bone, about 8 hours on the LOW setting.

  3. Using tongs, transfer the pork to a rimmed baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil if broiling). Remove and discard the bone if needed and any large chunks of fat, then use 2 forks to shred the meat into large chunks. The pork can be served at this point or browned in the broiler.

  4. If broiling, arrange a rack about 6 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Broil the carnitas until a dark golden-brown crust forms on top, 4 to 5 minutes. Flip the carnitas and broil until the second side is golden-brown, about 4 minutes more. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas one at a time over a gas burner, or stack and wrap completely in aluminum foil and warm in the oven while the carnitas is browning.

  5. Transfer the pork to a serving bowl. For carnitas tacos, serve in tortillas with accompaniments, like sour cream, cilantro, radishes, pineapple, chopped red onion, and lime wedges. If desired, skim the fat from the leftover juices and keep as a medium for moistening the carnitas when reheating.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Slow-cook the pork, remove from the cooking liquid to an airtight container, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, then proceed with broiling.

No-broil option: If you don't have a broiler or want to brown small amounts of carnitas, brown in a frying pan heated over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned all over.

Storage: Leftover carnitas can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Gluten-free: Check that the chipotles en adobo contain no wheat to make this recipe gluten-free.

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Cooking Methods



Dinner for a Crowd


Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (2024)


What is the secret to good carnitas? ›

I've made carnitas many times using a completely different method and it turned out pretty good. But it is important to note that the traditional way to make carnitas is by slow cooking it in lard. I think it also gives it a more authentic taste. Seasoning- Salt, Mexican oregano, cumin, & black pepper.

How do you keep pork carnitas from drying out? ›

Oven temps for perfect carnitas

For our carnitas, we want the temperature of the confit cooking fat to be about 200°F (93°C) or a little higher. At this temperature, we won't be drying out the surface of the meat cubes while we heat their centers.

What sauce goes well with carnitas? ›

However, creamy tex-mex sauce is what I love to put on top of my pork carnitas tacos and pork carnitas sliders. It's such a great combination of a little spice with a lot of flavor, and I found it to be really great with the insanely delicious flavors of the tacos.

Is it better to cook pork on high or low in slow cooker? ›

The Slow Cooker as a Tool for Braising

You can even leave your house. Set the cooker to low; the high setting will boil the meat instead of braise it, so it's only a quicker trip to an undesirable outcome.

Why do you put orange juice in carnitas? ›

The orange juice in the cooking liquid provides acidity that helps break down the meat so it's extra tender and juicy.

Why do you add milk to carnitas? ›

Adding the oranges is very much like braising pork Cuban-style for the traditional cubano sandwich. The milk acts as a tenderizer, a secret I learned while growing up watching dad make his carnitas which, by the way, were always exceptionally tender.

Can you overcook pork carnitas? ›

Any cut of meat can become overcooked, even in the crockpot. Avoid cooking this pork carnitas recipe for longer than the times listed below, or the meat will end up tough and chewy.

How do you add moisture to carnitas? ›

Smothering it with barbecue sauce would probably help, but my favourite thing to do with leftover or less than successful carnitas is a pasta sauce. I just add the meat to a good tomato sauce with appropriate seasoning and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.

What can I add to pulled pork to keep it moist? ›

Additionally, spray chicken broth or apple juice on the meat to prevent it from losing more moisture in the crockpot. To add a strong flavor during the process, white wine can also be sprayed. You can shred the pork during smoking or in the crockpot.

What is carnitas seasoning made of? ›

Ingredients. Salt, Spices (Including Cumin, Chipotle Pepper, Paprika), Onion, Garlic, Sugar, Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Extractives of Paprika, Extractives of Black Pepper, Extractives of Cumin, Extractive of Lime, Extractives of Cilantro, Extractives of Garlic, and Natural Flavor (Including Mesquite Smoke).

What can I use instead of OJ in carnitas? ›

Apple juice can be used in carnitas in place of orange juice. If using apple juice, you can add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to increase the acidity.

What is the best liquid to cook pulled pork in? ›

Transfer everything to a large slow cooker and add a splash of liquid — water is great, but so is broth, apple juice, or beer if you have them handy. Cover and cook on low until the meat is tender and pulls apart easily.

Is 4 hours on high the same as 8 hours on low in a slow cooker? ›

The difference between "High" and "Low" on slow cookers seems to differ with every brand and model. One thing that is consistent, though, is that food takes seven to eight hours to reach a simmer point (around 210°) on low; versus three to four hours on high.

Should pork be covered with liquid in slow cooker? ›

Your liquid should not cover your pork in the slow cooker: it should only come up about a quarter of the way up the sides. The pork will make more liquid as it cooks, and you need to leave room for that. And 10 hours later, this huge hunk of meat is tender and ready.

How do restaurants cook carnitas? ›

They are braised until they are fall apart tender. Then they get roasted in the oven to make the outside crisp. So part of them should be soft, and part of the outside should be crusty. Some recipes don't crisp up the meat at the end but authentic carnitas should be crispped.

What is the best oil for carnitas? ›

Vegetable oil: Traditional carnitas recipes use lard as their cooking fat, but we'll use vegetable or canola oil today. Pork shoulder roast: The best cut of meat for carnitas is pork shoulder AKA pork butt AKA Boston butt because it is well-marbled with fat and cooks up incredibly tender with a long braise.

What is the best meat to use for carnitas? ›

Pork shoulder: Traditionally, carnitas is made with pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) because of its higher fat content. The fat helps to keep the meat extremely juicy and tender while cooking.

How do you fix bland carnitas? ›

To flavor carnitas all the way through, put them back in the braising liquid that has been reduced since cooking the pork. You can create a kind of glaze out of the braising liquid, and toss the shredded pork in that (defat the braising liquid before reducing it).


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