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Carnitas

Carnitas is juicy and tender shredded pork with crispy, flavorful edges. It’s a staple in Mexican cuisine and easy to make at home. All you need to do is toss all the ingredients in your slow cooker, let it do its magic, then pop the shredded pork under the broiler to get those crispy, caramelized edges.

Carnitas in a pile on a plate.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say that pork is one of the most flavorful, versatile, and textural meats. It can easily be transformed into something tender and crispy with an addictive flavorful thanks to a few spices and seasonings. And there’s no doubt that Mexican cuisine has created one of the best pork recipes – carnitas.

While I’m a huge lover of regular pulled pork, carnitas hits a bit differently – in a good way. It exudes delicious rich flavors from the spice blend. But is also tender on the inside with perfectly perfectly browned edges, giving you the best of both worlds.

So today, I’ll be showing you how to make your carnitas taco dreams come true with a simple tool: a slow cooker. Just toss everything in, shred it when it’s done, then pop it in the oven to crisp it up. But if you don’t have a slow cooker, don’t worry. I’ve provided an oven option below.

What Cut Of Pork Is Best?

Traditionally, carnitas is made with pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) because of its higher fat content. This will help keep the meat extremely juicy and tender while it’s cooking.

Making carnitas in slow cooker.

How To Make Pork Carnitas

To get started, you’ll generously season your pork then toss everything into the slow cooker. But if you’re wondering why there’s no liquids such as chicken broth for this step – you don’t need it. The pork shoulder will exude enough liquid from steaming in the slow cooker.

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chili powder.
  2. Generously rub the spice blend on the entire pork shoulder and place it in the slow cooker.
  3. Add in the onions, minced garlic, jalapeno, and orange juice into the slow cooker.
  4. Cover and cook on the low setting for 8-10 hours, or on high heat for 5-6 hours (until the meat falls apart).
  5. Remove the pork from the slow cooker to a large cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat. Also, don’t toss out the remaining liquid! You’ll be using this in the next steps below.

Carnitas on a sheet pan with tongs.

How To Make your Carnitas Crispy

To get those crispy golden edges, there’s two ways you can do this: oven or stovetop. In this recipe, I’ve chosen to broil it in the oven. But, I’ll tell you how to do it on the stovetop as well.

How To Crisp In The Oven

  1. Spread the shredded pork into an even layer on a baking sheet.
  2. Pour 1 cup of the reserved slow cooker liquid over the pork to season.
  3. Broil for about 5-10 minutes, until it becomes golden brown and crispy on the edges.

How To Crisp On The Stovetop

  1. Add a tablespoon or two of avocado oil to a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat.
  2. Transfer the shredded pork and let it cook for about 5 minutes, until the bottom is browned. Note: you may have to do this in batches.
  3. Continue tossing occasionally for about 5-7 minutes longer, until the edges are crisp and caramelized.

Do you need to crisp the carnitas? No, it’s completely optional. You can enjoy it straight from the slow cooker as well!

Tongs lifting a portion of carnitas.

Can You Make This In The Oven?

If you don’t have a slow cooker – don’t worry. Carnitas can also be made right in the oven. First, preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Blend the spice rub over your pork and toss all the ingredients into a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot and cover. Cook for about 3-4 hours, until it becomes meltingly tender. Then continue to shred and broil it.

What To Serve With Carnitas

Boy, do these carnitas taste insanely delicious on their own. But you can use it as a base or side to create even tastier meals.

A pile of carnitas on a serving plate.

Storing and Reheating Options

Storing leftovers is a breeze. Place the carnitas in an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to 4 days.

For freezing, don’t get it crispy under the broiler or skillet just yet. Instead, set aside a batch you want to freeze and plan to crisp it before serving. Make sure to let the pork cool before storing in an airtight container in the freezer for 1-2 months.

Want to prep the carnitas in advance for a party? Here’s how you can prep it 3 days in advance. Just make and shred the carnitas, toss it in the cooking liquid, let it cool, then store it in a covered bowl in the fridge. When you’re ready to prepare, simply crisp it up and serve!

Pork Carnitas Recipe Video

Want to see how easy it is to make this recipe? Give it a watch below! I’ll walk you through it step-by-step.

More Easy Mexican Recipes

Whether you’re prepping for a taco Tuesday night or Cinco De Mayo, these recipes will have your guests swooning.

Carnitas on a serving plate.
5 from 17 votes

The BEST Carnitas (Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 8 hrs
Total Time: 8 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
Create the most juicy and tender carnitas right in your slow cooker. Then broil it in the oven for the perfect crisp, golden edges. Watch the video above!

Ingredients

  • 4 pound boneless pork shoulder or butt
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded and finely diced
  • 1 orange, juiced

Instructions

How to Make Carnitas

  • In a small bowl place oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chili powder, then stir together.
  • Trim any excess fat from the pork shoulder (but remember that some fat is good), then rub the spice mixture generously around the entire pork shoulder and place in the slow cooker.
  • Add the onion, minced garlic, jalapeno and orange juice in the slow cooker.
  • Cover and cook on the low setting for 8-10 hours, or high heat for 5-6 hours (until the meat falls apart).
  • Remove the pork from the slow cooker to a large cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat. Don't get rid of the liquid as you will be using it later.

To Crisp In The Oven

  • Place the shredded pork on a baking sheet.
  • Pour 1 cup of the reserved slow cooker liquid over the pork to keep it moist and tender.
  • Broil for 5-10 minutes or until the meat becomes golden browned and crispy on the edges.

Lisa's Tips

  • This is a great slow cooker with a ceramic insert and it's perfect for transporting!
  • Getting the pork shoulder out of the slow cooker after it's cooked can be a little difficult, given that it's so tender and will likely fall apart. I recommend using a spatula underneath to support it when removing.

Nutrition

Calories: 227kcal, Carbohydrates: 5g, Protein: 28g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 93mg, Sodium: 406mg, Potassium: 559mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 232IU, Vitamin C: 13mg, Calcium: 50mg, Iron: 3mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: carnitas, carnitas recipe, slow cooker carnitas
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51 comments on “Carnitas”

  1. I love Mexican food and this is something I would love to make. I have problem regarding pork though as we live in the Middle East and there is no pork availability here. What meat and cut would be the best to substitute it? 
    Fyi just discovered your Website and love the recipes and cooking tips. 

  2. I made these for tacos on Cinco de Mayo and they were DELICIOUS. Although, mine didn’t fall apart very easily and was kind of difficult to cut up. I’m not sure why as I cooked on low for 8 hours. Despite seeming tough, it was still easy to chew and tasted wonderful!

    • Hi Kelsey- If it didn’t fall apart as easily, you may need to cook it for a bit longer or add a bit of water or broth at the bottom for extra moisture! But, I’m glad the flavors were all there and tasted wonderful for your Cinco De Mayo festivities!

  3. These were INCREDIBLE! Such an easy slow cooker meal and the flavors are perfect. Used the carnitas for a burrito bowl dinner, and used some leftovers for huevos rancheros! My family loved them. Thanks again for another awesome recipe.

  4. Turned out perfectly. Thank you for another great recipe I will definitely be keeping on stand by.

  5. One of many Downshiftology recipes I made for Cinco de Mayo.  My husband said “you knocked this one out of the park, babe!” All three of my guys devoured their tacos.  “These are as good – no, they’re better – than the restaurant in town.” Definitely will be on my rotation of meals!

    • That’s amazing to hear Becky! Can never go wrong with a batch of carnitas to eat throughout the week :)

  6. Hi there! Thank you for all of your amazing recipes and videos!

    Is it possible to make the same recipe with beef and if yes, which cut of beef? My husband is not a fan of pork.

    Thanks!!

    • Hi Larissa – I’d recommend searching for a slow cooker shredded beef recipes specifically, as you’d want different flavors to enhance the beef.

  7. I made this recipe for Cinco de Mayo. Everyone in my family loved it. I changed only one thing. I added the orange zest to the rub. this recipe turned out perfect, flavorful. I used the broiler method to crisp up the edges. I served it with the mexican rice, guacamole, and pico de gallo. also made a batch of pineapple agua fresca.

    All Downshiftology recipes.
    Thanks Lisa!

    • Hi Renee- So glad this recipe was a success for Cinco De Mayo! Love the whole Tex-Mex spread you created as well.

  8. Hi! Does the chilli powder refer to pure chill powder or American chilli powder (blend of spices)? 

  9. Wow!!! So easy but super flavorful! It was a hit and will definitely be making it again! We had it with corn tortillas, cilantro and onion and lime, Mexican crema, and cotija cheese. The following day we had a taco salad. And we still had enough to share with family!  Thank you!! I wish I could post a picture because they looked and tasted amazing! 

    • Hi Teresa- Wonderful! Sounds like the perfect combination with the cream and fresh ingredients. I’ll actually be posting my taco salad later today so stay tuned :)

  10. Was so easy to make. I used pork picnic. Served it with corn tortillas, chopped cilantro, tomatoes, and red onion, and homemade guacamole with a side salad. So yummy!! Better than at the restaurant.

    • Hi Gail- So glad you enjoyed this carnitas recipe! Love the way you served it with those fresh ingredients as well :)

  11. Another great and easy recipe. I opted for the Dutch oven method and it turned out tender, juicy and with the finish under the grill (broiler?) there were some crispy flavour bombs. I wasn’t sure if the rub was enough but it was perfect. So no changes required to the recipe.

    I made this the previous night as I was prepping dinner, packed the extra portions into the freezer and finished it under the grill for the next day. So it ended up being a mid week dinner for us. 

    • I’m happy you loved the recipe, Asuka! Those crispy flavor bombs are the best, aren’t they? ;) Enjoy your leftovers in lots of creative, delicious ways!

  12. I’ve been using a similar recipe, but browning the carnitas on a griddle with some liquid to add the crispy edges. This should be so much easier! On the list for Cinco de Mayo on Tuesday. Thank you Lisa!

  13. Dear Lisa, Thank you so much for one more amazing recipe! I adapted it for the Instant Pot because I don’t have a slow cooker. I cooked it for 80 minutes in normal high pressure, let natural release for 20 minutes and let the rest of the pressure out through quick release. So delicious! Thank you!

  14. Do you think I could use a serrano in place of the jalapeno? Also, if I want to make only 4 servings (2lbs pork vs 4lb) do I just half the herbs? Very new at cooking so need all the help I can get haha

    • Hi Rhiannon- Yes, you can use a serrano pepper instead! As for the herbs, I would halve the amount. I might also keep an eye on timing since you have a smaller pork, as it might finish cooking a bit sooner.

  15. This looks great! Do you think it would turn out ok with a pork roast? 

  16. I tried this recipe today and honestly this is the BEST  carnitas I have ever made.  Flavor, moist, easy.  I used the slow cooker setting on our insta pot and let cook for 8 hrs.  Broiled for a few minutes to crisp edges just like Lisa described.  Such a well written recipe with easy instructions and common ingredients.  I used a can of jalapeños because thats what the grocery could offer.   Do not wait on making this.  It is honestly the best flavored carnitas! Nice job Lisa! 

    • Hi Tracy- I’m thrilled to hear you’ve found a winning carnitas recipe! You’ll definitely need to keep this on hand :)

  17. Another fabulous recipe- thanks Lisa! 

  18. Your tips on how to caramelize the carnitas to make them crispy! That’s gold right there.

  19. So juicy and flavorful, I am so happy I came across this recipe!

  20. My mouth is watering at the thought of these carnitas – looks so delicious and those crispy edges sound amazing.

  21. I was just thinking of making a pork roast today and voila, your recipe showed up! I’m going to give it a try but will need to cook the pork in my dutch oven as my slow cooker finally kicked the bucket! But I think it will be fine… I may need to add in a little extra liquid but am super excited to get this on our table for dinner!

    • What perfect timing! And cooking in the dutch oven works as well – can’t wait to see how your carnitas turn out!

  22. I love the rub you put on this pork. Then the crisping of it is perfect.

  23. Hey there!!! I have pork shoulder boneless strip prices, 3lbs total in 6 strips. Any recommendations on cooking time adjustments? Thank you so much!!! 

    • Hi Leslie – you could probably cook the carnitas for a little less time. I’d just try it at certain intervals to make sure it’s cooked through and tender. Enjoy!

  24. Hi Lisa, would you happen to know if this recipe could be modified for the Instant Pot?? Awesome site and recipes! Thank you! :)

  25. Hi Lisa, I’ve been enjoying your online recipes. Another option for carnitas is to spread mashed avocado or guacamole onto a tostada (flat crispy corn tortilla, fry your own or purchase already prepared) then add the pork carnitas and pica de gallo, which is the way I like to prepare them. The Mexican version is to spread refried beans on a tostada, add pork, then a dolop of mashed avocado and a dolop of sour cream with a couple rings of raw onion.