Carnitas

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Carnitas is Mexican shredded pork that’s juicy, full of flavor, and fall-apart tender. It’s also super easy to make in a slower cooker — just toss all the ingredients in! To finish it off, pop it under the broiler to get those deliciously crispy, caramelized edges.

Carnitas on a plate.
Photo: Gayle McLeod

Why You’ll Love This Carnitas

Whenever I visit Mexico (which is quite often) I always order carnitas. Many of you know my love affair with Mexican food, from carne asada to barbacoa and chicken fajitas, but carnitas will forever be my number one choice when it comes to meaty proteins. And it’s so darn easy to make at home. Here’s why you’ll love it:

  • It’s a foolproof slow cooker meal. All you have to do is season the pork and toss it into a crockpot along with some aromatics. The slow cooker works its magic to give you the best meal by dinner time.
  • It’s such a tasty way to enjoy pork. I’m a huge lover of pulled pork, but the flavor profile of carnitas is simply irresistible. The combination of Mexican spices, chopped jalapeño pepper, onions, garlic, and orange juice adds incredible flavor to the meat. 
  • It’s perfect for dinner parties. I make this often for weekly meal prep. But it always gets rave reviews when served at a party. Plus, you can make it a day in advance — I’ve got all the tips on how to prep it below. 
Ingredients for carnitas on a table.

Carnitas Ingredients

  • 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.
  • Spices: A simple blend of oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper adds incredible flavor.
  • Aromatics: Chopped onion, minced garlic, and finely chopped jalapeño pepper season the meat while it slowly cooks. And don’t worry, the jalapeño pepper isn’t overly hot or spicy in the finished meat.
  • Fresh Orange: The juice from one freshly squeezed orange adds natural sweetness to balance the other flavors perfectly.

Find the printable recipe with measurements below.

Adding seasoning to a pork shoulder.

How To Make Carnitas

  • Rub the seasoning on the pork. Mix the spices together and generously rub the blend on the entire pork shoulder. Then, place it in the slow cooker.
  • Add the aromatics. Toss in the onions, minced garlic, jalapeño, and orange juice into the slow cooker. And if you’re wondering why there are no additional liquids such as chicken broth – well, you don’t need it. The pork shoulder will release enough liquid from steaming in the slow cooker.
Making carnitas in a crockpot.
  • Slow cook it. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or high for 5 to 6 hours (until the meat falls apart).
  • Shred the pork. 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 crisping process. 
Shredding carnitas on a wooden board.

How To Make Your Carnitas Crispy

Do you need to crisp the carnitas? No, it’s completely optional and you can enjoy it straight from the slow cooker. But if you prefer crispy golden edges (as I do), here are two ways to do it:  

  • In the oven: Spread the pork into an even layer on a baking sheet. Pour one cup of the reserved liquid from the slow cooker on top. Broil for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it becomes golden brown and crispy on the edges.
  • On the stovetop: Add a tablespoon or two of oil to a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Transfer the shredded pork (you may need to work in batches), and let it cook for about 5 minutes until the bottom is browned. Continue tossing for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the edges are crispy.
Cooked carnitas on a sheet pan.

Common Questions

Can I make this in the oven?

Yes, you can adapt this recipe to the oven. First, preheat your oven to 325°F (160°C). Rub the spice mix all over your pork and toss all the ingredients into a Dutch oven or oven-safe pot and cover. Cook for about 3 to 4 hours, or until the pork becomes meltingly tender. Then continue to shred and broil it.

If my pork is 8 pounds, do I need to increase the time and ingredients? 

I would recommend doubling the other ingredients. And for the cooking time, you may just need an hour or two more. Continue cooking until it shreds easily with a fork.

How do I prep this in advance?

Make and shred the carnitas, let it cool, then store it in a covered bowl in the fridge (with the reserved liquid in a separate bowl). When you’d like to serve it up, warm up the liquid so it’s pourable again, then pour about a cup over the carnitas, and follow the instructions below for crisping under the broiler. 

A plate of carnitas with cilantro.

Ways To Serve Carnitas

Carnitas is great for taco night, and a necessity for Cinco De Mayo. But there are so many other ways to enjoy it throughout the week. Here are a few tasty ideas:

More Mexican Recipes 

I’m confident you’re going to love this carnitas recipe as much as I do! Once you make it, let me know your thoughts in the comment box below. Your review will help other readers in the community.

Carnitas on a plate next to tortillas.

Best Carnitas (Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)

5 from 90 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 8 hours
Total: 8 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan

Description

Create the most juicy and tender carnitas right in your crockpot. Then broil it in the oven for the perfect crispy, golden edges. Watch the video below to see how I make it in my kitchen!

Video

Equipment

Ingredients 
 

  • 4 pound boneless pork shoulder or butt
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded and finely diced
  • 1 orange, juiced

Instructions 

How to Make Carnitas

  • Mix the seasoning. In a small bowl stir together the oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chili powder.
    Carnitas seasoning in a bowl.
  • Season the pork. 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.
    Seasoning on a pork shoulder.
  • Add ingredients. Add the onion, minced garlic, jalapeno pepper, and orange juice to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, or high for 5 to 6 hours (until the meat falls apart).
    Cooking carnitas in a slow cooker.
  • Shred the pork. Remove the pork from the slow cooker to a large cutting board and use two forks to shred the meat. If the meat doesn't shred easily, just place it back in the slow cooker for another 30 minutes, or until it does shred easily. Don't get rid of the liquid as you will be using it later.
    Shredding carnitas with forks.

To Crisp In The Oven (Optional)

  • Pour liquid on top. 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.
    Prepping carnitas for broiling.
  • Crisp it up. Broil for 5 to 10 minutes or until the meat becomes golden browned and crispy on the edges.
    Crispy carnitas on a sheet pan.

Lisa’s Tips

  • 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.
  • To store leftovers in the fridge: Place the shredded pork in a sealed container in the fridge for 4 to 5 days.
  • To freeze and enjoy in the future: Store the pork in a freezer-safe container and store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. When ready to enjoy, thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat in the oven. 

Nutrition

Calories: 227kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 93mg | Sodium: 406mg | Potassium: 565mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 234IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 51mg | Iron: 3mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: carnitas, carnitas recipe, slow cooker carnitas
Did you make this recipe?Mention @downshiftology or tag #downshiftology!

Recipe originally posted April 2020, but updated to include new photos and information for your benefit!

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About the author

Lisa Bryan

Lisa is a bestselling cookbook author, recipe developer, and YouTuber (with over 2.5 million subscribers) living in sunny Southern California. She started Downshiftology in 2014, and is passionate about making healthy food with fresh, simple and seasonal ingredients.

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Recipe Rating




247 Comments

  1. This reminds me of Puerto Rican Pernil, which is stabbed, marinated overnight, then slow cooked. Not spicy from jalapeños, but loads of garlic,

  2. I have made this multiple times since I’ve found it. Our 8 year old is Picky with a capital P. He ate 4 tacos, and asked for more! He calls them “fancy tacos” :)
    This recipe was super quick to make, and super easy. Definitely going to be a staple from now on!5 stars

  3. A hit! Very straightforward and easy to make. Hardest part was trimming the fat. A sharp knife is a must. Served it both ways (broiled and just from the crockpot) and both were delicious. Thank you for the recipe.5 stars

  4. Made this and left out the jalapeno, also only used 2lb of meat but still used a whole orange. SO good. I struggle to like pork but this was a winner! So easy too.5 stars

  5. Something I do with pulled pork after I smoke it is add half a can of Goya nectar. I tried with this recipe (used mango) and it brings it to another level5 stars

  6. So easy and delicious – wonderful with the juice and the kick from the jalapeno! Been eating leftovers all week on nachos, in rice bowls, and tacos. Fantastic recipe!5 stars

  7. I love this recipe but have never tried with the jalapeño, any feedback if with the jalapeño is too much if kids are eating?

      1. Thank you! My pork butt is 12 pounds, would that increase the time in slow cooker? Any idea how much?

  8. Love your recipes. Would substituting lemon in place of OJ ruin the recipe. I have all ingredients except OJ 😬

    1. Lemon juice would definitely change the flavor profile, as orange juice is sweet and lemon juice is acidic.

  9. The best meat I’ve ever cooked! It’s every bit as tender, juicy, and flavorful as described. And so easy to make! It will be a regular in my menu planning.5 stars

  10. Fantastic, flavorful and easy recipe!! I made these overnight last night and broiled the carnitas as well as some bell peppers, onion and spices (used in your carnitas recipe) on a sheet pan. I couldn’t believe how wonderful they were! This was the first time I’ve made carnitas but it won’t be my last! 

    Thank you Lisa!!!5 stars

  11. I love the simplicity & versatility of this recipe. And so yummy. I am cooking for myself so I end up freezing a lot. It freezes well. Tonight I made tacos with this meat and included the Cilantro Rice for my grandson’s (11 & 7). We all loved it!!

  12. Made this in pressure cooker after cubing my pork, rubbing on dry seasoning, browning in pressure cooker with olive oil, adding the onion, garlic, jalapeños, and orange juice. After 35 minutes it pulled apart and I placed the meat and softened veggies with juice under the broiler. It was fantastic! 

  13. We make this as meal prep.  Divide it up into smaller containers with plenty of juice in each one.  When we’re ready to eat it we toss it the blackstone, get it crispy, add a slice of pepperjack cheese, some bbq sauce and put it on a toasted bun.  Best “pulled pork” sandwich I’ve had.  5 stars

  14. I’ve lived in Mexico. This is a fantastic simplified recipe! I do highly recommend one additional step if you have time. I usually cut my pork shoulder into large chunks rub the spices in and brown all sides on high heat. The caramelization you get really adds a ton of extra flavour. My house mom in Mexico uses full sugar coke and orange juice as the braising liquid.  It’s a one pot meal for me as I use a Dutch oven and I can brown and then braise in a 300F oven for 5 hours in the same pot. I skim off the fat and then reduce that liquid to 1/3rd. Makes an incredible sauce. 

    Cheers!
    Seana5 stars

  15. These truly are the best Carnitas. The pork is flavorful and tender. I love how easy the recipe was to make in the crockpot. Very quick to prepare and then you get to enjoy the amazing smell of it cooking all day. Broiling the meat after it is shredded adds the final touch of crispness, but doesn’t leave the meat dry due to adding the flavorful broth left  from cooking the pork. If you love Mexican food, this recipe will not disappoint. 5 stars

  16. Hi there! I have your carnitas recipe in the slow cooker as we speak for a Sunday dinner and it smells so good! I did make one mistake and I forgot to add the garlic in the beginning, I just added it in with an hour and a half left to cook in the slow cooker.. do you think it will be fine that I added the garlic so late? I’m worried I ruined it!

  17. Made this for the first time in a new crockpot. It really was fall apart tender. Super easy prep. I just let it slow cook overnight. Hardest part was finding the meat at a local grocer.

  18. Wow! I don’t even like pork and saw this recipe and thought it looked really good. I think the pork shoulder J hot was extra big because I slow cooker for 6 hours on high and not all of it would shred so I had to put the other half back in to slow but it was amaaaaaazing! My husband loved it as well and I served with avocado, the pickled onions, lettuce, and chalupa hot sauce. I will definitely be making this again, thanks Lisa!!!5 stars

    1. Hi, I’m making this as we speak and I’m bringing for birthday lunch tomorrow..I wanted to do street tacos with it and perhaps a slaw…any suggestions as to the slaw? I was thinking chipotle slaw?