Updated Dec 05, 2023
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Carnitas is juicy and tender shredded pork with crispy, flavorful edges. It’s a staple in Mexican cuisine and easy to make at home. Just 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.
I have a serious love affair with carnitas. It’s one of the easiest recipes imaginable, and transforms a simple pork shoulder into tender and juicy meat with just a handful of ingredients. Thank you Mexican cuisine, for creating one of the best ever pork recipes with carnitas!
Whenever I visit Mexico I always order carnitas. I’m a huge lover of pulled pork, but carnitas hits a bit differently – in the best way possible. The simple combination of Mexican spices, chopped jalapeno pepper, onions, garlic, and orange juice add incredible flavor to the meat. Plus, I can’t get enough of those crispy edges!
So today, I’ll show you how to make foolproof carnitas with a simple tool – your slow-cooker! Just toss everything in, shred it when it’s done, then pop it in the oven to crisp it up.
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 – and that’s a good thing!
- Pork shoulder: Grab a pork shoulder that’s about 4 to 5 pounds. You could always go a little bigger, if your slow-cooker can accomodate it. You may just need to increase the time a bit.
- Spices: A simple blend of oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper adds incredible flavor.
- Aromatics: Chopped onion, minced garlic, and finely chopped jalapeno pepper season the meat while it slowly cooks. And don’t worry, the jalapeno pepper isn’t overly hot or spicy in the finished meat.
- Orange: The juice from one freshly squeezed orange adds naturally sweetness to perfectly balance the other flavors.
How To Make Pork Carnitas
Generously season your pork then toss everything into the slow-cooker. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. And if you’re wondering why there’s no additional liquids such as chicken broth – you don’t need it. The pork shoulder will release enough liquid from steaming in the slow cooker.
- Mix: In a small bowl, mix together the oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chili powder.
- Rub: Generously rub the spice blend on the entire pork shoulder and place it in the slow-cooker.
- Add: Toss in the onions, minced garlic, jalapeno, and orange juice into the slow-cooker.
- Cook: Cover and cook on the low setting for 8 to 10 hours, or on high heat for 5 to 6 hours (until the meat falls apart).
- Shred: 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.
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.
- In The Oven: spread the pork into an even layer on a baking sheet. Pour 1 cup of the reserved liquid from the 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 avocado 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.
Do you need to crisp the carnitas? No, it’s completely optional. You can enjoy it straight from the slow cooker as well!
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°F (162°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 it becomes meltingly tender. Then continue to shred and broil it.
What To Serve With Carnitas
Let’s be clear – carnitas tastes insanely delicious it’s own. But it’s also extremely versatile, so have fun with it. Leftovers can be used as a base for tasty meals throughout the week!
- Tacos: Serve carnitas tacos with tortillas and various fresh toppings such as avocado slices, chopped cilantro, and a drizzle of lime crema.
- Plate: Whip up some Mexican rice and black beans to pair with the carnitas on a classic plate dish.
- Bowl: Turn it into a burrito bowl with rice, beans, avocado, pico de gallo, and guacamole.
- Stuff It: Pile the carnitas into poblano peppers with black beans and corn.
- Omelette: Serve it up for breakfast as a carnitas omelette with fajita veggies and tasty toppings.
- Storing for the week: Leftover carnitas is great for meal prep! Just place it in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 to 5 days.
- Freezing it for later: If you’re planning on freezing leftovers, don’t get it crispy under the broiler or skillet just yet. Instead, set aside a batch you want to freeze, then plan on making it crispy before serving. It’ll stay good in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- For reheating: Just thaw it in the fridge the night before (if frozen). Then microwave for 1 to 2 minutes, until warmed through.
Want to prep the carnitas in advance for a party? Here’s how you can prep it three 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!
More Easy Mexican Recipes
Whether you’re prepping for a taco Tuesday night or Cinco De Mayo, these recipes make for very happy guests!
- Carne Asada + Carne Asada Tacos
- Barbacoa + Barbacoa Tacos
- Chicken Fajitas or Shrimp Fajitas
- Shrimp Tacos or Grilled Fish Tacos
- 7 Layer Dip
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.
Best Carnitas (Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)
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 to 10 minutes or until the meat becomes golden browned and crispy on the edges.
- 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.
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Recipe originally posted April 2020, but updated to include new information.