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 have a serious love affair with carnitas. It’s one of the easiest recipes imaginable, and transforms a simple pork shoulder into the most flavorful, tender and crispy meat with a few spices and seasonings. Thank you Mexican cuisine, for creating one of the best ever pork recipes with carnitas!

While I’m a huge lover of regular pulled pork, carnitas hits a bit differently – in a good way. It has deep, rich flavors from the spice blend. And it’s simultaneously tender on the inside, but also crispy on the outside, with perfectly perfectly browned edges. I’d say that’s the best of both worlds.

So today, I’ll show you how to make completely foolproof carnitas 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

Generously season your pork then toss everything into the slow cooker. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. But if you’re wondering why there’s no 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 8-10 hours, or on high heat for 5-6 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.

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. 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 3-4 hours, 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 as I mentioned at the beginning, it’s also extremely versatile, so have fun with it! 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 any leftover carnitas is a breeze. Just place it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.

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 and then plan to crisp it before serving. Make sure to let the pork cool before storing in an airtight container. It’ll stay good in the freezer for up to 3 months.

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!

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 make for very happy guests!

Carnitas on a serving plate.

The BEST Carnitas (Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)

5 from 39 votes
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 8 hrs
Total Time: 8 hrs 10 mins
Servings: 8 servings
Author: Lisa Bryan
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.
    Mixing the spice rub ingredients in a bowl.
  • 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.
    Shredding the cooked pork shoulder.

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.
    Pouring liquid on top of shredded carnitas on a sheet pan.
  • 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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124 comments on “Carnitas”

  1. I am going to give this recipe a try at home. My son will love it.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Do you have or are you planning on creating Carnitas for the Instant Pot/ Pressure Cooker? What do you think? Thank you very much for all you do. Your recipes and videos are the best out there…Seriously!!

    • Others have made this in an Instant Pot successfully! I would cook it on low for 5-6 hours and check to see if the meat is tender enough yet from there!

  3. I used 4 one lb/each boneless pork chops. The only change I made was to add 1 tsp of smoked 
    paprika to the rub. I cooked it on high for 6 hours & it was just falling apart and so unbelievably tender! I’m planning to freeze it in one meal packets so will broil it when I use it. But it’s so good already that you could use the recipe without broiling if you don’t have a broiler. By far the best recipe I’ve ever found for pulled pork!5 stars

  4. I tried to click on your crockpot recommendation link, but it was not successful. Can you give a new link? I’m in need of a better crockpot. Thanks!

  5. Hi! I was hoping to use this recipe based on all the fantastic feedback but wanted to use 2 lbs of pork shoulder instead of 4. I plan to cut the ingredients in half but how long would you recommend cooking it for in the crockpot? 

    Thank you in advance! 

  6. This is an amazing recipe.  I am planning to make this for Taco Tuesday tomorrow! :)
    I was in a hurry at the market and I read the recipe wrong.  I bought Orange Juice instead of a whole Orange.  Would I be able to use the juice?5 stars

  7. I made this for a taco bar for my family visiting from out of state and it was a big hit. I made exactly as you have written except had to skip the broiling since my air conditioner is broken. The carnitas were still mouth wateringly delicious! I will definitely add the broiling step next time once it’s it’s cooler. I always panic when I’m cooking for others and I wondered if the oregano would be too strong. But it was absolutely perfect. The flavors blended together so nicely, and wow the flavor!  Such an easy recipe with so much depth of flavor. Thank you for your recipe!5 stars

    • Happy to hear this carnitas recipe was such a hit!

    • Awesome recipe foundation as I do a few things differently. I add a Serrano pepper, 10oz of Cheer Wine or Cherry Coke, I use the little Cuties oranges for juicing and add the juice of 1 lime. I also score the meat in 4 different places to the bone, use the dry rub and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator. I store bacon grease so when browning I do so with it in a cast iron. 
      Thank very much for sharing this recipe, it is my go to when I brain fart on the rub.5 stars

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