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 102 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




270 Comments

  1. Another Lisa hit! I made it as written and it was easy and the result was so flavourful. And so much food! I will freeze some and have a few days of leftovers which makes me very happy. Thanks! 5 stars

  2. I usually fry my carnitas in lard for my posole or tacos. I tried this out and I loved it. I’ve made it a few times now. It’s so much easier than frying  it too. 5 stars

  3. Hello Lisa, this is a 10 star rating. I made a keto version and blitzed the left over sauce. My family loved it ^_^. 5 stars

  4. This recipe is just perfect!!! I’ve done it 3 times already, and twice on the same week lol because it turned out so delicious that everyone was just asking me for more and more! Its really moist and crisp at the same time.5 stars

  5. This is by far the best carnitas recipes ever!  I will not make carnitas any other way. Thank you for sharing!5 stars

  6. Absolutely mouth watering!!!! 
    Can’t believe I made something like this it was a huge hit in my house thank you very much! 
    Also I made it the night before took it out that morning froze half  and put the other Half in the fridge then at 6pm I broiled it and it was perfect. 
    Great recipe!!

  7. Hi, if I cook overnight for dinner the next day around 6:00 pm how should I store it? Can I leave it in the crock pot ? 

    1. Hi Emily – if you’re cooking for 6pm, I’d recommend putting it in the slow cooker around 9-10am, that morning. I wouldn’t recommend leaving it in the crockpot for nearly an extra day. Enjoy!

  8. Looking at making for a grad party and want to make ahead and freeze.   Do I wait to brown until ready to serve and add extra juices or a baggie of the juice

    1. Hi Kelli – Yes, I’d wait to brown until right before serving. I mention that tip above with a few others. :) Enjoy!

  9. Perfect over and over and over again. We make this recipe at least once a month (we also serve it with Lisa’s pickled onion recipe). It is SO flavorful and tender, easy to shred and a consistent crowd pleaser. We’ve served this to friends, neighbors and family for carnitas nights and it’s always a hit. Thank you Lisa! 5 stars

    1. It really does go great with the pickled red onions! Happy you love the recipe as much as I do, Jessica. :)

  10. This was so easy! Very flavorful too.  I cooked it as part of my meal prep but my husband and I never got to pair it with anything because we just kept picking at it over the next few days. Lisa, I love your use of spices. Always great flavor combinations!5 stars

  11. I’ve made carnitas a million times. The whole family agreed this was the best carnitas I’ve ever made. I left out the jalapeño because I was serving kids, still came out great!5 stars

  12. This is my favorite carnitas recipe, the jalapeno and orange juice just send it over the top! My family loves when I make it. If I’m eating it throughout the week instead of baking it right away I will fry up what I need in a pan so it crispy fresh everytime!5 stars

  13. I have been looking forward to trying this recipe ever since I saw Carnitas mentioned in an email! I haven’t taken the meat out of the slowcooker yet–the top doesn’t seem to shred easily so I turned it over and will cook it on high a bit longer. A question I have is how much meat do you calculate for a serving. Short of portioning the whole roast out in 8 parts, is there an easier way to know e.g. by weight or volume?

    1. Hi Lori – if the meat isn’t shredding easily, it definitely needs to cook longer. And next time I make this recipe I’ll try to remember to weigh out a portion and add it to the recipe card. :)

  14. Family Loved these carnitas!
    Easy to follow recipe 
    I had to use bone in roast  (turned out perfectly)
    We doubled the ingredients 
    Will definitely will be making again 5 stars

  15. Hey Lisa –
    I have loved every recipe of yours I have made. I appreciate that you still cook meat and desserts and make everything so healthy and incredibly delicious. Thank you for doing what you do! I’m grateful you are out there.
    Karin5 stars

  16. My carnitas turned out fantastic… and it was almost too easy!  For years I had been intimidated by carnitas because I thought it would be too much work, but I prepped everything in all of 14 minutes last night and went to bed!

    I forgot to get the jalapeño when I picked up the pork, so I debated whether to add pickled jalapeños from a jar.  In the end, and without a frame of reference on the spice level, I decided to go without.   I was sort of wincing as I was rubbing on the spices because of all the fat on a pork shoulder, but I shouldn’t have worried.  The small marbling of fat kind of melts into the meat while cooking, and the large fat caps are super easy to remove once the meat is cooked and ready to shred.  Speaking of shredding, I started out with forks but quickly gave up on them and pulled the rest by hand so I could really feel where the large pieces of fat were hiding.  And in case anyone is wondering, no, you can’t taste the orange at all!  I haven’t crisped it up yet, I’ll do that when we’re ready to serve.  Thank you for another winner, Lisa!5 stars

    1. So thrilled to hear that you loved this carnitas recipe! The process to make it is definitely a lot easier when you make it in a slow cooker :)

  17. Delicious!! We love pulled pork and I was looking for something alternative. In our area in Germany Mexican cuisine is not that well known. Made this and my family loved it. Plus it is so easy to make. Thank you for sharing!5 stars

  18. Hello, this recipe is DELICIOUS! How many ounces of pork shoulder does the nutrition account for? Thank you, Lisa. 😃5 stars

  19. LISA. Wow. I literally hopped onto your website before bed just to leave this review. I have tried several recipes from your website and have enjoyed them all, but THIS recipe is by far my favorite (so far). The seasoning blend is just PERFECT and I found myself nibbling chunks of the broiled carnitas even before dinner time officially started. I’m normally the kind of person who gets tired of leftovers quickly, but even though I had carnitas last night and tonight, I am so looking forward to eating more tomorrow. This recipe is to die for and definitely caused me to eat way too much food. Thank you for an amazing, memorable recipe and all your time experimenting and perfecting your craft in the kitchen.5 stars

    1. Thrilled to hear you’re loving this carnitas recipe Lina! It really is such a great recipe to make many meals throughout the week. Also, thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment as well.

  20. Love this! Lisa, your recipes are approachable, non-intimidating clean eating. Game changers for people like me who’ve struggled to make healthy food practical. I recently tried some “Whole30” Cashew Queso with carnitas at a restaurant.
    Can you please do a cashew queso recipe for these amazing carnitas???

  21. I love this recipe! I’ve made it in the crockpot several times but would love to try it in my Dutch oven. What would way recommend for cooking temp and time?

    1. Hi Kim – In a Dutch oven, I’d cook the pork (cut into smaller chunks) at 300F for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Hope you enjoy!

  22. I love this recipe – I’ve made it once before. This time, I’m making it a day ahead for a party and crisping it right before serving. From what I understand (from the previous question that was asked),  it sounds like I should store the pork in the fridge tossed in the 1 cup of reserved cooking liquid. Do I need to save MORE cooking liquid to pour over the meat right before crisping it the next day? 5 stars

    1. I don’t think you’ll need it. But if you want to maximize the flavor from the cooking liquid, you can reserve it!

  23. I am making ahead for a party. I’m wondering if simply taking it out of the fridge and cripsing for the 5-10 minutes will have it warm enough or do I need to warm it up prior to crisping? Also, in the recipe you use one cup of the cooking liquid – when storing in fridge and then crisping later, should I also only store with one cup of the liquid or all? Thank you!

    1. Crisping it for 10 minutes from the fridge should warm it up, but depends how warm you want it. If you like your meat on the warmer side, warm it up for an extra 5 minutes or so prior to crisping. As for the liquid, just stick with one cup.

  24. I want to try this! I have no oranges but I have fresh pineapple and organic pineapple juice, could that work instead of the orange?

  25. So delicious, layers of flavour. I followed the recipe and crisped up the pork in the oven after and it was amazing! Making it for the second time today, this recipe is a keeper!!5 stars

  26. This looks really good. How would I go about freezing it to use in other meals? I am only cooking for myself, and I see lots of recipes here that I can use it in.

      1. I would freeze it after you crisp it. Otherwise, you can freeze it before crisping, and then crisp it up the day you’re eating it :)

  27. PHENOMENAL! One of my favorite recipes. We made this for Christmas dinner last year because we loved it so much. Make more than needed so you can have lots of leftovers. We use if it for tacos, bowls, nachos, enchiladas, etc. 5 stars

  28. We followed the recipe to a ‘t’ and the carnitas turned out perfect. So tender, and just like Lisa noted we utilized a spatula to remove it from the slow cooker. I was amazed how much juice it produced as I was a bit worried about not adding any liquid to the slow cooker, but Lisa was right that it naturally produces its own juices and these juices used for the crisping process were great at keeping the meat moist. The meat was so flavorful that we only topped the street sized tacos with Cotija cheese and a squeeze of lime.5 stars

    1. Yep! The pork cooking low and slow will always produce juicy results without the need for too much additional liquid :)

  29. Absolutely delicious! Great meal to drop off to a family in need of help with a meal after surgery or other reasons for needing help with meals.  So easy and everyone loves it! My daughter requested this again for dinner tonight…. Im happy to grant her request! 😄5 stars

  30. Great recipe! My roommates were going crazy for it.. I always use my own seasoning blend, and I didn’t have any oranges or OJ on hand, so I substituted with 1/2 cup apple juice and 1/4 cup lime juice. It worked great! I also added 1/4 cup chicken broth for extra finished juice, then added some of that to my Spanish rice and it made it AMAZING!! I’m taking the leftovers and making stuffed poblanos for dinner tomorrow.5 stars

      1. The stuffed poblanos were out of this world!! I had sauteed some bell pepper and onion for the carnitas, so I diced that, the rice, the carnitas, some braising liquid, and some queso fresco and cotija cheese together then stuffed some poblanos (that I had roasted under the broiler, skinned, spit in half, and seeded) then topped with more cheese and baked until the cheese was golden. My roommates have requested carnitas and stuffed poblanos for a weekly meal. LOL5 stars

  31. Listen, I didn’t even really LIKE carnitas until I made this recipe. I’ve had so many less flavorful recipes, but I can’t see eating them again. This is now the only recipe. It’s really THAT GOOD.

    I made this for my husband’s birthday party – we did a nacho bar with salsa chicken, carne asada, and these carnitas (with every fixing you can imagine). These were *everyone’s* favorite meat, and I got several requests for the link to your recipe. I made the carnitas exactly as instructed and put them in a little 3-well crock pot with a splash of the liquid to keep them from drying out on the buffet line. Just divine.

    Thank you!!5 stars

    1. This recipe is honestly the best for a taco/nacho bar! Thrilled to hear this was a success for your husband’s birthday party – which by the way – happy belated birthday to your husband Sonja!

  32. 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!!

    1. 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!

  33. 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

  34. 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!

  35. 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! 

    1. I would cook it on low for 5-6 hours and check to see if the meat is tender enough yet from there!

  36. 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

  37. 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

    1. 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