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The Best Pork Carnitas | 3 Cooking Methods


My recipe for Pork Carnitas is the best ever. Tons of flavor is packed into this tender and juicy pork with crispy edges. Perfect for parties, tacos, nachos, burritos, or even on a salad or in a rice bowl! 

Pork Carnitas on a plate garnished with cilantro

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (Mexican Pulled Pork)

This slow cooker carnitas recipe is out of this world. I have been making version of this for years, and only recently I believe I have perfected it and am so excited to share it here with you today!

Why I Love This Pork Carnitas Recipe:

  1. I worked at finding the exact right blend of spices and amounts to produce the most flavor packed carnitas. The cooking method and crisping method are all tried and true techniques, and the addition of the reduced juices add such an impact. You will absolutely adore this recipe!
  2. This is a great recipe to make when serving a crowd. It can be prepped ahead and even reheated for a party!
  3. Versatility! One the meat is cooked the possibilities on how you enjoy it are endless: carnitas tacos, nachos, burritos, rice bowls, salads, sandwiches, in a baked potato, the list goes on and on. Get creative!

What Are Carnitas?

Carnitas means “little meats” in Spanish. Mexican carnitas are made by slow cooking or pork until tender and shreddable. Most commonly carnitas are served in tacos in corn tortillas, topped with salsa, sauces, or pico de gallo. This recipe for carnitas is my version of the classic that I’ve been making for years. We love it and I hope you will too!

Crispy Pork Carnitas in a baking sheet

Ingredients You’ll Need:

  • Boneless pork shoulder
  • Cumin
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Ground coriander
  • Onion
  • Jalapeno
  • Garlic 
  • Oranges. You can also use a combination of orange juice and lime juice. 

What’s The Best Cut Of Meat?

You have a few choices when it comes to making any pulled pork recipe. Here is what I recommend:

  • I like to use boneless pork shoulder in my carnitas, also known as picnic roast. Pork shoulder is a cut from the lower shoulder of the pig and is easy to find boneless and skinless, which is what I prefer for the ease of prep. This cut is perfect for slow cooking as it has lots of marbling, which produces a tender and juicy result when slow cooked as the fat melts into the meat as it slow cooks. Also the longer cook time gives the seasonings a chance to really permeate the meat packing in the most flavor! 
  • Boston butt or pork butt is another great choice for carnitas. It is a cut from the upper pork shoulder, and is typically slightly more marbled than the picnic roast with a thick layer of fat. There is enough marbling in pork butt that you don’t need all the fat, so I recommend trimming the excess before cooking. Pork butt is sold most often with a bone-in and the skin on. Slow cooking a bone-in roast might take a little longer, but the collagen, and bone marrow do add great flavor to your pork. It really just comes down to personal preference. 
  • pork tenderloin is not a great cut of meat for carnitas, as a tenderloin is a very lean cut of meat. Without the fat, the ed result won’t be as juicy or flavorful. But if you are in a time pinch, or are watching your fat intake you can absolutely use tenderloin in this recipe. It won’t take nearly as long to slow cook as a whole roast, which saves hours!

How to Make Pork Carnitas/Instructions:

  1. Place the trimmed pork shoulder in the bottom of your slow cooker. 
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder, and coriander.
  3. Spread the dry rub mixture on both sides of the pork. I like rubbing it in the slow cooker so I don’t lose any of the seasoning.
  4. Add in the onions, jalapeno chunks, and garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice of oranges onto the pork and drop the rind of one orange rind into the slow cooker.
  5. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours, until the pork is tender.
  6. Transfer the pork to a plate and cover with foil. Strain the liquid in the slow cooker into a small saucepan and discard the solids (onion, jalapeno, garlic, and orange rind).
  7. If necessary, boil the liquid until it is reduced to about 1 cup. Set aside. Reducing it like this intensifies the flavor. *The amount of liquid that a pork roast releases varies, so you might be able to skip this step as long as you have 1 cup of liquid. 
  8. Preheat your oven to broil and line a large baking sheet with foil. Set aside. *See note
  9. Remove the foil from the pork and shred using a fork. Place the shredded pork onto the lined pan.
  10. Drizzle the reduced liquid onto the shredded pork, and using your hands, mix to coat.
  11. Place the pork under the broiler for 3 – 4 minutes until crispy on the tops.

How to Get Crispy Carnitas the Easy Way:

As I state in the recipe I like to crisp up my carnitas under the broiler. I find that this method is the easiest, and least messy! When you mix the shredded meat with the cooking juices you get a flavor-packed result. A few minutes under the broiler on a large baking sheet crisps up the top of the meat without drying it out. Just make sure you watch the broiler closely, as things can go from lightly crisped to burnt in a matter of seconds!

You can also crisp up carnitas in a skillet. This method takes a little bit more time, as you have to work in batches. Follow the recipe as written steps 1 – 7. Finish the meat as follows:

  1. Heat a large skillet (I like to use a cast iron skillet) on high heat with a swirl of vegetable oil. 
  2. Working in batches, careful not to over-crowd the pan, add in the carnitas, pressing into the pan slightly until a nice golden crust forms. This won’t take long in a very hot pan.
  3. Remove the carnitas from the pan and transfer to a large plate or bowl.
  4. Repeat until all meat is crisped. 
  5. Pour the reserved juices on the meat and stir to coat. 

How to Make Carnitas in a Dutch Oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • Trim the pork of excess fat. Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, and season with salt and pepper. Place a large Dutch Oven on the stove top over medium-high heat. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pot and sear the pork on all sides. 
  • Add in the onions, jalapeno chunks, and garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice of oranges onto the pork and drop the rind of one orange rind. Add in 1/2 cup chicken broth (which is not needed in the slow cooker version). Mix the cumin, chili powder, and coriander together and add to the pot, stirring to combine.
  • Cover and cook in oven for 3 hours.
  • Once the meat is fall apart tender, follow the remaining steps from #6 in the recipe as written.

How to Make Carnitas In the Instant Pot

  1. Place the trimmed pork shoulder in the bottom of your Instant Pot. 
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder, and coriander.
  3. Spread the dry rub mixture on both sides of the pork. I like rubbing it in the Instant Pot, so I don’t lose any of the seasoning.
  4. Add in the onions, jalapeno chunks, and garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice of oranges onto the pork and drop the rind of one orange rind into the Instant Pot.
  5. Cook on high for 30 minutes, followed by a natural release.
  6. Continue on with the recipe as written from step #6.

How Do You Serve Carnitas?

  1. Tacos
  2. Nachos
  3. Burritos or a burrito bowl
  4. Salad
  5. Topped with Mango Salsa
  6. Sandwiches
  7. In Eggs
  8. Soups
  9. Rice Bowls! This is a favorite in my house, a make your own bowl night! Make a big pot of rice, add in some carnitas, corn, guacamole (or diced avocado), salsa, (or diced tomato), shredded lettuce, sour cream, black beans, cilantro, and cheese and you have the perfect meal!
  10. On their own.
  11. Casseroles
  12. Soups and Stews
  13. Pasta / Carnitas Mac and Cheese
slow cooker carnitas in a shallow bowl shredded with a fork

Storing/Freezing/

  1. Storing: Simply store your cooked carnitas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. 
  2. Freezing: You can also freeze cooked carnitas in an airtight container for up to 30 days for best freshness. This is a great idea if you’re batch cooking! Allow your carnitas to thaw in the refrigerator.

How to Reheat Pork Carnitas 

Rewarm leftovers on the stovetop in a skillet over medium-low heat or in the microwave.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Carnitas Recipe

Are Carnitas the Same As Pulled Pork?

As the core level, yes, carnitas are a version of pulled pork. The spice combination and the addition of orange or lime juice sets Mexican carnitas apart. American pulled pork is the same cut of meat, slow cooked, or smoked mixed with BBQ sauce most frequently. 

It Seems Like Too Much Seasoning:

Trust the process. This is a lot of meat you are seasoning, and it’s what really gives the meat a lot of flavor. A lot of recipes even add oregano or bay leaves to their seasoning blend. I think my combination of spices is perfect but if you are an oregano fan add a few pinches of that too!

Do You Have To Use Oranges?

You can use limes and lime juice in place of the orange juice, or you can use a combination of both.

Print

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Description

This flavor packed recipe for pork carnitas is a family favorite. I’ve included the slow cooker method that I prefer, as well as Dutch Oven, and Instant Pot instructions.


  • 34 pound boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 2 medium oranges

  1. Place the trimmed pork shoulder in the bottom of your slow cooker. 
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder, and coriander.
  3. Spread the dry rub mixture on both sides of the pork. I like rubbing it in the slow cooker so I don’t lose any of the seasoning.
  4. Add in the onions, jalapeno chunks, and garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice of oranges onto the pork and drop the rind of one orange rind into the slow cooker.
  5. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8 hours, until the pork is tender. 
  6. Transfer the pork to a plate and cover with foil. Strain the liquid in the slow cooker into a small saucepan and discard the solids (onion, jalapeno, garlic, and orange rind).
  7. If necessary, boil the liquid until it is reduced to about 1cup. Set aside. Reducing it like this intensifies the flavor. The amount of liquid that a pork roast releases varies, so you might be able to skip this step as long as you have 1 cup of liquid. 
  8. Preheat your oven to broil and line a large baking sheet with foil. Set aside. *See note
  9. Remove the foil from the pork and shred using a fork. Place the shredded pork onto the lined pan.
  10. Drizzle the reduced liquid onto the shredded pork, and using your hands, mix to coat.
  11. Place the pork under the broiler for 3 – 4 minutes until crispy on the tops.
  12. Serve warm.

Notes

*You can also do this step in a skillet heated to medium-high. Coat the skillet with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil and working in batches brown the pork on one side by pressing down in the skillet until crisp. Don’t overcrowd the pan, or it won’t get crispy. 

Dutch Oven Instructions:

  • Preheat the oven to 300°F.
  • Trim the pork of excess fat. Cut the pork shoulder into large chunks, and season with salt and pepper. Place a large Dutch Oven on the stove top over medium-high heat. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pot and sear the pork on all sides.
  • Add in the onions, jalapeno chunks, and garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice of oranges onto the pork and drop the rind of one orange rind. Add in 1/2 cup chicken broth (which is not needed in the slow cooker version). Mix the cumin, chili powder, and coriander together and add to the pot, stirring to combine.
  • Cover and cook in oven for 3 hours.
  • Once the meat is fall apart tender, follow the remaining steps from #6 in the recipe as written.

Instant Pot Instructions:

  1. Place the trimmed pork shoulder in the bottom of your Instant Pot.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the cumin, salt, pepper, chili powder, and coriander.
  3. Spread the dry rub mixture on both sides of the pork. I like rubbing it in the Instant Pot, so I don’t lose any of the seasoning.
  4. Add in the onions, jalapeno chunks, and garlic cloves. Squeeze the juice of oranges onto the pork and drop the rind of one orange rind into the Instant Pot.
  5. Cook on high for 30 minutes, followed by a natural release.
  6. Continue on with the recipe as written from step #6.

Keywords: cookies and cups, slow cooker, crock pot, carnitas, pork carnitas, mexican

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