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Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas (Mexican pulled pork) is my go-to recipe when I want to cook for a crowd or when I want to have a few days of delicious leftovers. It takes about 5 minutes of prep and then 8 hours of low and slow cooking to create deeply flavorful, melt-in-your mouth pork carnitas. (Watch the recipe video to see the buttery texture you can expect.)
After a few failed attempts, I had nearly given up on finding an easy pork carnitas recipe worthy of posting here. But I'm thrilled to report that I've found it, the one! As a bonus, it takes no more than 10 minutes to put together in the slow cooker and then it's just a waiting game. (A tormented wait, I'll admit, because it smells incredible.)
Ingredients You Need to Make Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
Boneless Pork Shoulder: also called pork butt and Boston butt
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Dried Oregano: ideally Mexican oregano
Cayenne Pepper: use more or less to adjust spice level
Fresh Garlic Cloves
Orange Juice: fresh squeezed or store bought orange juice
Chipotle Hot Sauce: such as Tabasco or Cholula brands
If you love pork carnitas, you must try this. We made a marathon of it, first having carnitas on it's own with a salad on the side, then tacos, and finally tostadas and even served it alongside Carne Asada and Lamb Barbacoa for a feast with friends.
Why you should keep the cooking liquid.
The cooking liquid that comes from this recipe should not be thrown away. We not only used it to reheat the carnitas, but also to season Homemade Refried Beans which tasted better than any I'd ever made and certainly better than anything from a can.
Carnitas (meaning "little meats") are a pulled pork dish that originated in the state of Michoacán in Mexico. The Southern United States pulled pork barbecue dish uses the same cut of pork (pork shoulder / pork butt), but is slow smoked, uses different spices and is typically served with a sweet and spicy sauce.
Pork Shoulder, also called pork butt or Boston butt is the cut of pork used to make carnitas.
Yes, you don't need to cook or even sear it first.
Flavorful liquids like orange and tomato juices add complex flavor to pulled pork.
The acidity of orange juice helps to break down the meat so it's meltingly tender and shreddable and adds flavor depth to the cooking liquid.
How to Store and Reheat
Store leftover pork carnitas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat leftover pork carnitas in a non-stick or cast iron skillet over medium heat in a little a thin layer of hot oil until the meat is heated through and the edges are crisp; add leftover cooking liquid as desired for flavor and moisture.
How to Serve
- Pork Carnitas Tacos
- Pulled Pork Salad
- Pulled Pork Quesadillas
- Pork Carnitas Tostadas
- Pulled Pork Nachos
- Pulled Pork Enchiladas
- Pulled Pork Chili
- For a lightened up version with all the flavor, try my Chicken Carnitas!
How to Make Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
Rub pork shoulder all over with spice mixture and place in a large slow cooker. Sprinkle pork with garlic cloves
Whisk together tomato juice, orange juice, and chipotle hot sauce. Pour over meat. Cook on low 8 hours or until fall apart tender.
When cooled enough to handle, transfer pork from juices to a large bowl. Shred meat with two forks. (Skim fat from slow cooker juices and and use remaining liquid to moisten carnitas when reheating.) Serve.
Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
- 1 boneless pork shoulder (6 to 8 pounds; also called pork butt and boston butt)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
- 8 cloves garlic smashed
- 1 cup tomato juice
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons chipotle hot sauce such as Tabasco or Cholula brands
- Place trimmed pork shoulder in a large slow cooker.
- In a small bowl, stir together salt, cumin, pepper, oregano, cinnamon, and cayenne; rub mixture over pork on all sides. Sprinkle on garlic cloves.
- Whisk tomato juice, orange juice and chipotle hot sauce in a medium bowl and pour over meat. Cook 8 hours on low, or until pork is pull apart tender.
- Let meat cool slightly in cooking liquid before carefully transferring to a large bowl. Shred meat into bite size pieces using two forks.
- Skim fat off of cooking juices and discard (recipe note #3). Stir 1 cup or more of the cooking juices to the meat to moisten. Refrigerate remaining juices for reheating the pork (see note #1) or freeze for another use (see note #2).
- Serve pork immediately or reheated in tacos, on tostadas, in burritos, on salads, and more! (See post for links to my favorite recipes.)
- My favorite way to reheat pork carnitas is in a slick of hot oil in a non-stick or cast iron skillet until the meat is heated through and the edges are crisp, adding a little bit of the cooking liquid for flavor and moisture.
- Don't throw the cooking liquid away! If you have some left over when your pork carnitas is gone, you can freeze it. It makes a great start for chili or other savory soup.
- Or save the fat and use to fry tortillas for decadent delicious pork carnitas tacos!
This was unbelievably good. The pork was straight up amazing and the broth had me dreaming of some outstanding future soup. Only change l made was using tomato puree instead of juice because l didn't have juice. I did make two mistakes though. The first was halving the quantity and the second was putting it in the slow cooker overnight for a meal the next day. It wasn't a big deal but, it meant that instead of sleeping l was standing in the kitchen at 4am eating a bowl full of pulled pork and its broth because it smelled so good l couldn't wait. Not gonna lie, l also had some for breakfast and hid a portion in the back of the freezer for my next solo dinner. Word of warning, do not halve the quantity, you will regret it.
Marissa Stevens says
You had me cracking up with this comment, Niki! So glad you're enjoying the recipe.
My husband has been wanting me to make this for awhile now. I tossed out my slow cooker when I fell in love with the instant pot. How long should I cook this in the IP? Thank you.
Marissa Stevens says
Hi there, Gail. I haven't made this recipe that way, but check out this guide for converting slow cooker recipes for an instant pot. Hope that helps!
I made this today. 6.5 pork roast. I followed the recipe exactly as It says. If i make it again I will leave out the cinnamon. It was way too strong for my taste.
Marissa Stevens says
Oh no, Linda. I'm sorry that the spicing was off for you.
Yummmm!!! Made these tonight!! Super yummy- and easy to throw together in the morning! The house smelled soooo good when I got home from work!!
Marissa Stevens says
I'm so glad you enjoyed this, Kelly! Thank you for coming back to let me know!
This recipe is GREAT! The pork shoulder roast I used was only 3 lbs (not 5-6 lbs like the recipe calls for) so I cut the amount of added salt in half, but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.. For the chipotle hot sauce, I used the liquid from Goya canned chipotles in adobo sauce. This came out DELICIOUS!
I really think it’s a 2-in-1 recipe. You can actually serve the shredded pork in its cooking liquid as a tasty stew over rice— it’s that good. Or; leave the liquid aside and crisp up the shredded pork in a hot frying pan, for tacos.
I actually even combined some leftover Green Chile Enchilada Sauce (another Pinch & Swirl recipe home run!) with the last of the shredded pork and made a fantastic green chili pork stew!
Marissa Stevens says
You made my day, Lisa! Thank you. 🙂 Love your idea of serving this as a stew and the combo green chili pork stew sounds amazing too!
Can’t wait to try this, sounds like a crowd pleaser. Although, my family is Really averse to spicy, should I cut down or cut out/replace any of the ingredients? How spicy does this turn out? Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe!
Hi Erin! I reduced the spice quite a bit from the original Kitchn cookbook recipe. You could reduce it even more by reducing or eliminating the cayenne pepper and the hot sauce.
Oh, yeah! It's been way too long since I've made carnitas and your fabulous recipe is just the nudge I needed 🙂
woohoo! Love to hear that, Liz!
David @ Spiced says
I couldn't agree more that the kitchen is the most important room in a home! It's where people gather during parties, and it's where I spend a lot of my time. Love that quote! I also love this recipe. Slow cooker anything is always a win, but when it's slow cooker pulled pork? Well go ahead and sign me up! This looks delicious, and great tip about the cooking liquid, too!
That trip to make it to the cookbook signing sounds like an absolute nightmare Marissa. I'm glad you made it there safely in the end. I so wish I could get Lynne to like Pork so I could make this. Alas I think I'm just going to have to make do with staring at the beautiful images and dreaming. Thanks for sharing the recipe though!
It was quite a night, lol! Thanks, Neil!