Slow Cooker Carnitas

You can make this easy slow cooker carnitas recipe overnight and use the meat for a carnitas plate, burritos, tortas, tacos, and more.

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Slow cooker carnitas is a Mexican pork dish that can be used for tacos, burritos, sandwiches, and more! It’s a flavorful style of pulled pork that’s often cooked slowly and then crisped in a frying pan before serving, so it’s perfect for making ahead of time. You can cook it overnight in your crock pot or slow cooker and pull it in the morning, then store it in the fridge or freezer until needed.

Plus, it makes your whole kitchen smell amazing.

A large dish of hand-pulled slow cooker carnitas

Slow Cooker Carnitas Recipe Ingredients

You can make our slow cooker carnitas recipe with pork shoulder or pork butt, orange juice, lime juice, and tons of seasonings for easy, authentic flavor. Here’s everything you’ll need to make our slow cooker carnitas recipe:

  • Pork shoulder or pork butt (bone-in or boneless)
  • Orange juice
  • Lime juice
  • Liquid smoke
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Paprika
  • Mexican oregano
  • Cumin
  • Ground red cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Bay leaf

Pork shoulder and pork butt are similar cuts of meat that are both fatty and benefit from a slow cook – that’s why they’re the best to use for this carnitas recipe! The fat renders as the meat cooks and brings so much flavor and tenderness to the carnitas.

Why do you put orange juice in carnitas? Carnitas typically has some citrusy flavor, so we add both orange juice and lime juice to the marinade. These acidic ingredients also help balance the salty and spicy seasonings that give carnitas its traditional flavor.

How To Make Carnitas In A Crock Pot

It’s seriously so easy to make these carnitas overnight in your slow cooker or crock pot! Here’s how to do it:

  1. Add the pork shoulder to the crock pot or slow cooker.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the orange juice, lime juice, liquid smoke, and seasonings (minus the bay leaf) to make the marinade.
  3. Pour the marinade evenly over the pork, then add the bay leaf (make sure to submerge it in the liquid).
  4. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours, or until the internal temperature of the pork is about 155-165 degrees F.
  5. Remove the bay leaf, then transfer the pork to a cutting board and let it rest for 1 hour.
  6. Pull the pork by hand, discarding excess fat.

Make sure your crock pot is set to low heat, because it is possible to overcook carnitas in a slow cooker! The meat will dry out if it stays in the crock pot for too long, or if you use too high of a heat setting. Carnitas should be juicy and tender, and fall apart easily when you start to pull it by hand.

After cooking the pork, we recommend saving the juices that are leftover in the slow cooker. There’s so much flavor in the cooking liquid – and you’ll want to use it to make our spicy verde sauce and restaurant style carnitas burrito recipes! Strain it into a jar or air-tight container and save it in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

A serving dish of homemade crockpot carnitas

Making Carnitas Ahead Of Time

Pulled pork carnitas freeze really well, so you can easily make these slow cooker carnitas ahead of time. (We like to pick up a pork shoulder whenever it’s on sale at the grocery store and make these carnitas or our traditional pulled pork!).

Simply make the carnitas as directed, then let cool for about an hour before packaging in air-tight containers and freezing. Freeze for 3 to 4 months, then defrost overnight in the fridge before using. Alternatively, you can reheat carnitas directly from frozen by warming in a frying pan over medium heat.

Tip: Portion out standard amounts of carnitas based on what you’ll use it for and freeze them in separate containers. This way, when you only need half a pound for making tacos, you can easily defrost only what you need!

Storing & Reheating Leftovers

To store freshly cooked carnitas, package in an air-tight container and refrigerate for 4 to 5 days. Reheat in a frying pan over medium heat until warm and lightly crisped, about 6 to 10 minutes.

Slow Cooker Carnitas Serving Suggestions

If you haven’t ever tried carnitas, you might be wondering, what should I serve with pork carnitas? You’re in luck – there’s no shortage of delicious ways to serve these carnitas! Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make a restaurant style carnitas plate with a pile of pork carnitas, a side of rice and beans (try our easy cilantro-lime rice here), a scoop of guacamole, and some flour tortillas
  • Use carnitas as a filling in this delicious wet burrito with spicy verde sauce
  • Make authentic carnitas tacos topped with raw onion and cilantro
  • Add carnitas to a burrito bowl with rice, beans, tomato, onion, jalapeno, avocado, cheese, and hot sauce
  • Make a Mexican torta with carnitas, refried beans, cheese, and guacamole on a soft telera roll
  • Add carnitas to a cheese quesadilla or a plate of homemade nachos for extra protein

These slow cooker carnitas really taste great with just about anything! Try our easy recipe for yourself and see how many delicious Mexican dishes you can make with it. Don’t forget to leave a rating and a comment if you love this recipe – we want to know what your favorite way to serve carnitas is!


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5 from 2 votes

Slow Cooker Carnitas

You can make this easy slow cooker carnitas recipe overnight and use the meat for a carnitas plate, burritos, tortas, tacos, and more.
Servings 4.5 lbs
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Resting Time 1 hour
Total Time 9 hours 5 minutes

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 5 lb bone-in pork shoulder sub pork butt
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • ½ cup lime juice
  • Dash liquid smoke
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp ground red cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions

  • Place pork in a large slow cooker.
  • Mix together orange juice, lime juice, and liquid smoke in a bowl. Add onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, Mexican oregano, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper and stir well to combine.
  • Pour the marinade over the pork to cover it completely. Add bay leaf, making sure to submerge it in the liquid.
  • Cover and cook on LOW for approximately 8 to 9 hours, or until the internal temperature of the pork reaches 155-165 degrees.*
  • Transfer cooked pork to a cutting board and let rest for 1 hour. Reserve juices for later use in other recipes.*
  • Pull the pork by hand, picking out and discarding excess fat. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Notes

How to check for doneness: The best way to tell if your pork is cooked (without over-cooking it and drying it out) is to monitor the internal temperature with a high quality meat thermometer, starting around the 6-hour mark. It’s a much better indicator than cook time and ensures perfectly tender pork every time.
Reserving juices: We recommend reserving all the cooking liquid and pork juices that are left in the slow cooker. It makes a flavorful base for our spicy verde sauce, which you can use in our carnitas burrito recipe (here), drizzle over tacos, or dip tortilla chips into! Simply strain it into a bowl, refrigerate for at least 8 hours, then scrape off the layer of fat that rises to the top before using.
Serving suggestions: Carnitas make a great filling for burritos, tacos, and quesadillas –  or a hearty and flavorful topping for nachos! Use this protein in basically any Mexican dish and it’ll taste amazing. Check out our blog post above for more suggestions!
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Author: Alex
Calories: 546kcal
Course: Dinner, Ingredients, Lunch, Main, Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: bay leaf, crockpot, lime juice, liquid smoke, orange juice, pork shoulder, slow cooker

Nutrition

Calories: 546kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 62g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Cholesterol: 206mg | Sodium: 1276mg | Potassium: 1438mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 723IU | Vitamin C: 70mg | Calcium: 106mg | Iron: 5mg

If you have any questions regarding the information presented in this post, please refer to our Nutrition Disclaimer here.

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