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.
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.
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.
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
- Spread the shredded pork into an even layer on a baking sheet.
- Pour 1 cup of the reserved slow cooker liquid over the pork to season.
- Broil for about 5-10 minutes, until it becomes golden brown and crispy on the edges.
How To Crisp On The Stovetop
- Add a tablespoon or two of avocado oil to a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
- Tacos: Serve carnitas tacos with tortillas and various fresh toppings such as avocado slices, pico de gallo, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice.
- Plate: Whip up some Mexican rice and black beans to pair with the carnitas on a classic plate dish.
- Bowl: Turn it into a burrito bowl with rice, beans, avocado, pico de gallo, and guacamole.
- Stuff It: Pile the carnitas into poblano peppers with black beans and corn.
- Omelette: Serve it up for breakfast as a carnitas omelette with fajita veggies and tasty toppings.
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!
- Carne Asada + Carne Asada Tacos
- Barbacoa + Barbacoa Tacos
- Chicken Fajitas or Shrimp Fajitas
- Shrimp Tacos or Grilled Fish Tacos
The BEST Carnitas (Slow Cooker Pulled Pork)
- 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
How to Make Carnitas
- In a small bowl place oregano, cumin, black pepper, salt, and chili powder, then stir together.
- 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.
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.
- Broil for 5-10 minutes or until the meat becomes golden browned and crispy on the edges.
- 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.