Slow Cooker Crispy Pork Carnitas

A healthier, easier way to make tender, juicy, and crispy carnitas starts with your slow cooker!

A healthier, easier way to make tender, juicy, and crispy carnitas starts with your slow cooker!

 

Slow cookers are valued for their hands-off convenience, and an extended stint over low heat can coax out flavor and tenderize tough, less expensive cuts of meat.

Slow cookers are not, however, typically associated with crispy edges and a good sear.  Is it too much to want it all?

By combining this user-friendly method of cooking with one additional step we can, in fact, have the best of both worlds.  This approach also offers a healthier way to enjoy pork carnitas, a favorite in Mexican restaurants far and wide.

A healthier, easier way to make tender, juicy, and crispy carnitas starts with your slow cooker!

Directly translated, carnitas means “little meats.”  The traditional method of preparing this south-of-the-border dish calls for simmering a large cut of pork in lard over very low heat until fork tender and then increasing the heat to crisp it.  The meat is then shredded or chopped and served with tortillas, refried beans, salsa, guacamole, diced onion, and cilantro.

A slow cooker provides another way to transform the tough cut of meat typically used in this dish, gradually melting the fat and breaking down the fibrous connective tissues.  In this updated carnitas recipe, citrus juice and a variety of spices—not lard or oil—serve as the braising liquid, imparting great flavor in the process.  A quick broil of the resulting fork tender meat yields delightfully crispy edges with no need for frying.

This pork is one of my personal favorites.  It’s delicious straight off the baking sheet and can be reinvented in a myriad of ways for welcome leftovers throughout the week.

Why use pork shoulder?

  • Low and slow cooking melts the fat and connective tissue in this tough cut of meat while allowing time for the flavorings to permeate
  • Pork shoulder shreds beautifully once cooked and soaks up tasty cooking liquids and sauces
  • One of the least expensive cuts of meat
A healthier, easier way to make tender, juicy, and crispy carnitas starts with your slow cooker!

My family enjoys the flavorful carnitas served family-style with tortillas, coleslaw, pickled onions, and chopped avocado or guacamole.  Their flavor and protein add staying power to a variety of salads, too.

Whether wrapping the mixture in a tortilla or serving as a salad, you could also incorporate toppings such as diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, sour cream, hot sauce, and salsa.  Cooked rice, shredded lettuce, and beans offer complementary additions to DIY burrito bowls.

As for the leftovers, consider the many ways you might use shredded rotisserie chicken and simply substitute the flavorful morsels of pork.  Use them to bolster salads, pastas, or soups.  Or tuck them in a quick quesadilla, baked chimichanga, or the easy chifrijo bowl recipe from several weeks ago.  You can even use the pork as a alternative to your favorite breakfast meat, folding it into an omelet or a hash of potatoes, onions, and peppers.

A healthier, easier way to make tender, juicy, and crispy carnitas starts with your slow cooker!

Some time ago, I shared this recipe with a friend, who has made and enjoyed it many times since. She likes to make patties out of the leftover pork, searing them on both sides in a little olive oil until lightly crisp.  (They don’t stick together perfectly, but you can help them along with your spatula.) Once cooked, she removes them to a plate and fries one egg per patty.  Finally, she places the cooked egg on the pork patty and tops with a few avocado slices.  The yolk provides built-in sauce, plus the easy meal is protein-rich, Paleo, and Whole30 approved.  Hot sauce is optional!

One last idea…leftover carnitas make Chifrijo,which are traditional Costa Rican Burrito Bowls, incredibly easy and flavorful.

Slow Cooker Crispy Pork Carnitas
Yield: 6-8 servings
A healthier, easier way to make tender, juicy, and crispy carnitas starts with your slow cooker!
Ingredients
  • 1 (4- to 4-1/2 pound) lean boneless pork shoulder, excess fat trimmed, cut into 3-inch chunks*
  • 3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 2 oranges) plus the squeezed rinds of 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (you may leave seeds for added heat if desired)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

 

Instructions

Add all of the ingredients to a large (6-quart) slow cooker and stir to combine.  (Don’t forget to add two of the squeezed orange halves—I do not add the lime rinds.) Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours or until the pork is quite tender and shreds easily with a fork.

When the pork is cooked, discard the oranges.  Then preheat your broiler to high heat and line two large, rimmed baking sheets with foil. Use a fork to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces (this can be done right in your slow cooker if desired), and then use a slotted spoon to transfer the meat to the prepared baking sheets. (NOTE: If I expect leftovers, I proceed with one baking sheet.  Also, you may certainly omit the following broiling step if you’re in a hurry or simply want to forego the crispness for a softer end result.) Spread the pork in an even layer and leave the juices in the slow cooker. Be sure to save the juices—we’ll use them later.

Place one baking sheet under the broiler for about 2-3 minutes, watching closely, or until the edges of the pork begin to brown and get crispy. Remove the sheet from the oven, and then drizzle about 1/4 cup of the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the pork.  Toss the pork well, redistribute over the baking sheet and, and broil for an additional 2-3 minutes to add a little extra crispiness.  Again, watch closely when broiling.  Remove from the oven and drizzle an additional 1/4 cup of broth over the crisped pork.

Repeat with the other baking sheet of pork.

Serve immediately in tacos, burritos, and salads—or straight off the pan!  The pork may be refrigerated in a sealed container for 3-4 days, or frozen in an airtight container for approximately 3 months.

Notes

*I’ve made this recipe with a 6+ pound pork shoulder.  In this case, I used 1-1/2 times the spice mix but kept the amounts of orange and lime juice unchanged.  The key to success is the right amount of seasoning for the meat, so feel free to adjust based on the weight of your pork shoulder.

If you wish to crisp the leftovers, simply follow the broiling step as you did the first night.  It’s not necessary but works nearly as well on day two, three, or four.

To clarify when grocery shopping: Somewhat confusingly, pork shoulder is sometimes called and is the same thing as pork butt, even though it all comes from the shoulder of the pig.  The name is a holdover from Colonial days, when butchers in the Boston area would pack the pork shoulders into barrels—called butts—for storage and transport.

Advance prep tips: The spices can be mixed several days in advance and stored in a small jar or covered bowl.  The oranges and limes may be juiced and stored, covered, in the refrigerator up to a day in advance. The pork, onion, and jalapeño may be cut the day before, wrapped well, and stored in the fridge.  If desired, you may toss the pork with the spice mixture the night before—the spices create a dry rub that will act much like a marinade.

 

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

This Super Creamy Avocado Lime Sauce offers one more complementary layer of flavor for all things Tex-Mex and beyond.

The flavor of this lusciously Creamy Avocado Lime Sauce is matched only by its versatility...plus it's dairy-free and vegan and will maintain its beautiful green color for days! 

…And Spanish Rice makes a rather tasty side dish!

This versatile Spanish Rice recipe is bursting with flavor and can be prepped ahead for added ease at dinnertime!

Of course, the bright lime and smoky cumin infused into this easy coleslaw make it a natural fit, too!

Cumin Lime Coleslaw's crisp texture, vibrant flavor and impressive versatility might just make this super simple side dish a new favorite!

Stay tuned for pickled red onions and a few other complementary additions to the menu (especially perfect for Cinco de Mayo and casual entertaining any time of year) and then round it out with a frosty, prep-ahead margarita.  Cheers! 🎉

  

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Denise Post author

    My husband literally told me that he would be sad when his plate was empty last night. This recipe is INCREDIBLE!!! Served with your cumin lime coleslaw and those amazing pickled red onions. All recipes to return to again and again!

    Reply