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Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

This Slow Cook­er Pork Car­ni­tas recipe makes some of the best slow cook­er pork I’ve ever eat­en. Car­ni­tas is Span­ish for “lit­tle meats” and it refers to a method of prepar­ing pork that is com­mon in Mexico. 

pork carnitas tacos in a rectangular clear glass dish
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Traditional Carnitas vs My Recipe

Car­ni­tas are usu­al­ly braised or roast­ed and then shred­ded or pulled. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, a pork shoul­der is roast­ed in the oven or braised on the stove top. 

But, I love the fla­vor that devel­ops with the low, slow cook in slow Cook­er Pork Car­ni­tas. And, I pre­fer pork loin, to pork shoul­der. Pork shoul­der is very fat­ty, which cre­ates a LOT of waste. 

Pork shoul­der is great for mak­ing pulled pork, but not so good for beau­ti­ful, thin slices, which are my first choice. There are two rea­sons for that.

  1. My fam­i­ly is picky about tex­ture and shred­ded or pulled meat is not always their favorite. 
  2. Thin slices leave open so many more pos­si­bil­i­ties for new recipes and meals that won’t feel like leftovers.

So, my first choice for mak­ing slow cook­er pork car­ni­tas is a pork loin roast. It has much less fat than the pork shoul­der, but still enough to have excel­lent fla­vor and juici­ness. Plus, I can eas­i­ly cut very thin slices with the pork loin.

Slow Cooker Pork carnitas roast, sliced thin and stored in its cooking liquid in a clear rectangular container with no lid.

The fla­vor­ful mari­nade slow cook­er pork car­ni­tas is cooked in leaves every scrump­tious morsel tast­ing of cit­rus and spices. But, a car­ni­tas roast is not fin­ished after the roast­ing is com­plete. Though, even at this stage of the process, pork car­ni­tas are melt-in-your-mouth-ten­der and crazy delicious. 

But, the secret to tra­di­tion­al pork car­ni­tas is to take the suc­cu­lent, ten­der and juicy roast and make pulled pork. Then the pulled pork is fried in a skil­let just long enough to caramelize some of the sug­ars and cre­ate crispy edges that amp up the tex­ture and cre­ate five-star deliciousness! 

It’s then com­mon­ly served in taco form.

No Matter How You Slice It

As I men­tioned, the clas­sic tra­di­tion­al method for prep­ping a deli­cious car­ni­tas roast is to shred it or make pulled pork and soak it in all that scrump­tious cook­ing liq­uid. And, that’s exact­ly what I’ve done for the tacos in this post. I want­ed to show you both ways that I use a slow cook­er pork car­ni­tas roast.

Slow cooker Pork Carnitas meat in a white bowl on a blue counter with limes and cilantro
Pulled Pork Car­ni­tas crisped up under a broiler.

The pork loin roast I cook is always pret­ty good sized, so it will make sev­er­al meals of juicy, ten­der pork. My per­son­al favorite way to prep it is to slice the roast into thin slices. Then, just like with the clas­sic pulled pork, I store it in it’s own cook­ing liquid. 

Even in thin slices, the lus­cious pork car­ni­tas crisp up beau­ti­ful­ly. And, I can also use the mouth­wa­ter­ing­ly deli­cious meat in oth­er recipes through the week, too.

Translating the Pork Carnitas Recipe into Many Meals

Car­ni­tas are super ver­sa­tile and the beau­ty of this recipe is that you will prob­a­bly get sev­er­al meals from it. They def­i­nite­ly do NOT need to be all the same thing.

This slow cook­er pork car­ni­tas roast is so ver­sa­tile. You will be able to cre­ate delec­table and dif­fer­ent meals from it. You won’t feel like you’re eat­ing left­overs. Each meal will be it’s own cre­ative fla­vor sensation!

Pork Carnitas Tacos

3 pork carnitas tacos in a clear rectangular dish on a blue counter

The first night we almost always serve the slow cook­er pork car­ni­tas in taco form. We use Home­made Gua­camole, minced onion, toma­to, cilantro and lime juice or sal­sa to top our pork car­ni­tas tacos. You could add any of your favorite taco top­pings. And we usu­al­ly load up our tacos.

But, crisped up the pork roast pieces also make fab­u­lous pork car­ni­tas street tacos, too. And, like these Chick­en Street Tacos, the top­pings are more simple.

For a pork car­ni­tas street taco, all you need is corn tor­tillas, the suc­cu­lent pork, a lit­tle red onion and cilantro, and maybe, a sprin­kle of coti­ja cheese. Every­thing is brought togeth­er with a few squeezes of fresh lime. It’s a sim­ple, deli­cious bite with lots of cit­rus zing to bring out all the fla­vors in the juicy pork.

Pork Carnitas in Sandwiches

My son and hus­band will always eat at least one lunch with Slow Cook­er Pork Car­ni­tas piled on sand­wich rolls and drip­ping with their favorite bar­be­cue sauce. A typ­i­cal BBQ pork sandwich.

Car­ni­tas pork is also deli­cious in ooey gooey grilled cheese. It makes a quick and easy lunch with leftovers!

Thin slices of the juicy pork car­ni­tas roast are also the scrump­tious star in a cubano sand­wich. My easy Cuban Slid­ers recipe uses this car­ni­tas pork along with ham, Swiss cheese, sour pick­les, mus­tard and a home­made gar­lic but­ter spread to make a sand­wich your fam­i­ly will swoon for.

Cuban sliders made from pork carnita roast on a plate with coleslaw and sliced tomatoes.
Cuban Slid­ers made with thin­ly sliced Pork Car­ni­tas Roast.

Carnitas In Southwestern or Tex Mex Dishes

Use pork car­ni­tas instead of chick­en on a Tex-Mex or South­west sal­ad, too. You should also try them on nachos and loaded baked pota­toes. Delish! 

Car­ni­tas make fan­tas­tic rice bowls, ful­ly loaded with your favorite veg­eta­bles and top­pings and a creamy sauce. 

Start with a bed of my Easy 10-Minute Mex­i­can Rice or any left­over rice. Add warm Char­ro Beans, some sliced avo­ca­do and veg­gies with South­west Sal­ad Dress­ing and or/ Avo­ca­do Ranch Dress­ing. To die for! So good! 

It’s true. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are only lim­it­ed by your imag­i­na­tion. And I want you to see how, by using the same pork car­ni­tas roast, your inten­tion­al left­overs can be trans­lat­ed into suc­cu­lent and fla­vor­ful new dish­es, too. No one will care that the deli­cious food they’re devour­ing is made with leftovers!

What to Serve with Pork Carnitas Tacos

Mex­i­can Rice: My easy Mex­i­can Rice recipe takes only ten min­utes to pre­pare and is per­fect as a side for your tacos. It also becomes a deli­cious ingre­di­ent for rice bowls, soups, casseroles and stir-fries.

mexican rice

Char­ro Beans: A tra­di­tion­al Mex­i­can bean dish served in fla­vor­ful broth. These beans are super ver­sa­tile and can be made into refried beans, used in sal­ads, bur­ri­tos and more. They’re a per­fect side dish for Pork Car­ni­tas Tacos!

Slow Cooker Charro Beans in a white ceramic bowl and garnished with sour cream, diced tomatoes, green onion, parsley and queso fresco

Refried Beans: Also prepped in a slow cook­er, these refried beans are so utter­ly deli­cious I would eat them straight out of the pot. I promise these will put you off canned refried beans forever!

Homemade Refried Beans

How to Make Slow Cooker Carnitas

  1. Place a 4–5 lb pork loin roast into your crock-pot. Set it aside, while you mix up the cook­ing marinade.
Pork loin roast in Crock-Pot
  1. For the pork car­ni­tas mari­nade, stir togeth­er orange juice and zest, lime juice and zest, water, bay leaves, gar­lic, cumin, chili pow­der, oregano, cin­na­mon, salt, black pep­per, jalapeno and minced onion. 
Ingredients for Cooking Liquid
  1. Once com­bined, pour the pork car­ni­tas mari­nade over the roast in your crock-pot. 
Crock-Pot-Pork Carnitas ready to cook
  1. Set the slow cook­er to low and allow to cook for 4–7 hours, depend­ing on the size of your pork loin. Start check­ing the inter­nal tem­per­a­ture at about the four hour mark.  The pork should be at 145° to be safe­ly eaten.
  2. Remove the roast from the slow cook­er and put it on a cut­ting board to rest for at least ten to 15 min­utes before attempt­ing to make pulled pork or to slice it.This rest peri­od will allow the juices to redis­trib­ute through­out the ten­der, fla­vor­ful pork car­ni­tas roast. (My fam­i­ly prefers the pork slices over the pulled pork, so make what yours likes best.)
  1. You can also spread it out on a bak­ing tray and put it under the broil­er for a cou­ple min­utes, for a sim­i­lar effect. You need to watch this more close­ly, though, so your car­ni­tas don’t dry out.
  2. (You can def­i­nite­ly skip this tra­di­tion­al crisp­ing step and serve your car­ni­tas just as they come out of the crock-pot, juicy, suc­cu­lent and deli­cious. But, the authen­tic car­ni­tas expe­ri­ence is more about the crisp­ing of the edges.)
  3. While the meat is brown­ing in the skil­let or under the broil­er, you’ll be able to get some top­pings ready for what­ev­er dish you plan to serve. Choose your favorites.
toppings for Crock-Pot Pork Carnitas

How­ev­er you decide to serve them, I know you and your fam­i­ly are going to flip for these deli­cious Pork Car­ni­tas! The recipe is so sim­ple to put togeth­er. Load that slow cook­er and go about your day. Let the slow cook­er do the work and reap the rewards at din­ner time! Enjoy!

3 pork carnitas tacos in a clear rectangular dish on a blue counter
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crock-pot pork carnitas

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas


  • Author: Glen­da Embree
  • Total Time: 5 hours 10 minutes
  • Yield: 20 serv­ings 1x

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 4–5 lbs. pork loin roast
  • 2 limes, juice and zest
  • 2 large oranges, juice and zest
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 medi­um red onion, minced
  • 1/2 large jalapeno, minced
  • 2 Table­spoons South­west­ern seasoning
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tea­spoons cumin
  • 1 tea­spoon cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Place the pork loin into your crock-pot. Set it aside, while you mix up the cook­ing marinade.
  2. For the mari­nade, stir togeth­er orange juice and zest, lime juice and zest, water, bay leaves, South­west­ern sea­son­ing, jalapeno and minced onion.
  3. Once com­bined, pour the mari­nade over the roast in your crock-pot.
  4. Set the slow cook­er to low and allow to cook for 4–7 hours depend­ing on the size of your pork loin.  Start check­ing the inter­nal tem­per­a­ture at about the four hour mark.  The pork should be at 145° to be safe­ly eaten. 
  5. Remove the roast from the slow cook­er and put it on a cut­ting board to rest for at least ten to 15 min­utes before attempt­ing to make pulled pork or slice it.  This rest peri­od will allow the juices to redis­trib­ute through­out the ten­der, fla­vor­ful pork car­ni­tas roast.
  6. Once the roast is done, I use half for pulled pork and then put half away for anoth­er meal.   Some­times, I thin­ly slice the whole roast.  The slices crisp up as well as the pulled pork and then I have left­over slices for oth­er dish­es.   (My fam­i­ly prefers the pork slices over the pulled pork, so make what yours likes best.)
  7. I also strain and reserve the cook­ing liq­uid. I store left­over pork car­ni­tas slices in that brais­ing liq­uid when I refrig­er­ate it.
  8. Once you have the half you will be sav­ing put away, crisp the oth­er half in a cast iron skil­let with a lit­tle but­ter or cook­ing oil.  Or spread it in an even lay­er on a *bak­ing sheet and place under the broil­er for 3–4 min­utes. Let it just start to get some crispy edges. Don’t leave it long enough to dry out. (You can def­i­nite­ly skip this step and serve your car­ni­tas just as they come out of the crock-pot, juicy, suc­cu­lent and deli­cious. But, the authen­tic car­ni­tas expe­ri­ence is more about the crisp­ing of the edges.)
  9. Remove from the skil­let or oven and serve in the dish you have planned, i.e.  tacos, rice bowls, nachos, loaded baked pota­toes, bar­be­cue sand­wich­es, etc.

Notes

For slow Cook­er Pork Car­ni­tas Street Tacos add the car­ni­tas to charred corn tor­tillas with some minced red onion, chopped cilantro and a squeeze or two of lime juice.  Add some que­so fres­co  or coti­ja cheese if you like.

We still use corn tor­tillas if we make loaded tacos, too.  Choose all your favorite taco top­pings and veg­gies to make car­ni­tas tacos that are out of this world!

  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Cat­e­go­ry: Main Dish, Meat, Protein
  • Cui­sine: Mex­i­can

Be sure to have plen­ty of Home­made Gua­camole on hand, too. Check out my sim­ple recipe.

homemade guacamole

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