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.
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.
- My family is picky about texture and shredded or pulled meat is not always their favorite.
- 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
How to Make Slow Cooker Carnitas
- Place a 4–5 lb pork loin roast into your crock-pot. Set it aside, while you mix up the cooking marinade.
- 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.
- Once combined, pour the pork carnitas marinade over the roast in your crock-pot.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- (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.)
- 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.
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!
- 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
- Place the pork loin into your crock-pot. Set it aside, while you mix up the cooking marinade.
- For the marinade, stir together orange juice and zest, lime juice and zest, water, bay leaves, Southwestern seasoning, jalapeno and minced onion.
- Once combined, pour the marinade over the roast in your crock-pot.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- I also strain and reserve the cooking liquid. I store leftover pork carnitas slices in that braising liquid when I refrigerate it.
- 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.)
- 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.
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.