Craving Carnitas? – Crock Pot Method Offers Fabulous Flavor for Minimal Effort

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I find it especially difficult to prepare home-cooked healthy meals during the busy holiday season. Often, the slow-cooker solves this problem for me – the meal is brewing while I’m out running around all day and the house smells wonderful when we finally arrive home. But I never would have guessed that you can create carnitas, a traditional Mexican pork dish, in your crock pot. Traditionally, they are prepared in manteca (lard) in a copper pot, likely in your backyard.

In fact I was lucky enough to try them prepared this way last June, when my neighbors’ daughter requested that her dad cook traditional carnitas for her college graduation party. You can see from this photo that dad honored her request. Food geek that I am, I quickly pulled out my iPhone to snap a photo.

Carnitas in the backyard in a copper pot with manteca

The mom, on the other hand, was not nearly as excited as I was. She was appalled that her guests were standing in the side yard watching their dinner cook in a wheelbarrow. When the pork was done cooking, we carried it inside to the beautiful buffet and nobody (but his small audience) was any the wiser to its origin. And EVERYBODY gobbled the carnitas up, along with the homemade roasted pepper salsa served alongside. At the end of the party, not a shred of pork was left on the platter.

But in the reality of our busy, lard-free life the other 364 days of the year, how can we recreate this delectable traditional fare? That’s where the slow cooker comes in to play.slow cooker carnitas

Recently, I happened upon a recipe from espousing the use of the slow cooker to prepare carnitas. A bit incredulous, I gave it a try including just a few variations of my own. The results were remarkable and provide a busy family with at least two meals, perhaps more, of this spicy, succulent, satisfying taco filling. This recipe would be a great addition to a busy December schedule and even provide an easy buffet dinner for an impromptu holiday gathering.

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Slow-Cooker Carnitas

(adapted from the kitchn)
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 15 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 642 kcal
Author Beth Lee


  • 8 lbs bone-in pork butt or approx. 6 lbs boneless
  • 8 oz can tomato sauce or 3/4 cup tomato juice
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 6 oz beer 1/2 of a 12 oz bottle
  • 1/4 cup salsa any red salsa that you enjoy will work
  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
  • 8 whole cloves garlic smashed
  • 4 chipotle peppers canned or dried, roughly chopped


  1. Trim any excess fat on the exterior of the pork butt and then place it in the crock pot.
  2. In a medium size bowl or 4-cup measuring cup, mix the next 13 ingredients together and then pour over the pork butt in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 - 10 hours. Or if you get a late start, cook on high for a couple of hours, then low for another 4 or 5. The pork is ready when you can put a fork in it and it feels like it will fall apart.
  3. Remove the pork from the crock pot and place it on a large cutting board to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred it with two forks, removing any large chunks of fat you find along the way.

    On a foil-lined jelly-roll pan, place a single layer of the shredded pork and drizzle the pork with a bit of the cooking juice. Turn on the broiler and place the pork under the broiler (about 6 inches away) and let it crisp up for about 5 minutes (time will vary depending on how far away from the broiler you place the pan and how hot your broiler is. Mine was set for convect broil at 450 degrees about 6 inches from the element.)

  4. The pork will now have some of the crispness you traditionally find in fried carnitas.

  5. Serve with corn tortillas and a variety of taco garnishings such as salsa, sour cream, avocado, fresh tomatoes, crisp lettuce, a blend of Mexican cheeses, cilantro or as a platter with refried beans, rice, and salad.

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26 Responses to Craving Carnitas? – Crock Pot Method Offers Fabulous Flavor for Minimal Effort

  1. Heather October 11, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    I had to move to Singapore from California and there’s no decent Mexican restaurants around. This recipe will SAVE MY LIFE! Now to look for some decent corn tortillas that don’t cost $15 a packet! Yikes! Can’t wait to try this recipe! Love that all the ingredients are accessible no matter what country you’re in!

    • Beth October 11, 2012 at 10:26 am #

      Glad this will help bring a food you love to your new home in Singapore. Dare I say that if need be, you could make your own tortillas? But I suppose the masa harina might be hard to find as well? Could you order it from Amazon or is shipping too high?

  2. Echo June 25, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Hi Beth!
    I spent most of my morning at work reading your blog, I am hooked 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing the stories and recipes.
    I love slow cooker, it just does all the wonders for you. (only problem is, there’s only 2 of us!)
    I’d try this Carnitas this week, I know Fionn would thank you 🙂

    • Beth (OMG! Yummy) June 25, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Hi Echo! So glad you’re enjoying it! I am already working on a post from this weekend – hope I can convey just how great it was to spend time with everyone sharing conversation, food, and activities. Make the carnitas! You can always freeze some leftovers (meat and sauce separately) and have meals for another time. Let me know how it turns out!

      • Echo June 25, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

        Will do!
        and can’t wait to see your new post!

        love, echo

  3. (y)our food choices March 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    Absolutely drool worthy!

    • Jeanne March 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

      This recipe is INCREDIBLE. HUGE hit at Taco Tuesday 🙂

      • omgyummy March 20, 2012 at 6:25 pm #

        So happy to make Taco Tuesday a happy gathering! Thanks for sharing the enthusiasm!

  4. Heather @ SugarDish(Me) February 22, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I am ALLLL about pork in the slow cooker. This look super! And besides the limes and chipotle peppers, I think I have everything on the list. That’s a good enough grocery list for me to do this. And soon!

  5. Healthy cooking December 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    It was a great effort. Nice approach.

  6. Cheryl December 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Can you do this with a pork loin? I have two 3-pounders in my freezer just waiting for a good recipe! Pinning!

    • omgyummy December 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      Well, I think you can but I don’t know if you’ll get quite the texture and flavor with such a lean cut. But I’ve seen recipes using pork tenderloin in the crock pot. Personally, I think they benefit from a quicker cooking method but tenderloin would certainly soak up the flavors and still produce a delicious result.

  7. Katy (KatySheCooks) December 1, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Totally pinning this, it looks amazing. And I can only *hope* to throw a party sometime where my guests watch their dinner being cooked in a wheelbarrow ; )

    • omgyummy December 2, 2011 at 9:13 am #

      You never fail to put a smile on my face Katy! You even convinced me to finally become a “pinned” yesterday. I still have no idea what I’m doing but will figure it out eventually, I’m sure.

      As for the backyard wheelbarrow party – I thought it was pretty cool myself but when I told my neighbors about the post, the wife still rolled her eyes all the way back in her head at the mere mention of it 🙂

  8. Sandy Corman December 1, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    I am not normally a pork person. But that does indeed look delicious. The fact that it can cook while you are doing other things is a big plus too.

    • omgyummy December 2, 2011 at 9:11 am #

      Multi-tasking is one of the biggest selling points!

  9. IamSimplyTia December 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    I really was craving them today….but I have a confession…I never had one. Is that possible? In any case ,it’s not gonna be for too long. I’m gonna bookmark this recipe and try it very soon!

    Yours look GREAT!

    • omgyummy December 2, 2011 at 9:11 am #

      Give it a try – you’ll be hooked on carnitas without ever cooking in the backyard in a wheelbarrow 🙂

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