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Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas {Easy Weeknight Dinner Recipe!}

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Easy and flavorful, this easy slow cooker carnitas recipe is a lifesaver on busy weekdays! Set your slow cooker in the morning, and by evening you have tender, fall-apart-with-a-fork, carnitas ready to serve on tacos, burritos, or rice bowls. And extras freeze well for easy meals later!

Easy slow cooker carnitas in a grey bowl with lime wedges for serving

A mom group I’m in was discussing meal planning recently. Many of the ladies talked about the challenges in thinking of what to cook for dinner every night. It got me thinking. Despite working in food, I too have a system for feeding everyone easily. First of all, we can’t eat cake every night (or something). Second, no one wants to spend a ton of time in the kitchen every day, even if you like it there. Enter this easy slow cooker carnitas recipe. Using my slow cooker to prepare a roast that I can use for multiple meals is definitely one of my “secrets” to keeping family dinner time stress-free!

The ingredient list for this is surprisingly simple given the amount of flavor in the carnitas! In fact, many of the ingredients you might already have in your spice cabinet. Most of the flavor comes from the dry rub you put on the pork, then the citrus adds a little balance and acidity. This carnitas recipe seriously rivals some restaurants. You can let me know if you agree in the comments after you try it. 😉

Slow Cooker Carnitas Ingredients

The first ingredient you need is, pork shoulder! Look for a boneless pork shoulder roast, sometimes labeled pork butt or Boston butt. This is the same cut I use for my slow cooker bbq pork recipe (another good one). A 3-4 pound roast will fit in most standard slow cookers. If yours has a funny shape, you can trim it to fit and put the cut pieces in the slow cooker too. You won’t notice at the end since all the pork falls apart anyway.

Second, you’ll want to gather your rub ingredients. Spices are so important in getting a quality carnitas flavor. For the rub we will use oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, black pepper, and minced garlic. All the ingredients are dried spices except the garlic! For that, use refrigerated minced garlic, or mince a couple garlic cloves. Feel free to add more garlic if you want, I always generously eyeball the garlic measurement.

Third, you’ll want to add some citrus! If you live in an area where you can find sour oranges – also called naranja agria – use those! Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find fresh sour oranges or bottled juice. The bottled juice – if available near you – is usually found in the Hispanic foods section of the grocery store. But if you can’t find it, you can make a reasonable substitute using orange and lemon juice. We do the same thing with the Godfather’s Cuban pork shoulder for Noche Buena.

Finally, you can add a jalapeno pepper if you’d like. This will give the carnitas some kick, so if you have people who don’t like spice, omit and add chopped jalapeno to your final dish. I made the carnitas with the jalapeno once and my kids – who normally love them – wouldn’t touch it because it was “spicy”. It was mild… but if you’re sensitive to spice, worth noting. That’s why I’m listing the jalapeno as optional in the ingredients.

What do I serve with carnitas?

What I love about this slow cooker carnitas recipe is the VERSATILITY! You make carnitas and then you can make:

  • Nachos
  • Tacos
  • Burritos
  • Rice Bowls
  • Pizza
  • Salad
  • Wraps
  • Tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches on soft baguette bread)

That’s literally over a week of meal ideas! The day I make carnitas, I’ll either make sure to have tortillas on hand, or I’ll make some rice in the rice cooker that afternoon. A bag of salad or some chopped vegetables makes an easy and well-rounded meal.

overhead flat lay shot of the slow cooker carnitas. red onions, lime, and cilantro shown as garnish suggetions

To crisp or not to crisp…

Darlings, this is a question I ask myself literally every time I make carnitas! Really, why is it such a dilemma? I think it’s because it seems like an extra step on a day when that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid. Honestly, I’m not so sure, so I asked a few friends. Their results were equally mixed, so this step is up to you!

The good thing about crisping your cooked carnitas in a skillet is the texture! Instead of just a classic pulled pork texture, you get these delicious crispy edges that are just fabulous! And if you’re trying to really get that restaurant-quality to your carnitas, this step takes them over the top!

close up of the carnitas showing a mix of crispy edges and juicy pulled pork

That being said, I think it really depends on how you plan to use your carnitas. When we use the carnitas in tortas, burritos, or pizza, I often don’t bother adding the crisp. And I usually don’t do it on day 1. I’m more likely to crisp leftovers and thawed pork carnitas from the freezer. So really, it’s personal preference!

carnitas shown with fixings on a burrito-size tortilla ready to wrap

I hope you love this easy slow cooker carnitas recipe, darlings! I hope it saves you a little time, and helps make dinner a bit easier!

close up of the carnitas showing a mix of crispy edges and juicy pulled pork

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas

Yield: 8
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 10 minutes

Easy and flavorful, this easy slow cooker carnitas recipe is a lifesaver on busy weekdays! Tender, fall-apart-with-a-fork, carnitas ready to serve on tacos, burritos, or rice bowls.

Ingredients

  • 1 4-pound boneless pork roast (Boston butt)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice (see notes)
  • 1 onion, sliced

Spice Rub Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced (optional - see notes)

Instructions

  1. If you remember the night before, you can marinate the pork shoulder in the rub. I have totally forgotten this step before and it's fine! I'm adding the disclaimer here in case you are planning dinner last-minute as I do sometimes. You've got this.

    To marinate the pork shoulder, combine the rub ingredients in a bowl, then combine with the pork in a casserole dish or large ziplock bag, making sure it's completely coated. Cover and let rest overnight.
  2. If you are just making this the day of, place a liner in your slow cooker, or spray with oil. Place the pork shoulder in the slow cooker and rub all over with the dry rub. Add the sliced onion.
  3. With your seasoned pork shoulder in the slow cooker - fat side up - pour in the orange and lemon juice. Cover the slow cooker and set to low for 8-10 hours, high for 6-8.
  4. The pork is ready when it shreds easily with a fork. Shred, removing the fat, and transfer to a storage container with some of the juices and onion.

    If you'd like to crisp your pork:
  5. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place a single layer of shredded pork in the skillet and cook for 4-5 minutes until the juice evaporates and deep brown crispy edges form. Flip and cook an additional 3-4 minutes.
  6. If you're planning to crisp all the pork, you'll need to work in batches.
  7. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Notes

  • If you can find it, 3/4 cup naranja agria (sour orange) juice may be substituted for the orange and lemon juice.
  • If your jalapeno is on the mild side, one won't really add much heat. But if you are sensitive to spice (or have picky little people) you might want to omit and use it as a fresh addition to your finished dish.
  • Once completely cooled, leftover pulled pork can be stored in the refrigerator up to a week, or frozen for up to 6 months in an airtight container.

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