Pork Carnitas are so versatile, everyone needs a staple recipe in their back pocket. This recipe is ridiculously easy, the ultimate “set and forget” slow cooker recipe and the best way to get perfect crunchy brown bits while keeping the inside super moist! Get it right every time – this recipe is no fail!
I am so obsessed with Pork Carnitas because they are incredibly versatile and ridiculously tasty. Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and enchiladas, to name a few of the obvious ones.
My favorite way to eat Pork Carnitas is eating it straight – I picked at it constantly the whole time I was taking photos. I took a lot longer than usual to photograph this dish – I really struggled to make it look like pulled pork and to capture the juiciness of the pork.
I went through ALOT of Pork Carnitas recipes before settling on this as The One. I’ve been loyal to it for years because it ticks all my boxes:
- Easy (of course, goes without saying);
- Has enough flavor such that it can be eaten plain;
- Subtle enough flavor so it can be used in any Mexican dish (over salting and over spicing is a common problem with many recipes);
- Has perfect caramelized brown bits while retaining the incredible juiciness from slow cooking; and
- Is still super juicy even after freezing and defrosting.
- This Pork Carnitas recipe is super easy – it takes less than 5 minutes to throw the ingredients into a slow cooker. Perfect flavor balance with just the right amount of seasoning.
As for the caramelized brown bits, these are the crowning glory of Pork Carnitas. Pork Carnitas without the brown bits is like sausage rolls without tomato sauce. And I firmly believe that the only way to caramelize pulled pork without compromising the incredible moisture that you get from slow cooked meats is to pan fry it. I’ve seen recipes that broil/grill or bake the pulled pork but doing it that way you lose some of the moisture in the pulled pork.
KEY TIP FOR THE BEST PORK CARNITAS: BROWNING IN A SKILLE
Don’t skip the step to brown the pork carnitas! This is the key that makes these pork carnitas the best you will ever have.
The other step that many recipes seem to omit (and I can’t figure out why because it’s throwing away free flavor!) is to pour the juices in the slow cooker over the pulled pork while it is being browned. It’s full of flavor and contains most of the seasoning too – without it, the pulled pork on it’s own isn’t salty enough. Just skim off the excess fat, and pour over the meat while it’s browning.
Every time I have made this, the amount of juices I have in the slow cooker is the perfect amount to pour over the meat (about 2 cups) but if your pork was extra juicy (or maybe you used gigantic oranges!) and you have a lot more than that, then it’s best to reduce the juice down to about 2 cups, otherwise you will have too much liquid for the meat and if you don’t use all the juices, it means you aren’t using all the flavor (i.e. the juice you do use has thinner flavor).
I hope you enjoy this recipe! It’s a staple in my repertoire. I make it often to have on standby in the freezer and it’s also fabulous for entertaining. Think Taco Bar!!
- 5 lb / 2.5 kg pork shoulder (pork butt), skinless, bone-in (4lb/2kg without bone) (Note 3)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, deseeded, chopped
- 2 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 oranges, juice only (or sub with 3/4 cup fresh orange juice)
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Rinse and dry the pork shoulder, rub in salt and pepper.
- Combine the rub ingredients then rub all over the pork.
- Place the pork in a slow cooker (fat cap up), top with the onion, jalapeño, minced garlic (don’t worry about spreading it) and squeeze over the juice of the orange.
- Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 6 hours (or 1h 30 m in an electric pressure cooker on high. If using stovetop pressure cooker, please see notes).
- The meat should be tender and falling off the bone. Remove from the slow cooker and let cool slightly. Then shred the pork using two forks.
- Skim off the fat from the juices remaining in the slow cooker and discard the fat. Then if you are left with a lot more than 1 1/2 to 2 cups of juice, then reduce it (either in the slow cooker on the sauté setting with the lid off, or in a saucepan). The liquid will be SALTY, it is the seasoning for the pork. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large non stick pan over high heat. Place shredded pork into the pan, drizzle over some juices. Wait until the juices evaporate and the bottom side is golden brown and crusty. Turn and just briefly sear the other side – you don’t want to make it brown all over because then it’s too crispy, need tender juicy bits.
- Repeat in batches (takes me 4 batches) – don’t crowd the pan.
- Remove pork from skillet. Drizzle over more juices and serve immediately (if you are using defrosted carnitas, this is not applicable as the juices are already on the meat – see Note 4c).
- If you are reheating the carnitas (Note 4), then flip and cook the other side briefly just to warm through. I really recommend only making one side crusty and leaving the other side juicy and moist.
- If you are using a piece of pork that is not the size I use, you MUST reduce the salt accordingly. If your pork is more than 1 lb / 0.5 kg larger or smaller than the prescribed size, ensure you adjust the other ingredients accordingly as well, not just the salt.
- To make this in the oven, add 1 cup of water to the braising liquid. Place in 325F/160C oven for 2 hours, covered, then roast for a further 1 to 1.5 hours uncovered. Add more water if the liquid dries out too much. You should end up with 1 1/2 to 2 cups of liquid when it finishes cooking.
If you make this recipe in the oven, you could skip the pan frying step because you will get a nice brown crust on your pork.
- Use pork with the skin removed but leaving some of the fat cap on. The fat adds juiciness to the carnitas!
- Taco Fixing suggestions: Diced avocado or make a real proper Guacamole, Pico de Gallo or Restaurant Style Salsa or even just sliced tomato, grated cheese, sour cream. Sliced lettuce or pickled cabbage / red onions would also be great, but unlike other tacos, you don’t need it for the texture because the carnitas have the crispy bits!
- a) For overnight or up to 3 days, the best option is to shred the meat without pan frying, keep the juices separate, refrigerate, then pan fry to make it golden and reheat the meat, pouring juices over while it is browning per recipe.
- b) To brown the meat ahead, the meat actually holds up pretty well in terms of staying crispy. It’s even pretty good refrigerated overnight – but a) is definitely better. Keep the juices separate and pour it over just before reheating the pork. You can reheat in the microwave, quickly reheat in the pan or if you have loads, in a foil covered roasting pan in the oven at 180C/350F for around 8 – 10 minutes
- FREEZE: This holds up great in the freezer. Pour the juices over the pulled pork (pre browning) and store in ziplock bags or airtight containers. Freeze in small batches for convenience. To use, defrost completely before following the recipe to brown the pork.
- STOVETOP PRESSURE COOKER – use a rack to elevate it from the base OR add 3/4 cup of water. Then once the pork is cooked, remove it then simmer to reduce to around 2 cups of liquid.
Love & Sparkle,