Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Carnitas! If you've never had them, you're missing out (but here's your chance to rectify that!) If you have had them, then you know how deliciously juicy and flavorful they are and these slow cooker carnitas are a very simple way to achieve a perfectly tender, flavor-packed version with minimal effort.
At their core, carnitas are pork butt or shoulder braised low and slow for hours with a spice mixture and citrus juices. While authentic carnitas cooked up in Mexican kitchens are truly a culinary marvel, this simplified version of mine will allow you to get a glimpse of that deliciousness from your own kitchen and with the help of your slow cooker, it takes little effort with a big pay off.
I almost always serve these very simply in corn tortillas with a sprinkle of cilantro and a heap of my quick-pickled onions. The pork is so juicy and flavorful, that they don't need much else to be a stand-out meal. The pork is a little sweet and when you broil them at the end, you get little crispy pieces that contrast the tender meat. That together with the crunch and acidic punch of the pickled onions -- it's a simple yet intense combo that will have you craving bite after bite after bite.
This is a great dish to make for a crowd. A normal size pork butt can easily feed 8+ people, especially if you add some rice or chips and guac on the side. It's a fun and unexpected twist on your normal ground meat taco night that your family or guests will be sure to love. Change it up by adding it over rice for a burrito bowl-style dish, serve leftovers with tostadas, salsa, and a fried egg for chilaquiles, or over tortillas chips and cheese for the world's best nachos.
No matter how you serve it up, you're going to love these easy carnitas. And don't quick the lime-pickled onions. They may seem simple (and they are simple to make), but the flavor will wow you and if you're like me, you'll never be able to get enough.
Slo(w) Cooker Carnitas w/Quick Lime-Pickled Onions Makes ~ 6-8 servings Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 6 hours
Click the file below to download and print the recipe
I recommend reading the recipe all the way through, including the recipe notes at the bottom, before you start cooking.
4-5 lb. pork shoulder or pork butt, trimmed of any large chunks of fat (some fat is good and is necessary)
1 medium onion (yellow, red, or white)
2 C. chicken broth
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lime
3 minced garlic cloves (or 3 tsp. jarred minced garlic)
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground chipotle powder
Quick Lime-Pickled Onions
1/2 of a large red onion (or 1 small red onion)
Juice of 1 lime
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. minced cilantro
Tortillas (corn or flour, your choice!)
In a measuring cup or bowl, mix together all of the ingredients from the orange juice through the chipotle powder then set aside.
Cut the onion in half through the root then thinly slice half moons. Scatter the onion slices on the bottom of an at least 6 quart slow cooker.
Cut the pork into 3-4 pieces then place on top of the onions. Pour the spiced liquid mixture from step 1 all over the pork and onions. Pour in the chicken broth.
Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 8 hours. It is done when the meat is extremely tender and easily shredded with a fork.
For lime-pickled onions:
Thinly slice the onion and add it to a bowl big enough to stir the onions without them falling out.
Sprinkle the salt all over the onions and add the lime juice. Stir everything together so the onions are all covered with lime juice and salt. Add the cilantro and stir again.
Set aside to rest. Stir again in 15 minutes then let continue to rest until you're ready to serve, at least another 15 minutes. Stir again before serving. These can be made up to a few days in advance and kept in a covered container in the refrigerator.
To bring it all together:
With tongs, remove the pork from the slow cooker bowl to an oven-safe baking dish* and spoon in some of the cooking liquid to keep the meat moist, but you don't want the pork swimming in it.
Place the baking dish with the pork on the middle rack of your oven and broil until the top is getting brown and crunchy, about 5 minutes (keep a close eye on it though!) Remove the dish from the oven, stir the pork to expose unbrowned pieces, then broil for another 5 minutes or so until the top is browned again. Remove from oven. Squeeze the juice of half a lime over the browned pork.
To serve, put the desired amount of pork into a warmed tortilla, top with the pickled onions, a sprinkle of cilantro and an extra squeeze of lime juice if desired.
Store extras in the refrigerator for up to 5 days (with the cooking liquid). Leftover can be frozen for several months. Be sure to freeze with the cooking liquid.
*Recipe notes + Variations*
*I like using a shallow ceramic le creuset, but any shallow dish will work fine -- think cake or brownie pan size. If you're not going to serve up all of the pork in one sitting, use a smaller pan. The one I used here in my photos was more than enough for 2 people and the pan was about 9x6.
The onions will keep in the refrigerator for about a week in an air-tight container. The longer they sit in the lime juice, the brighter pink and softer they become, but they are delicious and ready to eat within 30 minutes of beginning the pickling process.
Try serving this up over rice for a burrito bowl! Add some sliced avocado or guacamole to round it out.
Leftovers are so versatile! You can turn the carnitas into pulled pork sandwiches, crunch wraps, breakfast burritos, nachos, or chilaquiles.