These Crispy Mexican Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas are the best, easiest carnitas you will ever make! Tender, juicy shredded pork, filled with flavor and delicious crispy, caramelized “burnt ends” achieved by popping the shredded pork under the broiler, this is the perfect recipe for parties and large groups, and amazing in tacos, nachos, salads and burritos!
A few years ago, I had this friend who used to come over every Wednesday afternoon for a standing playdate for the kids. Her husband traveled for work a lot and my husband was working long hours and we both needed the midweek sanity check with another human adult whilst in the throes of potty training. Since she loves cooking and food as much as I do, we got this idea to start doing Wednesday cooking challenges where we would choose something we had never made before and attempt it together. Things like homemade pasta and beef wellington and potstickers. I loved our little Wednesday tradition and have missed it ever since she moved away a year ago.
This recipe for crispy Mexican slow cooker pork carnitas with escabeche is one of her recipes that she shared with me early on and it is one that I have made over and over since then for my family because it is so freaking amazing and makes the most delicious carnitas I have had this side of the border. I have since made just a couple of little tweaks of my own to the recipe she shared with me but the flavors are super authentic with lime and orange juices, cumin and chili powder, some chopped up jalapeno and onion, and a couple of cinnamon sticks, all thrown into a crockpot with a nice, big pork shoulder or pork butt and cooked all day long until it is super tender and juicy.
There is a tiny bit of brown sugar in the recipe but I make this often when we are doing Whole30 and just leave the sugar out so the recipe is compliant. Then I serve it with the best guacamole ever and pile it on top of patacones (fried plaintains) or lettuce for a salad!
One of the secrets to making your carnitas crispy is to finish off the meat in the oven under a hot broiler. After cooking the pork all day, it gets chopped or shredded into bite-size pieces, then placed back in the slow cooker with the juices it cooked in to simmer for another 30 minutes or so, allowing each little bite of meat to soak up all the amazing flavors of citrus and cinnamon and spice.
Then I pull the meat out using a slotted spoon to drain most of the cooking liquid off and spread it in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and pop it under the broiler flame for 5 to 8 minutes, letting some of the pieces get nice and crispy and dark, before pulling it out, giving the meat a toss with some tongs or a spatula and putting it back under the broiler for another 5-8 minutes until a good amount of the meat is crispy and delicious. That crispy outer texture with the tender juicy interior is what really makes these pork carnitas and not just slow roasted Mexican pork, so definitely do not skip this step!
You can make this with either a boneless or bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt and it will turn out amazing. Some people feel like boneless is easier to work with but by the time the meat is done cooking, it literally just falls right off the bone so if that is the cheaper cut of meat or all you can find, then definitely go for it! Just pay attention to weight because the bone will add some extra weight to the meat before cooking so instead of a 4-5 pound BONELESS pork shoulder or pork butt, you might want to watch for a 6-7 pound BONE-IN pork shoulder or pork butt. But all the other measurements and ingredients will stay the same.
The escabeche recipe that I am including here is also something that my friend shared with me. I love the slightly sweet, tangy taste of the quick pickled red onions that are used as a condiment in Mexico, especially the Yucatán peninsula. Adding this escabeche to tacos made with this pork carnitas reminds me of the flavors of our trip to Cancun and Chichen Itza back during our law school days. Bowls of escabeche made with carrots and cauliflower were often placed on the table as soon as we sat down at a restaurant to eat. This Yucatán red onion version of escabeche (also known as Escabeche de Cebolla) can be served with with a lot more than tacos, if you find you like the flavor as much as I do. You can add some to your quesadillas, eat it with seafood like a nice grilled white fish, or serve it with burgers and hot dogs (so good!). Truthfully, escabeche isn’t everyone’s thing – my husband always passes – but I love it and if you haven’t tried it before, you really should give it a chance. It’s super quick and easy to make, super delicious, and the vibrant purple color is so pretty!
Other than escabeche, I like to serve these crispy Mexican slow cooker pork carnitas with thinly sliced radishes, limes, cotija cheese, sliced avocado and some freshly chopped cilantro. Or if escabeche isn’t your thing, try sprinkling some chopped white onions over your carnitas tacos instead!
Use your pork carnitas in tacos, burritos, nachos, soups, salads, quesadillas, or just serve it up with rice & beans!
- 4-5 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
- 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup green salsa
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, seeds removed
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin
- 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
Place the pork in a large slow cooker. Add in the orange juice, lime juice, diced tomatoes and salsa.
Mix together the brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, and chili powder in a small bowl and rub it into the meat. Add the chopped onion, jalapeno, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks, then cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.
At the 8 hour mark (or the 5 hour mark if cooking on high), remove the meat from the crock pot (do NOT discard all of the juices from the slow cooker) and place it in a large baking dish (so juices don't run all over your counter). Remove any fat from the meat and then shred the meat into bite-size pieces with a fork. Return the pork to the slow cooker with all of the juices from cooking and let it cook an additional 30 minutes while you prep garnishes and all the things you want to serve with your pork carnitas.
Turn on the oven to broil.
Transfer the shredded pork to a large baking sheet covered in tinfoil and spread into an even, single layer. Broil in the oven for 5-8 minutes, then give the meat a good toss with some tongs so other parts can get hit by the broiler and return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes under the broiler. This will give some of the pork a bit of char and create the crispy texture that really makes amazing carnitas even more amazing (and authentic). Serve in corn or flour tortillas with cilantro, fresh avocado, maybe some thinly sliced radishes or chopped white onion and cotija cheese, and homemade escabeche. Or add it to salads, nachos, soups, etc.
In a small saucepan, combine all of the escabeche ingredients except the sliced onion and bring to a boil. Add the red onion and stir for about 30 seconds to combine and for the onion to be coated in the vinegar brine. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in a container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
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