These Crispy Mexican Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas are the best carnitas you will ever make! They're tender and juicy, packed with flavor, and easy, too. Perfect for parties and amazing in tacos, nachos, salads, and burritos!
Table of Contents
This recipe for crispy Mexican slow cooker pork carnitas was shared with me by a friend and it’s become one of those dishes I return to again and again. Quite simply, it’s freaking amazing and makes the most delicious carnitas I have had this side of the border.
I made a few tweaks to the recipe over the years, but the flavors are still authentic. Everything simmers in the slow cooker all day, making the pork super tender, then the carnitas are broiled in the oven, which makes the meat 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!
What Is Escabeche?
Escabeche is a pickled vegetable dish typically made with onions and peppers. It originated in Spain, but it’s served throughout Latin America and it’s super easy to make. I particularly love the slightly sweet, tangy taste of the quick pickled red onions that are used as a condiment in Mexico, especially the Yucatán peninsula.
This Yucatán red onion version of escabeche (also known as Escabeche de Cebolla) can be served with a lot more than tacos, but I find that the sweet and sour flavor pairs perfectly with the crispy carnitas, and the acidity helps balance the richness of the pork.
What You’ll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
For the pork carnitas:
- Boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
- Orange juice – I recommend freshly squeezed instead of bottled.
- Lime juice
- Diced tomatoes
- Green salsa – Choose any heat level you like.
- Brown sugar – This is optional; if you leave it out, these pork carnitas are Whole30 compliant.
- Ground cumin
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Chili powder
- Jalapeno – I like to remove the seeds.
- Bay leaves
- Cinnamon sticks
For the escabeche:
- Red onion – Slice this as thinly as possible. A mandoline slicer works well for this.
- White vinegar – This is just your standard vinegar—the kind that comes in the big plastic jugs!
- Bay leaf
- Granulated sugar – This cuts the acid and balances the flavor, but again, you can leave out the sugar if you want to make Whole30 pork carnitas.
- Black peppercorns
- Red pepper flakes – You can adjust the amount to make your escabeche hotter or milder.
What Cut of Pork Is Used for Carnitas?
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 that 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. 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.
How to Make Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
Truly, the hardest thing about this slow cooker pork carnitas recipe is waiting for it to be done! Your whole kitchen will smell amazing as it cooks away in the crockpot.
Make the crispy pork carnitas:
Combine the pork and liquid ingredients. Place the pork into your slow cooker. Pour in the orange juice, lime juice, diced tomatoes, and salsa.
Make the rub. Mix together the brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, and chili powder in a small bowl. Rub this mixture into the meat.
Add the remaining ingredients. Add the chopped onion, jalapeno, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks to the slow cooker.
Cook. Cover your slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.
Shred the pork. Transfer the pork to a baking dish. Remove any fat, then shred the meat with a fork. Return the shredded pork to the slow cooker and cook for 30 minutes more.
Broil. Turn your oven’s broiler on and transfer the shredded pork to a large baking sheet covered with foil. Spread it in an even layer and broil for 5-8 minutes. Toss the meat with tongs and broil for another 5-8 minutes, or until some of the meat is crispy and charred.
Make the escabeche:
Bring the liquid to a boil. In a small saucepan, combine all of the escabeche ingredients except the sliced onion and bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the onion. Add the red onion to the pan and stir for about 30 seconds, coating it in the brine.
Cool. Remove the pan from heat and cool to room temperature. Transfer the escabeche to a jar or airtight container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Tips For Success
Here are some of my best tips for perfect, crispy slow cooker pork carnitas:
- Get a head start. The pork can be cooked a day in advance, then shredded and stored in an airtight container until you're ready to crisp it up under the broiler.
- Keep an eye on it. Broilers can be unpredictable, so if yours tends to burn things quickly, turn on the oven light and keep an eye on your carnitas. Some char is nice, but you don’t want them completely blackened!
- Stovetop instructions. If you don't want to use the oven, you can crisp up the carnitas in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add a little bit of cooking oil to the pan and then cook the shredded pork in batches, stirring occasionally, until it's crispy.
I have so many suggestions for serving pork carnitas!
- Pile the pork into warm corn tortillas with the escabeche or chopped white onions, thinly sliced radishes, limes, cotija cheese, sliced avocado, and some freshly chopped cilantro.
- We also like having it with the best guacamole ever and piling it on top of patacones (fried plantains) or lettuce for a salad!
- Use your pork carnitas in burritos, nachos, soups, quesadillas, or just serve it up with rice and beans!
As for the escabeche, if you have leftovers 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!).
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Leftover carnitas will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days when stored in an airtight container. Reheat on a baking sheet in a 350ºF oven until warmed through, in a skillet on the stovetop, or in the microwave.
Can This Recipe Be Frozen?
Carnitas are also freezer-friendly and can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and then reheat according to the directions above, until they’re warmed through.
More Mexican Recipes
- Authentic Carne Asada Recipe
- The BEST Guacamole Recipe Ever
- Homemade Mexican Rice (aka Spanish Rice)
- Grilled Chicken and Steak Fajitas
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Crispy Mexican Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas with Escabeche
- 4-5 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt
- ½ 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
- ¾ cup white vinegar
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ¼ 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.
This post was originally published in January, 2017. The photos and content were updated in July, 2022.