Diet

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

The key to restaurant-quality tacos and burrito bowls the whole family will love is this slow cooker carnitas recipe. For extra deliciousness, we recommend crisping things up in the oven under the broiler. Includes Instant Pot directions too.

This recipe was created in partnership with our friends and farmers at the Minnesota Pork Board.

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions) 1

Weeknight dinner winner coming right up!

If you’re anything like us, nothing brings a huge sense of accomplishment to our day than having dinner almost done at the end of a long workday. 

By almost, we mean the bulk of the work is done and there’s just a little assembly required. The next time you need a meal that’s 95% done make these crock pot carnitas. Here’s why you’ll love them:

  • Everything can be prepped ahead.
  • A set-it-and-forget-it kind of recipe and because it takes 8 hours to cook (undisturbed), you don’t have to worry about being home to check on it.
  • Just the right amount of spice to be to give them authentic flavor, but not so much that you can’t use the leftover meat for something other than tacos or burrito bowls. Try it in enchiladas, atop our Loaded Sweet Potato Nachos, as part of a breakfast hash, or pile it on a bun and with a little barbecue sauce and pickled jalapeños for a Mexican-inspired pulled pork sandwich.
  • Makes enough to serve a family of 4 for at least 2 meals. 
  • Leftovers are freezer-friendly and great to have on hand when you need a quick reheat and eat meal. 
  • Perfect for parties and potlucks and tailgate gatherings.
  • Naturally gluten- and dairy-free and Whole30-compatible provided you make proper substitutions for rice or tortillas.
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

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Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

Ingredients to Make Crockpot Carnitas

For the Carnitas:

  • Boneless pork shoulder or butt roast
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Cinnamon – It seems a little strange but trust us, it’s the ’secret ingredient’
  • Chipotle powder – You just need a pinch but if you like your carnitas spicy, add a little more. May also use ancho chili or omit entirely.
  • Fine salt and black pepper
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Fresh orange juice

For the Cilantro-Lime Sauce:

How to Prep ahead for a meal that’s ready when you are

We know you love a low-stress meal so let’s talk about how you can make this dish as easy as possible so that it’s 95% done when it’s time to get the meal on the table. You have a few ways you can do it, prep everything for the slow cooker carnitas up to the point of cooking or prepare the recipe from start to finish then reheat. Choose the method that works best for you:

  1. Make the slow cooker carnitas on the weekend or overnight, then refrigerate the meat in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days until you’re ready to reheat and eat, or
  2. Prep everything you’ll need – spice rub, chopped onions, minced garlic, orange juice, and lime juice – up to 3 days in advance, then just toss it all into the slow cooker in the morning and let it go low and slow all day. 
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

Tacos vs. Burrito Bowls

Talk about a tough decision, we’d choose both if we could! These slow cooker carnitas can be used for tacos or burrito bowls depending on what your family likes best. 

Toppings for tacos

  • Corn tortillas or flour tortillas (use lettuce wraps for a Whole30-compatible option)
  • Guacamole or thinly sliced avocado
  • Salsa, pico de gallo, or your favorite hot sauce 
  • Quick-pickled onions 
  • Dairy-Free Cilantro-Lime Sauce (see recipe below)
  • Sour cream (omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30)
  • Crumbled cotija cheese (optional, omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30)
  • Fresh cilantro and lime wedges

Topping for Burrito Bowls:

To turn your deliciously fall-apart tender crockpot carnitas into a burrito bowl, start with a bed or white rice, brown rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice (for grain-free, low-carb, and Whole30-compatible) then add your favorite toppings. Here a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Refried, black or pinto beans
  • Chopped romaine lettuce, spring mix or ‘power’ greens salad mix
  • Chopped tomatoes, pico de gallo, salsa and/or your favorite hot sauce
  • Guacamole or diced avocado
  • Quick-pickled onions
  • Dairy-Free Cilantro-Lime Sauce (see recipe below)
  • Sour cream (omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30)
  • Crumbled cotija or feta cheese (omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30)
  • Fresh cilantro and/or lime wedges
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

But those crispy bits. And that sauce.

Spreading the shredded pork onto a rimmed baking sheet and placing it under the broiler for a few minutes makes the edges all golden brown and crispy which, somehow, makes your tacos or burrito bowls 110% better. So if you’ve got the time, don’t skip this step!

The 5-ingredient cool and creamy cilantro-lime sauce takes just minutes to make and it will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. It’s great on tacos and burritos, of course, but also makes a great salad dressing. It’s the perfect drizzle to complete your next carnitas taco or bowl.

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)


Slow Cooker Carnitas FAQ

What is the difference between pulled pork and carnitas?

Pulled pork and carnitas both start out with a large piece of whole muscle pork (usually boneless pork shoulder or pork butt) and they both include a spice rub. The difference is what goes in the rub and the liquid (in any) that’s added to the slow cooker. Pulled pork is often served as a sandwich with barbecue sauce, while carnitas are typically used in tacos, burritos and other Mexican-inspired dishes. Craving pulled pork? Try our Crockpot Pulled Pork with Honey-Mustard BBQ Sauce or Smoked Pork Butt.

Do slow cooker carnitas freeze well?

They sure do! In fact, they’re so freezer-friendly that we recommend making a batch and freezing it in smaller portions for later meals since this recipe makes enough to serve 8-10 people. To freeze, refrigerate any leftover carnitas until completely cool then transfer to a freezer-safe container or zip-top storage bag and freeze for up to 6 months.

How do you know when carnitas are done?

Your carnitas should be done after the recommended 8-9 hours of low and slow cooking in the crock pot. At that time, the meat should shred very easily with two forks. If it doesn’t, simply replace the lid of the slow cooker and continue cooking for another 30-60 minutes. Using a larger piece of meat or doubling the recipe will require more cooking time so plan ahead for that if that’s the case.

Can I make carnitas in my Instant Pot?

Absolutely! We know there are days when you want to get dinner on the table faster so we’ve included directions for the Instant Pot in the recipe below.

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

More Pork Recipes You’ll Love

We’d like to extend a big ’thank you’ to our friends at the Minnesota Pork Board for bringing you this incredibly tender and mouth-watering recipe for easy pork carnitas. Here’s a cool fact that we didn’t know about pork production that we wanted to share with you:

The nutrients found in swine manure are used as natural fertilizers for Minnesota crop production, thus reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers. Research has found that the organic compounds in pig manure:

  • Produce better yields for corn when compared to using synthetic, commercial fertilizers
  • Help build and maintain soil structure, which aids soils’ ability to hold water (thus helping to conserve water)
  • Improves soil aeration
  • Reduces soil erosion
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)

Recipe

Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas

These might be the easiest solution to taco night yet with just 10 minutes of prep and a low and slow, hands-off cook time. Perfect for tacos or burrito bowls or even stuffed into a baked sweet potato.

Prep: 10 mins.Cook: 8-9 hrsTotal: 8-9 hrs.

Servings: Serves about 810 1x


Ingredients

For the Carnitas:

  • 3 lbs. boneless pork shoulder or butt roast, patted dry (about lbs. for bone-in)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced (about a 1 heaping cup)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch of cinnamon (about ⅛ tsp.)
  • Pinch of chipotle powder (about ⅛ tsp.), more if you like it spicier
  • 2 teaspoons fine salt + more to taste 
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ cup)
  • Juice of 1 large orange (about ½ cup)

For the Cilantro-Lime Sauce:

  • ¾ cup mayonnaise (we suggest Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil Mayo for dairy-free and/or Whole30)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • ½ teaspoon fine salt + more to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)

Instructions

Slow Cooker Directions

  1. Pat the pork shoulder or butt dry with paper towels. 
  2. In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, cinnamon, chipotle powder, salt, and black pepper to make the spice rub.
  3. Rub the spice mixture onto the entire surface of the pork. This can be done up to 3 days in advance and the pork stored, covered, in the fridge until ready to cook.
  4. Place the pork in the slow cooker, fat cap facing up (the ‘fat cap’ is the thick layer of fat). Place the onions and garlic on top of the pork.
  5. Pour the lime juice and orange juice over all and place the lid on the slow cooker. No stirring necessary!
  6. Set the slow cooker to LOW and cook for 8-9 hours or until the pork shreds easily with a fork. 
  7. When the pork is done, remove from the slow cooker to a bowl or baking dish and shred with two forks, adding a little of the liquid from the slow cooker as needed to moisten and season the meat. Taste and season with additional salt, if needed. 
  8. Optional: Spread shredded pork on a baking sheet and broil for 3-4 minutes until edges of pork are crispy. Alternatively, you can place shredded pork in a hot, preheated cast iron skillet and allow it to sit, undisturbed, for  5-6 minutes to allow pork to get crispy. Stir and cook an additional 2-3 minutes or until edges are crispy.
  9. Serve with desired toppings.

Instant Pot Directions

  1. Follow the slow cooker directions, cut the pork shoulder into 2-3″ chunks then follow steps 1-5 (placing the pork in the Instant Pot rather than the slow cooker).
  2. Lock the lid into place and cook on High Pressure for 45 minutes. Allow for 20 minutes of natural pressure release before flipping the vent valve to the ‘Venting’ position to release any residual steam.
  3. Remove the pork from the Instant Pot and shred with two forks, adding additional cooking liquid to moisten and season the meat. Taste and season with salt as needed.
  4. For crispy carnitas, see Step 8 in the slow cooker directions above.

To make the Cilantro-Lime Sauce:

  1. Place all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until well-combined, add a few drops of water to thin it if needed.
  2. Taste and adjust salt to taste. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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Notes

Toppings and serving suggestions for tacos

Corn tortillas or flour tortillas (use lettuce wraps for a Whole30-compatible option), Guacamole or thinly sliced avocado, Salsa, pico de gallo, or your favorite hot sauce, Quick-pickled onions, Dairy-Free Cilantro-Lime Sauce (see recipe above), Sour cream (omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30), Crumbled cotija cheese (optional, omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30), Fresh cilantro and lime wedges

Topping and serving suggestions for Burrito Bowls:

White rice, brown rice, or cauliflower rice (for Whole30-compatible), Refried, black or pinto beans (omit for Whole30-compatible), Chopped romaine lettuce, spring mix or ‘power’ greens salad mix, Chopped tomatoes, pico de gallo, salsa and/or your favorite hot sauce, Guacamole or diced avocado, Quick-pickled onions, Dairy-Free Cilantro-Lime Sauce (see recipe above), Sour cream (omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30), Crumbled cotija or feta cheese (omit for dairy-free and/or Whole30), Fresh cilantro and/or lime wedges

Nutrition Information

    • Serving Size: 4 oz. Meat + 1 Tbsp sauce
    • Calories: 275
    • Fat: 17 g
    • (Sat Fat: 6 g)
    • Sodium: 375 mg
    • Carbohydrate: 4 g
    • (Fiber: 1 g
    • Sugar: 2 g)
    • Protein: 25 g

Dietary

© The Real Food Dietitians

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Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)
Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas (with Instant Pot directions)


This post was made possible by our friends at Minnesota Pork. Although we received compensation for this post, the opinions expressed here are – as always – 100% our own. Thank you for supporting the great companies we work with thereby allowing us to continue creating great recipes and content for you.

Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Rachel of Half Acre House

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