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Easy Slow Cooker Carnitas with Quick Pickled Red Onions

With less than 30 minutes of hands-on time, these succulent slow cooker pork tacos are perfect for both weeknights and parties! You’ll need to start the day before by rubbing a pork shoulder (also known as butt) with a spice paste, to let the flavors infuse. The next day the roast goes into a slow cooker with orange juice, and it gently braises all day (unattended!) until the meat is falling apart and tender. After the meat is cooked, the juices are boiled down into a sweet and smoky sauce that gets tossed with the shredded meat. Stuff the pork into tacos with quick pickled red onions, avocado slices, crumbled cheese and hot sauce, for a flavor-packed meal that everybody will love! Be sure to check out my cooking tips above.
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time8 hrs
Total Time8 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: carnitas recipe, slow cooker carnitas, slow cooker recipes
Servings: 6 people

Ingredients

Spice paste

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 3-4 pound boneless skinless pork shoulder roast (also called pork butt), trimmed of excess fat

Slow cooker

  • ¾-1 cup fresh orange juice, from 2 large navel oranges
  • ½ lime or more to taste

For serving

  • Warm corn tortillas
  • Pickled Red Onions
  • Cotija or feta cheese
  • Avocado slices
  • Cilantro sprigs
  • Hot sauce

Instructions

Rub the pork

  • In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, cinnamon, brown sugar, garlic, salt and olive oil. Stir to make a paste. Rub the paste all over the pork shoulder. Put the pork in a covered dish or in a large zip-top bag and refrigerate overnight.

Assemble the slow cooker

  • Place the pork in a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker, and pour the orange juice around it (not over the top). Cover and cook until the pork is very tender and pulls apart easily with a fork, about 9 to 10 hours on low or 7 to 8 hours on high. (You can also braise the pork in a 325˚F oven. Place the roast in a Dutch oven or heavy pot with a lid. Pour the orange juice around the roast, and add enough water to come halfway up the sides of the meat. Cover and cook in the oven for 3-4 hours, or until the meat is tender.)
  • Transfer the pork to a cutting board or platter. Pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a medium pot, and allow the fat to settle to the top (alternatively, pour the liquid into a fat separator). Ladle off and discard the fat (there might be quite a lot). Bring the remaining juices to a boil. Cook until slightly syrupy, about 10 to 15 minutes—if you run a spatula along the bottom of the pot, you should be able to see a line. Remove the pot from the heat.
  • Using 2 forks, shred the pork into bite-sized pieces. Discard any large chunks of fat. Scrape the shredded meat into the pot with the reduced juices, and toss to coat (you can also scrape everything back into the slow cooker to keep warm). Squeeze in the juice from ½ lime and season well with salt and pepper.

Serve

  • Serve the carnitas in warm corn tortillas with Quick Pickled Red Onions, crumbled cotija or feta cheese, avocado slices, cilantro sprigs, and a drizzle of hot sauce.

Notes

Do Ahead: The carnitas can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. If needed, add a few splashes of water to moisten.
(If you cook the carnitas in advance, you can let the roast cool in the liquid before shredding, then refrigerate it overnight - I pop the whole slow cooker insert in the fridge. The next day, peel off the hardened fat from the top of the sauce, then reheat the pork and proceed with the recipe.)
Tips:
  • For the best flavor, rub the pork shoulder with the spice paste and refrigerate it for 1-2 days before cooking.
  • You’ll need a 4- to 7-quart slow cooker for these slow cooker carnitas (although see below for an alternative option if you don’t have one!). I prefer oval slow cookers, as they have a bigger surface area and can therefore fit larger cuts of meat and whole vegetables. I really like this KitchenAid slow cooker and this All Clad model
  • No slow cooker? No problem! You can also braise the pork in the oven using a dutch oven. I’ve included the oven instructions down in the recipe.
  • The recipe calls for a boneless pork shoulder (also called pork butt). You could definitely use a bone-in shoulder if you prefer, but you won’t get the same yield of meat and it might take longer. Either way, you’ll want to trim off most of the fat before slow cooking (this will make it easier to skim the sauce at the end).
  • Traditionally, carnitas are cooked over high heat to crisp up. If you prefer those crispy bits, you can spread the carnitas in a baking pan and broil them until browned.
  • The pickled red onions provide a crunchy, tart counterpoint to the rich braised meat. They’re also awesome on sandwiches, burgers and salads!
  • Leftover carnitas? Try them in crispy cornmeal arepas!! Simply swap out the black bean filling for some of the pork with a bit of shredded cheese.