Slow Cooker Carnitas

Okay, this might be the best thing I’ve ever made in my slow cooker. No joke. The combination of the subtle spices, orange essence, and richness of the slowly cooked pork is absolutely to die for. I hereby retire my chili rubbed pork in favor of these Slow Cooker Carnitas. I want to make sure I have some of this in my freezer at all times for tacos, burritos, and NACHOS. Oh yes, the nachos I could make with this pork…

Goes great with: Pickled Red Onions, Spicy Pickled Carrots, Cumin Lime Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Warm Corn and Avocado Salad

Slow Cooker Carnitas

Slow cooker carnitas in a skillet with tongs, with cilantro and sliced oranges on the side.

What gives Carnitas its unique flavor?

If combining cinnamon and orange with pork sounds a little far fetched to you, don’t be scared! The flavors are subtle and add layers of flavor that you never imagined meat could have. It’s not sweet, it’s just amazing. Promise me you’ll try it.

Two-step process for tender and crispy carnitas:

While I used my slow cooker to cook the meat down until it was tender and juicy, I finished it off in a skillet to get some crispy edges. You want to wait until just before serving to crisp the meat up, so if you don’t plan on serving the entire 3 pounds of meat at once, store the rest in the cooking juices. I divided my slow cooked meat in half and transferred half of it to the freezer after chilling over night. I crisped the other half in a skillet and made deliciously rich little tacos with pickled red onions.

Can I make Carnitas in an Instant Pot?

And YES, you can absolutely do this super fast using an Instant Pot. ;) Just layer everything in your IP as I did with my slow cooker, secure the lid, and press go. The Instant Pot manual suggests 45-50 minutes of high pressure for a pork butt roast.

 
Warm spices, fresh orange essence, and a low slow cook time makes this Slow Cooker Carnitas tender, juicy, and full of flavor. BudgetBytes.com
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4.69 from 29 votes

Slow Cooker Carnitas

Warm spices, fresh orange essence, and a low slow cook time makes this Slow Cooker Carnitas tender, juicy, and full of flavor. Perfect for tacos, burritos and more!
Keyword: Freezer Friendly
Total Cost: $7.80 recipe / $0.98 serving
Author: Beth M
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 5 hrs 15 mins
Total Time: 5 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 yellow onion ($0.32)
  • 4 cloves garlic ($0.32)
  • 2 small cinnamon sticks ($0.95)
  • 1/2 Tbsp oregano ($0.08)
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin ($0.08)
  • 1/2 tsp salt ($0.02)
  • Freshly cracked pepper ($0.05)
  • 1/2 tsp chipotle pepper powder ($0.05)
  • 3 lb pork butt roast ($5.26)
  • 2 small (or one large) orange ($0.67)

Instructions

  • Dice the onion and peel the garlic cloves. Place the onion, garlic, and cinnamon sticks in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • In a small bowl, combine the oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, and chipotle powder. Cut the pork roast into 2-inch cubes. Place the cubed meat in a bowl and sprinkle the spice mix over top. Toss the meat in the spices until evenly coated. Place the seasoned meat in the slow cooker on top of the onion, garlic, and cinnamon.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to remove the thin layer of orange zest from one of the oranges. Squeeze about 1/2 cup juice from the oranges. Pour the orange juice over the meat in the slow cooker, than sprinkle the pieces of orange zest over top.
  • Place a lid on the slow cooker, turn it on to high, and cook for 5 hours, or until the meat is tender and falls apart.
  • Use tongs to stir and shred the meat, and remove the cinnamon sticks. Either divide the meat and liquid into smaller containers to refrigerate for later, or transfer the meat and some of the liquid to a skillet (preferably non-stick or cast iron). Cook the meat over medium flame until browned and crispy on the edges. Avoid stirring the meat too much as it will break down into tiny pieces. Use the crispy meat as a filling for tacos, burritos, nachos, or burrito bowls.
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This recipe has become one of my absolute favorites for meal prep! It freezes well so I can make a huge batch and portion it out as needed before freezing. One week I’ll use it for a bowl meal, one week for burritos, maybe one week for nachos. It’s a life saver to have the pre-cooked meat ready to go in the freezer.

Close up of tongs holding a chunk of slow cooker carnitas

A skillet full of slow cooker carnitas with tortillas, jalapeño, oranges, and cilantro on the side

I’m using a Hamilton Beach 6-quart Slow Cooker. Here is a similar model. (affiliate link)

Step by Step Photos

Onion, Garlic, and Cinnamon in the bottom of the slow cooker

Dice an onion and peel four cloves of garlic. Place the diced onion, garlic cloves, and two small cinnamon sticks in the bottom of the slow cooker.

Cinnamon Sticks in the package

These are the cinnamon sticks I use. These little packets of four small sticks are found in the Hispanic food section of my local grocery store and only cost $1.89. So, in if cinnamon sticks are expensive in the spice aisle, check the international foods aisle as well.

Spice Mix in a small bowl

In a small bowl stir together 1/2 Tbsp oregano, 1/2 Tbsp cumin 1/2 tsp salt, some freshly cracked pepper, and 1/2 tsp chipotle pepper powder.

Boneless Boston Butt Pork Roast in the package from the store

You’ll also need one pork butt roast, about 3 lbs. If you use a bone-in roast, just get one slightly larger than 3 lbs. and don’t forget to pull the bones out after cooking.

Add Seasoned Pork chunks to the slow cooker

Cut the pork into 2-inch cubes, place them in a bowl, and sprinkle the spice mix over top. Toss the meat cubes in the spices until they’re evenly coated, then place them in the slow cooker on top of the onion, garlic, and cinnamon.

Orange Peels close up

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from one of the oranges. You want to get all the nice orange parts with the fragrant oils, but not the white pith, which can be bitter. Also juice the oranges. You need about 1/2 cup juice.

Add Orange Juice to the pork in the slow cooker

Pour the orange juice over the meat…

Pork and Orange Peel in the slow cooker ready to cook

And add those orange peels over top.

Slow Cooked Carnitas in the slow cooker, not yet shredded

Place the lid on the slow cooker, turn it on to high, and cook for 5 hours. See how much liquid comes out of the meat? That’s good stuff right there.

Shredded Carnitas in the slow cooker with a pair of tongs

Use a pair of tongs to stir and shred the meat. Fish out the cinnamon sticks (and bones, if you used a bone-in roast) at this time. You can serve the meat just as it is, or you can crisp it up in a skillet.

Refrigerated Carnitas in a reusable food storage container

OR you can refrigerate it or freeze it for later. If refrigerating/freezing, I highly recommend dividing the meat up into smaller portions before refrigerating (store it with the cooking juices). This helps it cool faster and prevents food safety issues. If you want to freeze some of it, let it chill in the refrigerator over night before transferring to the freezer. 

Crispy Carnitas in a Skillet

To make the carnitas crispy, just cook it in a skillet with some of the juices (because you need the fat from the slow cooker to basically fry the meat) until it’s crispy. I recommend doing this in some sort of non-stick skillet though, like cast iron or teflon, because the liquified collagen likes to stick to and coat stainless steel. 

Close up of slow cooker carnitas that have been crisped in a skillet

And that’s basically it! It’s just that easy to make tender, juicy, and FLAVORFUL slow cooker carnitas. 

A skillet full of crispy slow cooker carnitas with cilantro and oranges on the side.

Now excuse me while I go make the most epic nachos EVER. ;)