Carnitas in a Slow Cooker

One could argue that since I live in a region where incredible taquerias abound, I have no reason to cook carnitas, myself. But, one would be wrong!  It’s a great dish for get-togethers, and it freezes well. There are an almost infinite number of recipes for carnitas on the internet and in cookbooks. Some call for cooking the pork shoulder in lard, some in milk, some in beer, and some in orange juice. I’ve found that all the recipes I’ve tried and studied have a few lacks when it comes to pleasing my palate, so I’ve developed a recipe based on my personal tastes and experience.

My recipe takes advantages of aromatics, particularly citrus zest. And in contrast to most recipes, I cube the pork so that I can coat more surface area with spices and so that the citrus juices can soak into the meat more deeply. This recipe calls for pork shoulder roast, but you can substitute an equal weight of country ribs.

I like to make my own chili powders from dried chilis.  An equal amount of prepared chili powders can be substituted.

Carnitas taco


5 lbs (2.5 kg) bone-in pork shoulder roast or 4 lbs (2. kg) boneless roast cut into 2-inch cubes
Rub (see below)
Juice and rind of two oranges
Juice and rind of one lime
2 sweet onions, coarsely chopped
4-10 cloves garlic, minced
1 fresh Jalapeno chili (or 2 Serrano)


1.5 Tsp sea salt (decrease to 1 Tsp if using table salt)
2 Tsp black peppercorns
2 Tbsp cumin seed
1 Tbsp oregano
1.5 Tsp chipotle chili powder (from whole dried chilies) (about 1 dried chipotle chili)
2 Tbsp Guajillo chili powder (from whole dried chilies) (about 2 dried Guajillo chilies)

Grind the cumin seed, peppercorns, and dried chilies in a spice grinder until they are a medium-fine powder.  In a small bowl, mix all the rub ingredients well with a fork.

Cut the pork shoulder into 2-inch cubes. If the roast is bone-in, cut around the bones, leaving an inch or so of meat attached. Apply the rub evenly to the cubed pork and add the meat to the slow cooker. I like to reserve the pieces with the fat cap and put them on top, fat side up. Add the onion and garlic. No need to mix them in with the meat. They can stay on top. Grate the skin of the oranges and lime and add the zest to the pot. Juice the oranges and lime with a reamer and add the juice to the pot.

Depending on the heat tolerance of your audience, either mince the Jalapeno chili, or leave it whole except for the stem end and cut 6 or 8 slits in the sides before adding it to the pot. Think of the whole chili as a teabag. The juices will circulate through the pod, imparting flavor without an overwhelming amount of heat for the faint of heart.

Cook for 5 to 6 hours on high or 9-10 hours on low. When the meat falls apart, it’s done.

Remove the meat and onion mixture from the pot and drain, reserving all the juices. Pull the meat apart with forks or your hands. Skim the fat off the reserved juices.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet to medium-high and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil. Add the meat and cook without stirring until the bottom forms a nice crust. Turn the heat down to low.  Add about half the juices to the pan and let the mixture warm through.

The carnitas is ready to serve with your favorite accompaniments and toppings. I like black beans, rice, chopped tomatoes, chopped cilantro, chopped sweet or red onion, lime slices, crema or sour cream, queso fresca (a crumbly Mexican cheese), guacamole and corn tortillas.

For freezing, pour the rest of the juice over the meat and separate into meal-sized portions.


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