The easiest way to make carnitas from pork butt is low and slow in your crock pot. Spend a few minutes on trimming, then season with citrus and classic spices. You can now make fall-apart tender carnitas at home.
Pork carnitas are the holy grail of Mexican food around my house. But they are usually too much work, so restaurants are for us. We now grade Mexican restaurants on their carnitas (and refried beans) just like I judge Italian restaurants by their Chicken Parmesan.
I have made carnitas on the stovetop (huge mess) and in the oven (less mess). It was time to make carnitas even easier in a crock pot.
The cooking method for carnitas is usually with lard on a stovetop with a Dutch oven. Lard is just not happening in my house, and here I chose a slow cooker for easy results.
Carnitas are "little meats," and most crock pot recipes ignore that and cook a whole pork butt, then shred it. I did it with shredding, and we had a very nice meal... a 5 rating, but I had a hard time publishing it. It just didn't feel right calling it carnitas—I have now fixed it.
👨🍳How to make this recipe
- If you want to brown the carnitas some, use a large crock pot. This recipe will cook in a smaller crock pot, and if you are going to brown the carnitas during the reheating, then a smaller (3-4 quart) crock pot will do.
- Add all the ingredients to the crock pot.
- Cook 5 to 6 hours on low or 2-3 hours on high. Cook to an endpoint of at least 190° and a bit more is better. I prefer my pork butt at 200° to 210°. A crock pot should not go over 212° so overcooking would be very hard to do.
- Optional: When you reach 190°, remove excess fluid and rotate the lid to vent moisture to moisture to promote browning. Cook an additional 60 minutes on low or 30 minutes on high with the crock pot vented.
Use pork butt, also known as Boston butt, which is the classic meat for carnitas. It should be seasoned and cooked low and slow as pork butt should be.
You can use boneless or bone-in. You will be cutting it into chunks. I want to get the top crisped up, so 3-5 pounds is the right amount for most standard full-size crock pots.
The spicing will also be classic—fresh orange, lime, jalapeno, cumin, oregano, and garlic.
The cutting up of the pork into "little meats" provides more surface area for flavor, and they cook faster.
Oranges and limes add a unique flavor to this recipe. You can use juice instead of fresh fruit. For the orange, one orange will make ¼ to ⅓ cup of orange juice. For the lime, use 2 tablespoons of lime juice.
♨️How to reheat carnitas
So many choices and so much disagreement. All will use some crock pot cooking liquid to moisturize during reheating. If you run out or forgot to save some, use chicken broth.
The oven is the most recommended method. But a couple of ways are usually recommended.
First Method, shred up some, add some of the cooking liquid, and heat under a broiler on a baking sheet.
Second Method, a covered dish in a 350° oven. Add some of the cooking liquid to the bottom. This will take about 10-15 minutes.
If you don't have the cooking liquid, use chicken broth or apple juice.
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place shredded pork into the pan, press down, and cook until the bottom side is browning. Add some of the juices and flip. Continue to cook until the bottom is brown a bit and all the meat is hot.
Yes, this is ok but be careful. Heat only what you need and just warm enough to be served immediately. Add some juices to moisten.
🍽️Serving and storage of carnitas
Carnitas are commonly shredded and served in soft flour or corn tortillas. Typical toppings for tacos are usually used.
-Shredded cheese of choice
-Pico de Gallo
-Guacamole or avocado
-Chopped cilantro, tomatoes, lettuce, and onions
For side dishes, anything you like but here are some suggestions.
-Chips and salsa
Carnitas can be stored refrigerated for 3-4 days if sealed airtight. You can also freeze carnitas for 2-3 months.
This recipe is listed in these categories. See them for more similar recipes.
Step-by-Step Photo Instructions
Start with fresh orange, lime, and jalapeno along with 3-5 pounds of pork butt.
Cut the pork butt into 2-inch chunks. Trim large pieces of fat and, of course, the bone if present.
Mince the jalapeno and crush or mince four cloves of garlic.
Add the meat to a large mixing bowl and coat with the juice of a large orange and two limes. If cooking closer to three pounds, do one lime and a smaller orange.
Add two teaspoons coarse salt, one teaspoon black pepper, one teaspoon cumin, and one teaspoon oregano. Add the garlic and jalapeno and mix well.
Prep a large crock pot with a good spray of PAM. Add the meat and cook on low for 5-6 hours and check the internal temperature. You're looking for 190° plus.
If doing the optional browning in the crock pot, remove enough liquid to leave about half the meat exposed. Save the removed liquid. Cook for one more hour with the top opened a little to vent moisture. Save all the juices for later.
Remove the carnitas and cover with foil for 10-20 minutes before serving. Add the juice to the previously removed juice and refrigerate for reheating—skim fat after cooling.
Serve with the topping of your choice. Good refrigerated for 3-4 days and will freeze well. To reheat, shred up some, then add some of the juices and heat under a broiler.
Easy Crock Pot Pork Carnitas from Pork Butt
- 3-5 pounds Pork Butt - AKA Boston Butt
- 2 limes
- 1 orange - large
- 1 jalapeno
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- Start with fresh orange, lime, and jalapeno along with 3-5 pounds of pork butt.
- Cut the pork butt into 2-inch chunks. Trim large chunks of fat and of course the bone if present.
- Mince the jalapeno and crush or mince four cloves of garlic.
- Add the meat to a large mixing bowl and coat with the juice of a large orange and two limes. If cooking closer to three pounds, do one lime and a smaller orange.
- Add two teaspoons coarse salt, one teaspoon black pepper, one teaspoon cumin, and one teaspoon oregano. Add the garlic and jalapeno and mix well.
- Prep a large crock pot with a good spray of PAM. Add the meat and cook on low for 5-6 hours and check the internal temperature. You're looking for 190° plus.
- If doing the optional browning in the crock pot, remove enough liquid to leave about half the meat exposed. Save the removed liquid. Cook for one more hour with the top opened a little to vent moisture. Save all the juices for later.
- Remove the carnitas and cover with foil for 10-20 minutes before serving. Add the juice to the previously removed juice and refrigerate for reheating. Skim fat after cooling.
- Serve with the topping of your choice. Good refrigerated for 3-4 days and will freeze well. To reheat, shred up some then add some of the juices and heat under a broiler.
Your Own Private Notes
- Use 3-5 pounds of pork butt. Since you will be cutting it up, boneless or bone-in does not matter.
- Season as you like, but the citrus is a feature of traditional carnitas.
- If you want, you can skip the part about venting the crock pot. Then to finish, shred a bit and brown under a broiler.
- The juices you save can be added anytime you need a bit of moisture like reheating. If you didn't save that fluid, you can use chicken broth or apple juice.
- Refrigerate the juices and skim off the fats after cold.
- To reheat, shred up some, then add some of the juices and heat under a broiler.
- Other reheating methods and options are discussed in the post.
To adjust the recipe size:
You may adjust the number of servings in this recipe card under servings. This does the math for the ingredients for you. BUT it does NOT adjust the text of the instructions. So you need to do that yourself.
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Originally Published March 7, 2015. Updated with expanded options, refreshed photos, and a table of contents to help navigation.