The easiest way to make perfect pork carnitas is low and slow in your crock pot from pork butt. Spend a few minutes trimming, then season with citrus and classic spices. You can now make fall-apart tender carnitas at home.
Pork Butt—AKA Boston Butt
Fresh limes and orange
Seasoning—cumin, oregano, salt, black pepper
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Featured Comment from Suzanne:
"5 stars. I had been looking for a recipe for Carnitas that had the citrus flavors and this hit the nail on the head. These were perfect and so easy…"
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.
👨🍳How to Make Carnitas from Pork Butt in a Crock Pot—Easy Step-by-Step
1. Start with fresh orange, lime, and jalapeno, along with 3-5 pounds of pork butt.
2. Cut the pork butt into 2-inch chunks. Trim large pieces of fat and, of course, the bone if present.
3. Mince the jalapeno and crush or mince four cloves of garlic.
4. Add the meat to a large mixing bowl and coat it with the juice of a large orange and two limes. If cooking closer to three pounds, do one lime and a smaller orange.
5. Add two teaspoons of coarse salt, one teaspoon of black pepper, one teaspoon of cumin, and one teaspoon of oregano. Add the garlic and jalapeno and mix well.
6. Prep a large crock pot with a good spray of PAM. Add the meat, cook on low for 5-6 hours, and check the internal temperature. You're looking for 190° plus.
7. Optional browning of a single layer of meat after reaching 190°+: 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.
8. Remove the carnitas and cover with foil for 10-20 minutes before serving. Save all juices and refrigerate for reheating—skim fat after cooling.
9. Serve shredded with the topping of your choice, as pork tacos or fajitas.
For more details, keep reading. See the Recipe Card below for complete instructions and to print.
🐖What Pork To Use
Use pork butt, also known as Boston butt, which is the classic meat for carnitas. It should be seasoned and cooked low and slow. We want to get the top crisped up, so 3-5 pounds is the right amount for most standard full-size crock pots.
About Seasoning and Citrus
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. One orange will make ¼ to ⅓ cup of orange juice for the orange. For the lime, use 2 tablespoons of lime juice.
↕️How to use smaller crock pots and make a "for two" recipe
My preferred way to cook this recipe is with a larger crock pot and a single layer of chunks of pork butt. This allows for some browning in the crock pot, as described. But the total volume of the recipe makes use of smaller crock pots work.
If not browning in the crock pot, two layers of meat will cook well, but you should make sure the internal temperature reaches 190°+ (200° is better). This makes use of a full recipe in a small 3 to 4-quart crock pot work, and a half recipe will work in a 2-quart mini crock pot.
- Use the recipe card and adjust the number of servings to half.
- Use the amount of ingredients in the ingredient list, not the instructions—those do not adjust.
- The half recipe will fit in a 2-quart mini crock pot in two layers or one layer in a small 3-4 quart crock pot.
- Cook to an internal temperature of 190°+.
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
Storage of leftovers
Leftover carnitas can be stored refrigerated for 4 days if sealed airtight. You can also freeze carnitas for 3 months.
♨️How to reheat carnitas
There are so many choices and so much disagreement. All will use some crock pot cooking liquid to moisturize during reheating. If you run out or forget to save some, use chicken broth. Here are three ways to reheat.
How to reheat carnitas in the oven
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. This will add some crispiness and is preferred.
Second Method—use 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.
How to reheat carnitas on the stovetop
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.
Can carnitas be reheated in the microwave?
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.
Known as "little meats" and sometimes called Mexican pulled pork, they can be found on the street in Mexico cooking in large vats of lard. Not a good option for us home-cooking Yankees.
The most common home method is braising a chuck of pork butt in a spiced-up fluid of some type and then cooking off the liquid on the stovetop—a major mess. There is almost no mess with baking, and much of the fat drains due to the rack, so the "greasy factor" is markedly decreased.
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Pork Carnitas in the Crock Pot
- 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 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 of coarse salt, one teaspoon of black pepper, one teaspoon of cumin, and one teaspoon of oregano. Add the garlic and jalapeno and mix well.
- Prep a large crock pot with a good spray of PAM. Add the meat, cook on low for 5-6 hours, and check the internal temperature. You're looking for 190° plus.
- Optional browning of a single layer of meat after reaching 190°+: 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. Save all juices and refrigerate for reheating—skim fat after cooling.
- Serve shredded with the topping of your choice, as pork tacos or fajitas.
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.