Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Amazingly simple and delicious dinners like these pork carnitas restore faith in my ability to actually get dinner on the table during this hectic time of year without pulling my hair out or saying bad words. School has started in our area and combined with sport schedules, scout schedules, work schedules, nap schedules (I wish it were mine!), and every schedule in between, dinner time begins to feel like an impossible reality.

Some nights need a super quick 20- or 30-minute meal. Done and done. But other evenings call for a dinner with very minimal prep the minutes before eating (we’re talking run in the door and have 5 or 10 minutes max). That’s where this meal is perfection. The work (if you can call throwing everything in a slow cooker work) is done hours before dinner and the pork simmers in the delicious flavors all day long freeing you up for more important things like pursuing that nap schedule (ha!). When dinner time rolls around, the pork is removed, shredded and if you have a few extra minutes, crisped and browned on the edges under the broiler (note: I’ve made this several times without browning and it’s equally yummy). Pull out some tortillas, simple toppings and you have dinner.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Don’t even get me started on how versatile this pork is. Cooked and cooled, it freezes beautifully. And while the flavors lend themselves wonderfully well to tortillas + toppings, I’ve made enchiladas out of the leftover pork, tossed some of the defrosted pork with BBQ sauce for sandwiches, and used the tender meat for quick quesadillas, tacos, and even pizza.

The flavors are astounding. Fresh and citrusy and smoky and seriously yummy. We love this one; a keeper for sure.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

What To ServeSimple Black Beans and Rice
Fresh fruit and vegetables

One Year Ago: Banana Carrot Bread
Two Years Ago: Jalapeno Cheddar Turkey Burgers
Three Years Ago: Broccoli Salad

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Yield: Serves 6-8

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

To get those long strips of zest from the orange and lime, use a sharp paring knife to cut away the top layer of peel from the fruit - trying not to get too much of the white, pithy skin underneath since it can be bitter. Just do your best - it doesn't have to be perfectly rectangular 2-inch strips. Mine usually come off more in squares and large ovals. The reason you don't want to just zest the orange and lime is because the pieces of zest are removed at the end of cooking before serving (otherwise the pork mixture can develop a bitter or overpowering citrus flavor).

The leftover cooked and cooled pork freezes great for future meals.


  • 3-4 pounds boneless pork butt roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks
  • 1 white or yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3 (2-inch) strips orange zest (see note above)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 (2-inch) strips lime zest (see note above)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. Place the pork in the bottom of a 4- or 5-quart slow cooker. Add the onion, orange zest, orange juice, lime zest, lime juice, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Turn the pork pieces a bit so the spices are evenly distributed.
  2. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours (or high for 5 to 7 hours).
  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork from the slow cooker to a 9X13-inch or similar-sized oven-safe pan. Use two forks to shred the pork.
  4. Pour everything (solids and liquid) from the slow cooker into a strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquid. Discard the solids and reserve the liquid.
  5. To crisp the edges of the pork (this is optional but delicious), preheat the broiler to high and position an oven rack about 6-8 inches away from the heating element. Pour about 1 cup of the reserved liquid over the pork in the pan. Broil the pork (watching closely!) for a couple minutes until it is brown and crispy in spots. Give the pork a good stir/turn and broil again until some of the edges crisp up a bit. You still want the pork to be nice and tender so don't overcook it here - and keep an eye on it as a broiler can take food from beautifully browned to burned in seconds.
  6. Season the pork with salt and pepper to taste and transfer to a serving plate or platter, if desired. Use additional liquid from the slow cooker to moisten the pork as needed. Serve with lime wedges, tortillas, fresh cilantro and other toppings of your choice.

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from Cook’s Country August/Sept 2015 (after my cousin, Mel, sent me a similar recipe alerting me to it’s deliciousness – thanks, Mel!)

21 Responses to Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

  1. Hi Mel – did you skim off or use a defatting cup for the liquid before using (after cooking)

    Thanks – looks delicious!

    • Mel says:

      Good question, Patricia! When I’ve made this, I’ve trimmed the pork roast I’ve used of large fat pockets and so I haven’t skimmed the fat off after cooking but you definitely do that if there is excess fat at the top of the cooking liquid.

  2. Sheila says:

    We love recipes that are simple, easy, and full of flavor. Thank you for posting this at an extremely busy time in all our lives. I can’t wait to try. I would have been tempted to shortcut and “zest” instead of “cut and peel” until I read the warning. 🙂

  3. Becky says:

    I’ve been making your Cuban Street Tacos as carnitas (I’m not sure what makes pulled pork “carniats” but in my book, it’s the broiling to get crispy tips at the end) which we just love! I can’t wait to make this one, too! I have a pork butt in the freezer, so in like 4 days when it’s finally thawed 🙂 I’ll be excited to give this a try!

  4. David (thegoblinchief) says:

    Would this work for a shoulder roast? The only roasts I have left from our whole pig in the freezer are shoulder and loin, and I know loin roasts aren’t meant for these super slow cooking methods as they’re already tender.

    • Teri S. says:

      David – I use loin roast for these types at least half of the time. The only downside I’ve found is that the meat is so much leaner and therefore can come out a bit dry. I think they work fine on something that has a sauce in the finished product.

    • Mel says:

      I’d probably recommend shoulder over loin – as Teri mentioned, pork loin roasts are so lean they tend to be dry in long cooking recipes like this one.

  5. Laurel says:

    Yum I love this recipe. We make it all the time. I just throw the juiced orange halves in while slow cooking. I bet you get even more flavor from making zest strips!!

  6. Sarah says:

    You can also use a vegetable peeler to get the orange and lime zest strips. It makes me feel safer than trying get a thin slice with a knife. 🙂

    • Mel says:

      Yes, great tip, Sarah! My poor vegetable peeler has seen better days and isn’t sharp enough to get under the skin but it’s definitely a good alternative to a knife. 🙂

      • Sigrid Wucherpfennig says:

        There are serrated peelers, specifically designed for tomatoes, that work for kiwis, peaches, etc as well and are absolutely great for cutting zest stripes off lemons in just a second, without any white skin attached (by OXO, for example).
        BTW, I just love your blog.

  7. Paige says:

    These look super delicious! I love making one big pot of some sort of meat and then being able to lend it out to dinners and lunches for the rest of the week! I’ll definitely have to add this to our list of things to make soon!


  8. cathy says:

    Just served this for dinner tonight. I had all the ingredients so it was a breeze. Verdict? These are amazing!!! Thanks again for saving dinner 🙂

  9. elisabeth says:

    Can you say TAILGATE?!! Heading to the Cardinals vs Broncos preseason game in Denver September 3rd. Guess what we will have along?? That’s right!! Mel’s Kitchen Cafe Citrus Pork Carnitas!!! Oh baby!! Thank you Mel for being part of EVERY family holiday, celebration and occasion, YOU ARE THE BEST XOXOXO. Go CARDS!!! #31

  10. Emily says:

    Not to mention Chipotle still doesn’t have carnitas! 😀

  11. Soonhee says:

    Thank you so much for this, Mel! With five kids and busy schedules, I definitely need more recipes like this.

  12. jodi says:

    Mel these look delicious. I had to just laugh the day you posted these because that same day, I had made my slow cooker salsa verde carnitas. I guess great minds think a like. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  13. Deb B says:

    Love, love, love this recipe! Made this for the first time yesterday along with your Black Beans and Rice. I’m trying to stay on task with cooking healthy since my husband had open heart surgery a few months ago and the crock pot certainly helps. My hubby said “This is better than Chipotle’s!” Yup, got a home run with these recipes and will certainly make them again.

  14. Christina says:

    The meat was so flavourful and made the house smell amazing as it was cooking!

  15. Kris says:

    Mel, I think my husband loves me a little more since making this one!
    I made the carnitas two weeks ago and am making again tomorrow!
    So tender and flavorful. Yum. I made fresh corn tortillas and served with lime wedges, chopped cilantro, and onion.
    Thank you so much for a super easy and delightful recipe! It’s a definite keeper.

  16. Heidy A says:

    This is one of our favorite recipes! We have it at least once a month! Thanks!

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