Copycat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe {Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker}

Well, finally, here’s my go-to copycat Cafe Rio sweet pork recipe (could easily be called Costa Vida pork or any of the other sweet pork establishments!). It’s just as delicious as the real thing and so easy!

Copycat sweet pork in white tray with a scoop being lifted with tongs.

Over the years I’ve made several recipes for sweet pork, but I’ve never fully committed to an all-out, best-ever recipe. Until today. 

These smothered sweet pork burritos are fantastic. And this slow cooker sweet tomatillo chipotle pork is to die for. But neither of those are a bona fide copycat (haha) recipe for a total Cafe Rio/Costa Vida sweet pork knockoff.

Even though there are a lot of copycat recipes online, a quick look into sweet pork land shows basically the same recipe floating around with a few variations here and there. I used those older knockoff recipes as a starting place, experimented like crazy, and came up with the best sweet pork in the history of ever.

After making this copycat Cafe Rio sweet pork recipe for 100+ people at my cousins’ wedding luncheon, I knew it was the real deal. Sweet and mildly spicy, the tender pork is brimming with saucy, delicious flavor. In other words: it’s incredible.

White plate with cilantro lime rice, black beans, sweet pork and toppings.

how the heck to serve sweet pork

Our favorite way to eat this delectable sweet pork is piled high layers of cilantro lime rice, salsa black beans*, sweet pork, toppings galore (avocados, sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa), and a healthy drizzle of cilantro lime ranch dressing.

*Salsa black beans are as simple as they sound. I dump two cans of rinsed and drained black beans into a pot and add 1 cup of really good, knock your socks off salsa and simmer for a few minutes.

But that’s just a beginning. You could use this pork in an all-out smothered burrito. In enchiladas. Tacos. Quesadillas. It makes a fantastic meal for feeding a crowd (even crowds over 100, trust me!) and is perfect for a take-in meal. In fact, I’d say the whole rice/beans/pork combo I detailed above is easily in my top 10 go-to meals I turn to when taking a meal into someone. 

Pressure cooker or slow cooker

This flavorful sweet pork can be made in the pressure cooker or slow cooker. The pictures below are using a pressure cooker because I think electric pressure cookers are life (the one pictured is the Mealthy brand; I also use an Instant Pot regularly – both are great). But you can’t go wrong with a slow cooker either. 

The pork roast is seasoned with a simple pantry-staple spice mixture and cooked in a bath of root beer (or coke) + green salsa. It sounds weird, but you just have to go with it. Flavor, flavor, flavor! 

Step by step copycat sweet pork being added to pressure cooker with root beer and salsa.

After it cooks, the pork is shredded (cooking liquid mostly done away with) and returned to the pot with a delectable saucy lineup of enchilada sauce + brown sugar + green chiles + salsa + some of the reserved spices used in the first step. Heat through, and you have the most delicious sweet pork ever.

If you’ve never had sweet pork, the name can be a bit deceiving. It’s not sweet like chocolate cake. It has more of the sweet and spicy vibe that is really popular for a reason. The flavors balance each other so that neither the heat nor the sweet overpowers. It’s definitely a savory recipe…with just a hint of sweetness.

Step by step copycat sweet pork being shredded and added back to pressure cooker with seasonings.

I mean get a load of this saucy sweet pork goodness. There’s a reason you’ll probably want to prepare yourself to be mobbed for this recipe, you guys. The layers of flavor go beyond just tossing a 4-ingredient recipe into the crockpot.

It’s complex without being complicated. Wow-worthy without being weird.  

Copycat sweet pork in sauce in pressure cooker.

What kind of pork roast is best?

Great question! I’ve had the best luck using the pork sirloin roasts (that come in a 4-pack) from Costco. That’s actually the pork I use 99% of the time whenever a recipe calls for a hunk of pork. They are much leaner than, say, pork shoulder but they are still very tender if cooked correctly. 

A pork shoulder roast would work well, too (just trim off any large fat pockets). I wouldn’t recommend pork loin – at least the roasts I’ve tried have been very dry when cooked. 

I haven’t tried this meal with beef or chicken. But, you know – experiment away! FYI: chicken will need far, far less cooking time. 

White plate with cilantro lime rice, black beans, sweet pork and toppings.

I hope this copycat Cafe Rio sweet pork recipe makes your heart sing like it does mine. I feel all sorts of satisfied happiness when I know I’ve finally worked hard enough to tweak and create and evolve a recipe that won’t ever need altering again. This sweet pork truly is best-ever. 

I’m not sure there’s another meal that gets quite the excitement around here than when my family spies all the fixings for a loaded plate of sweet pork goodness.

Some of us eat it salad style. Some of us go for the all-in burrito style. Some of us do the layered cilantro lime rice plate. I mean, sure, there’s always that kid that tries to avoid the beans, but no one would dare skip the sweet pork. It’s what brings us together.

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Copycat Sweet Pork Recipe {Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker}

Yield: 8-12 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours
Copycat Sweet Pork Recipe {Pressure Cooker or Slow Cooker}

Ingredients

Seasoning Mixture:

  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon regular or smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt (I use coarse, kosher salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (I use coarsely ground)

Pork:

  • 3-5 pounds boneless sirloin pork roast or pork shoulder roast
  • 1 cup root beer or cola soda
  • 1 cup green salsa or enchilada sauce

Sauce:

  • 2 cups red enchilada sauce (see note for homemade version)
  • 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 8 ounces chopped green chiles (blend for smoother texture, if desired)
  • 1 cup green salsa or enchilada sauce

Instructions

  1. Combine all the seasoning ingredients together in a small bowl. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the mixture and save for later.
  2. Cut the pork roast into large chunks (4-6 inches) and rub the remaining seasoning mixture (not the reserved 2 tablespoons) evenly over all sides of the pork.
  3. Pressure cooker: add the root beer/cola soda and the 1 cup green salsa/enchilada sauce to the insert of an electric pressure cooker. Stir to combine. Add the seasoned pork. Secure the lid, set the valve to seal and cook on high pressure for 55-60 minutes. Let the pressure naturally release for 10 minutes and then quick release the remaining pressure.
  4. Transfer the pork to a cutting board or pan and shred. Discard all but 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid in the pressure cooker. Add the pork back to the pressure cooker. Add the 2 tablespoons of reserved spices, red enchilada sauce, brown sugar, green chiles and green salsa/enchilada sauce and stir/toss to combine. Heat through using the saute function (stir often to avoid sticking) or slow cooker function (high for 30 minutes or so). Keep warm until serving.
  5. Slow cooker: add the root beer/cola soda and the 1 cup green salsa/enchilada sauce to the insert of a slow cooker. Stir to combine. Add the seasoned pork. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or high for 5-6 hours until tender. Transfer the pork to a cutting board or pan and shred. Discard all but 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid in the slow cooker. Add the shredded pork back to the pressure cooker. Add the 2 tablespoons of reserved spices, red enchilada sauce, brown sugar, green chiles and green salsa/enchilada sauce and stir/toss to combine. Cover and cook on high for 15-20 minutes until heated through. Keep warm until serving.

Notes

Freezing: this cooked pork freezes amazing well. When I freeze, I don't bother heating through on the last step (once the red enchilada sauce and other ingredients are added) since the pork will heat through when thawed from the freezer and ready to serve.

Seasonings: make sure to use seasonings (especially chili powder) that you already love the flavor of. Chili powder, in particular, varies in spiciness so if you don't want a lot of heat, use a brand that is mild.

Root beer or Coke: I've used both in this recipe (separate batches); delicious results either way.

Salsa/Enchilada Sauce: For storebought green salsa, I've used both Herdez and Trader Joe's. I haven't used storebought green enchilada sauce, but I have used this homemade version. I usually use storebought red enchilada sauce (Las Palmas mild), but I think the enchilada sauce from this recipe would be a great homemade version. Again, just like the seasonings, what is most important is using a brand/recipe of green or red enchilada sauce or salsa that you really, really love the flavor of.

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Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe (inspired by recipes like this one and this one and this one)

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