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These crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas are ready for the Crock Pot with just 5 ingredients and 5 minutes of prep! Stuff the Mexican pulled pork tenderloin in tacos or quesadillas, pile it onto rice bowls, or serve it over a hearty and satisfying taco salad. With a side of chips, salsa, and guacamole, the easy slow cooker carnitas make a perfect weeknight dinner!

Plate of healthy and easy Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas!

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

When the kids were little, we completely renovated our kitchen. The final result was well worth the hassle, but it was definitely not fun to go without kitchen appliances (like an oven or a stove) for about 6-8 weeks. During that time period, I had to come up with some creative ways to feed my family dinner — and these slow cooker carnitas quickly rose to the top of our list!

While I created the recipe during my time of desperation, the meal has remained a part of our regular rotation because they’re easy, tasty, and healthy. When you find a quick option that everyone at the table can agree on, you stick with it!

Shredded pulled pork tenderloin used in slow cooker pork carnitas tacos on a metal plate.

What kind of meat is carnitas?

The word “carnitas” translates to “little meats,” and is a dish of Mexican origin. Carnitas are traditionally made by braising or slowly simmering pork in oil or lard until it’s tender. The meat is then often served with chopped onion, fresh cilantro, tortillas, refried beans, salsa or guacamole.

For these Slow Cooker Carnitas, you’ll get the same great flavors and tender, juicy meat in a healthier, easier way! Pork shoulder (or pork butt) is a classic cut of meat for pulled pork carnitas, and you can certainly use that here if you prefer. Instead, I’ve lightened up by using very lean pork tenderloin. Thanks to the magic of the slow cooker, the tenderloin stays incredibly moist and flavorful – none of that dry, tough meat that everyone dreads!

Is Pulled pork the same as carnitas?

The term “pulled pork” refers to any pork that is slowly cooked (roasted, braised, smoked, etc.), and then shredded manually. American pulled pork is often known as “pork barbecue” or “bbq pork.” Carnitas are Mexico’s version of pulled pork, made by slow cooking pork that’s fully submerged in lard. The end result is rich, tender meat with plenty of browned, crispy edges.

While this recipe does not require smoking, lard, or even a big pork shoulder, the end result is a delicious, succulent batch of Mexican pulled pork that tastes almost as good as authentic carnitas — with a fraction of the effort!

Overhead shot of a plate of easy and crispy slow cooker carnitas

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a pot of easy slow cooker carnitas. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Chicken broth: just a touch of moisture in the slow cooker helps to keep the pork moist as it slowly simmers. You can substitute with orange juice, beef broth, Coke, or even water if that’s what you have on hand.
  • Pork tenderloin: I use two tenderloins, which total about 2 – 2½ lbs. If using a larger pork shoulder, double the rest of the ingredients and cook the shoulder for 10-12 hours on LOW.
  • Taco seasoning mix: a single packet of store-bought taco seasoning works perfectly, or you can substitute with a homemade taco seasoning blend.
  • Canned diced tomatoes: the acid in the tomatoes flavors and tenderizes the meat, while the tomatoes and their juices keep the pork moist and also create a great sauce in the pot at the end.
  • Liquid smoke: this optional ingredient provides a bit of that classic “smoked” meat flavor — without actually smoking the pork outdoors!

How to Make Slow Cooker Carnitas

It seriously doesn’t get much easier than this! Just “set it and forget it” all day…

  1. Place all of the ingredients in the slow cooker.
  2. Cover and cook on LOW for about 8 hours, or until the pork is fall-apart tender and easily shreds with a fork.

How to Get that Crispy Finish on Slow Cooker Carnitas

At the end of the slow cooking time, you’ll have a pot of pork that literally falls apart at the slightest touch. I like to shred the tenderloin on a cutting board using two forks, and then chop up those longer strands with a big knife. It gives you a lot of perfect “little meats!”

If you’re in a hurry, you can eat the pulled pork right away; however, if you have about 5 extra minutes to spare, I highly suggest taking one more step to finish off the carnitas and give them that great crispy exterior that everyone knows and loves.

Just heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a skillet over high heat. Press the chopped meat into the hot oil and fry it for about 3 minutes (or until it’s crispy on one side). That’s it! You’ll have restaurant-quality carnitas in just minutes — and nobody will ever guess that they came out of a slow cooker!

Side shot of crispy slow cooker carnitas on a wooden cutting board

What can you do with Pork Carnitas?

Use the crispy slow cooker carnitas in a variety of different ways:

  • Carnitas Tacos: everyone loves the succulent meat tucked inside soft flour tortillas. Top them with your favorite garnishes, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro, sliced green onion, salsa, avocado or guacamole.
  • Quesadillas: use the meat inside quesadillas. This is great for leftovers, too!
  • Rice Bowls: similar to Chipotle, you can pile the pork tenderloin on top of white rice and garnish with extra veggies and toppings.
  • Nachos: make pulled pork nachos by assembling a tray of chips, carnitas and cheese. Then bake in a 425°F oven for 10-12 minutes and garnish with your favorite toppings.
  • Cornbread: serve the pork over hearty wedges of Mexican cornbread to soak up those extra juices.
  • Salad: make a taco salad with the carnitas. Use chopped lettuce, fresh vegetables, cheese, olives, onion, cilantro, black beans, corn, or crushed tortilla chips.

What to Serve with Carnitas

On the side, try any of these easy options:

Storage

Leftover carnitas will stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. To keep the pork longer, you can freeze the cooked meat in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

If you want to reheat your cooked carnitas in the Crock Pot, place the cooked pork (and all of the reserved juices) in the slow cooker on the “WARM” setting for 2-4 hours. This is a great option if you need to prep a meal in advance! You can also reheat cooked meat in a saucepan or Dutch oven on the stovetop over low heat, or smaller portions in the microwave.

The best slow cooker carnitas recipe served on a plate in front of a sunny window

Recipe Variations

  • Use a bone-in or boneless pork shoulder or pork butt instead of the pork tenderloin. These larger cuts of meat will require twice as much cooking liquid, seasoning, and tomatoes. You will also need to cook the pork shoulder or pork butt in the slow cooker on LOW for about 10-12 hours.
  • Instead of chicken broth, cook the pork with Coke, orange juice, beef broth, or even just water.
  • Swap out the packet of store-bought seasoning mix and use a homemade taco seasoning instead.
  • For spicy slow cooker carnitas, add diced jalapenos to the pot, use a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chilies instead of plain diced tomatoes, or season with a pinch of cayenne.

Tips for the Best Slow Cooker Carnitas Recipe

  • To achieve that classic crispy texture on the carnitas, don’t forget to fry the cooked meat in oil at the very end.
  • Pork tenderloin can be long and stringy when pulled at the end. For the best texture, chop those longer pieces into smaller “little meats” — just like authentic carnitas.
  • Garnish the meat with fresh toppings like a squeeze of lime juice, fresh cilantro, or sliced green onion for a finishing touch that brightens up the dish.
  • Cooking for a Smaller Family? This meat freezes really well! I like to package leftovers in individual containers, label them, and stash them in the freezer for later meals. The leftover carnitas are delicious served in quesadillas, on salads, pizza or nachos, or even inside baked potatoes.

Overhead shot of a plate of slow cooker pork carnitas surrounded by fresh flowers

More Slow Cooker Pork Recipes to Try

Close up side shot of tasty carnitas tacos on a metal plate

Slow Cooker Carnitas

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 7 hours
Total: 7 hours 5 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Calories 211.1 kcal
Use these succulent, crispy Slow Cooker Carnitas for tacos, rice bowls, salads, quesadillas and more!

Ingredients
  

For Carnitas:

  • ¼ cup chicken broth (or substitute with orange juice, Coke, beef broth or water)
  • 2 pork tenderloins (about 2 - 2½ pounds total)
  • 1 (1 ounce) packet taco seasoning mix (about 12 teaspoons)
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, not drained
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke (optional)
  • Optional, for serving: taco shells or flour tortillas, shredded lettuce, sliced jalapeno, salsa, guacamole or avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, sliced green onion

Instructions

  • Spray slow cooker with cooking spray and add chicken broth (or other cooking liquid of choice).
  • Place pork in slow cooker and sprinkle with taco seasoning, rubbing it into the meat.
  • Pour diced tomatoes (undrained) over the pork.
  • Cover and cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours.
  • Remove pork from slow cooker and place on a cutting board. Shred the pork with two forks and chop into small pieces.
  • For a crispy finish on the carnitas: Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Press shredded pork into oil and fry until crispy on one side (about 3 minutes).

Notes

  • Use a bone-in or boneless pork shoulder or pork butt instead of the pork tenderloin. These larger cuts of meat will require twice as much cooking liquid, seasoning, and tomatoes. You will also need to cook the pork shoulder or pork butt in the slow cooker on LOW for about 10-12 hours.
  • Instead of chicken broth, cook the pork with Coke, orange juice, beef broth, or even just water.
  • Swap out the packet of store-bought seasoning mix and use a homemade taco seasoning instead.
  • For spicy slow cooker carnitas, add diced jalapenos to the pot, use a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chilies instead of plain diced tomatoes, or season with a pinch of cayenne.
  • To achieve that classic crispy texture on the carnitas, don't forget to fry the cooked meat in oil at the very end.
  • Pork tenderloin can be long and stringy when pulled at the end. For the best texture, chop those longer pieces into smaller "little meats" -- just like authentic carnitas.
  • Garnish the meat with fresh toppings like a squeeze of lime juice, fresh cilantro, or sliced green onion for a finishing touch that brightens up the dish.
  • Cooking for a Smaller Family? This meat freezes really well! I like to package leftovers in individual containers, label them, and stash them in the freezer for later meals. The leftover carnitas are delicious served in quesadillas, on salads, pizza or nachos, or even inside baked potatoes.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the porkCalories: 211.1kcalCarbohydrates: 6.3gProtein: 32.4gFat: 5.2gSaturated Fat: 1.8gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 2.3gCholesterol: 98.3mgSodium: 552.8mgPotassium: 675.8mgFiber: 0.6gSugar: 1.8g
Keyword: carnitas tacos, slow cooker carnitas, Slow Cooker Dinner, slow cooker pork carnitas
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Mexican
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in November, 2013. The photos were updated in July, 2018.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Just with the simple way I could have had a great meal to eat. Thank you for sharing the way.

  2. These looks so good and we love pork tenderloins. Do you think you could put the diced tomatoes in a food processor to blend them smooth? Or would that ruin the texture of the dish? We are not fans of chunks.

    1. Hey, Teresa! Yes, I think that you could process the tomatoes first. If you don’t like the idea of tomatoes in the pork, though, you can definitely just omit them entirely. 🙂

  3. Blair,
    This was so wonderful! Not only was it easy, it was delicious and enjoyed by the guys in my house – a definite keeper! Flavors were terrific.Next time I might try substituting plain diced tomatoes with diced tomatoes and mild peppers.
    Thank you for another great meal –

  4. 5 stars
    We absolutely loved this! The meat was so flavorful and tender, and the leftovers a day later were even better. This is a great recipe to work into a busy schedule!