How To Cook Carnitas In Crock Pot [COMPLETE GUIDE]

Carnitas, a beloved Mexican dish of braised and pulled pork, is a staple in many households. Traditionally, it is cooked slowly in lard until tender and crispy. However, for a simpler and healthier alternative, using a crock pot can produce equally delicious results. Cooking carnitas in a crock pot allows the meat to become tender and flavorful with minimal effort. This comprehensive guide will take you through the step-by-step process of preparing and cooking carnitas in a crock pot, ensuring a perfect result every time.

Quick Answer: How Long To Cook Carnitas In Crock Pot

In a crock pot, cooking carnitas typically takes about 6-8 hours on low heat or 3-4 hours on high heat. The exact time may vary depending on the size of the pork pieces and the individual crock pot’s heating capacity.


When making carnitas in a crock pot, choosing the right cut of meat is crucial. Traditionally, pork shoulder or pork butt is used for carnitas due to its marbling and relatively higher fat content, which contributes to the dish’s rich and succulent texture. The fatty nature of these cuts allows the meat to become tender and flavorful during the slow cooking process. When selecting the meat, look for well-marbled cuts with a good amount of fat, as this will enhance the flavor and texture of the carnitas.



  • 3-4 lbs pork shoulder or pork butt, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup beer or chicken broth

Seasoning The Meat

Before placing the pork in the crock pot, generously season it with salt, pepper, ground cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, and chili powder. Ensure that the seasoning is rubbed into the meat to impart maximum flavor. Additionally, the pork can be left to marinate in the seasoning overnight for an even more intense flavor.

Sauteing The Aromatics

For an extra depth of flavor, consider sautéing the chopped onion and minced garlic in a skillet until they are caramelized and aromatic. This step can intensify the overall flavor profile of the carnitas.

Crock Pot Cooking Times For Carnitas

The cooking time for carnitas in a crock pot depends on the heat setting used. On low heat, the pork will need approximately 6-8 hours to become tender and easily pull apart. On the high setting, the carnitas will be ready in approximately 3-4 hours. The low setting is recommended for a more tender, melt-in-your-mouth result, as the longer cooking time allows the flavors to fully develop and the fat to render slowly, resulting in a juicier and more flavorful meat.

How To Cook Carnitas In Crock Pot

Step 1: Preparing The Pork

  • Trim any excess fat from the pork shoulder or pork butt and cut it into large chunks. Make sure the pieces are relatively uniform in size to ensure even cooking.

Step 2: Seasoning The Meat

  • Generously season the pork with salt, pepper, ground cumin, dried oregano, smoked paprika, and chili powder. Ensure that the seasoning is massaged into the meat for even distribution.

Step 3: Sauteing The Aromatics (Optional)

  • In a skillet, sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic until they are fragrant and caramelized. This step adds depth to the flavor of the carnitas.

Step 4: Layering The Ingredients In The Crock Pot

  • Place the seasoned pork chunks in the crock pot. Add the sautéed onions and garlic on top of the meat.

Step 5: Adding The Liquid

  • Pour in the orange juice, lime juice, and beer or chicken broth. The combination of citrus juices and beer adds brightness and depth to the flavor of the carnitas.

Step 6: Cooking The Carnitas

  • Set the crock pot to the desired heat setting. For tender, flavorful carnitas, opt for the low heat setting and allow the pork to cook for 6-8 hours. If time is limited, the high heat setting can be used for approximately 3-4 hours.

Step 7: Shredding The Pork

  • Once the pork is cooked to perfection and easily shreds with a fork, transfer it to a cutting board and shred it using two forks.

Step 8: Broiling The Carnitas (Optional)

  • To achieve a crispy texture on the edges of the shredded pork, spread the meat on a baking sheet and broil for a few minutes until it becomes slightly browned and crispy.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Meat Is Dry Or Tough

If the meat turns out dry or tough, it may have been overcooked. Adjust the cooking time for the next batch and consider checking the pork earlier to prevent overcooking.

Lacking Flavor

If the carnitas lack flavor, it may be due to insufficient seasoning. Adjust the quantities of spices and seasoning, and consider marinating the pork for a longer duration to enhance the flavor.

Excess Liquid

Should the carnitas have an excessive amount of liquid at the end of the cooking process, transfer the meat to a skillet and simmer it over medium heat to allow the liquid to evaporate and the flavors to concentrate.

Related:  How To Cook Boneless Pork Ribs In Crock Pot [COMPLETE GUIDE]

Not Crispy Enough

To achieve a crispy texture on the carnitas, consider transferring the shredded meat to a baking sheet and broiling it for a few minutes until it reaches the desired level of crispiness.

Incorporating a crock pot into your carnitas-making process can simplify the cooking method without compromising the delectable flavors and tender texture that characterize this classic dish. The slow cooking process in the crock pot allows the meat to become infused with the aromatic seasonings and liquids, resulting in juicy, succulent, and flavorful carnitas. By following the steps outlined in this guide and utilizing the tips for troubleshooting common issues, you can consistently achieve fantastic results when preparing carnitas in a crock pot. Whether you’re hosting a gathering or simply craving a comforting meal, cooking carnitas in a crock pot is a convenient and rewarding endeavor.

Achieving Perfect Texture

Carnitas, a traditional Mexican dish, is known for its tender, juicy, and flavorful slow-cooked pork. Traditionally cooked in large copper pots, carnitas can also be prepared using a modern and convenient kitchen appliance – the crock pot. Also known as a slow cooker, the crock pot is an excellent tool for achieving the same succulent texture and intense flavors of traditional carnitas with minimal effort.

Carnitas, which translates to "little meats" in Spanish, typically involves simmering pork shoulder or butt in lard or its own fat until it becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender. The long cooking time allows the pork to develop a rich, crispy exterior while remaining tender and juicy on the inside. Cooking carnitas in a crock pot allows you to achieve the same succulent texture and deep flavors while being hassle-free and convenient.

One of the hallmarks of great carnitas is the balance of textures. The exterior should have a crispy, caramelized crust, while the interior should be moist and fork-tender. The crock pot can help you achieve this perfect texture by providing a gentle and consistent heat throughout the cooking process.

To achieve that desirable crispy exterior, it’s crucial to give the pork a quick sear before transferring it to the crock pot. Heat some oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and sear the pork shoulder on all sides until golden brown. This step not only adds a rich flavor but also helps to render some of the fat, contributing to the overall succulence of the carnitas.

Once the pork is seared, transfer it to the crock pot and add any desired seasonings or aromatics. The crock pot should be set to the low heat setting for slow and steady cooking. Cooking on low heat allows the pork to break down slowly, resulting in tender meat that falls apart effortlessly.

Flavor Infusion

While achieving the perfect texture is important, the real magic of carnitas lies in the deep, complex flavors. To create flavorful carnitas in a crock pot, it’s essential to infuse the meat with a combination of spices, herbs, and other aromatic ingredients.

Start by seasoning the seared pork shoulder with a generous amount of salt and pepper. This simple seasoning helps to enhance the natural flavors of the pork. Additionally, you can add other spices such as cumin, chili powder, paprika, or oregano to further enhance the taste.

To add depth and complexity to the carnitas, consider including aromatics like garlic, onions, and citrus. Roughly chop a few cloves of garlic and onions and scatter them around the pork in the crock pot. The garlic will infuse its pungent flavor into the meat, while the onions will mellow and add sweetness. Adding citrus, such as orange or lime juice, will not only brighten the flavors but also help to tenderize the meat.

For an extra kick, you can incorporate chili peppers, such as jalapeños or chipotles, into the crock pot. These peppers will add a spicy element to the carnitas, balancing out the richness of the pork.

Allow the flavors to meld together by cooking the carnitas on low heat for at least 6-8 hours. The long cooking time allows the flavors to develop and penetrate the meat fully.


The aroma of carnitas cooking in a crock pot can be an irresistible invitation to your kitchen. The combination of spices, herbs, and aromatics will fill your home with a tantalizing scent that will make your family and friends eagerly anticipate the final product.

As the pork begins to cook, the rich aroma of seared meat will permeate your kitchen. The caramelization of the exterior combined with the exquisite seasonings will create an appetizing scent that will have everyone excited for dinner.

As the cooking time progresses, the aroma will evolve, with the garlic and onions releasing their fragrant notes. The citrus juice will add a fresh and vibrant scent that will dance in the air, enticing your senses.

The tantalizing aroma of the carnitas in the crock pot will make the wait even more challenging, but be patient, as the reward will be worth it.

Cooking Techniques

The crock pot offers versatility, allowing you to experiment with different cooking techniques to enhance the flavors and textures of your carnitas. Here are a few techniques to consider when cooking carnitas in a crock pot:

  1. Slow and Steady: The low heat setting on a crock pot is ideal for slowly cooking the pork shoulder. This technique ensures the meat becomes tender and retains its moisture. Avoid using the high heat setting, as it may result in dry and overcooked carnitas.

  2. Shredding: Once the pork is tender, remove it from the crock pot and transfer it to a cutting board. Use two forks or meat claws to shred the meat into bite-sized pieces. Shredding the pork allows it to absorb more of the flavors and juices, resulting in a more mouthwatering dish.

  3. Broiling: To achieve the coveted crispy exterior, you can place the shredded carnitas on a baking sheet and broil them in the oven for a few minutes. Keep a close eye on them to prevent burning. This step adds a delicious crunch to the carnitas, elevating the overall experience.

  4. Reduction: If desired, you can strain the cooking liquid from the crock pot and reduce it on the stovetop. This will concentrate the flavors and create a delicious sauce to drizzle over the carnitas. Simply simmer the cooking liquid in a saucepan until it thickens to your desired consistency.

Related:  How To Make Beef And Noodles In Crock Pot [COMPLETE GUIDE]

By employing these cooking techniques, you can customize the texture and flavors to suit your tastes.

Crock Pot Tips For Carnitas

To ensure you achieve the best results when cooking carnitas in a crock pot, here are some valuable tips:

  1. Choose the Right Cut: Opt for a pork shoulder or butt with a good amount of fat marbling. This fat will render during the cooking process, adding moisture and flavor to the carnitas.

  2. Brown the Meat: Searing the pork shoulder before transferring it to the crock pot adds richness and depth to the flavors. It also helps render some of the fat, which contributes to the succulence of the dish.

  3. Don’t Skimp on Seasonings: Be generous with your seasonings. The pork meat can handle bold flavors, so don’t be afraid to be generous with spices, herbs, and aromatics.

  4. Use Citrus: Adding citrus juice (orange, lime, or even lemon) not only adds acidity and freshness to the dish but also helps tenderize the meat.

  5. Go Low and Slow: Cooking carnitas on the low heat setting allows the pork to cook slowly and evenly, resulting in tender and flavorful meat. Avoid the high heat setting, as it may lead to dry and tougher carnitas.

  6. Let it Rest: Once the carnitas are done cooking, allow them to rest for a few minutes. This gives the meat an opportunity to reabsorb the juices and ensures the flavors are evenly distributed.

  7. Customize and Experiment: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different spice blends, aromatics, and cooking techniques. The crock pot allows for versatility and customization, so feel free to adapt the recipe to your taste preferences.

Creative Crock Pot Carnitas Recipes

Now that you have a good understanding of how to cook carnitas in a crock pot, let’s explore some creative recipes to inspire your culinary adventure:

  1. Slow Cooker Pineapple Carnitas: In this recipe, combine the traditional flavors of carnitas with the sweetness of pineapple. Add chunks of fresh or canned pineapple along with the pork in the crock pot. The pineapple will caramelize and infuse its sweet flavor into the carnitas.

  2. Chipotle Lime Carnitas: Add a smoky and tangy twist to your carnitas by incorporating chipotle peppers and lime juice. Blend a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and mix it with lime juice, then pour it over the pork in the crock pot. The result will be a flavorful and slightly spicy version of carnitas.

  3. Beer Braised Carnitas: For a unique twist, substitute some of the cooking liquid with your favorite beer. The malty flavors of the beer will add complexity and depth to the carnitas.

  4. Carnitas Tacos: Serve your crock pot carnitas in warm tortillas with your favorite taco toppings. Fresh cilantro, diced onions, crumbled queso fresco, and a squeeze of lime juice will complement the flavors of the carnitas perfectly.

  5. Carnitas Burrito Bowl: Create a flavorful and hearty bowl by serving your crock pot carnitas on a bed of rice or salad greens. Top it with black beans, diced tomatoes, avocado slices, and a dollop of sour cream. The possibilities are endless!

Feel free to let your creativity run wild and experiment with different flavors and combinations to create your signature crock pot carnitas recipe.


Cooking carnitas in a crock pot allows you to achieve the same succulent texture and intense flavors as the traditional method with minimal effort. By taking advantage of the gentle and consistent heat of the crock pot, you can create tender and juicy carnitas that will be the highlight of any meal.

Remember to sear the meat before slow-cooking it in the crock pot to achieve a crispy exterior. Season generously with spices, herbs, and aromatics to infuse the meat with incredible flavor. The tantalizing aroma that will fill your home while the carnitas cook will have everyone eagerly waiting for dinner.

By following the cooking techniques and tips shared in this article, you will be able to create mouthwatering carnitas that will transport your taste buds to Mexico. So dust off your crock pot, gather your ingredients, and get ready to impress your family and friends with your homemade crock pot carnitas.


What Is Carnitas?

Carnitas is a traditional Mexican dish made from slow-cooking pork until it becomes tender and flavorful. The meat is often shredded and served with cilantro, onions, and lime juice.

How Do I Prepare The Pork For Cooking Carnitas In A Crock Pot?

To prepare the pork for cooking in a crock pot, cut the pork shoulder into chunks and season with salt, pepper, and your favorite spices such as cumin or chili powder. You can also add diced onions and minced garlic for extra flavor.

Can I Cook Carnitas In The Crock Pot Overnight?

Yes, you can cook carnitas in a crock pot overnight. Simply set the temperature on low and let the meat cook for 8-10 hours, or until it is tender and falls apart easily.

Do I Need To Add Liquid To The Crock Pot When Cooking Carnitas?

Yes, you should add some liquid to the crock pot when cooking carnitas. This can be in the form of chicken broth, beer, or even water. The liquid helps to keep the meat moist and tender as it cooks.

How Do I Finish Cooking The Carnitas After They Are Done In The Crock Pot?

After the meat is done cooking in the crock pot, remove it from the pot and shred it with a fork. Then, transfer the shredded meat to a baking sheet and broil it in the oven for 5-10 minutes until it becomes crispy and caramelized. This step is optional but recommended for enhanced flavor and texture.