Looking for a Slow-cooker Pork Carnitas for Two recipe that achieves pull-apart tender, meaty pork flavor, and a crispy exterior? This recipe, cooks the meat in a slow-cooker to become pull-apart tender and finishes the meat on the stovetop for the characteristic crispiness of this dish (no lard in this recipe!). A technique adapted from America's Test Kitchen®.
Inspired by Cinco de Mayo and my quest to make authentic Mexican pork carnitas, this became the perfect launch party dish for OurTable42. If you try this recipe, please rate it and leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
Origins of pork carnitas
Did you know that Cinco de Mayo is the celebration to commemorate the anniversary of the Mexican victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, on May 5, 1862?
Most of us might have assumed that May 5th is a national holiday, at least I had. Today, this holiday is more popular in the United States than in Mexico and has become a celebration of Mexican-American culture. Regardless of country, this is a day full of parades, food, music, folkloric dancing, and battle reenactments.
Speaking of food, I dug into the origins of carnitas. Early stories describe how it took the effort of an entire community to make carnitas. Traditionally, cooked in a large copper pot with lard. Lard is a key ingredient, as there needs to be enough to cover the amount of meat being cooked. After the lard has melted, the pork and flavorings are added.
Then the meat is left to simmer until tender over very low heat. Once the meat has reached the desired tenderness, the heat is increased and the outside begins to crisp. Taking many cooks to share in the effort of cooking, this dish became a form of community bonding and where the food is the occasion.
Spanish for “little meats”, I like to serve carnitas spooned into tacos, but you can easily use it as a filling for tamales, enchiladas, and burritos.
I typically use a 3 to 3.5-pound boneless pork butt roast, carnitas meat freezes well for a quick weeknight dinner later in the week. Consider using the meat later in the week in a burrito bowl - that is if you have any left!
Alternatively, you can buy a smaller pork shoulder blade steak at your local grocery store. They often come in around 1.5 lbs. and are 2” thick, making it easy to cut up your pork into two-inch chunks. I usually find this cut of meat next to the pork chops and other pork roasts. If not, ask at the meat counter to see if they will cut you a pork butt steak.
Braising the pork
The first 5-7 hours of cooking takes place in a slow cooker. Only have a large slow-cooker? You can cook small meals in a large slow-cooker by using an oven safe bowl.
Katie, a friend of mine, uses this trick when she is cooking for her family of four.
Her son, Dane, has dietary restrictions. So, for this recipe, she will place Dane’s pork, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a small oven safe bowl. Then she will put the remaining pork with additional flavorings (sorry Dane!) in the large bowl of the slow-cooker.
Tips for cooking smaller portions
- For best results, the slow-cooker should be about two-thirds to three-quarters full. When the bowl isn't full enough, the food will cook faster, cooking off the liquid and possibly burn. If the bowl is too full, the food may need to be cooked longer than the suggested cooking times.
- Use an oven safe bowl inside the big bowl of the slow cooker. I like to use an oven safe Pyrex dish or two large ramekins to make individual servings. If you are looking for a oven safe dish to use with your slow cooker, I use this CorningWare round dish.
- Please remember to cook with the lid on your crockpot and try to avoid opening the lid while cooking.
Crispy exterior instructions
Achieving a crispy exterior for slow-cooker pork carnitas we will turn to the stovetop.
After you remove the pork from the slow-cooker, use two forks to shred the pork.
Then strain the cooking liquid using a fine mesh strainer into a medium sized bowl, and set aside.
Now we turn to the stove top and a cast iron skillet (a non-stick can also be used). Make sure the skillet and oil are hot before adding the pork.
Then you will add the pork and some of the strained cooking liquid to the skillet.
In 5 – 7 minutes the liquid should boil off and the meat will begin to crisp. Watch closely as the meat can quickly burn if all the liquid has evaporated.
Now you are ready to garnish your carnitas and freeze any of the left-over meat! I love topping carnitas with salsa and guacamole, try this easy small batch guacamole recipe as a topping or an appetizer.
Looking for other carnitas and taco recipes when cooking for two? Try these:
These are my favorite dishes to serve with Slow-cooker Pork Carnitas for Two:
Lastly, if you make these slow-cooker pork carnitas for two, be sure to leave a comment and give this recipe a rating! Above all, I love to hear from you and always do my best to respond to each and every comment.
And of course, if you do make this recipe, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram!
Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas
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- 3 to 3 ½ pounds boneless pork butt roast trim away large sections of fat and cut into 2-inch chunks . Note: Cooking for two? Use the pork shoulder blade steak for a smaller cut of meat.
- ½ small onion peeled and halved
- ¾ cup fresh squeezed orange juice (1 large orange)
- ¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice (2 - 3 limes)
- 5 garlic cloves smashed and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano - I recommend using Mexican oregano
- 2 ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Tortillas and Garnishes
- 10 taco sized 6 inch corn or flour tortillas
- Fresh cilantro (optional)
- Chopped white onion (optional)
- Lime wedges (optional)
- ½ cup Sour Cream
- 1 tablespoon Canned Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce (sauce only - freeze the remaining peppers and sauce for another use); found in the Mexican Aisle
- 1 teaspoon Fresh squeezed lime juice (1 lime)
- Juice the limes and oranges, reserving the juice and the spent orange and lime halves.
- Place the trimmed pork in the slow cooker and sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper. Add the onion half, reserved orange and lime juice, lime and orange spent halves, garlic, cumin, oregano, and bay leaves. Stir together. Then cover and cook until until fork slips easily in and out of the pork, this will take about 5 to 7 hours on high or 8 to 10 hours on low.
- Using a slotted spoon or tongs remove pork from slow cooker to a large bowl. Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork apart until coarsely shredded. Strain the cooking liquid from the slow cooker through a strainer set over a separate bowl and discard the orange and lime halves, onion and bay leaves.
- Heat oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Make sure your skillet gets nice and hot. If you do not have a cast iron skillet you can use a nonstick skillet. Add the amount of pork to the skillet you wish to use for this meal and freeze the rest for a future meal. Whisk the cooking liquid as you will see separation of the juice and fat, but do not skim off the fat. Pour 1 cup of the liquid over the pork in the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid has evaporated and you notice that the pork is well browned (not charred) and the edges are slightly crispy. This will take about 8 - 10 minutes.. Remove from heat, pour remaining cooking liquid over browned pork (reserving some to freeze with meat not being served). Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Taste again and add lime juice for more of a citrus zing. Serve with warm tortillas, chopotle sauce and garnishes.
- Mix together sour cream and 1 tablespoon of chipotle pepper adobe sauce (use only the sauce and freeze the remaining peppers and sauce in a freezer container for another use). Add 1 teaspoon of lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning by adding 1 teaspoon of lime juice at a time. Taste again, adjust seasoning as needed.
Your Notes, Tips and Tricks
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.