Pork Carnitas in Slow Cooker or Instant Pot

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Looking to make Mexican style pork carnitas? This easy slow cooker pork carnitas recipe can be used in tacos and enchiladas, stuffed in burritos, shredded on nachos or eaten with side dishes. Keep reading for the tips on making no-fail slow cooker pork carnitas with an adjustment for cooking in the Instant Pot.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Pork carnitas (Spanish for “little meats”) is a classic Mexican dish. However I don’t have the inclination to prepare my pork in the traditional way, cooked for hours on the stove top. Using the slow cooker to make dinner is more my speed and this shredded pork is so easy to prepare in my Crock-Pot. I simply season the meat and place it inside, turn it on and by dinner time, the shredded meat is ready. It’s a perfect every time, never fail recipe! Just one additional step and we have crispy pork carnitas for all our favorite Mexican food meals.

Young boy holding a plate of food with Mexican pork carnitas, corn tortilla and scrambled eggs
My son likes the pork carnitas with scrambled eggs for breakfast!

Can I Use an Instant Pot to Make Pork Carnitas?

Yes, you can use the Instant Pot to make pork carnitas. Preparing pork in the Instant Pot requires one additional step. While slow cooking in the Crock pot, the pork will render its own fat into the pot, creating a liquid. However with the quick pressure cooking of an Instant Pot, you’ll need to add liquid along with the meat.

One cup of liquid is required inside the Instant Pot and I always use a pale lager beer, like Corona. You’ll cook the pork in your Instant Pot for 15 minutes per pound. That means 4 lbs of pork would take at least one hour in the Instant Pot, allowing it to slow release by itself.

Best Meat to Use for Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Use 4-5 pounds of pork when preparing this in the slow cooker or Instant Pot. If cooking more than this just increase the amount of spices and make sure it will all fit into the pot. Having leftovers through the week is a bonus!

Pieces of cooked pork in a slow cooker
All the liquid in the slow cooker was rendered from the fat in the meat

Pork butt is a tougher cut of meat that requires a longer cooking time, making it ideal for the slow cooker. Set your Crock pot to either cook on high for 6 hours or on low temperature for 8 hours. Check for doneness via internal temperature (and whether the meat shreds). You’ll want to reach at least 200 degrees with a Digital Meat Thermometer. Large pieces may take a longer time. Cook for an additional 15 minutes if meat doesn’t shred well.

You can vary the cut of meat used to make slow cooker pork carnitas. My current favorite cut to use when making slow cooker pork carnitas is boneless country style pork ribs. This is a cut of pork shoulder that I find is a leaner cut of meat. Pork shoulder is usually well marbled. The boneless pork ribs are also smaller cuts that cook evenly and shred easily.

Shredded pork in a bowl

Using a Large Piece of Pork?

If there is a large fat cap on your meat, carve this off before adding to the slow cooker. You’ll want to minimize the amount of fat to pick out when pulling the meat.

After seasoning the meat, run a sharp knife on all sides of this large cut of pork. Cut at an angle about 1/2″ deep, creating a diamond pattern. Add the pork to the slow cooker fat side up where it can more easily be scraped off after cooking.

Large piece of pork in slow cooker with diamond shaped cuts

Seasonings for Pork Carnitas

Combine the seasoning in a small bowl or zip close bag. I often make large batches of this pork seasoning then only take out the amount I need for each recipe. It’s a simple blend of salt, black pepper, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and chili powder.

When using this dry rub on the pork, place the meat into a shallow dish. Sprinkle the seasonings onto the meat then turn each piece, rubbing the spices. Don’t be shy with this – you want each piece nicely coated before placing into the pot.

Uncooked pork ribs in a dish with dry rub

Using the Shredded Pork to Make Pork Carnitas

There are several ways to crisp up the pork for use in pork carnitas. You can either lay the shredded meat on a baking sheet and put into the oven. Or you can cook on the stove top in a pan. Reserve some of the juices from the slow cooker when reheating carnitas.

You’ll want to get the edges crispy without making the pork overly dry. Drizzle liquid in and mix with a fork into the pork as it reheats. Some people will say to use oil or lard in the pan when crisping the carnitas. However, I’ve found that the pork crisps fine with just the fats from the meat itself.

Crispy pork carnitas on a light blue plate

The key to delicious pork carnitas is fresh lime juice! Don’t skip this step as it really add an amazing flavor to the pork. Squeeze lime juice directly onto the pulled pork before reheating. Then serve your pork carnitas with sliced limes for added flavor.

Ways to Serve Pork Carnitas

Our weekly easy dinner go-to is pork carnitas tacos, using the slow cooker pork recipe here. We crisp the pork on the stove top, and serve inside warm corn tortillas. A combo of chopped white onion with cilantro, crumbled queso fresco, and a side of pinto beans, with a squeeze of lime…yum!

These are a few more of our favorite ways to serve this slow cooker pork carnitas.

  • Pork Carnitas Nachos – serve the hot crispy pork on tortilla chips, then top with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, refried beans and other toppings.
  • Enchiladas
  • Ensalada – Served on a bed of shredded cabbage with toppings and a drizzle of crema.
  • Burritos
  • Torta – shred pork onto these large, soft rolls then add toppings.
  • Breakfast pork carnitas served with home fried potatoes and eggs, scrambled or poached with a corn tortilla.
  • Burrito Bowl – Layer pinto beans and rice with pork, then add toppings.
  • Tostadas

Favorite toppings to have on hand for slow cooker pork carnitas include sliced limes, white onion, cilantro, pico de gallo salsa, queso fresca, guacamole (or sliced avocados), crema (or thinned sour cream) and red chile sauce.

Pork carnitas with scrambled eggs and corn tortilla

Best Side Dishes for Pork Carnitas

Instant Pot | Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Instant Pot | Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 8 hours
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 8 hours 20 minutes

Tender and juicy slow cooker pork carnitas (Adjustments for Instant Pot cooking included)

Ingredients

  • 4-5 lbs pork, boneless country style ribs recommended
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Lime juice from 2+ limes, freshly squeezed
  • Reserved liquid from cooking
  • *FOR INSTANT POT* - 1 cup light lager beer, like Corona

Instructions

  1. Remove excess fat from outside of pork and discard.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Coat each piece of pork heavily in dry rub and add to the cooker, layering into the pot. *INSTANT POT INSTRUCTIONS* Add 1 cup of beer.
  4. Cover and cook - 6 hours on high or 8 hours on low temperature in slow cooker; 15 minutes per pound in Instant Pot.
  5. When done temperature should reach at least 200 degrees internal temperature and meat should be falling apart.
  6. Remove meat carefully to bowl, reserving liquid.
  7. Shred pork with two forks.
  8. Pork can be served like this or cooked again to crisp for carnitas. Add pork to a large pan on the stove top, squeezing fresh lime juice directly onto the meat. Over medium heat, stir often until edges are browned and slightly crispy, to your preference.
  9. Drizzle meat with reserved juices from cooking, as needed.

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