It’s time for one of my all time favorite things to eat: carnitas. Something about this pork used in street tacos is just too good to pass up and it’s almost always what I order whenever I go to a taqueria. But I’ve found that it’s surprisingly simple to make in an albeit non-traditional manner. And it’s wicked easy for another one of those slow cooker meals that I prefer but never really do unless I remember to plan ahead.
The real secret to good carnitas is a good spice mix. So what makes a good carnitas spice mix? Well in my opinion is starts with a lot of chili powder and salt followed by standards like cumin, coriander, oregano, and pepper. I’m sure my carnitas would taste better if I actually had and used mexican oregano, but that’s not one of those specialty spices I’ve invested in. As for the other things that you cook with the pork, I try to keep it real simple with just some white onion (or you could use red onion) and a bit of garlic. And that’s all you really need aside from the pork and the liquid ingredients to make some good carnitas.
For the liquid I used about half chicken stock and half vegetable stock. Honestly you can use all of one or the other, I don’t actually think it makes a huge difference to use half and half. I suppose from my perspective it always seems a little odd to use chicken stock when cooking pork but since pork stock isn’t a real thing, it’s as close as you can really get. So use what you have, no need to go out of your way to get anything particular special.
As for the pork, there are many options for what you can actually use here. The traditional cut of meat to use is the pork shoulder or pork butt (which is not actually the butt of the pork). Those are good chunks of meat that really benefit from this wet slow cooking method. Cuts like ham don’t really work well for this sort of thing and typically the ham flavor isn’t quite right for carnitas in general. However there are other options if you don’t want to buy a whole pork butt or pork shoulder. Specifically an sort of pork loin meat. Whether its tenderloin meat (which generally comes in smaller cuts than shoulder) or what I used for this recipe, which was some loin chops. I mostly opted for loin chops because I had a bunch of thick loin chops in my freezer already so I didn’t have to go out and specifically buy a different cut of meat. I think it’s a pretty standard cut of meat to just have in the freezer and actually works well for carnitas so we might as well use it.
Anyway, let this slow cook on low for 7-8 hours or until you get back from work (it doesn’t really matter here, it’s not really going to dry out) and then drain the liquid from the slow cooker. There are many different ways to handle carnitas after this. A lot of carnitas recipes will leave it like this and serve it immediately with the meat still a little bit wet. A more traditional method of cooking carnitas, however, is to actually roast it in the oven afterward to dry it out a little bit.
It might seem a little counterintuitive to want to dry out the meat after spending so long slow cooking it in liquid to prevent just that, but this is a more controlled drying out. Namely just drying out the surface of the meat to get a nice sort of caramelization on the outside of the meat. So I spread the carnitas out on a baking sheet in an even layer and throw it in a 400˚F oven for 20-30 minutes, checking on it every once in a while after 20 minutes until the meat is slightly browned.
Now your meat’s all ready for becoming a delicious taco served up any way you want.
Slow Cooker Carnitas
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 8 hours
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 lbs pork (either pork shoulder or pork chops work well)
- 1 tbs cumin
- 1 tbs + 2 tsp chili powder
- 1 tbs oregano
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tbs salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- Combine all ingredients in slow cooker
- Cook on low for 7-8 hours
- Drain liquid from slow cooker
- Shred pork and spread on a baking sheet in an even layer
- Cook in oven at 400˚F for 20-30 minutes