Slow-Cook Your Way to Succulent Carnitas Tacos
Don’t let other slow-cooker carnitas recipes fool you: crisping up the succulent shredded pork post crockpot bath is not optional. Not at all. Traditionally, carnitas are made in a method somewhat similar to French confit; pork is braised in lard and then deep-fried in more lard for a texture that’s remarkably juicy and tender without sacrificing crisp edges.
While we’re not suggesting you mimic a taqueria and follow the exact same steps – the amount of lard required is staggering, and deep-frying is messy – there is something to be gleaned from tradition. A slow cooker does a great job of gently braising collagen-rich pork shoulder in its own fat as it renders out, but don’t stop there. Once you’ve shredded the pork, crisp it up using an ingenious less-messy method: broil it until browned and crisp. This method results in a version of carnitas nearly as good as a top-notch taqueria, with far less mess and work involved.
Also note, we took a slightly nontraditional detour toppings-wise with these tacos. Order up carnitas tacos at a taqueria or taco truck and you can expect a sprinkling of chopped white onions, cilantro, and a couple wedges of lime. We kept the cilantro and lime but added quick-pickled red onions in lieu of the chopped onions, as their acidity cuts through the carnitas’ richness. (Also, pickled onions are pretty, y’all!)
The pickled onions will keep, refrigerated, for a few weeks but are tastiest the first week.
For the carnitas:
2 1/2 pounds bone-in pork shoulder (or 2 pounds boneless)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as grapeseed
1 yellow or white onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 jalapeño, stem removed and cut in half
The juice of 1 orange
The juice of 1 lime
For the quick-pickled onions:
1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup rice vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
5 black peppercorns, optional
3 small springs thyme, optional
For the tacos:
Small corn tortillas, warmed
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges
Liberally rub the pork shoulder with salt. Mix the oregano and the cumin with oil and rub all over pork.
Transfer the pork shoulder to a slow cooker, and add the onion, garlic, jalapeño, orange, and lime juice. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high 4 hours.
Meanwhile, pickle the onions: bring 3 cups water to a boil and spread the sliced onion out in a strainer set in the sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the onions to soften the onions and temper their bite.
Add the sugar, salt, and vinegar to a half-pint mason jar and shake until the sugar and salt dissolve. Add the onions, peppercorns, and thyme sprigs (if using). Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (preferably a few hours) before using.
Once the meat is tender, remove from slow cooker and let cool slightly before pulling apart with a fork. Add back to the slow cooker, season to taste with salt (if needed), cover, and keep warm for 30 minutes. (Reserve the braised onions and garlic for adding to tacos or other uses. They’re basically confited in pork fat!)
Preheat the oven to the broil setting. Spread the carnitas out on a rimmed sheet pan and broil until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.
To assemble the tacos: Add to each tortilla carnitas and pickled red onions. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with lime wedges.
Main Dishes, Pork
Serves 4 to 6
– Additional reporting by Tara Block