Easy pork carnitas tacos (Mexican pulled pork) cooks slowly in orange and lime juice and then is broiled or fried to create crispy and juicy flavorful bites!
So far during Mexican March, we’ve made a slow cooker meatless dish, a chicken dish, and a beef dish. To round out our slow cooker meat preparation, we have a pork dish: tacos filled with Easy Pork Carnitas!
Pork Carnitas is the Mexican version of Pulled Pork. Traditional Carnitas are made by braising pork in lard or oil. Many Americanized recipes have been adapted for the home cook and do not use large amounts of lard or oil. In fact, the only oil used in this recipe is about a tablespoon or two used at the end to fry and crisp up the meat.
To make this recipe, liberally season a pork roast with a flavorful spice rub. Then, cook the meat slowly in orange and lime juices until the meat is tender and flakes easily. Finally, broil or fry the meat to create crispy and juicy flavorful bites!
Easy Pork Carnitas Tacos Ingredients
After trying several versions of pork carnitas, this recipe, adapted from Platings and Parings, is by far and away, the most flavorful one I’ve tried!
Using the juice from both oranges and limes, provides such a great flavor to the meat that’s not too overpowering. Additionally, the spice rub is the perfect combination of sweet, smoky, and aromatic flavors.
Choosing your Pork
When shopping for your pork roast, the best cut of pork to use is a pork shoulder, and you may also see it labelled as:
- Shoulder Butt
- Pork Butt
- Picnic Roast
- Boston Butt
- Blade Roast
Pork roasts with the bone-in or the fat-cap on also work well in this recipe because both provide great flavor and help keep the meat juicy while cooking. It can make the shredding process slightly more time consuming because you’ll want to remove any (or some) of the unrendered fat, and you’ll need to remove the meat from the bone.
Seasoning Pork with Spices and Citrus
To create the spice rub for the pork, combine garlic salt, cumin, Italian seasoning, brown sugar, ground coriander, chili powder, paprika, and salt and pepper. Then, rub the spice mixture evenly on all sides of the pork.
The original recipe calls for oregano. But, I’ll be honest with you. I almost always substitute Italian seasoning for oregano because it contains more flavor, and I don’t have to have several different spices on hand. Feel free to use equal parts of oregano and basil if you do not use Italian seasoning.
Pork pairs very well with several types of fruit, and citrus fruits and pork are no exception. Interestingly, the final carnitas are not overwhelmingly citrusy. Rather, the citrus flavor enhances the natural sweetness of the pork.
The juice from oranges and a lime is squeezed over the meat before it’s cooked. To provide even more flavor, the squeezed fruit halves are also added to the cooking pot while the meat slowly cooks.
Between the citrus fruits and the spice rub, this will be some of the most flavorful, and easy carnitas pork tacos you’ve ever had.
Easy Pork Carnitas Tacos Cooking Methods
Pork carnitas can be prepared easily in the slow cooker, pressure cooker, or the oven. I’ve prepared the carnitas each way with great results. The meat will be fully cooked when it is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.
When shredding the pork after cooking, do not shred the pieces too small. Keeping the pieces of meat larger will allow the pork to stay juicy in the middle when the outside is crisped up.
Using a slow cooker is my preferred method for preparing easy pork carnitas tacos. The long cooking time tends to result in meat that is more tender after cooking. The meat also cooks in it’s own juices while it cooks which provides the very flavorful meat.
When using a slow cooker, no adjustments need to be made to the recipe below.
Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker
Using an Instant Pot, or other pressure cooker, is a great way to speed up the cooking time when making pork carnitas.
Personally, I don’t think the pork is as tender in the Instant Pot compared to the slow cooker. But the flavor of the citrus and spices seem to intensify under high pressure even more than in the slow cooker.
Similar to the slow cooker instructions, add the spice rubbed meat, oranges and limes to the inner pot of the Instant Pot. Close the instant pot with the lid, and set the Instant Pot valve to the “sealing” position. Set the pressure cooking setting for 1 hour and 30 minutes on high. Once the cooking time is finished, allow the pressure to release naturally for about 20-25 minutes.
To cook the pork carnitas in the oven, you will need an oven safe pot like a dutch oven. The cooking time is similar to the Instant Pot cooking time.
For oven cooking, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Cut the pork into 2 inch portions before seasoning the pork. Add seasoned pork, citrus fruit, an an additional 2 cups of hot water to pot. Cook, covered for two hours. If you do not have a lid for your oven-safe pot, you can tightly cover the pot with aluminum foil.
After cooking, you should have about 1 1/2 cups of water in the pork. If there is more liquid than this, you can cook the meat for an additional 30 minutes, uncovered, to evaporate some of the water.
Broiling / Frying Meat
A defining characteristic of Mexican pulled pork is crisping and browning the meat after cooking. The meat can be crisped in the oven or on the stove.
To crisp the meat in the oven, heat the oven on the broil setting. Then, spread the shredded meat and some of the cooking liquid onto a baking sheet sprayed with cooking oil. Broil in the oven for 3 – 5 minutes — keeping an eye on it, so it doesn’t burn!
To crisp the meat on the stove, add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to a frying pan. Add pork (in batches, if needed) and some of the cooking liquid to the frying pan. Without stirring, cook over medium high heat until the juices start to evaporate and the bottom of the pork starts to brown.
Personally, I don’t like to broiling method. It dries out the meat too much! I prefer crisping the meat on the stove. However, sometimes, I don’t brown the meat at all because I want juicy meat!
It will take some practice crisping the carnitas to achieve the perfect balance of browned edges and juicy interiors. If you do dry out the meat too much, add some of the cooking liquid to the meat and try again next time!
Easy Pork Carnitas Taco Serving Suggestions
Just like all the other meats spotlighted this month, carnitas can be meal prepped ahead of time and frozen.
Furthermore, they are so versatile and can be used in so many ways. One of the easiest things to make with pork carnitas is tacos! I suggest making them with:
- corn tortillas
- shredded cheddar cheese
- pickled red onions
- sour cream or my Easy Mexican Ranch Dressing
- and lime wedges
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Slow Cooker Easy Pork Carnitas Tacos
- 4-6 lbs Pork Shoulder
- 2 tbsp Garlic Salt
- 1 tbsp Cumin
- 3 tsp Italian Seasoning
- 2 tsp Brown Sugar
- 1 tsp Ground Coriander
- 1 tsp Chili Powder
- 1 tsp Paprika
- 2 Oranges
- 1 Lime
- Salt and Pepper
Preparing the Pork
- In a small mixing bowl, mix garlic salt, cumin, Italian seasoning, brown sugar, ground coriander, chili powder, paprika, and about 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper.
- Rub spice mixture evenly on all sides of the pork.
- Spray the inside of a 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray, or line slow cooker with a protective liner. Add spice rubbed pork to bottom of slow cooker.
- With water, wash and clean the outside of the oranges and lime. Roll the oranges and lime on the counter, beneath your hands, to start to release the juices.
- Slice the oranges and lime in half and squeeze the juices over the top of the pork. Add oranges and lime halves to slow cooker, on top of the pork, pulp side down.
- Cook on low for 9-10 hours until pork is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.
- Remove and discard orange and lime halves and any pork bones.
- Removed pork onto a cutting board, and with two forks, shred the pork into bite-sized chunks. After shredding pork, add pork back to cooking liquid.
Crisping the Pork
- Oven Method: Preheat oven broiler. Spray half-sized baking sheet (13 x 18 x 1 inch) with cooking spray, and add pork to baking sheet in a single layer. Broil pork for 3-5 minutes until pork starts to crisp and brown on the edges.
- Stove Method: In a large frying pan, heat 1 tbsp of cooking oil. Without over-crowding the pan, add pork and some of the cooking liquid to the pan in a single layer. Without stirring, cook until the juices start to evaporate and the bottom of the pork starts to brown. Remove from heat.
- Place tortillas on a microwave-safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 seconds, or until warm.
- Add pork and desired toppings in a warmed tortilla and serve!