Crockpot Carnitas: My Variation

A friend and I were tweeting today about avocados, which naturally led into a discussion of delicious carnitas. You guys may have noticed “chili roasted pork” or whatever I’ve decided to call it that week making a frequent appearance on my menus, which is for several reasons:

  1. I love pork.
  2. Pork is cheap.
  3. I love pork.
  4. Also, it’s cheap. And tasty!
Smoked Butt

Smoked Butt

Our usual cut is the shoulder, or Boston Butt, because it can be got for as low as 89c a pound here if you catch a good sale. I do enjoy smoking it in the Traditional Way of Barbeque — something I actually need to do again soon, and provide a pictorial step-by-step. We use our Weber kettle grill, a foil roasting pan, charcoal, woodchips, and a thermometer, which does require more outdoor tinkering, but also gives a good excuse to drink plenty of beer while you work.

Because the butts sometimes weigh 8 pounds or more, this results in many leftovers. Fortunately smoked pork freezes well, and we tend to vacuum seal little packets and reheat them to eat as sandwiches, to mix in with Zatarain’s, or — and this was a long-time favorite of mine — to put in corn tortillas and eat as tacos.

Sadly, I can’t always find the time to go through the entire butt-smoking process (yes, I’m laughing every time I write something like that), but I want pork tacos anyway. That’s where the crockpot carnitas come in. They are like the antithesis of barbequed pork, at least in terms of work done and all-day involvement. They are delicious in their own way, and are good for all the same things. Well, most of them. They don’t really make a great North Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich. But hey, it’s hard to be all porks to all people, right?

Crockpot Carnitas and/or Chili Roasted/Braised Pork Stuff

  • One pork shoulder/butt, sized to fit in your crockpot. You can trim any extra fat cap off, if you like; I usually do. My crockpot is oval and will hold about 4lb. Around here they also sell “country style bone-in ribs” which are not ribs at all but cut up pork shoulder, and that can help with the logistics.
  • 1/4c water
  • 1/4c chili powder (I use Penzey’s, because it is Teh Good)
  • 3T ground chipotle (in a pinch, smoked Spanish paprika is OK, though it’s not the same)
  • 1T ground cumin
  • 1/4c apple cider vinegar
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • salt

So this is really easy, right? If you’ve thought ahead, you can mix up the chili powder, chipotle, and cumin, and maybe a little garlic powder and salt, and rub that on the pork butt, allowing it to sit overnight in the fridge. If you haven’t, don’t worry; you can just add the spices when you’re putting everything in the crockpot.

Fit the pork shoulder in there first, then add the water and vinegar. Strew the garlic cloves around, and then (if you didn’t manage to plan ahead and use it as a rub) add the spices. Mostly I sprinkle these directly on the butt, which causes a decent crust to form in the process of cooking, although it tastes “burned” to some people. I like it that way. If you don’t, feel free to turn the butt and distribute the spices more evenly. I am liberal with my salting and probably use (gasp) 1T or so.

Ready for the hard part? Put the crock pot on low and leave it there for 8-10 hours, after which time you may shred the pork with a fork (or, more accurately, a pair of forks) and nom it down. The pork will release a lot of liquid as it cooks, and pork butts are naturally filled with connective tissues and fat (I know, right?) that essentially baste from the inside, keeping it nice and tender.

I really like to put this into freshly steamed corn tortillas (a comparison of supermarket brands coming… sometime when I remember) with a lot of cilantro, chopped onion, and lime juice. I haven’t tried it with avocado — God only knows why — but that’ll definitely be on next week’s menu.

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