I think all of us pork eaters can agree that there is something inexplicably intoxicating about carnitas. It may be in part the mandatory Corona or Pacifico that goes with it, but there is something about the meat itself that is so overwhelmingly delicious that even those of us that normally are models of self control (not I obviously), can’t resist pigging out on these. This pork tenderloin carnitas recipe reduces the guilt so you don’t have to feel like a total health-food failure as you load up taco number four.
Traditionally carnitas is made with a fatty cut of meat like pork butt or pork shoulder, and the extra fat is part of what gives it that enticing mix of juiciness and crisp concentrated flavor. Luckily this recipe successfully lightens it up with a healthier leaner meat. Using tenderloin helps maintain that salty pork flavor and texture that are critical elements of good pork carnitas, for nearly half the calories . Using a crock-pot makes this an easy weeknight meal too since the prep can be done the night before. Not to mention coming home to the smell of this will make all of your work woes quickly melt away.
You may be wondering how you get the pork crispy if you use a slow cooker, and that’s where a sneaky little trick comes in. I usually avoid making crock pot meat dishes like this altogether because I’m never quite satisfied by mushy meat. I usually rely on the oven to get that outer crust that makes stuff like this so amazing. To get the right texture though, you basically have to slow roast it all day in the oven and being a working lady, I can’t really leave my oven on all day when I’m not home… although I’ve been known to do this by accident on more than one occasion…. anyways – I saw a post on Pinch of Yum that had the brilliant idea of cooking in a crock-pot and then transferring to the broiler at the end to get that crispiness. Simply brilliant – I love these kinds of tricks.
We recently replaced our oven and the new broiler has been the bane of my existence. A little overly dramatic? Maybe. But I have a serious hatred for this thing. We’re hoping to convert our house to a rental soon when we buy a new one, soooo we made the mistake of cheaping out on this replacement appliance. Our new broiler is simply terrible and couldn’t manage to evenly broil something if its life depended on it. I’m showing a picture of the end result of the pork tenderloin carnitas, but please understand that it gets way crispier than it looks here when you use a normal broiler!
I did a test batch in my toaster oven to be sure before sharing the recipe and it worked great. I just didn’t have the patience to run it all through that tiny thing, so the picture here doesn’t reflect the end product entirely. I’ll revise this picture with a better, crispier one, as soon I’m in a house with an oven that doesn’t hate me (yes, I take its reluctance to work right as an act of defiance and am personally offended).
I got and used one of these baking sheets, which are completely amazing. They bake evenly and clean up easily. I just ordered it a few weeks ago and am already ordering another! I never thought I could feel this strongly about a baking sheet so I just had to share my new undying love. Now back to carnitas…
You can top these pork tenderloin carnitas tacos with whatever you want, but I highly recommend whipping up a batch of pickled red onion while you’re prepping the pork for the crock-pot the night before. They come together in 10 minutes and add a fresh zip to the tacos that you really just can’t replicate with anything else. Trust me – you won’t regret making them!
The leftovers are great on quesadillas, nachos, and salads. And since this recipe is a lean version of pork tenderloin carnitas, you can continue the guilt-free spree while you experiment using it in other dishes. With only two eaters in our house, I got the chance to morph the leftovers into all of these variations and each one was delicious!
- 2 lb. pork tenderloin
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. oregano
- ½ tsp. chili powder
- ½ tsp. onion powder
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- 1 - 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce, finely chopped ( about 1 Tbsp.)
- Juice of one lime (1 Tbsp.)
- ½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup water (or beer is even better!)
- 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
- Rub tenderloins with dry ingredients and place in crock-pot. Add chilis, lime juice, water/beer, and orange juice. Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours. Use two forks to shred pork, adjust salt level if desired and simmer another half hour. Transfer shredded pork to a baking sheet and spread out in a medium-thin layer, leaving juices in the crock-pot. Broil on low for 5-10 minutes until it starts to get crisp. Remove pork and toss with reserved liquid to moisten. Stir in fresh cilantro.
- Serve with taco fixings or over Mexican flavored rice. Taco fixing ideas: pickled red onions, queso fresco (cotija), salsa, lime, cilantro, tomato, lettuce, black olives.