Juicy, crispy shredded pork tenderloin carnitas uses a leaner cut of meat than traditional recipes for healthy, delicious pork tacos made in a slow cooker.
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. The grease dripping out the backend of the taco is part of the whole experience... but it doesn't have to be.
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.
Why make this recipe?
This pork tenderloin carnitas recipe successfully lightens things up with a healthier leaner meat. Using tenderloin helps maintain that salty pork flavor and texture that are critical elements of good pork carnitas, but this recipe has nearly half the calories as traditional carnitas.
Also, its easy with minimal prep work! Using a crock-pot makes this an easy weeknight meal since the prep can be done the night before and it can cook while you're gone. Not to mention coming home to the smell of this will make all of your work woes quickly melt away. Trust me, carnitas therapy works.
How do you get the pork so crispy?
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 used to avoid making crock pot meat dishes like this altogether because I'm never quite satisfied by mushy meat.
In the past, I would just make carnitas in the oven. To get the right texture, you basically have to slow roast it all day and but you can't safely leave your oven on all day when you're not home so this ruled out carnitas for a weeknight taco night.
Then 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.
Does this meat look mushy? Definitely not! The broiler magically transforms it to be perfectly crisp without the whole slow roast process.
What ingredients do I need to make this recipe?
It is such an easy recipe to make. I'm not just saying that, it truly is. Half of the ingredients are just spices that can be quickly dumped into the crockpot.
Here are the ingredients you'll need:
- pork tenderloin
- chli powder
- onion powder
- garlic powder
- chipotle chilis in adobo sauce (or 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder)
- lime juice
- orange juice
What tools do I need to make this?
A crockpot is the main piece of equipment you need. I have this one, but any slow cooker should do. The recipe is relatively forgiving so you just might need to adjust the cooking time if yours cooks more quickly or slowly.
I got and used one of these baking sheets, which are completely amazing. They bake evenly and clean up easily but any old baking sheet will do.
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!
What can I use pork tenderloin carnitas for other than tacos?
Umm... anything! I use pork tenderloin carnitas on anything and everything. Plus it freezes and reheats fabulously so you can keep some leftovers on hand for quick meals further down the road
- Taco salads
- Huevos rancheros
- Over polenta
The options are so limitless I need to stop myself here before the list takes up the whole page. With only two and a half eaters in our house, there are always leftovers so I get the chance to morph the leftovers into all of these variations and each one has been delicious.
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 whatever you can dream up. It's so versatile.
Can I skip broiling at the end?
Totally! It won't have the crispy little burnt ends that we all love but it will still be absolutely delicious. The flavor is there whether it's crispy or not. That being said, for the love of god - crisp it up! The texture and added flavor from the broiling is totally worth it.
You can line the pan with foil for easy clean up if you want but I normally just soak the pan right away and it comes right off without wasting any foil. The option is yours though.
Come back and let me know what you used your pork tenderloin carnitas in!
Pork Tenderloin Carnitas
- 2 lb. pork tenderloin (2-2.5 lbs. is best, may need two tenderloins for this)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1/2 tsp. chili powder
- 1/2 tsp. onion powder
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 - 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce, finely chopped (about 1 Tbsp., can use 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder instead)
- 1 Tbsp. lime juice
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro
- Place pork tenderloins in crock-pot and sprinkle with spices. Add chilis, lime juice, and orange juice.
- Cook on low heat for 6-8 hours or high for about 4 hours. Pork should be easily shreddable when done.
- Use two forks to shred pork, adjust seasoning level if desired and simmer another half hour.
- Preheat broiler and transfer shredded pork to a baking sheet, spread out in a medium-thin layer, leaving any juices in the crock-pot.
- Broil on low for about 5 minutes until it starts to get crisp but is not burnt or dried out. Remove pork and toss with reserved cooking liquid to moisten.
- Stir in fresh cilantro and serve with taco fixings or over Mexican flavored rice. Taco fixing ideas: pickled red onions, queso fresco, salsa, cheese, lime, guacamole, tomato, lettuce, black olives or whatever else you prefer.