Juicy, crispy shredded pork tenderloin carnitas uses a leaner cut of meat than traditional carnitas recipes for healthy, delicious pulled pork tacos made in a crock pot.
I think all of us pork eaters can agree that there is something inexplicably intoxicating about carnitas. 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.
If you’re looking for other healthy crockpot taco recipes, my crockpot chicken tacos and crockpot cilantro lime chicken are phenomenal too! Whipping up a big batch of this chicken taco seasoning makes taco night easy as can be and works on pork just as well as it does on chicken.
Why make this pork tenderloin taco recipe?
This pork tenderloin tacos 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 Mexican pork carnitas, but this great recipe has nearly half the calories as traditional carnitas. Don’t worry, it’s still just as fall-apart tender as the original.
Also, its easy with minimal prep work! Where other recipes require searing the meat first, there’s no need when you use the broiler to crisp it up after. 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. Coming home to the smell of this will make all of your woes quickly melt away. Trust me, carnitas therapy works.
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 in. This section outlines the simple ingredients you’ll need to make this delicious meal.
- pork tenderloin – you may end up needing two to get to 2 – 2 1/2 lbs. If you have larger tenderloins, adjust the rest of your spice mixtures accordingly. You can substitute pork loin or if you aren’t interested in making it lean, pork shoulder or pork butt works great too of course.
- chipotle chilis in adobo sauce – these canned chilis add such great flavor and a hint of spice. If you don’t have them you can substitute more chili powder though.
- lime juice – fresh is best since citrus juices are essential to good pork loin carnitas
- orange juice – as with the lime, squeeze it fresh!
- beer (optional but recommended) – adding a little bit of Pacifico or Corona or whatever light beer you’re drinking adds depth of flavor and additional cooking liquid to make it come out juicy as can be
- cilantro – (optional but recommended) – is any Mexican meal complete without cilantro?
- salt – I used Himalayan but any good salt will do here and you can adjust the level to your preference adding a bit more at the end if you prefer.
- pepper – standard ground black pepper.
- cumin – a taco ingredients staple.
- oregano – the Mexican variety is preferred but any oregano works!
- chili powder – a Mexican chili powder blend. These vary on spice level so if you know yours has kick, you can adjust accordingly.
- onion powder – alternatively, you can add finely minced onion.
- garlic powder – you can substitute with pressed garlic.
What tools do I need to make this?
A crockpot is the main piece of equipment you need. I have this crock pot, but any slow cooker should do. Just note that if you’re using a slow cooker, with the heating element only at the bottom instead of surrounding the whole pot, it will take longer to cook. The recipe is relatively forgiving so you just might need to adjust the cooking time if yours cooks more quickly or slowly since each model is somewhat different.
I got and used one of these baking sheets. They bake evenly and clean up easily but any rimmed baking sheet will do for broiling.
How to make pork tenderloin carnitas
Using a crock pot makes this shredded pork tenderloin a breeze to make.
- Add ingredients to a crockpot
- Set to cook for 6-8 hours on low or 4 hours on high.
- Shred the pork roast with two forks, adjust seasonings to your preference and let it simmer another half hour.
- Toss with the juices leftover in the crockpot, stir in the cilantro and serve!
- Use slotted spoon to lay the pork out on a large baking sheet and broil the shredded taco meat until it gets crisp.
In the past, I would just make carnitas in a dutch oven baked in the oven but this is now my favorite way. 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. The crockpot broiler combo is the magic solution. The broiler makes it perfectly crisp without the whole slow roast process.
To make pork tenderloin carnitas in the oven, place ingredients into a dutch oven. Rub the pork with some olive oil though before placing it in the center. Bake covered at 300° F for 2.5 – 3.5 hours and then crisp on a sheet pan and follow the rest of this recipe’s instructions. Don’t be tempted to bake uncovered since the cut is too lean.
To make it an Instant Pot carnitas recipe, add ingredients to pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 35 minutes. Let pressure cooker natural release and then shred and crisp up in oven following the rest of the recipe instructions as if it had been cooked in a crockpot.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To freeze, let cool completely and freeze in airtight freezer safe containers for up to 3 months. Let defrost in the refrigerator overnight or on defrost setting in microwave making sure to stir often.
What to use carnitas for
I use pork tenderloin carnitas on anything and everything from Mexican food to omelette filling. Leftovers reheat well and it freezes fabulously making it great for meal prep. Here are some ways to use the taco meat:
- Taco salads
- Burrito bowls
- Torta sandwiches
- Huevos rancheros
- Over polenta
The options are so limitless I need to stop myself here before the list takes up the whole page. Since this recipe is a lean version of pork carnitas, you can continue the pork spree while you experiment using it in whatever you can dream up. It’s so versatile.
Frequently asked questions
Both pork tenderloin and pork loin shred great once it gets to a slightly overcooked state. Using a crockpot or slow cooking method helps achieve this.
Totally! It won’t have crispy little burnt ends but it will still be delicious. The flavor is there whether it’s crispy or not. That being said, do yourself a favor and crisp it up! It will taste much better The texture and added flavor from the broiling is totally worth the few minutes and pan it takes to get truly crispy carnitas.
You can line the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up if you want but I normally just soak the pan right away and it comes right off. The option is yours though.
What to serve with pork loin tacos
Taco fixing ideas:
- pickled red onions – I highly recommend whipping up a batch while you’re prepping the pork to go into the crockpot
- queso fresco, shredded cheddar or cotija cheese
- salsa – my fresh blender salsa recipe is easy as can be and a step up from store bought
- Pico de gallo
- mango avocado salsa adds fun juicy fruity flair that pairs so well with pork
- limes to squeeze on top
- crema or sour cream
- chopped lettuce or shredded cabbage
- black olives
- Mexican flavored rice
- refried beans or black beans
- cilantro lime salad
- a layered taco dip – a great make ahead appetizer to have out for guests while the pork finishes up
- wrap it all up with dairy free pina colada ice cream as desert
- 2 lb. pork tenderloin (2-2.5 lbs. is best, may need two tenderloins for this)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 – 2 chipotle chilis in adobo sauce, finely chopped (about 1 Tbsp., can use 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder instead)
- 1 Tablespoon lime juice
- 1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1/2 cup light beer (Optional – I use pacifico or corona)
- 2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro (Optional)
- 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.
- The recipe was revised in 2016 to remove beer since it wasn’t necessary. After testing the recipe again in 2022, I added this back in as optional since I like the addition and think it helps with moisture, but the recipe is still fine without it.
- To make in an Instant Pot, add ingredients to pressure cooker and cook on high for 35 minutes. Let pressure release naturally and then shred and crisp up in oven following the rest of the recipe instructions as if it had been cooked in a crockpot.
- To make in the oven, place ingredients into a dutch oven or dish covered in foil, rubbing the pork with olive oil before placing it in the center. Bake covered at 300° F for 2.5 – 3.5 hours and then crisp on a sheet pan and follow the rest of this recipe’s instructions.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To freeze let cool completely and freeze in airtight freezer safe containers for up to 3 months. Let defrost in the refrigerator overnight or on defrost setting in microwave making sure to stir often.
Recipe originally published in 2014, revised in May 2019 to make the beer optional and add new pictures, then revised again in February 2023 for content.