With only 15 minutes of prep time, beef carnitas are perfect for a weeknight meal or if you need to feed a crowd. Cooked in a slow cooker for the most tender delicious beef. Try it alone or make shredded beef tacos topped with pineapple mango salsa.
I have to admit that I don’t always have the best of luck with food cooked in my slow cooker. It seems like it’s overcooked and sometimes the result is just blah meat. The house always smells great but the end product is disappointing. With that said, this smokey flavored shredded beef is definitely a winner. It’s not overcooked or mushy at all. The slow cooker did right by us with these beef carnitas.
The chipotle peppers in adobo sauce add just enough flavor without being too spicy and were great with just a few toppings over the carnitas on corn tortillas. These tacos known best as street tacos are the best. Plus your house will smell fabulous when you walk in the door.
This took me about 15 minutes to prep and then I just left it for 10 hours. To prep it, I braised the meat, which I think adds a ton of flavor, then you just place the roast on top of the sauce in the slow cooker. When it was done I shredded the beef with a fork and had the perfect base for taco night. This is so easy and simple for a weeknight dinner, especially when you’re not sure when everyone will be home.
A slow cooker carnitas recipe is a great meal for when you’re having friends over, you can focus your time on making a fabulous dessert, (try chocolate cobbler) or make some homemade challah rolls to serve instead of tacos. It’s also great if you’re having the gang over to watch the game. Add some homemade queso to the top!
If you’re not in the mood for beef carnitas, make traditional pork carnitas instead. They start in the slow cooker and crisp up in the oven.
Why you’ll love a slow cooker recipe
- It’s a great way to add south of the border flavor
- 15 minutes of prep time and dinner is ready when you walk in the door
- The most tender beef
- Everyone can add their individual toppings
- You can freeze the leftovers for another meal
- It makes enough to feed a crowd
What you’ll need
- Beef chuck roast – this meat will cook long and slow in the slow cooker for maximum flavor so you can get buy with a cheaper cut of meat.
- Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – you’ll have more than you need in a can, so use what’s asked for in the recipe, then freeze the rest for another time. You can use them in so many good Mexican recipes.
- Onion – both yellow or white onions will be good
- Adobo sauce – this is the sauce sitting in the can with the chipotle peppers. It has a lot of smoky flavor to add to the meat.
- Apple cider vinegar – this is going to tenderize your meat perfectly
- Lime juice – another great acid to tenderize your meat as well as compliment the other flavors
- Garlic, oregano, cumin, cloves
- Corn or flour tortillas – street tacos are served on flame heated corn tortillas but flour will work as well.
How do you make slow cooker beef carnitas
For the sauce, add garlic, peppers, onions, adobo sauce, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, oregano and cloves in the food processor and blend until combined. Place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add oil. Once hot, add meat and sear on each side for about 2 minutes. Searing will seal in the flavor.
Place seared meat over sauce in slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until beef falls apart.
Remove and shred with a fork. Place in tortillas and add toppings.
You can add any of your favorite toppings. I kept it simple and used the pineapple/mango salsa from Whole Foods. Of course you can make your own, but I’m not sure it would be any better than theirs. For me, it’s not very economical to make pineapple/mango salsa unless you are going to either eat a lot of it, or you have something else to do with the left over pineapple and mangos.
The beef tacos are a little sweet from the fruit with just a hint of heat from the jalapeños. I also drizzle a little queso on top, because you can’t have tacos without cheese. The best thing about taco night is that everyone can be as picky as they want and choose their own toppings.
How to serve your street tacos
- Choose your tortilla preference – corn or flour
- Top with a salsa of choice, such as a pineapple mango salsa.
- Crumble some cotija cheese over your taco or queso
- Chop up fresh diced onions and cilantro
- Make up a flavorful authentic roasted tomato salsa created by the friend Laura at Foodologygeek
Not only is this great for a busy weeknight but it’s a nice choice if you’re having friends over and don’t want to fuss over dinner.
How to heat up corn tortillas
There are two simple ways to prepare corn tortillas
- You can wrap the corn tortillas up in wet paper towels and microwave them for a minute to soften them so they are easier to roll or fold.
- Heat up your cast iron pan and place your corn tortillas on the pan for a few minutes to brown each side or char it a little, bringing out the flavor of the tortilla
If you would rather go for a more southern way to serve carnitas, serve them in a challah roll, the challah is sturdy enough to hold the beef or pork. And who doesn’t love homemade yeast rolls!
FAQs and tips
Carnitas are an inexpensive pork or beef dish heavily marbled and cooked long and slow to tenderize it with delicious spices and some lime juice which results in a juicy and tender meat.
Good news is both! Traditionally you will hear carnitas are pork but beef works equally as well and has a lot of flavor too when cooked this way.
I use a chuck roast. However, since this cooks so long, you can use pretty much any cut of beef.
Carnitas mean “little meats” and refers to the meat being braised and simmered for a long time, often in oil or lard in traditional cooking.
Carnitas are versatile, you can eat them in so many ways. Throw them into a corn tortilla for a simple meal. You can make a carnitas bowl with rice, beans and/or fajita veggies for a hearty meal. They work great on nachos and in soup too.
There’s really no bad food to pair with carnitas. However, traditionally you can serve a Spanish rice, add some refried beans or throw it in a mac and cheese dish for some delicious protein like my brisket mac and cheese.
More south of the border foods
Beef Carnitas in the Slow Cooker Recipe
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 lb beef chuck roast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
- 1 small onion or 1 cup diced onion
- 3 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- corn or flour tortillas
- For the sauce, add garlic, peppers, onions, adobo sauce, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, oregano and cloves in the food processor and blend until combined. Place in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add oil. Once hot, add meat and sear on each side for about 2 minutes.
- Place seared meat over sauce in slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until beef falls apart.
- Remove and shred with a fork. Place in tortillas and add toppings.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- If you want your carnitas to have a crispy top to them, you can place the shredded beef onto a jelly roll pan, scoop up a cup of juice left in the slow cooker and pour it over the carnitas and turn your broiler onto high for 5 minutes or so while the carnitas get a nice crunchy top from the juice.
- Corn tortillas are a traditional way to enjoy the carnitas but no one will be the wiser if you prefer flour.
- Shredded beef freezes well and can be enjoyed another time.