Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas

Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas  2

It’s no secret that my love for Mexican and slow cookers runs deep. Combine the two and well, you can just imagine how excited I am about what’s happening here.

Especially when I come home starving after a hella hectic Monday at work, a seemingly weekly occurrence around our house.

Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas  1

The literal translation of carnitas is “little meats” (does anyone else find the single dish with a plural name thing confusing, too?), a Mexican dish traditionally made by braising and then frying pork either in oil or lard, giving it that fall-off-the-bone tenderness with a crispy finish. While that all sounds totally lovely and utterly delicious, that’s not something we can (nor should) eat on the reg so I made a healthier version: chicken braised in a simple combo of OJ, lime juice and a few spices to tenderize and flavor the meat, and then briefly broiled for a still crispy but not-fried finish.

Three words: Who. Needs. Pork.

Ok, six: Fried. In. Oil.

So that might be a bit dramatic (because legit carnitas are indeed ridiculously amazing) but for what it’s worth to your waistline, the slow cooker–broiler combo is pretty darn good too. The citrus juices and spices leave behind so much flavor.

Besides the fact that they’re delicious and good for you, here are two other reasons I love these slow cooker chicken carnitas:

1. They’re stupid easy. I kid you not–they pretty much make themselves. It took 5 minutes to get everything into the slow cooker and 10 minutes to brown them in the skillet. The rest of the time was hands-off, taste-testing and photo shoot aside.

2. They’re insanely versatile. I mean, you can use this chicken in literally anything that’s even remotely Mexican: tamales, tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, burrito bowls, enchiladas, heck–even tossed into a bowl of tomato or black bean soup with a sprinkle of cheese and crushed tortilla chips on top. (That last one is one of my go-to single girl dinners the nights the hubs and I eat separately.)

Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas  3

Basically, you need these chicken carnitas in your life. And your belly. I’d give you some of mine (ours?) but the hubs and I have a burrito bowl in our future this evening and there just isn’t (aren’t?) enough. Enjoy!

33 Comments on Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas

  1. Michelle
    April 11, 2016 at 10:59 am (6 months ago)

    Made this for a dinner for 20 people. Everyone raved about it. Didn’t have beer, so used chicken broth. Also, only had chicken breasts, and it still turned out great. Thanks for a great recipe!

  2. RachelC
    March 26, 2016 at 9:19 pm (7 months ago)

    What can you substitute if you don’t have beer?

  3. ADB
    February 19, 2016 at 1:45 pm (8 months ago)

    These look so delicious, but I don’t own a slow cooker. :( I do own a Dutch oven, though, and am wondering if you have any tips for cooking the chicken that way?

    Thanks so much!

  4. Emily Kaminski
    January 20, 2016 at 2:15 pm (9 months ago)

    This was so good and easy. And quite different from some other carnita recipes I found. I only used 2 chicken breasts and the same amount of liquid and it worked out perfectly as I didn’t want it to get to dry. Also, I only cooked it for 4 hours on low.

  5. Ara
    December 21, 2015 at 7:35 pm (10 months ago)

    Am I blind? I swore I saw the nutritional value before. Did it get moved to another page? I need the info to log into my calorie counter, help. :)

    • Auslynn
      January 12, 2016 at 12:01 pm (9 months ago)


      I linked to the recipe from MyFitnessPal. This is the nutrition info they provided:

      Nutrition (per serving): Calories: 180; Total Fat: 4g; Saturated Fat: 2g; Monounsaturated Fat: 3g; Cholesterol: 60mg; Sodium: 459mg; Carbohydrate: 5g; Dietary Fiber: 1g; Sugar: 2g; Protein: 29g

  6. Kathy
    October 28, 2015 at 11:08 pm (12 months ago)

    Very nice . Used my pressure cooker, cooked in 30 minutes.

  7. Heidi
    October 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm (1 year ago)

    I made this today for meal prep using only chicken breast and substituting broth for beer and it is soooooo good! Thanks for the awesome recipe which will now be in regular rotation!

  8. Cara
    August 18, 2015 at 7:02 pm (1 year ago)

    Smelling this all day was sweet torture. I used all breast meat (since that’s what I had) & it came out great. My only regret was the crisping stage got a little too crispy under my broiler. Will definitely make again, the flavors are so good. Next time I’ll be sure to drink beer the night before, reserving 1/2 cup, as I had to open a whole bottle at 10:00 this morning to make this and didn’t feel right drinking the rest at that hour.

  9. Ds
    July 3, 2015 at 7:12 pm (1 year ago)

    Love this recipe!! I knows that this is a slow cooker recipe, but I use my fagor 8qt pressure cooker and in 30 minutes from adding ingredients to table, it’s devoured I just follow the directions, put it all in my pleasure cooker, cook on high for 20 minutes and it’s done, shed the chicken fry it up add some juice, amazing thanks for a great recipe!!

    • Ds
      July 3, 2015 at 7:16 pm (1 year ago)

      Stupid auto correct!!

      • julie
        August 17, 2015 at 4:43 pm (1 year ago)

        Pleasure cooker – thanks for the laugh! :)

  10. Kim
    March 11, 2015 at 12:31 pm (2 years ago)

    THANK YOU for a NEW family favoriute… OH. MY. SCRUMPTIOUSNESS! These were delish… I didn’t have any OJ, so I nixed that step… but man was this chicken flavorful! I could have eaten it all and not shared.. I will definitely be making again. Thank you!!!

  11. Bonnie Lawrence
    January 31, 2015 at 5:44 pm (2 years ago)

    They were AMAZING!! It didn’t crisp up enough for my taste after 10 minutes (surprisingly). By family request, I’m making them again this week, and we’ll go for a little more crispy this time! Thanks for sharing!

  12. Natalie
    January 28, 2015 at 6:35 pm (2 years ago)

    These look amazing! Quick question though, can I use orange juice made from concentrate for this recipe?

  13. Alicia
    January 28, 2015 at 8:36 am (2 years ago)

    Just made this chicken carnitas recipe last night and TOTALLY loved it. I paired it with rice and black beans…pretty excited to make a fabulous Mexican meal that did not rely on cheese and tortillas!

  14. Terri
    January 25, 2015 at 6:47 am (2 years ago)

    This looks delicious!! Since I’m new to the slow-cooker method, I was wondering if the chicken could be frozen???

    • Elle
      January 26, 2015 at 6:47 pm (2 years ago)

      I think it’d freeze okay–would probably be best in a quesadilla or a burrito after defrosting though. Would love to know if you try freezing!

    • Lauren
      October 11, 2016 at 10:01 am (1 week ago)

      If you meant can you put frozen chicken in the slow cooker, then yes. I tried it today and it worked just fine.

  15. Nicole
    January 23, 2015 at 4:58 pm (2 years ago)

    This. Was. Awesome. Just had it for dinner with some cilantro lime rice. Delicious and so easy.

  16. Elana
    January 23, 2015 at 1:45 am (2 years ago)

    Love a healthy slow cooker recipe! About how many chicken breasts would you use for this recipe?

  17. Diana
    January 22, 2015 at 5:45 pm (2 years ago)

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. Is there a printable version available? I want to print this out ASAP but I don’t want to end up printing the whole website and waste unnecessary paper. Thanks for sharing this. :)

    • Elle
      January 22, 2015 at 6:33 pm (2 years ago)

      Sorry about that! I just added the print button. :) Enjoy!

  18. angela
    January 22, 2015 at 2:32 pm (2 years ago)

    Now this looks real good. I love chicken but I can do with out the chilies my family laughs we are Mexican and Italians and I can’t eat chilies of any kind hehe, but I don’t have a iron skillet I so have to invest in one. Thank you for sharing the recipe will be printing out.

    • Elle
      January 22, 2015 at 6:35 pm (2 years ago)

      How sad that you can’t eat chilis! If you don’t have an iron skillet a regular old roasting pan would work too–though cast iron is amazing and not all that expensive.

  19. Kelsey M
    January 22, 2015 at 11:21 am (2 years ago)

    I really need to unearth that slow cooker now…

  20. Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat
    January 13, 2015 at 6:32 pm (2 years ago)

    This is my kind of mexican!! I agree, who needs pork fried in oil?! These photos look amazing and even though I just had dinner, you’re kind of making me hungry again!

  21. Ashley @ A Lady Goes West
    January 13, 2015 at 11:57 am (2 years ago)

    Sounds easy enough. Orange juice? Hmmm cool. Thanks for sharing, I’ve been needing a reason to get my slow cooker out. :)


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