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!

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  • I use a slow cooker all the time but use a pork loin and just let it cook for hours then use the meat in various dishes. There is a lot less fat with the loin than the pork shoulder but will definitely try this recipe with chicken.

  • Great recipe but PLEASE… there is no such thing as “chicken carnitas.” Carnitas is pork.. always has been and always will be. Chicken Pork does not exist.

    • Yes, The Mexican carnitas are pork, but for those of us who can not eat pork … this is a healthy option and they are delicious !!!!!

  • I’ve been making this for at least a year now…family favorite. I use 3 breasts for 2 adults and 1 teen and shred the meat. Definitely try to use the beer. I used to skip it but since I added it once, it was so good I always add it now. We use it for taco meat. Great recipe!

  • Amazingly easy go to recipe. Bud light lime adds good flavor but chicken broth works too. Cooling on low 5-6 hours is plenty, otherwise it gets too dried out. Also, I forgo the spice rubbing and dump all incredients into the slow cooker and it turns out wonderfully!

  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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. :)

    • Ava,

      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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!!

  • 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!!!

  • 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!

  • 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!

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

    • 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!

  • 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. :)

  • 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.

    • 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.