Slimmed-Down Pork Carnitas – Hearty and Easy

Carnitas-Style Slow Cooked Pork and Mexican-Spiced Sprouted Beans

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto.


It’s time to bring out the slow cooker.  Temperatures have dropped and the hectic holiday season is here, calling for hearty, healthful and easy-prep meals to balance the fancy party food on the way. 


The slow cooker is a device I shunned until a client asked me to develop a recipe in one.  Intrigue grew.  Through my recipe testing, I learned to love the slow cooker for soups and stews, especially. The low and slow method melts beans to a toothsome tenderness and creates fall-off-the-bone quality meat and poultry.  You can get the same results with low-temperature oven-braising or stove-top cooking but it’s much easier to leave a slow cooker to do its magic.    


For food safety when cooking meat in a slow cooker, I cut meat into chunks or use chicken parts.  I start the cooker on high for the first hour or so to bring up the temperature of the contents to a safe level, over 140°. I don’t put roasts in slow cookers as it can take a long time for the heat to penetrate the meat; bacteria can grow if food stays between 40 and 140 degrees for over two hours. 


Carnitas is usually made with fat-marbled shoulder or butt.  This version is made with pork loin so it is leaner and healthier.  If you find it dry, drizzle in a healthier fat like olive or canola oil for more richness.  I mix traditional chili powder with ground ancho (dried poblano) and chipotle (dried smoked jalapeno), available in traditional grocery stores, for more interesting and spicier flavor. For mild flavor, use all of a conventional chili powder blend.  For sophisticated tastes try ground New Mexico, guajillo (dried mirasol) or other ground dried chili but be aware of your tolerance for heat – some are fiery.


The photo shows a favorite serving suggestions – cooked pork spread on a tortilla with beans, lower-fat cheese and salsa (here it’s tomato-free corn salsa).  If the pork was cooked ahead and chilled,  reheat the loaded tortilla in the oven until hot.


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto.

The beans are a quick-cooking sprouted bean mixture called Tru-Roots® Organic Sprouted Bean Trio.  Almost easier than opening a can, they simmer for 5 minutes and rest off-heat for 10 minutes to finish cooking.   A mixture of sprouted mung beans, lentils and adzuki beans, they are surprisingly nutritious.  The package label states a 1/3-cup dry serving has a whopping 11 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, 10% of the Daily Value for iron, 160 calories and little sodium or fat.  I haven’t added them to soup yet, but love them marinated in salads and cooked as a side dish with Mexican spices.  A recipe follows. 


Perfect for everyday meals, this fall-apart pork carnitas makes a great party food, too. It can be made a day ahead or even frozen as it reheats beautifully. Another trick is to borrow a friend’s slow cooker and get two batches going at once. Keep with the easy theme and set out a selection of topping so each person can personalize their burrito or soft taco. 

 Pork Carnitas (slow cooker method)

 I adapted this from a recipe in the Seattle Times published on 1/21/2004.  Slow cookers vary in size and temperature so adjust the cooking time and add additional liquid as needed with your appliance.  For milder taste, use 2 tablespoons of a mild chili powder blend and omit the ground ancho and chipotle.  I start the cooker on high for the first hour to get the cooking started and then reduce it to low.    Leftovers freeze well.


1 can (14 1/2-ounce) diced tomatoes

2/3 cup thinly sliced shallots

2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 small bay leaves

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 pounds boneless pork loin, fat trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

 Spice Mix:

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 3/4 teaspoons sea salt

11/2 teaspoons ground ancho chili

1 1/2 teaspoons ground chipotle chili


To Serve:

Warm tortillas (corn or whole wheat)

Mexican-Spiced Sprouted Beans (recipe follows), or cooked black or pinto beans or low-fat refried beans

Shredded cabbage

Thinly sliced red onion

Thinly sliced radishes


Sour cream (reduced-fat or fat-free)

Shredded cheese (reduced-fat)

Lime wedges


In medium bowl stir together ingredients for Spice Mix. Set aside.  Drain tomatoes, reserving juice and place in bottom of slow cooker.  Add shallots, garlic, bay leaves and lime juice.  Stir to blend.  Roll each piece of pork in spices, coating all sides, and place in slow cooker. Cover and cook on “high” for 1 hour or until simmering, then reduce heat to “low” and continue cooking for 5 to 7 hours, stirring occasionally, and adding reserved liquid from tomatoes if mixture becomes dry. Pork is done when meat is fork-tender and shreds easily. Remove bay leaves before serving.  Serve as soft tacos in warm corn tortillas or burrito-style in whole wheat flour tortillas with suggested topping or your own favorites.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Mexican-Spiced Sprouted BeansTrio (truRoots®)

 The package says to use 3 cups liquid to cook 1 cup of the bean trio but I find a lot of liquid needs to be drained off.  I use1 1/2 cups. 


1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

½  cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground chili powder

1 cup truRoots® Organic Sprouted Bean Trio

1 1/2 to 3 cups sodium-reduced chicken broth, vegetable broth or water

Salt and pepper, optional


Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until onion is soft, stirring often and adjusting heat as needed.  Add cumin and chili powder and stir for a few seconds to toast slightly.  Add bean trio and broth.  Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.  Drain off any extra liquid.  If water was used to cook the beans add salt and pepper to taste.  Makes 4 servings.

 Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. […] are links to a couple of other favorite slow cooker recipes on my website, a lean version of Carnitas and a Lentil-Tomato Sauce for […]

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