October 6, 2013

There’s been a slew of slow-cooker talk among my friends lately, and I’m pretty sure this means that we’re all getting old.

slow-cooker carnitas | Blue Jean Gourmet

Don’t get me wrong, though–slow cooker old is not a bad kind of old; slow cooker old is practical and thrifty, and it’s practical and thrifty precisely because you’ve learned that these attributes are not nearly as un-cool as you thought in your naive youth.  Slow cooker old is the kind of old that means you have the wisdom to realize that you can’t actually plan out your whole entire life—the way you thought was possible when you were thirteen—but, that you can actually plan out your dinner ahead of time, prep it before you go to work, and sit at your desk with the knowledge that your food will be all but ready for you when you get home.  It’s a triumphant kind of old, this slow cooker age.  I like it.

My slow cooker is most often used to cook beans, make stock, applesauce or something similar (I did an apple/pear butter last week that Shiv loves), and to tackle larger cuts of meat, like this pork shoulder.  Like many others, I discovered the slow cooker in graduate school, when money was tight; the aforementioned beans & homemade stock were easy ways to feed myself cheaply, as were the less expensive cuts of meat that benefit from the long braise that a slow cooker provides.

Though I love to extol the virtues of the slow cooker, I’m far from an expert.  I know that there are many more ways I could be using it, and I’d love to hear from y’all about how you utilize yours.  Let’s have a slow cooker conversation that our younger selves would look upon in horror.

If I’m going to be a sellout, at least I get to bring these carnitas with me.

PS: I’ve updated ye olde book information page with links to a few new things!: a guest column I wrote for Memphis’ paper, The Commercial Appeal, and a video of the chapel talk I gave at my alma mater, St. Mary’s Episcopal School, last week.



As with pretty much all slow cooker recipes, this is more of a method than anything else.  The ratios what matter here, more than exact measurements, since what you’re going for here is essentially to cook the pork for a long time, with some liquid so it doesn’t dry out, and in the presence of whatever flavorings you’d like to impart.  Therefore, feel free to improvise; some folks I know use water instead of stock, and others apply the rub to the pork ahead of time.  Others cut the meat into chunks before putting into the cooker, but I didn’t find that to be necessary, given the size of my shoulder (if yours is lots bigger, you may want to give that a try, and you will probably need more liquid).

Some people buy boneless shoulders, but I always prefer to cook with a bone, because it adds so much flavor; trust me, you won’t have any trouble removing the bones when the meat is done cooking, because it’s basically going to fall apart (in the best possible way).  Finally, do NOT skip the broiling step; it’s what makes the carnitas taste like carnitas.



1 pork shoulder roast (also called “pork butt”) – mine was right at 2 lb., bone in
2 cups chicken stock
juice of one orange
1 large onion, sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. ancho chili powder
½ tsp. chipotle chili powder
½ tsp. salt

Combine the cumin, oregano, chili powders, & salt in a small bowl.  Rub all over the pork shoulder before placing the shoulder in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Cover the shoulder with sliced onion & garlic; pour liquid around the shoulder, cover and cook on “low” for 10 hours.

When you’re ready, remove the shoulder from the slow cooker and shred with a fork, removing any bones (but not the fat! ).  Scatter the pieces in an even layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil in the oven for 5-8 minutes, or until little bits and pieces of the pork begin to brown and crisp up.

Serve with tortillas and the accompaniments of your choice.  Ours were: queso fresco,  guacamole, pickled red onions, & fresh salsa.



  1. Slow cookers are very useful, although I don’t bring mine out nearly as much as I ought to. Rick Bayless is fond of the slow cooker, too… his cookbook Mexican Everyday has several recipes that use one, including a pork/tomatillo/white bean thing that is a family favorite.

    In my dreams, I have one of those slow cookers with the stove-friendly insert.

    Comment by Jennifer — October 7, 2013 @ 6:30 am

  2. Check out the America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbook. They have tons of really unique uses for the slow cooker, including pastas, sauces, bread pudding, stuffed peppers, etc. They’ve also done extensive testing so you know it’ll turn out right. It’s definitely not your everyday dump and cook slow cooker cookbook but it’s worth it.
    P.S. I was not paid for this review.

    Comment by Jennifer H — October 15, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

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