Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas are an easy Mexican weeknight meal with fresh citrus, jalapeños and spices made crispy in a skillet for the perfect carnitas!
We love easy Mexican recipes like Carne Asada, Baked Tacos, and Mexican Rice. These Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas are the perfect easy weeknight recipe you’ll make over and over again all year long!
SLOW COOKER CHICKEN CARNITAS
Carne Asada doesn’t just have to be pork (though I won’t lie, I love pork carnitas). Using chicken thighs in your slow cooker is the perfect way to get the same flavors in a fattier cut of chicken that you can sear in your pan in just a few minutes for that traditional crispy texture.
We like to use chicken thighs vs pork in this recipe for a handful of reasons:
- Less expensive on a regular basis. Sometime during the summer pork will be on a good sale, but that isn’t true the entire year. For us we can always count on $0.99 a pound chicken thighs. If you have bone-in skin-on, just pull the skin off before cooking and remove the bones when the meat is done. This recipe is not fussy.
- Healthier: While thighs are still the “dark meat” of the chicken vs chicken breast, they are a significantly leaner meat than pork shoulder.
- Easier: Handling and cooking chicken thighs (even sourcing them) is easier than pork shoulder. It’s a protein we all rely on constantly so you won’t run the risks of it just not being available.
- Crowds: When making this for a crowd you’re more inclusive. There are a lot more people who won’t eat pork than who won’t eat chicken. This cuts down on how many different dishes you’ll have to make for get-togethers.
Carnitas means “little meats” in Spanish, originates in Michoacán, Mexico, and is a delicious, juicy way to cook. You can cook any kind of meat this way. Pork carnitas are a traditional favorite. Carnitas-style chicken is absolutely delicious on its own or in any style of classic Mexican food like tacos, burritos, nachos, fajitas, burrito bowls, quesadillas, enchiladas, and a ton of other recipes. I also like to use this crispy chicken topped on salads, added to soups. The added texture brings a lot to other recipes where chicken may be boiled or grilled.
Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas are great as a main course or over some chips and guacamole as an appetizer. You can also make it a few days in advance and keep it in the fridge for nights when you want something hearty to eat but don’t feel like cooking. Serve it up with a spoonful of sour cream, chipotle peppers, fresh lime juice, warm tortillas, adobo sauce, and some fresh lime wedges.
HOW TO MAKE SLOW COOKER CHICKEN CARNITAS
- Add the onions to a large slow cooker and top with chicken.
- Add chicken broth, orange juice, lime juice and lemon juice.
- In a bowl mix the jalapeño, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin.
- Rub mixture all over the chicken..
- Cover and cook on high for 6 hours.
- Shred the chicken in large pieces.
- Add in batches to a large skillet with 3 tablespoons vegetable oil.
- Cook on medium high until crispy, stirring until it is crispy throughout.
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VARIATIONS ON SLOW COOKER CHICKEN CARNITAS
- Pico de gallo: Chop up some fresh cilantro, Roma tomatoes and a red onion, mix them together in a food processor with some lime juice and garlic powder and smother your Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas with your batch of homemade pico de gallo. Or, add in a chopped avocado and mush it all together for homemade guacamole, put it in a corn tortilla with the Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream and enjoy.
- Spice: Sprinkle some chili powder and paprika onto the chicken carnitas to give them a little bit of a spicy bite. For even more spice, add some additional red pepper flakes or some chipotle hot sauce. If that’s still not hot enough, it’s time to start piling on the jalapeños.
HOW LONG ARE SLOW COOKER CHICKEN CARNITAS GOOD?
- Serve: After you’ve cooked your carnitas, you should remember not to leave them out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. After 2 hours the chances of the meat developing bacteria are much higher and you can get sick from it.
- Store: Allow your Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas to fully cool down to room temperature before you wrap it up in plastic wrap or an airtight container and put them away in the fridge. Chicken Carnitas are best eaten up to 3 days after you make them.
- Freeze: Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas will last in the freezer for up to 3 months before you should make yourself a new batch of them.
What to eat with Chicken Carnitas:
- Classic Chicken Enchiladas, made with my Homemade Enchilada Sauce (takes just 10 minutes!)
- Homemade Refried Beans (so easy!) is the perfect side dish
- Mexican Rice is a more classic preparation or I have a hack version with salsa! (Easy Mexican Rice)
- Restaurant Style Salsa with Guacamole
- Mexican Wedding Cookies and Tres Leches Cake
Let’s make this a party!
- 1 yellow onion , cut into wedges
- 6 chicken thighs
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1 orange , juiced
- 1 lime , juiced
- 1 lemon , juiced
- 1 jalapeno , deseeded and sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Add the onions to your slow cooker, then top with the chicken (skin side up).
- Add the chicken broth, orange juice, lime juice and lemon juice.
- In a bowl mix the jalapeno, salt, pepper, oregano, cumin and sprinkle it all over the chicken.
- Cover and cook for on high for 6 hours.
- Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and remove the skin and bones before shredding with a fork.
- Add half of your vegetable oil to your skillet on medium high heat with half the chicken and allow to crisp for 3-4 minutes before flipping and cooking 3-4 minutes.
- Repeat with remaining vegetable oil and remaining chicken before serving.
How many carnitas are you calling a serving please. Using this recipe for a large crowd-125 people or so.
The issue with trying to understand the serving size is that people will have ingredients of different sizes. Packaged products are weighed and measured at the time of creation which makes their measurements accurate. The only way to accurately know the measurements of meals is to weigh and divide.
This recipe makes THE BEST chicken tacos I’ve ever had. I had them on corn tortillas and cooked them in the oven so the tortillas got crispy, added some cilantro and onion once them came out of the oven. Definitely going to be my new ‘go-to’ taco recipe.
I did only have to cook the chicken on high for about 4 hours and it was falling off the bone but I think my crockpot runs hot so that’s probably why I needed a shorter cook time.
Thanks for the feedback on cooking time. So glad you enjoyed them.
This is my favorite go to chicken carnitas recipe. Its easy and delicious. Only adjustment I made was I reserve some of the leftover liquid and poor over the chicken and I broil it with some cooking spray.
What do you do with the liquid and the onions please ?
What do you do with the onions and liquid ?
Hi. I only have a question about this recipe. I’m a little confused. I think somewhere you mentioned searing the chicken with the skin on. Then I thought you said it’s better to use the skinless thighs?? Thanks!
I used skin on/bone in thighs for this recipe because they help to keep it moist while cooking in the slow cooker. I then remove it before shredding it and getting the crisp on it. Hope this helps clear things up!
More of a question than a comment. Can I cook in the slow cooker, debone, etc., and shred, store in the fridge and crisp up the next day ?? I have company coming mid-afternoon and won’t have 6 hours ahead of that time to get everything ready.
Sure:) Just place it under the broiler but make sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Enjoy!
I’ve made this recipe with chicken thighs, and it came out fabulous. I made it a second time with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, as it was all I had, and it was a bit too dry, despite cutting the cooking time down by an entire hour. Good, but not great, as I knew it could be. I would definitely recommend sticking to the chicken thighs. I am still giving the recipe a 5 star rating, because I remember just how awesome it was.
Mine didn’t look anything like the picture. It was dried out chicken. I did everything that the recipe called for
Oh bummer! I’m not sure what might have happened.
Sabrina Love your recipes…6 hours on high in my slow cooker seems like an awfully long time. Is this a typo?
I was really trying to render the fat. You can try it on high for 5 hours but if it’s not pull apart tender, you might need that extra hour. Good luck!
I’m curious about this recipe, I have both a slow cooker and a dutch oven. The dutch oven recipe doesn’t have the lime juice or lemon juice, and the slow cooker recipe doesn’t have the jalapeno. Just curious if this is intentional.
Also, for the slow cooker, should you squeeze the orange for its juice and then slice it? It calls for the orange juice and the slices to be placed in.
Thanks for the help.
Thanks for letting me know it was off. You’ll want to squeeze in the juice but not add the rinds to the slow cooker. Hope this clears things up. Enjoy!
Is it possible to make this with chicken breast instead of thighs? If so, would you recommend boneless or bone-in? And, would you change/adjust the cooking time at all? Thanks!
If you want to use breasts, I would recommend a bone-in as that’ll help protect the chicken from drying out. You may also need to cut the cooking time by about 30 minutes. I hope this helps!
This was amazing! My husband loved it and thought the chicken was pork. For sure adding this to our meal rotations.
So glad you won him over!
I will be looking up a bunch of new recipes. I had 2 neck surgeries and 3 back surgeries and I need another back surgery. I cook out of my wheelchair. I can stand up, but only for a few minutes. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I cook quite a bit now that I have time. I will be looking for some recipes that are as close to completely home made.
Sorry to hear that. Wishing you a speedy recovery! We have lots of homemade recipes on the site, hope to see how they turn out for you!
Great recipes! I love the idea of putting some up in the refrigerator. How long will the sauce last in the refrigerator? It’s great to freeze it. I would like to have some on hand for other things and I was wondering about how long it would last in the refrigerator?
Cooked will last about 3 days in the fridge. After that, it will start to become unsafe.
This is a great dinner. Wow.
Thanks! So easy and flavorful!
This was really amazing! Everyone at my house loved it!
Happy to hear that it was a hit!
This is a favorite in our house! Love these flavors so much!
Thanks! It’s definitely a go-to in our house!
Yum! I love this! So easy and fresh! Great for weeknights and busy nights with kids and sports and clubs… So great!
I agree! As a mom on the go, it’s great to have carnitas in your back pocket for a busy day!
These are so good and so easy to make! Love having them for tacos or the leftovers for salads.
The leftovers make great taco salads for sure!
I am an very keen home cook and only discovered your recipe web last weekend. Made your Chicken Carnitas 2 days ago, kept it in the fridge and had it for lunch this afternoon, it was delicious!! Highly recommendable! Co van den Raad. Centurion, South Africa.
Welcome to the site! Hope to see you around on more recipes!! Enjoy!