Great for a weeknight, slow cooker chicken carnitas don’t need to be pre-cooked. Just combine chicken thighs and spices in the slow cooker and let them go. Right before serving, shred the chicken and broil it until tender and crisp. Use the carnitas in tacos, burrito bowls, or to make taco salads.
With Cinco de Mayo this year falling while Kansas City (and many other places in the world) are still under stay-at-home orders, it’s a good year to get creative with some Mexican-inspired food at home! Mexican and TexMex meals are a staple of our weeknight routine (see Slow Cooker Taco Meat, Enchilada Pasta, Taco Soup). All three of my kids like these meals and they are easy to customize into taco salads if we want something lighter, burrito bowls if we want a grain base, or a taco bar if everyone wants to customize.
Taco night is even better if it’s made from something in the slow cooker that requires no pre-cooking and is entirely hands off until the last 15 minutes before serving. While pork carnitas are a classic, chicken carnitas are a lighter, healthier twist that still deliver big on flavor. And if you want to take it to the next level, I recommend whipping up a batch of this super simple Avocado Crema sauce to drizzle on top.
Here’s how to make Crispy Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas.
Chicken Carnitas Ingredients
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs - I strongly recommend chicken thighs in this recipe. They have a bit more fat which helps them to crisp up under the broiler in the final step of cooking without drying out.
- Dried Spices - A combination of salt, black pepper, and common spices (ground cumin, chili powder, ground coriander, dried oregano, and garlic powder) flavor the chicken as it cooks. If you’re missing one of these spices, no worries - the chicken will still have great flavor even without one or two of them.
- Chicken Stock or Water - The chicken will naturally release liquid as it cooks, but it is still a good idea to add a small amount of stick or water to the bottom of the slow cooker. This will prevent burning as the slow cooker heats up.
- Cooking Oil - After the slow cooker chicken is completely cooked, shred or chop it and toss it with some cooking oil. This will help the chicken to crisp up as it gets a final round of cooking under the oven’s broiler.
How to Make Slow Cooker Carnitas
- Make spice mix. Combine a simple blend of spices and season the chicken with it.
- Slow cook chicken. Slow cook chicken until tender, 3 to 4 hours on high or 7 hours on low.
- Shred chicken. Shred the chicken with two forks or use a knife to roughly chop it.
- Broil until crisp. Toss the chicken with some oil and place it under the oven’s broiler until the edges are crisp and golden brown. (The time will vary depending on how hot your broiler runs, but this should take between 5 and 12 minutes.)
The chicken can be cooked in the slow cooker and shredded / chopped up to 3 days ahead of time. Wait and do the final step to crisp the chicken under the broiler until right before serving. The texture will be the best if it is served right after broiling.
More Recipes for Cinco de Mayo
- Slow Cooker Tex Mex Stuffed Peppers - Slow Cooker Tex Mex Stuffed Peppers are filled with a mix of spices, rice, and beef. Make a complete meal out of this dish by serving the peppers with sour cream, guacamole, and tortilla chips for scooping.
- Tex Mex Burgers with Guacamole - Tex Mex Burgers with Guacamole are a fun, flavorful twist on classic burgers. Seasoned with a blend of spices and topped with guacamole and cheese, these Southwestern-inspired burgers are absolutely packed with flavor.
- Mexican Pita Pizzas - To make these tacos-turned pizzas you really just need your favorite taco toppings.
- Honey Lime Salmon Tacos - A honey lime glaze is all you need to add big flavor to this oven-roasted salmon. Use it as the base for creative, quick tacos.
- Instant Pot Chicken Burrito Bowls - Even better than the restaurant version, you can make Chicken Burrito Bowls in the Instant Pot in under 30 minutes.
- KitchenAid 6-Quart Slow Cooker - When I was testing slow cooker recipes earlier this year, I got a lot of questions about the “best” slow cooker. The truth is, I just followed the advice of other experts (including America’s Test Kitchen and Food and Wine). This $99 machine has been a staple in my kitchen for years and works better than any other slow cooker I’ve used.
- Half Sheet Pan - The best sheet pan to use for most sheet pan meals has straight sides like this one. This helps to prevent any of those delicious ingredients from falling off the pan as everything cooks.
Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas
- 4 or 6 qt Slow Cooker
- sheet pan
For the Slow Cooker:
- 2 lbs Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1 teaspoon Ground Cumin
- 1 teaspoon Chili Powder (do not use cayenne pepper; chili powder will give this dish a hint of spice; for non-spicy version, use paprika)
- ½ teaspoon Ground Coriander
- ½ teaspoon Dried Oregano
- ½ teaspoon Garlic Powder
- ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
- ¼ cup Chicken Stock or Water
- 2 tablespoon Cooking Oil
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- 2 teaspoon Lime Juice (optional)
- In a small bowl, combine salt, cumin, chili powder, ground coriander, oregano, garlic powder, and black pepper.
- Place the chicken thighs in the bowl of a slow cooker and sprinkle spices over top. Stir to evenly coat the chicken in spices.
- Pour water around the sides of the chicken.
- Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook until chicken is tender, 3 to 4 hours on high or 7 hours on low.
- When chicken is done, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the slow cooker (leaving behind any cooking liquid in the bottom of the bowl) and transfer to a cutting board.
- Shred the chicken with two forks or use a knife to roughly chop it.
- Toss the chicken with cooking oil and spread out on a sheet pan. Season with some salt and pepper.
- Turn on the oven’s broiler (use the high setting if available) and place an oven rack about 6” / 15 cm below the broiler.
- Slide the sheet pan with the chicken under the broiler and cook, without stirring the chicken, until the edges are very crisp and golden brown. The temperature from a broiler can vary widely, but this should take between 5 and 12 minutes. Watch it very closely to prevent burning.
- Squeeze lime juice over chicken.
- Serve immediately.