Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas

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Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas couldn't be easier to prepare and make the best chicken taco filling that's healthy and full of flavor.


Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas with cumin, paprika, oregano, chili powder, and lime juice have all the flavor of your favorite pork carnitas without the guilt.

It is fair to say that we eat tacos at least once a week in our house, sometimes twice, and sometimes an embarrassing amount of times when there are taco friendly leftovers in the fridge. Suffice to say, we live on tacos around here so I am always working on new and easy taco recipes to satisfy our addiction. And this delicious and simple Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas recipe is one of our new favorites. It couldn't be easier to make, is full of flavor from a quick homemade spice blend, and seriously makes some of the best chicken tacos.

Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas with corn tortillas and lime juice.

Let's talk about the cooking of these tacos for a moment. One of the first things you will notice is that there is no additional liquid in the recipe. It's just chicken thighs and spices. Since chicken thighs contain some fat and natural juices, you don't need to add any extra liquid. Once the cooking process starts, they will release their natural juices and cook in this. This heightens the chicken flavor instead of diluting it with another liquid. If you are worried about cooking in your slow cooker without liquid (you shouldn't be!), you can add in some chicken broth or light beer.

Now let' talk about spice. Since I am always adding gobs of salsa and fixings to my tacos, I keep the chicken fairly neutral when it comes to heat. A little ancho chili powder goes a long way since it is smokier and spicier than regular chili powder. However if you want to kick things up, use more chili powder or throw in a couple of diced chipotle peppers in adobo. You could also add in some diced fresh jalapenos or regular chili powder if that's what you have in your spice cabinet.

Finally, for the very best Crokcpot Chicken Carnitas, make sure to follow the full recipe and add the chicken to the broiler in the end. This step gets the chicken nice and crispy on the edges, which is one of the best parts of traditional pork carnitas. You want to have a lot of texture in the meat with some crispy bits and some smooth bits. Believe me - it may seem like a small step but it makes things that much more delicious.

Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas fresh out of the broiler to make nice and crispy chicken.

One more thing - toppings! Usually, we like to eat these tacos loaded up with fresh cilantro, diced onion, tomatoes, and lots of this creamy avocado salsa or quick homemade guacamole. And since I love spice, I like to add some of this simple chipotle salsa. It's just blended chipotles in adobo but adds just the right amount of heat and spice. I can find it in my local grocery store next to the canned chipotle peppers. If you can't find it, just toss a can of chipotle peppers in adobo in the blender. Same thing.

Tips for Making Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas;

  • You can use any cut of chicken you like for this recipe but I think boneless skinless chicken thighs work best. You don't have to worry about them drying out and you don't have to remove any bones or skin after the chicken has cooked. If you decide to use chicken breast, consider adding some chicken broth or light beer to make sure the chicken stays nice and moist.
  • Two steps not to skip! Make sure to take the time to shred the chicken and broil it before serving. The crispy bits really make the recipe special and will give the tacos lots of good texture. Also, don't skimp on the lime juice. Usually, I squeeze 2-3 limes worth on the chicken before serving it.
  • When it comes to toppings, anything goes! We always use cilantro and diced onion but you can use almost anything.
  • If you have leftover taco meat, it works great for quesadillas, burritos, burrito bowls, and taco salads.

Here are some of the products I used when making this recipe.

  • Slow Cooker: There are so many different slow cookers on the market but I personally use this one that allows me to brown, sear, or saute in the same pan. Plus I find the cooking temperature to be really even and consistent.
  • Chipotle paste: If you decide to add some chipotle flavor to the recipe, I can't recommend these chipotle tubes enough. It's the perfect solution if you find yourself throwing out cans of chipotle peppers all the time. It comes in a convenient squeeze tube and can be kept in the fridge.
  • Ancho chili powder: Ancho chili powder is made from smoked jalapenos (chipotles) and has a smokier and spicier flavor than traditional chili powder.
Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas with lime juice and pico de gallo.
The Recipe
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Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas

COOK TIME: 4 Hours, 10 Min
TOTAL TIME: 4 Hours, 20 Min
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  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 1 tsp. ancho chili powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

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Nestle the chicken thighs into the slow cooker. Mix together all the spices.


Sprinkle half the spice mixture over the chicken. Flip using a fork and sprinkle the other side of the chicken with seasoning.


Cook on high for 3-4 hours until chicken is cooked through and tender. Don't worry about adding liquid, the chicken thighs will release liquid as they cook creating just the right amount of liquid needed for cooking.


Preheat the broiler. Shred the chicken using two forks. Remove from the slow cooker using a slotted spoon. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and broil for 6-8 minutes until chicken is browned on the top and crispy.


If desired toss the chicken with the broth that remains in the slow cooker and fresh lime juice.

Nutritional Facts
Serving Size: 6 oz.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 187
Calories from Fat 1
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 6g
Saturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Cholesterol 132mg
Sodium 642mg
Total Carbohydrate 1g
Dietary Fiber 0g
Sugars 0g
Protein 29g

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.

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About the authorMeet Kristen McCaffrey
Hi, I’m the cookbook author, recipe developer, and food enthusiast behind Slender Kitchen. I am obsessed with making healthy food that is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Meal planning is my secret weapon and I hope I can make meal time easier for you with our tried and tested recipes and foolproof meal plans. Learn More
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On Slow Cooker Chicken Carnitas
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July 7, 2022 - 13:50
Obsessed with these chicken carnitas! My husband doesn't eat pork, and I try to avoid it as well. I love that this is a crock pot recipe so it's nice and simple, but finishing it in the oven is key to get it all nice and crispy. One of our favorite recipes!
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Nelly Steele
May 5, 2019 - 16:04
Add a Rating:
Easy, delicious!
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Susan DeRespinis
October 28, 2017 - 04:43
Absolutely LOVED this recipe! Followed it exactly and served on corn/flour tortillas. Will def be a repeat in our house!
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