Yep, they’re a thing. And a few weeks ago, I decided to make them my new thing.
To be sure, carnitas are traditionally made with pork, which I’ve enjoyed cooking for years and years with my little “shortcut” method by simmering pork in the crock pot and then crisping it them up the broiler before serving. And it’s always delicious! But recently, I’ve randomly been wondering (as my little food blogger’s mind tends to wander) about what carnitas would taste like when made with different meats, since the word carnitas does literally translate to mean “little meats”, and not just pork. ;)
So a few weeks ago, I decided to try out a carnitas recipe using some boneless skinless chicken breasts that I had in the freezer, and bring it along to a taco night with friends for taste-testing. I was a little worried that the lean chicken wouldn’t end up being quite as flavorful as less-lean pork tends to be. But sure enough, after hours of simmering in that yummy broth, then spending a few minutes under the broiler and getting a good toss in the leftover juices from the slow cooker, the results were in.
Chicken can be made into some seriously good carnitas!
The other good news about this recipe? It’s seriously easy to make.
Just toss all of your ingredients in a slow cooker. (And if you happen to not drink alcohol, as some commenters asked about in my pork carnitas recipe, hakuna matata — you can just sub in some chicken broth with maybe an extra squeeze of fresh orange juice.) Give them a little toss to mix everything up. And then let the chicken cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours, until it’s nice and tender and shreds easily with a fork.
Shred it to the size you would like. (And don’t worry about all of those extra juices — we’ll use them later!) Then use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a large baking sheet (or two smaller baking sheets).
Spread the chicken out in an even layer, then pop it under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the tops of the chicken are nice and browned and crispy. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, drizzle the chicken evenly with about 1/2 cup of the remaining broth, and then turn it with a pair of tongs so that some of the less-crispy bits are on top. Repeat by broiling again, then drizzling/tossing again, then one more broil, one more drizzle/toss…
…and a big sheet of delicious carnitas will be yours to enjoy. Oh, and also be sure to drizzle these with however much fresh lime juice you’d like. I recommend going big on the lime juice (as in, I think I used the juice from 2-3 large limes for this one), but go with however much of that tart flavor you like. :)
Feel free to serve them up in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, soups, salads…whatever sounds good to you!
Or if you aren’t going to serve it right away, this recipe also makes great leftovers and freezes for up to 3 months.
So if you happen to not eat pork, or are just looking for a way to use up some leftover chicken, I highly recommend giving them a try. Carnitas of all kinds FTW! :)
These Slow Cooker Crispy Chicken Carnitas are made easy by simmering for hours in the slow cooker, then they are briefly crisped up in the broiler, resulting in tender, crispy, juicy, and absolutely DELICIOUS carnitas. Serve them in your favorite tacos, burritos, salads, or whatever sounds good!
4–5 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts*
1 bottle beer (or chicken stock, if you do not like to cook with alcohol)
Add the chicken, beer, onion, garlic, chipotle, cumin, black pepper, chili powder, and salt to the bowl of a large slow cooker. Gently toss to combine.
Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours until the chicken is completely tender and shreds easily with a fork.
Once the chicken is cooked, preheat your broiler to high heat and grease one large baking sheet with cooking spray. Use a fork to shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Then use a slotted spoon to transfer it to the prepared baking sheet, spreading the chicken in an even layer and leaving the juices behind in the slow cooker. (Don’t discard the juices, we’re going to use them later!)
Place one sheet under the broiler, 2 racks down from the very top, and broil for about 5-6 minutes, or until the edges of the chicken begin browning and crisping up. Remove the sheet from the oven, then ladle about 1/2 cup of the juices from the slow cooker evenly over the chicken, and then give it a good toss with some tongs so that the chicken is evenly coated with the juices. Broil for an additional 5 minutes to get the meat more crispy. Then remove and ladle an additional 1/2 cup of broth over the crispy chicken. Broil for an additional 5 minutes. Then remove sheet from the oven, and toss chicken with the remaining broth. Then drizzle with however much fresh lime juice you’d like (I love a ton of lime flavor!), and toss once more to combine.
Serve immediately in tacos, burritos, salads, or whatever sounds good to you! This chicken can also be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days, or frozen in a sealed container for up to 3 months.
*Or, instead of chicken breasts, you are welcome to use other cuts of chicken, such as thighs. I just recommend buying skinless and boneless chicken, so that you do not have to remove any bones or skin afterwards.