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Should you brown your meat first before slow cooking? Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Since it’s often a topic of passionate debate, I thought it was finally time for me to run an experiment side-by-side and report back to you on the important question of the century… To brown or not to brown your meat before slow cooking! And the verdict? You didn’t think going to tell you just yet?! First, let me show you what I did and then we will get to the results later. Plus, I’ve included a new recipe for you too! I’d say we are starting out pretty awesome for a Tuesday here!

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

First of all, I cut up about 4 pounds of pork shoulder into large chunks to make it easier and quicker to work with.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Then, I created a new seasoning blend to rub into each and every piece.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Then I browned up half of the pork on each side in my cast iron skillet and then placed it in a slow cooker. The other half I simply seasoned and added to a different slow cooker. I used the most similar slow cookers I had for this experiment, so that how they cooked once in the slow cooker would be equal.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

I then used my chopper to make a fine mixture of garlic, onion and jalapeño which I layered equally on top of all of the meat for added flavor.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Finally, I created a sauce blend to go over the top of all of it and then let it slow cooker for about 8 hours.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

And finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for!! (right??? are you still there?)

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Can you tell which is which? Should we guess and hold a contest? Okay, okay, let’s just get to it and end the suspense! The pork in the orange bowl was not browned and the pork in the white bowl was browned.

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

I then proceeded to shred them and Amy and I performed taste tests on both. So as to not drag this out any further, let me provide our (non-scientific) observations below:

A = Browned first

B = Browned first then shredded and fried

C = Not browned

D = Not browned, shredded and fried

I kept as open a mind as I could and taste tested each result and recorded my thoughts. But then, just to get a totally unbiased opinion, I asked Amy to do a blind taste test. And guess what? We were in agreement!

At first, <A> the meat I browned was a little juicer right out of the slow cooker. It also fell apart a little easier and had slightly more flavor. After sitting for a few minutes the taste difference nearly disappeared. And, once shredded and browned (meaning I just crisped it up a little in a cast iron skillet that was rubbed with a little canola oil) the difference in taste was non-existent, they tasted totally the same and were of about the same amount of juiciness as well.

The biggest difference we noted for purposes of this experiment were that after I crisped the shredded pork in the pan, the one I had browned first was slightly crispier than the non-browned version. That’s about it. Not a lot of difference, but just enough to be noticeable. So the conclusion? Depending on how you will use your shredded pork carnitas… most likely options being tacos or sandwiches you may want to brown it up first? Do you want the meat on your tacos or sandwiches a little crispier? Then it might be worth the extra effort for browning first, but overall, the results were pretty similar. So, if pressed for time and it comes down to throwing the meat right in the slow cooker and saving the extra step? No worries! Your results will be just as delicious!

So, what do you think? Which way will you go? If you like this experiment, please leave me a comment, share or send me a note! If you have other questions that would benefit from an experiment like this… let me know! I’d love to help us all learn more about slow cooking!

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

Jennifer Draper
4.65 from 14 votes
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Calories 12 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 4 pound pork shoulder
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 8 oz enchilada sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup orange juice

Instructions
 

  • Cut pork shoulder into 2-3 inch cubes
  • Mix together spices and rub into pork
  • Optional: Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a skillet and cook pork on each side until browned, about 3-4 minutes
  • Add pork to slow cooker
  • Peel onion and garlic and cut into large chunks, seed and dice jalapeño and do the same
  • Chop in food processor, blender or chopper until very finely diced
  • Spred over top of pork
  • Mix together enchilada sauce, orange juice and broth
  • Pour over pork and cover and cook on low for about 7-8 hours until pork is fully cooked
  • Remove pork, shred
  • Optional: Place in a cast iron skillet with a thin layer of canola oil and fry until crispy

Nutrition

Calories: 12kcal
Tried this recipe?Mention @slowcookergourmet or tag #slowcookergourmet!
Important nutritional disclaimer


Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas

31 Comments

  1. Great blog! Much appreciated the time and effort you took with this experiment. I have been debating whether or not to brown a London Broil but as bad as my legs hurt tonight you just sealed the deal to save me some time standing in the kitchen tomorrow. You handled the unkind comment very graciously. Way to take the higher road Jennifer! Thank you again.

  2. I was drawn to your post, as it came up in my search titled “benefits of marinating Brisket or Pork Shoulder joints before slow roasting for Chili”. A VERY long-winded question, prior to embarking on my Chile Con Carne marathon. I purchased a Boneless Pork Shoulder Joint, and 2 small/medium Brisket Joints, I plan to slow roast before using. I will also Pan fry 500g of 5% Fat Steak Mince, which will be added. My Son loves my Chile recipe, that uses dried Chillis, browned in a dry Frying Pan, and then rehydrated in boiled water. I’ll use my Vitamix to blend these smooth, before adding to the pot. I find using whole meat “Steaks” or joints, adds greatly to the texture, and an added layer of meat flavour. Thank you, for your supreme efforts in providing this useful advice. Searing meat before slow cooking is still an on-trend debate, in March 2019. Mostly, I previously deferred to my OCD, by utilising the method of “Seasoning, then, dusting in seasoned Flour, then searing in 2-3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil in a Frying Pan, in batches of course (no stewed meat here!) before adding to the pot. IT always turned out wonderfully.

    1. Hi Nicholas! I love that you put so much thought and effort into making a special dish for your family!! I can only imagine the results are amazing!

  3. Have you ever tried to sear fresh meat and then freeze it? I’m wondering is it possible to do it so. I want to cut preparation time in the morning and it came to my mind to sear fresh meat and freeze it, so that I can just get it out of the freezer in the evening and pop it on the slow cooker on the next morning.

    1. I’ve had the same thought but I think it wouldn’t be safe to eat. It would allow the meat to be at a temp where bacteria could grow so I’ve never done it.

  4. 5 stars
    Jennifer, Hey, it’s not every day I get to enjoy a suspenseful cooking story. 8^) I just heard about the slow cookers that crisp (I assume it uses convection). Have you tested more than one of these appliances and do you have a recommendation of which brand is the best?

    1. Hi John!! I might have to look into this!! Do you mean the pressure cookers that have the crisper? I think there is just one brand right now, Ninja. There are also slow cookers that allow you to saute, bake, etc. I have the Ninja brand of that and love it.

  5. You shredded the meat and then seared the non seared meat, l was interested in the taste between the chunks of meat before shredding .. l cook a lot of Tagines and have never seen the point of sealing out out all the flavours l want the meat to absorb ..

  6. 5 stars
    I actually googled to brown or not and was pleasantly surprised that you actually took the time to taste test both ways PLUS I got a recipe I want to try out of the deal! Thank you
    I can say my only whine would be what side dishes you suggest? And really I can google that too

  7. 5 stars
    Very helpful to me as I wanted to save some time. It worked! Made my recipe for mexican pork chops twice and not Browning saved time an tasted just as good. Thank for you time. M

  8. 5 stars
    Great study. I really appreciated your effort.

    Don’t listen to the useless negative comments from people. Keep up the good work.

  9. 5 stars
    Josh, don’t brown yours…don’t season it either. I found the information very helpful. Thank you for doing the work for me, I like experimenting with different cooking techniques.

  10. 1 star
    Just put the results at the head, if people wanna read the recipe they will. If, like me, they just want to see whether it’s okay to not brown meat first, all you’re doing is wasting time and making me regret reading your work. Don’t play games and tricks.

    1. Hi Josh. I’m a bit confused, as I’m not sure what you believe I’m trying to trick you into, and I generally just delete rude comments, but I thought this one was a good one to address. I welcome all feedback, questions and suggestions and I can appreciate this may not be the kind of post you enjoy but your comment is not in good spirit or kind or even helpful in any way. I created this website as a blog, as a way to share recipes with people, and more importantly as a way to connect with people and share stories. I realize that doesn’t suit everyone, but there are plenty of websites out there for recipes only, that are NOT blogs. If you don’t enjoy blogs, you can quickly (I just timed it, it took me 4 seconds) scroll to the bottom for the recipe or stick to sites like All Recipes. I think of this website as an extension of my kitchen, where I invite friends to share good recipes, good stores and to share our mutual love of food. I never expect everyone in my kitchen or on my blog to agree with me, but I do expect them to display at least a minimum level of respect toward others. I sincerely hope you find the answers you need to your recipe questions on a site that better suits your needs. Best wishes. Jennifer

      1. O.m.g. that person is just rude, can you block them from your site? Did someone force them to read every word? They must be an unhappy spiteful soul.
        Love your post btw. I am timepoor and feeding 3 ungrateful child palates so this is awesome to know.
        Xx

        1. Thanks for the support!! I can only hope that a one time lapse in that person’s judgement and not a general rule for how they treat others 🙂 The internet can be an interesting place! 😉

      2. 5 stars
        I typically don’t like a lot of chatter and writing before recipes, but I REALLY appreciate seeing the steps you took, the photos, and everything else you did here. It’s the absolute best taste comparison I have seen regarding this topic. The commentary and photos were perfectly in place, and not at all inappropriate for the topic. . And, I am picky and perfectionistic. Thank you so much for putting in the time and effort in to do this.

        Josh is really rude person. I can’t imagine complaining about a free source of information that someone put so much time and love into. Keep doing what you are doing. Again this was the best information source for this type of thing I have come across. Thank you again so much.

    2. Thanks for the nudge to skip the browning step and go for a long hike instead and for expressing yourself so well to Mr. Got Out of Bed on the Wrong Side. Well done!

    3. 5 stars
      You’re kind of rude. The whole idea behind having a blog is because people WANT TO READ what the person has to say. Do your own research and don’t read then. Dang.

    4. 5 stars
      Thank you so much for doing all the work and documenting the results so very well everything I been wondering and though I couldn’t google. Mine is in the cooker now. Seared first. 🙂 thank you.

    5. Hey josh don’t be a d-bag! Your choice to read or not…..the world does not revolve around you and your wants! Selfishness is not an attractive quality in anyone!

4.65 from 14 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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