We started this website to help people cook more often and more joyfully, with the idea that the kitchen is the hearth of the home, the warm place. It is by spending time there that we connect and grow.
But sometimes it gets so hot in the summer, you have to draw the line. A few straight days of humidity and 90°F weather, and I do not feel like being in the kitchen at all, let alone put together a big meal.
A few years ago, in the dog days of summer, when the temperatures didn't dip below 90°F for a few days straight, I did something you might think was nuts: I slow-cooked a pork butt. Now, whenever I have a crowd to feed and it's "too hot to cook," it's the slow cooker that does the work.
Here's my plug for using your slow cooker in the heat: You can make a lot of food at once without heating up the whole house with ovens; mixers; and your own blood, sweat, and tears. You can also do any grunt work — and for these carnitas, smashing some garlic is the only real work — in the morning when it's cool, and set the cooker to work during the day, or you can prep in the evening and set the cooker to work while you sleep.
You really don't need a recipe for cooking in a slow cooker. The basic formula is to place spices with the meat in a slow cooker and cover with liquid (broth, juice, wine, beer, etc.). Cook on LOW for the most tender meat. Chicken is done in as little as four hours, while darker meats like longer cooking times. Cooking on HIGH speeds up the cooking, but the meat is not as tender.
Here's an example using my version of carnitas (usually pork simmered in lard, but in this case, slow-cooked in juice and beer). Any of these spices can be left out or substituted; this is just my usual formula. The same goes for the chipotle peppers — substitute other peppers, or leave them out, although make sure to amp up other flavor agents, like garlic and spices. Sometimes butchers have many sizes of shoulder to choose from, other times the selection is limited to one general size. A smaller piece of meat still works, but may cook faster.
(The slow cooker I use is a 6.5 quart All-Clad Slow Cooker with Ceramic Insert, available at Crate & Barrel for $179.95)
Slow-Cooker Pork Carnitas
Makes 18 to 24 servings
1 (6- to 8-pound) bone-in pork butt, also called pork shoulder
2 tablespoons coarse salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
8 whole cloves garlic, smashed
4 chipotle peppers (canned or dried)
1 (14- or 15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 to 3 cups liquid (orange juice, beer, stock, or a combination)
Trim the excess fat from the pork and discard. Place all the ingredients in the slow cooker. Set to cook on LOW for 8 hours. The meat is done when it literally falls off the bone.
Let it cool enough to handle, then lift the meat from the juices and place in a large bowl. Remove the bone, then shred the meat. Skim the fat from the leftover juices and keep as a medium for reheating the meat. (You'll have about 10 cups of shredded meat.)
For carnitas tacos, reheat the meat and serve in tortillas with accompaniments, like sour cream, cilantro, radishes, pineapple, chopped red onion, and lime wedges.
This recipe has been updated — first published July 2010.
(Image credits: Sara Kate Gillingham)