Slow Cooker Lechón Asado (Cuban Mojo Roast Pork)

published Dec 10, 2022
Slow Cooker Cuban Mojo Roast Pork Recipe

Lechón asado is a traditional Cuban roast pork dish flavored with a mojo marinade.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook8 hours

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Credit: Kelli Foster

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There are few Cuban dishes as synonymous with celebrations as a large roast pork. If you visit just about any supermarket in South Florida — particularly Miami — around Christmas, you’ll likely find the pork section of the meat aisle filled to the brim with hefty cuts of pork shoulders and Boston butts. This is the usual scene in the days leading up to Nochebuena, the festive Christmas Eve celebration observed by many Latinx, Spanish, and Filipinx people across the globe.

Like with many Nochebuena celebrations, a Cuban-style Nochebuena often consists of lots of food, particularly white rice or arroz congrí, black beans, maduros (fried sweet plantains), and yuca con mojo; drinks like wine or sangria; and desserts like cream cheese flan, which my aunt makes each year.

The main centerpiece of any classic Cuban Nochebuena is a whole-roasted pig, or lechón asado as it’s referred to in Spanish. The meat from the whole pig is often referred to as mojo roast pork in English, which refers to the Cuban marinade used to flavor the dish.

Credit: Kelli Foster

What Is Lechón Asado?

Lechón asado is a traditional Cuban roast pork dish flavored with a mojo marinade. In English, the dish is usually referred to as “mojo roast pork.” For Nochebuena, however, most Cuban and Cuban American people celebrate by purchasing a pig from a slaughterhouse, prepping it and marinating it overnight, and then roasting the pig under hot charcoal in aCaja China, a large wooden roasting box most people keep in their backyards.

During the cooking process, the pig is usually flipped to crisp up the skin (which many Cuban people will tell you is the best part!). Because a whole pig is rather large, this task usually requires at least two people to do safely (in my case, it was always my two uncles).

You might sometimes hear this dish referred to as pernil, but this isn’t the most accurate name. Pernil is more commonly used to refer to Puerto Rican, Dominican, and other Latin American styles of preparing roast pork during the holidays, but the two dishes are very similar.

Different Ways of Preparing Mojo Roast Pork

Although I’ve grown up always having a whole roasted pig for Nochebuena, my immediate family and I have often adapted the recipe for smaller family dinners and for smaller cooking appliances.

As you can imagine, many people, my family included, don’t always have the ability to marinate and roast a whole pig in a Caja China during the week. This is why many families scale down the recipe by simply using a cut of bone-in or boneless pork shoulder or Boston butt and cooking it in the oven or slow cooker. Using a pork shoulder is an easy way to prepare a flavorful dinner for a smaller crowd during the week or for a more quaint gathering with friends and family.

Credit: Cory Fernandez
Mojo Marinade

The Ingredients Behind Mojo Roast Pork

The main flavor in this dish comes from the mojo marinade, a tasty, citrus-based mixture that really needs long-term marinating to truly imbue flavor into a large cut of meat like pork shoulder. Most mojo marinade recipes consist of the follow ingredients: sour orange juice (often labeled naranja agria in stores), a lot of garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano, salt, and pepper.

Other common ingredients added by some families include olive oil, bay leaf, and cilantro. On some occasions, I’ll also sprinkle the pork with sazón completa from Badía (which is similar to a dried version of the mojo marinade) if I only have a little bit of the sour orange juice left and want the extra flavor. The recipe below is based off of both the ways that I remember my uncle preparing it, as well as how I’ve adapted the recipe in my family as a second-generation Cuban American.

Tips on Making the Best Mojo Roast Pork

  • Be sure to use sour orange juice. If possible, you should definitely put in the effort to find bottled sour orange juice or fresh sour oranges. Although you can use a combination of orange juice and lemon juice as a replacement, sour orange juice not only has a deliciously particular flavor, but it’s also simply the most traditional way of preparing the dish.
  • Don’t skip on the marinating time. One of the most important aspects of this dish is the flavor, which only builds when the meat sits overnight in the marinade. If you are in a rush and don’t have time to marinate fully overnight, I recommend marinating for at least eight to 12 hours.
  • Try getting a pork shoulder with the skin on. The most traditional way of preparing this dish is to roast a whole pig, including the skin. After it’s done cooking, the skin gets nice and crispy and is often broken into pieces for snacking. This is harder to achieve at home with just an oven or slow cooker, although it’s worth trying. You can try broiling the finished roast skin-side up in the oven until it’s crisp and dark brown. In the version below, however, I used a skinless pork shoulder (as this is what was most convenient for me), but I roasted the chunks of cooked pork under the broiler for a few minutes to get a few nice crispy bits on some of the pieces. Either method works great!
  • Be sure to smash the garlic cloves before stuffing them into the pork. I first learned the technique of filling small cavities of the pork with whole garlic cloves from my uncle. I adapted the method, however, by just giving the clove a quick smash — I’ve found that this helps impart the best amount of garlic flavor throughout the pork. Some people also use a mortar and pestle to smash the garlic with some of the seasonings.

Slow Cooker Cuban Mojo Roast Pork Recipe

Lechón asado is a traditional Cuban roast pork dish flavored with a mojo marinade.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 8 hours

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray

  • 8 cloves

    garlic

  • 1/2

    medium Spanish or yellow onion

  • 4 to 6 pounds

    bone-in or boneless pork shoulder

  • 1 tablespoon

    dried oregano

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 1/2 cups

    bottled or freshly squeezed sour orange juice (see Recipe Notes)

For serving:

Instructions

  1. Coat the insert of a 4-quart or larger slow cooker with cooking spray. Smash 8 peeled garlic cloves. Thickly slice 1/2 medium Spanish or yellow onion. Place 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and stir to combine.

  2. Pat 4 to 6 pounds pork shoulder dry with paper towels. Trim off any excess surface fat if desired; make sure it will fit in the slow cooker or cut it into two pieces to fit. Use a paring knife to cut 8 large slits into the pork 1 to 2 inches deep. Stuff a garlic clove into each slit.

  3. Place the pork in the slow cooker insert. Slowly pour 1 1/2 cups sour orange juice over the pork, making sure some of it gets into the slits. Use your hands to rub some of the juice into the pork, including the sides and bottom. Sprinkle all over with the spice mixture and use your hands to rub the seasoning all over the pork until well-coated.

  4. Top the pork with the onion. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or up to overnight, flipping the pork once.

  5. Place the slow cooker insert in the slow cooker. Cook on the LOW setting until the pork is fork tender, about 8 hours.

  6. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to broil. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

  7. Turn off the slow cooker and uncover. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over the pork. Transfer the pork to the baking sheet and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes (add the onions if desired or save for topping the pork later).

  8. Use 2 forks to roughly tear the pork into large chunks; do not shred the pork. Spoon a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid over the pork.

  9. Broil until the top of the pork is browned in spots and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a serving platter. Serve with cooked white rice, Cuban-style black beans, lime wedges, and fried plantains if desired.

Recipe Notes

Sour orange juice substitute: 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice plus 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice can be substituted for the sour orange juice.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven or microwave; it’s particularly good in a sandwich.