Crockpot Sweet Pork Barbacoa


After sorting through a few confusing emails, I finally have confirmation, which means I can share the good news!  I was accepted into grad school!  Hurray!  I am entering into a Masters in Arts Management program at my alma mater in the Fall.  While I have been working in an Arts Management position for years, it was still a nail-biting process to submit my application.  I am so happy that the wait is over!  I am employed by the university and as part of my employee benefits, I get some tuition waivers for classes.  This is the only way I could consider going back to school, so I am immensely grateful for this opportunity.  I will be attending on a very part time basis–probably taking only one class per semester.  Now, I have to sort out how to submit my waiver, to arrange for a parking pass that counts on the satellite campus where I will be taking classes and on the campus where I work, balance the class with my work schedule, and sort out what class to start with in the Fall semester.  Its exciting, but also very confusing.  I forgot how much hand-holding is offered to incoming undergrads by the university, and how much hand-holding my mother did for my eighteen-year-old self (thanks, Mom!) the first time around.


Starting classes seems like a new chapter, in a way.  And so, my life until then suddenly feels like I am approaching a deadline.  While I am sure the class will take a certain amount of commitment (3 hours a week in lecture+homework/study time), I also feel like I am overestimating it.  I have this sudden drive to truly balance my life in preparation.  In some ways, that is great: maybe I will finally nail down a cleaning schedule, set better time management…you know, generally do everything that I keep wishing I would do!  But I can also feel the stress starting to creep back in at the prospect of this change.  I’m sure most of the real stress is coming from my upcoming schedule: two hell tech weeks in row, then one week of prep before our week of dress rehearsals and performances for our Saturday shows. Oy.  April and May always keep me on my toes!  With the return of my stress, I am doing my best to return to my relaxation routines.  I was beginning to get a little lax, so in my few spare minutes, I am trying to consciously pick up a book or put on a tv show.  M and I just watched the first episode of iZombie last night.  The pilot was quite fun and (bonus!) it has Sark from Alias in it.  Also known as David Anders of Once Upon A Time/24/Heroes/The Vampire Diaries (thank you, IMDB), if you are not as willing as I am to harken back to the early 2000s.


Ahem, so, back in this decade…the one part of my new Make-Me-Happy/Self-Care routine that I have not slacked on was trying to take care of my hair.  This monster atop my skull has been the bane of my existence for most of my life.  Nowadays, after so many years, it is hard to muster up the patience to deal with my curls on most mornings.  I am also in my usual winter phase where I want to keep my hair long rather than cutting it.  That means the length is starting to weigh down my curls into unkempt waves and the ends are beginning to show some wear-and-tear.  Also, I will admit, I now have more than a few gray hairs.  My maternal grandfather was entirely gray by 30, and white by 50, though he did keep most of his for all of his life.  My father, however, was half-bald by 30.  I will count my blessings with the gray hairs!  Since my hair care routine is so minimal, even lacking most days, I cannot yet commit to dyeing my hair.  Just the thought of the maintenance makes me feel tired.  Truthfully, most days, the grays doesn’t bother me, but when my ends are ratty and I’m feeling less than satisfied with myself, they become a huge concern.  I noticed that my hair was a big source of frustration for me, so I invested in another quest to find products that work with my hair texture.  The better my curls look, the less I notice those gray hairs! I’ve tried nearly every product on the market and recently realized that the “No-shampoo” method touted as the miracle for curly hair doe not work for my hair.  I definitely need regular shampoo sessions, though I am avoiding silicones.  So I tried something new!  It must be working.  Last Sunday, M told me that my hair looked “happy”.  Do you know what it took to give me “happy” hair?  Instead of conditioner, I’ve been using a dollop of an intensive hair mask!  It makes me laugh, but it also makes me a little sad.  Sad to realize that my hair was in such bad shape that I needed an intensive hair mask every other day.  But with that, I’ve been able to avoid a lot of the leave-in products that were weighing down my hair and I can shampoo regularly, which my hair appreciates!  I’m slowly rehabilitating my hair and I am so much happier with it!


Anyways! Hair, school, and stress aside, let’s get on to the food!  I believe I mentioned in the past that M and I had a run in with Cafe Rio a year or two ago.  We were misinformed about the gluten content of their menu (hint: the only thing GF folks can order there is an undressed, meatless salad–and even then, there is severe risk of cross-contamination).  In spite of the reactions that we soon experienced, this mishap did mean that we got a taste of Cafe Rio’s Sweet Pork Barbacoa.  This mild, juicy pork is an absolute dream and I have been determined to make a gluten-free version since then.  I did some research, but all of the recipes I found were not going to cut it.  Authentic or not, I am not going to pour several cans of coke over my pork, nor am I going to add over a cup of sugar per pound of meat.  I’ve been modifying a recipe that I was mollified by, but not excited about.  Then, M suggested pineapple juice!  This was a bit of a breakthrough–the sweetness from the juice could cut back on the sugar, while adding tanginess.  I am quite pleased with this crockpot recipe.  Truth-be-told, it has been so long since I tried the real version, I am not absolutely sure that this matches the Cafe Rio pork.  But it does taste as I remember the pork.  In my recent cooking of this recipe, I’ve started adding some chipotle peppers and adobo sauce to add a heat element that is definitely not true to the original dish.  But this play on spicy-sweet is so delicious, I would recommend straying from the traditional dish with the addition of a little spice!


Crock Pot Sweet Pork Barbacoa

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 6-10 hours in crockpot

  • 2 lbs pork shoulder/pork butt
  • 1 and 1/2 c. beef broth
  • 3/4 c. pineapple juice
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp. dried cilantro
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Optional: Canned Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce**

**For the regular Sweet & Mild Pork Barbacoa, you do not need to add any peppers or adobo.  If you can tolerate a hint of spice, I would recommend adding at least 1 tsp. of the adobo sauce–it adds wonderful depth of flavor with just a little heat.  Personally, I add 2 peppers and about 1 Tbsp of adobo sauce to my batch of pork–that puts it solidly in the “Medium” heat range–definitely spicy (much spicier than the pork at Cafe Rio) but no where near overpowering.

Sprinkle the pork shoulder with salt and pepper on all sides.  Mix the broth, pineapple juice, tomato paste, and brown sugar in the bowl of the crock pot.  Set a large pan over high heat.  When pan is hot, sear the pork on all sides.  Add all of the spices (and peppers/adobo, if using) to the broth mixture.  Add pork to the crockpot.  Slice the onion thickly and crush the garlic cloves.  Spread onion/garlic over pork.  Place the lid on the crockpot and cook for 6 hours on high, or 8-10 hours on low.  If you prefer, remove any chipotle peppers and/or onion slices after cooking is complete.  Shred the pork shoulder and serve.  We like this best in corn tortilla-wrapped tacos, topped with pico de gallo and cilantro.

4 Comments on “Crockpot Sweet Pork Barbacoa”

  1. I’ve never made barbacoa but I always wonder how chipotle makes it! this looks so tasty- I have a major weakness for mexican food! Thanks for sharing.
    xoxo K

  2. […] for making shredded pork dishes in the crock pot, like this Coconut Braised Pork for sandwiches, Sweet Pork Barbacoa for tacos, or Citrus Pork for chilaquiles.  Pork butt/shoulder is a great stock-up […]

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