Slow Cooker Sweet Pork Barbacoa

January 3, 2013

Sweet Pork – this version is made in the slow cooker and it’s perfect for adding to tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more! It’s deliciously flavorful and super tender, just like Cafe Rio!

sweet pork tacos

Let me begin by saying, I never thought I’d be dedicating a post to sweet pork. Ever. I used to hate the stuff.

My husband loves it, so when we first got married I was still in the try real hard to impress him phase, so I tried making several different sweet pork recipes. Every time it was so hard for me to choke it down, because it was like eating a piece of candied pork inside a taco.

It was far too overly sweet, not sweet in a good way at all. It was a weird kind of sweet. I sacrificed about eight too many times and made it for dinner because he liked it, then I finally decided; this is so lame, why am I making and eating something I can hardly choke down?

Several years have gone by since. We frequent a local “Mexican” (I wouldn’t really call it Mexican but it’s still very good) restaurant called Cafe Rio and my husband, of course, often orders one of their Sweet Pork Barbacoa entrees.

I decided to give it a second chance and I tried his sweet pork tacos and I actually found I liked it enough to order one for myself on our next visit.

After trying it I decided it’s not anywhere near as sweet as some of the Cafe Rio knock off recipes out there. That is why I decided to come home and make my own rendition.

This is one of the easiest recipes ever! Yes you could brown the roast in a skillet in a bit of oil first, and you could replace the onion and garlic powder with fresh sauteed onions and garlic, but that would remove much of the simplicity of this slow cooker recipe.

To me a slow cooker recipe is one that you toss in and go, a recipe that is perfect for a busy day. So I’ve decided to keep it at that.There are many uses for this pork, which are listed in the recipe. It is most definitely not limited to just tacos.

You can also add more sugar if you’d like, if you want a really sweet pork. This pork is quite possibly even better the second day around, I feel it gives it more time to absorb more flavor (it’s not often I say a certain food is better as a leftover =).

sweet pork tacos2

This is my second time making this recipe and I’d have to say it is very close to that of Cafe Rio (I brought some of theirs home to compare). It’s flavorful, unbelievably tender, with just the right amount of sweet, and again it’s incredibly versatile.

So, if you have some of this left over after your tacos from the first day then the next day around you could use it for enchiladas and so forth. Enjoy!

 Note: these are my tacos without 85% of the toppings I add =). I had to leave them off so you could actually see the pork. For topping ideas I like to use: Romaine lettuce, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, or Cotija cheese, diced Roma tomatoes or pico de gallo, guacamole or diced avocados, sour cream, green or red onions, fresh salsa or cilantro lime ranch, hot sauce (Tapitio and tons of it), lime juice and cilantro.

Not all of those at one time but most. It just depends on what I have on hand but they are all great options. Also, I always serve them in fried corn tortilla shells or fresh flour tortillas.

Slow Cooker Sweet Pork Barbacoa

5 from 8 votes

This version is made in the slow cooker and it's perfect for adding to tacos, burritos, quesadillas and more! It's deliciously flavorful and super tender, just like Cafe Rio!

Servings: 8
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 15 minutes


  • 3 lbs pork shoulder (aka Boston Butt Roast)
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar , or more to taste for a sweeter pork if desired
  • 2 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt , or to taste
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste


  1. Place pork roast in a slow cooker. In a mixing bowl whisk together light-brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. 
  2. Add in chicken broth and tomato paste and whisk mixture until well blended. Pour chicken broth mixture over pork roast in slow cooker. Cover slow cooker with lid, cook on low heat 7 - 8 hours. 
  3. Remove roast from slow cooker, remove fat from roast and shred (I don't shred the pieces very small because it will kind of have a "mushy" texture if you over-shred it). Ladle out some of the fat (the shiny orange layer of liquid) from the top of the broth in the slow cooker and discard.
  4.  Return shredded roast to slow cooker and allow to rest on warm heat for 1 - 3 hours. Strain broth. Serve inside tacos, enchiladas or burritos or serve over nachos, salads or tostadas.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: Sweet Pork
Author: Jaclyn

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  • Laura

    Just tried it. It came out great. I tried it in tacos first, then tonight I baked some acorn squash with a touch of brown sugar and basted it with the sauce from the pork. Then served the squash topped with rice and the pork. It was so, so good! I think I might even like it better that way. Very versatile!

  • Andrew

    Amazing! We used an instantpot and set it to low and it was way too undercooked, but then we used the pressure cooker setting on high for 2 hours and it came out perfect! Delicious! Better than Cafe Rio or Costa Vida! Next time I’m going to try to cooking it for the 7 hours on medium with the instantpot to hopefully save time.

  • Brielle

    SO GOOD! I can’t believe how easy this was. I did it in my instantpot and it came out amazing! Thank you so much!

  • Sue B

    Absolutely delicious! I thought the amount of sugar might be too much, but it was not! Subtly sweet, tender and delicious.

  • Connie Quintana

    I laughed out loud when I began reading this post. I am from the South and I cannot tolerate some of the gaggy sweet barbecue. The first time I tried the barboca at Cafe Rio I was a little leery. Have no idea why I even decided to try it. I LOVE it and now that is the only item I will order there. Their other food is great but. Just had it the other day. I MUST try this recipe. Thank you.

  • Vivian

    Delicious! Big hit and everyone wanted the recipe. Thanks for sharing the recipe.