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Cafe Rio Sweet Pulled Pork

Cafe Rio Sweet Pulled Pork like you've never had it before - AKA the real, juicy, saucy, sweet and spicy deal! Cafe Rio Sweet Pork is on of the most tantalizing delicious Mexican meats on the planet - and now you can make it in the comfort of your own home and in the ease of your own slow cooker!  This melt-in-your-mouth sweet pork is wonderfully versatile and the perfect make-ahead meat for tacos, salads, burritos, tostadas enchiladas, etc.   It's also fabulous for crowds and entertaining!
Course Main Course, Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 10 minutes
Servings 12 servings


Mixed Spices

  • 4-5 lbs boneless pork shoulder (pork butt) trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 TBS EACH chili pwdr, garlic pwdr
  • 1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp EACH salt, onion pwdr, smoked paprika, cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper

Slow Cooker Phase 1

  • 3/4 cup Coke, NOT diet
  • 1/2 cup mild salsa
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 4 oz. can mild diced green chilies

Slow Cooker Phase 2

  • 3/4 cup mild red enchilada sauce
  • 1/2-3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 4 oz. can mild diced green chilies
  • All remaining Mixed Spices
  • salt to taste
  • Hot sauce to taste


  • Mix all of the Mixed Spices together in a resealable container. Set aside. Lightly grease slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  • Heat 2 tablespoon vegetable oil in Dutch oven, cast iron or stainless steel skillet (you can use nonstick but it will just take longer) over medium-high heat. Using tongs or 2 forks, sear pork on all sides until lightly browned.
  • Transfer pork to slow cooker. Ladle a spoonful of the pan juices over the meat so the spices will stick. Separate out 1 1/2 tablespoons spices to use after the pork is cooked. Rub all remaining spices evenly over all sides of pork (it will seem like a lot but use all of it).
  • Add all Slow Cooker Phase 1 Ingredients to the pork. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or until pork is tender enough to shred. Shred pork into larger sections in crock pot and continue to cook on LOW for 30 minutes.
  • Transfer all of the slow cooker contents to a strainer to drain off excess liquid from pork. Transfer pork to cutting board and shred into smaller pieces and discard any excess fat.
  • Add pork back to slow cooker (along with any accumulated green chiles, etc.) then stir in all of Phase 2 ingredients starting with just 1/2 cup brown sugar. Cook another 15-30 minutes on LOW or until heated through OR just keep on the warm setting if you aren’t serving immediately. Taste and add additional brown sugar for sweeter, hot sauce for spicier or more enchilada sauce for saucier.
  • Serve in tacos, enchiladas, burrito bowls, etc. with Tomatillo Avocado Ranch Dressing.


  1. Sear Meat:   When searing, the pork will naturally release from the pan once it is properly seared. If it is sticking to the bottom of the pan, it is most likely needs more time. It will take 2-5 minutes per side and longer if using a nonstick pan.
  2. Do I have to sear the meat?  As Gordon Ramsey says, "color  - flavor."  Searing the meat creates the Maillard reaction resulting in rich, deep, complex flavor which cannot be achieved in any other way.  It also helps the inside of the meat from drying out.  You can skip this step, and your pork will still be good - just not as good.
  3. Spice Rub:   If you skip searing your pork, you will need to rub it with some olive oil first so the spices stick.
  4. Cook until tender but not fall apart tender.  When your pork is tender enough shred but not fall apart tender, shred it into larger sections in the crock pot and continue to cook on LOW for 30 minutes until it is practically fall apart fork tender.  This allows the flavorful slow cooker contents to seep into every pork crevice without it becoming overcooked.
  5. Drain pork.  Once pork is tender, and ready to shred, I place my strainer on top of a large bowl to catch the slow cooker contents so the fat doesn’t go directly in my sink, then refrigerate the bowl and skim the fat later and ditch the rest in the sink sans fat.
  6. Add enchilada sauce and brown sugar to taste.    Taste buds vary widely when it comes to how sweet people like their pork.  This Cafe Rio is supposed to be sweet - but just how sweet is up to you.  I recommend starting with 1/2 cup brown sugar and adding more to taste.  You can also add additional chipotle chili powder or hot sauce if you would like it spicier.  You also add more or less enchilada sauce depending on how "saucy" you want your pork.


You can make this pork mostly the day before if that’s easier and then you don’t have to worry about cooking times and it turns out just as good – or better.  If making ahead, make the recipe through step 5 in which you shred the pork into large sections.  After you do this, let slow cooker sit at room temperature for a bit so the crockpot ceramic insert can cool down and then cover and place ceramic insert into fridge (PORK AND ALL THE LIQUID).  The next day, skim off the hardened fat from the top and heat on LOW for about 1- 1 ½ hours to heat through, then continue with the rest of the recipe as written.


I often purchase my pork shoulder from Costco.  Each pork shoulder package is approximately 16 pounds and contains 2 7-8 pound halves. For convenience I like to cook the entire half so I wanted to include instructions for Costco pork.  It is generally the same with these exceptions (and below measurements).
  • You will separate out 2 tablespoons (instead of 1 1/2) Spice Mix to add to the pork in Phase 2.
  • The cooking time might increase by one hour.  My Costco pork generally takes 8 hours.
  • To cook one of these halves, the adjusted measurements are as follows:
  • (7-9 pounds) boneless pork shoulder/butt (half package from Costco)
Mixed Spices
  • 2 TBS EACH chili powder, garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder
  • 2 tsp EACH salt, onion powder, smoked paprika, ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
Slow Cooker Phase 1
  • 1 cup coke – NOT DIET
  • 3/4 cup mild salsa
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 (4 oz.) can mild diced green chilies
Slow Cooker Phase 2
  • 1 10 oz. can mild red enchilada sauce
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 (4 oz.) can mild diced green chilies
  • All remaining Mixed Spices (2 tablespoons)