Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe

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This Cafe Rio Sweet Pork recipe is a restaurant copycat that is even better homemade (not to mention cheaper)! This succulent slow-cooked pork is perfectly sweet with a touch of spice and is delicious served in tacos, burritos, or a big salad!

This is one of my go-to meals when feeding a crowd or for busy weeks when I want lots of leftovers (that will definitely get eaten!). This meal is low stress since the pork can be made ahead of time and the sides/toppings for the pork can pretty much all be bought at the store!

Overhead image of the Cafe Rio Sweet Pork recipe on a plate

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe

If you’ve ever dined at Cafe Rio (or perhaps heard about it), you likely know about their sweet pulled pork. It practically has a cult following — especially in Utah, where Cafe Rio originated. 

The pork is sweet with a nice savoriness and the meat is fall-apart, perfectly tender! That sweet pork paired with their saucy black beans and equally famous cilantro-lime dressing is nothing short of memorable.

My boys will tell anyone their favorite fast-food meal ever is Cafe Rio’s sweet pork salad. And while the prices are competitive, buying pork salads for my family of 5 adds up quickly — especially considering how much more economical this meal is to make at home. Beyond costs, it tastes even better homemade! This recipe is fairly simple to make; it just takes some patience waiting for the meat to get to that perfect level of tenderness.

QUICK TIP

This recipe for Cafe Rio Sweet Pork is intended for a crowd — we always like to have a lot on hand because we all love the leftovers so much. The pork also freezes nicely for future meals. That said, if you’d like a smaller quantity, we have also tested this recipe with a 2-3 pound pork shoulder and included directions for that.

Process shots of the spice blend being made up and added to a blender along with brown sugar and Dr Pepper

What Is Sweet Pork Made Of?

  • Spices. There is a good amount of spices, but with 7-9-pounds of pork — it needs it! The spices add a wonderful nuanced flavor and depth to the pork so it doesn’t just taste overly sweet from the soda and sugar.
  • Dr. Pepper®. We’ve tested this recipe with any number of soft drinks, and Dr. Pepper has remained the favorite every time. Make sure to use real Dr. Pepper–not diet! The sweetener in diet soda is not heat-stable so it will break down as it cooks and won’t sweeten the pork as needed. 
  • Light brown sugar. There is a wide range of how sweet (or not sweet) you may like your pork. Add slowly and to personal preference.
  • Enchilada sauce. Enchilada sauce can vary greatly in heat from brand to brand. Personally, I love and recommend Old El Paso® mild red and green enchilada sauce (not sponsored). If you aren’t able to find this specific brand, I’d recommend tasting the enchilada sauce first and making sure it isn’t too spicy and that you enjoy the flavor.
  • Fire-roasted diced green chiles. These chiles add layers of flavor (from the fire roasting) without any additional work on your end! Grab mild for less heat, medium or hot for more heat!

QUICK TIP

What does Dr. Pepper do to pulled pork? It helps keep the pork moist and tender as it cooks as well as adding a faint sweetness and great flavor.

You can make Cafe Rio Sweet Pork recipe with Coke, but you do want to use some kind of soda like Root Beer or Dr. Pepper; don’t leave it out entirely!

Process shots of Cafe Rio sweet pork recipe-- images of the pork being prepped and spices being rubbed on it Process shots-- images of Dr Pepper, enchilada sauces, brown sugar, onions, and the spiced pork being added to the crockpot

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe: Let’s Chat Pork

I’ve tried all kinds of pork and all different weights in my slow cooker. For this recipe, we recommend a 7-9-pound bone-in pork shoulder, butt blade roast

A few notes on the pork:

  • Choose bone-in: The bone adds loads of flavor and once cooked, it pulls out easily. Bones add so much flavor and juiciness — we’ve tried with and without and the difference is noticeable. 
  • Fat cap: A fat cap is the white layer of fat on the top of the meat. Most pork butts will have this fat cap; don’t cut it off! Instead, put it facing upwards in the slow cooker. As the pork cooks, this fat will render and drip down making the pork more flavorful and tender. Also, once the pork is cooked, it pulls off easily and can then be discarded.
  • Cook the pork on low heat: I don’t recommend cooking the pork on high; it won’t end up as succulent or juicy.
  • Don’t overwork the pork when shredding: There are few things worse than mushy meat after spending money and time on it. Use two forks (or use your hands once the pork has cooled a bit) to gently pull the meat apart and discard the fat. Don’t throw it in a food processor or stand mixers; that will disintegrate the meat or make it mushy– plus you’ll be left with a lot of fat in the meat.
  • This is a fatty cut of meat: You may be surprised just how much fat you’ll need to pull off and discard as you shred the pork — there is a lot. Allow ample time to shred the pork and pull out/off the fat; this is the most time-consuming aspect of the recipe.

QUICK TIP

Some of the different labels you might see: butt roast, Boston butt, shoulder roast, picnic shoulder, or a pork shoulder butt blade roast. (There is a difference between butt and shoulder pork roasts, but sometimes the names are confused or misleadingly named; check out the differences here). Just in case you were wondering, butt refers to the butt-end of the shoulder roast, not the location on the pig!

Process shots-- images of the pork being cooked and then shredded and returned to the crockpot and tossed with the blender sauce

How To Serve Cafe Rio Sweet Pork 

This recipe is delicious as is, but it’s intended to be served in a meal like a salad, burrito, tacos, tostada, nachos, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc.

  • Salad: Here’s what comes on a Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Salad: Layer a large cooked/warmed tortilla with lettuce. Top with black beans or pinto beans, cilantro-lime rice, sweet pork, and any of your favorites: pico de gallo, guacamole, tortilla strips, cotija cheese, and loads of Cafe Rio dressing!
  • Burrito: Layer a large cooked/warmed tortilla with cilantro-lime rice (or Mexican rice) and sweet pork. Add black or pinto beans and cheddar cheese. Wrap tightly and bake or air fry or brown in a skillet. Finish with your favorite toppings (guac, sour cream, etc.).
  • Tacos: Warm/cook some tortillas (flour or corn) and add in some lettuce, rice, beans, and sweet pork. Add your favorite toppings and lots of Cafe Rio dressing (or Cilantro Lime Sauce).

Process shots-- images of the enchilada sauces, green chiles, and garlic being added to the blender and being blended with the previous mixture and it all being poured over the meat

What Goes with Sweet Pork Tacos?

The tacos (or salad) really have it all so there isn’t too much of a need for sides, but if you’re feeding a crowd, we’d recommend a veggie tray, chopped watermelon, or cantaloupe, or some chips and salsa.

Overhead image of the saucy Cafe Rio Sweet Pork fresh out of the crockpot

Sweet Pork Sauce

The ingredients we use to cook the pork overlap with the sweet pork sauce — score!

Once the meat is pulled out of the slow cooker and shredded, we drain off all of the juices in the slow cooker except for 1 cup. That cup gets added to some extra brown sugar, Dr. Pepper, green chiles, spices leftover from the pork rub, and the leftover enchilada sauce. Blend and you’ve got the sauce for the pork!

Process shots of all the toppings and ways to incorporate the meat

[variation]

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe — Smaller Batch

To make a smaller batch that feeds about 6-8 people, use a 3-4 pound pork shoulder picnic roast instead (bone-in if you can find one).

Halve all the other ingredients exactly and follow the recipe as directed, using halved quantities. Cook time will be about 1 to 1-1/2 hours shorter (on low).

[/variation]

Up-close image of Cafe Rio Sweet Pork in a burrito form

STORAGE

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Leftovers

We love leftovers and we love making this ahead of time — it makes serving guests a breeze.

To make ahead: Shred pork, discard all of the fat, and then place in an air-tight container or bag in the fridge. Blend the sauce. When ready to serve, pour the sauce into a clean slow cooker insert and warm the sauce. Once the sauce is warmed thoroughly, add in the pork and gently stir. Set to low or warm and serve as soon as the pork is warmed through.

Leftovers: Microwave individual portions of pork to warm through or add all the leftover pork and sauce to a slow cooker and place on low for 1 up to 1-1/2 hours or until heated through.

Freezing: Fully cool the pork and then transfer to a few airtight bags or containers (smaller bags = quicker thawing!). Flatten bags if using, label, and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge and warm through in the slow cooker until heated through.

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Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe

5 from 1 vote
This Cafe Rio Sweet Pork recipe is a restaurant copycat that is even better homemade (not to mention cheaper). This succulent slow-cooked pork is perfectly sweet with a touch of spice and is delicious served in tacos, burritos, or a big salad!
This is one of my go-to meals when feeding a crowd or for busy weeks when I want lots of leftovers (that will definitely get eaten!). This meal is low stress since the pork can be made ahead of time and the sides/toppings for the pork can pretty much all be bought at the store!
See Note 1 for a smaller yield!
Print Recipe

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe

5 from 1 vote
This Cafe Rio Sweet Pork recipe is a restaurant copycat that is even better homemade (not to mention cheaper). This succulent slow-cooked pork is perfectly sweet with a touch of spice and is delicious served in tacos, burritos, or a big salad!
This is one of my go-to meals when feeding a crowd or for busy weeks when I want lots of leftovers (that will definitely get eaten!). This meal is low stress since the pork can be made ahead of time and the sides/toppings for the pork can pretty much all be bought at the store!
See Note 1 for a smaller yield!
Course Dinner
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Recipe
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 25 minutes
Servings 12 -15 servings
Calories 474kcal
Cost $20.83

Equipment

  • 6 quart slow cooker (or larger if using a pork roast >9 pounds)

Ingredients

Pork Rub

  • 7-8.5 pounds bone-in pork butt roast (pork shoulder butt blade roast) (Note 2)
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons ground chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons each: paprika, cumin
  • 1 tablespoon each: fine sea salt, onion powder, garlic powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon pepper

Crockpot

  • 2-1/2 cups Dr. Pepper, divided (do NOT use diet-- Note 3)
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar, separated (Note 4)
  • 2 cans (10 oz. each) mild red enchilada sauce (Note 5)
  • 2 cans (10 oz. each) green enchilada sauce
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 cans (4 oz. each) fire-roasted diced green chiles (Note 6)
  • Serving suggestions: Note 7

Instructions

  • SPICES: Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. Remove 1/4 cup of the spices and add to a large blender and set aside for now.
  • PREP PORK: Remove pork from the packaging and pat dry all over with paper towels. Place pork on a large plate or platter and take the remainder of the spices and rub evenly all over the meat.
  • CROCKPOT: To a 6-quart or larger crockpot add the following: 1-1/2 cups (350g) Dr. Pepper, 1 cup (200g) packed brown sugar, 1 cup (240g) red enchilada sauce, and 2 cups (470g) green enchilada sauce. Stir together. Add 2 thinly sliced onions -- cover the bottom of the slow cooker with the onions and press them up around the sides of the crockpot. Add spice-rubbed pork to the center of the crockpot, making sure the fat cap is facing up.
  • COOK: Cover crockpot and cook on low for 7.5-9 hours or high for 6-7 hours or until pork shreds easily and is tender. I recommend using the low setting for the best results. (Fairly forgiving meat, but don't cook too long or it will taste dry.)
  • BLENDER SAUCE: Once the pork is in pan, finish the blender sauce: To the 1/4 cup seasonings, add 1 cup (230g) Dr. Pepper and 1 cup (200g) brown sugar. Add all the remaining enchilada sauce from the cans (a scant 1-1/2 cups red and scant 1/2 cup green). Add both cans of diced chiles (undrained) and 2 tbsp minced garlic. Blend and place in the fridge.
  • SHRED: Once pork is fork tender, remove with tongs to a large platter or bowl with sides. Pull out the bone and discard. Shred the meat, discarding all the fat as you shred (Note 8). If you'd like to save the onions, use a slotted spoon to pull them out and place in a separate bowl. (Otherwise, skip and discard onions).
    Once the pan is empty of pork and onions, pull out 1 cup (140g) of the liquid left in the slow cooker and add to the blender with the other ingredients. Blend once more. Discard the rest of everything in the crockpot. Pour the contents of the blender into the crockpot. Return the shredded meat (and onions if using) and stir gently. Cover and cook on low until warmed through, about 20-30 minutes. Season to taste; I typically add another 1/2 up to 1 tsp salt. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Smaller quantity of sweet pork: To make a smaller batch that feeds about 6-8 people, use a 3-4 pound pork shoulder picnic roast instead (bone-in if you can find one). Halve all the other ingredients exactly and follow the recipe using the halved quantities. Cook time will be about 1-1/2 hours shorter.
Note 2: Pork: Use bone-in if you can; the bone adds loads of flavor and once cooked, it pulls out easily. This type of pork has a fat cap, which is the white layer of fat on the top of the meat -- don't cut it off! Instead, put it facing upwards in the slow cooker. As the pork cooks, this fat will render and drip down making the pork more flavorful and tender. Also, once the pork is cooked, it pulls off easily and can be discarded.
Note 3: Dr. Pepper. We've tested this recipe with Coke, Root Beer, and Dr. Pepper and Dr. Pepper has remained the favorite. Make sure to use real Dr. Pepper--not diet! The sweetener in diet soda is not heat-stable so it will break down as it cooks and won't sweeten the pork as needed.
Note 4: Enchilada sauce: Enchilada sauce can vary greatly in heat from brand to brand. Personally, I love and recommend Old El Paso® mild red and green enchilada sauce. If you aren’t able to find this specific brand, I’d recommend tasting the enchilada sauce first and making sure it isn’t too spicy and that you enjoy the taste (it's a big part of the flavor in this recipe).
Note 5: Sugar: There is a wide range of how sweet (or not sweet) you may like your pork. Add slowly and to personal preference. You can always add more if desired!
Note 6: Fire-roasted diced green chiles: These chiles add layers of flavor without any additional work on your end! Pick mild for less heat, medium or hot for more heat!
Note 7: Serving suggestions: Be sure to check out the written blog post for our favorite way to use this meat. If nothing else, you've got to pair it with this Cafe Rio Dressing!
Note 8: This is a fatty cut of meat: You may be surprised just how much fat you'll need to pull off and discard as you shred the pork -- there is a lot. Allow ample time to shred the pork and pull off the fat; this is the most time-consuming aspect of the recipe. I like to pull apart the pork into large pieces, let it cool a bit, and then pull it apart/shred it into smaller pieces with my hands-- discarding all the fat as I shred.
  • Don't overwork the pork when shredding: There are few things worse than mushy meat after spending money and time on it! Don't use a food processor or stand mixers to shred the meat; that will disintegrate or make it mushy-- plus you'll be left with a lot of fat in the meat.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 474kcal | Carbohydrates: 35.6g | Protein: 51.4g | Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 151.7mg | Sodium: 503.9mg | Fiber: 1.5g | Sugar: 32.8g

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve been using a “cafe rio copycat” recipe for years that really isn’t that amazing and I’m SO ready for something different! I’m going to try yours this week, knowing you it will be just perfect!

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