Our Version of Cafe Rio’s Sweet Pork

Our Version of Cafe Rio's Sweet Pork
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For me, the sweet pork at Cafe Rio is THE way to go. I love it! I always make a ton of it and eat it for days in burritos, enchiladas, salads… you get the point! It is so east to do too. If you want to skip the marinade step… go for it. I have done it before and it has still turned out great!
This (along with the other Cafe Rio recipes) is one of our most popular recipes on the site to date. We originally put this recipe on WAY back in 2007 and it has been the most popular Cafe Rio Copycat recipe on the internet. We have gotten rave reviews and great feedback. This pork is the real deal! Check out all the positive comments below! To ALL of our Cafe Rio / Costa Vida Salad copycat recipes, click HERE.
Our Version of Cafe Rio’s Sweet Pork
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Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds pork (we use boneless pork rib meat)
  • 3 cans Coke (NOT diet)
  • ¼ c. brown sugar
  • dash garlic salt
  • ¼ c. water
  • 1 can diced green chilies
  • ¾ (10oz) can red enchilada sauce (I use Old El Paso brand, medium spiciness but any will work)
  • 1 c. brown sugar
Instructions
  1. Put the pork in a heavy duty ziploc bag to marinade. Add about a can and a half of coke and about ¼ c. of brown sugar. Marinade for a few hours or overnight.
  2. Drain marinade and put pork, ½ can of coke, water, and garlic salt in crock pot on high for about 3-4 hours (or until it shreds easily, but don't let it get TOO dry) or on low for 8 hours. Remove pork from crock pot and drain any liquid left in the pot. Shred pork.
  3. In a food processor or blender, blend ½ can Coke, chilies, enchilada sauce and remaining brown sugar (about a cup, you can add a little more or less to taste..). If it looks too thick, add more Coke little by little.
  4. Put shredded pork and sauce in crockpot and cook on low for 2 hours. That's it!

Comments

  1. Erica, I’m not sure what I did wrong but…it just didn’t taste quite right. I tried it a couple of weeks ago. Dont get me wrong it was still good and we still did the whole salad but, something wasn’t write. Maybe it was to dry…but there was liquid surrounding it the whole time. And it certainly didn’t look like yours. Maybe I needed to shred it better….or maybe I cooked it to long and it didn’t shred so easily.
    Any ideas? I would love to make it again.

    • Not to take away from Erica’s yummy recipe, but I found a very easy way to make the pork that is sure to taste like the real thing and use less ingredients. I made it for my sister and brother-in-law… They loved it!!! … And they’ve never been to Cafe Rio. :) I’m actually in the middle of searching for it again to make for some guests. I don’t remember the exact proportions as I haven’t found the recipe yet. I do know however, the pulled pork sauce is just Pace Pecante Sauce and brown sugar. And it’s super sweet and tangy just like the real thing! I’m sure just adding those two ingredients in the google search bar will help me find out more about this amazing dish and its simple steps. :) hope that helps a bit!

    • The pork should be simmered with coke, a veggie bag( yellow onions, serrano peppers, dried peppers, and carrots all wrapped in cheesecloth), spices and some sugar. When the pork is tender is should be shredded. The pork should be placed in a bag, then topped with sugar, then with (cold) red enchilada sauce(dried chile peppers boiled, cooled, blended and strained in the morning, add spices, caramelized onions, cornstarch to thicken, and then strained again), and hot pork broth last. The bag is stapled shut, and then placed in an ice bath overnight. It must be 40 degrees or lower. It is cooked with some butter in a saucepan until it reaches 165 degrees.

      It is impossible to get any recipe to taste just like at Cafe Rio at home. Our handmade lemonades can be replicated, but that is about it. Every item has secret spices and the employees don’t even know what is in the. Exact measurements are followed that cannot be changed. This is our procedure without any exact measurements.

      -Cafe Rio Manager

        • Strawberry lemonade:
          blended strawberries, fresh lemon juice, Stevia, & water
          Mint limeade:
          boiled mint-strained, minute maid lemonade concentrate, fresh lemon juice, fresh lime juice, sugar & water
          Southwest limeade:
          (pretty standard recipe from mexico)
          Boiled Jamaica flowers (hibiscus), fresh lime juice, sugar, & water

    • If it does not shred easily, keep cooking it. When it has cooked enough, it will fall apart if you stick a fork in it. Shredding should be easy

  2. Hmmm, I have no idea what to tell you. I actually did my pork on low for about 10 hours the last time I made it. Then when I drained it and added the other ingredients, I let it simmer on low another 3 hours. Maybe that will make a difference. I like to shred it up a lot when I add those other ingredients so the flavor is really absorbed by the pork. Maybe that will help! Sorry it didn’t turn out! Oh… another thing, I use the boneless pork RIB meat (I will add that to the posting so it is more clear on what kind of pork to use). Is that what you used?

  3. I used a boneless Pork roast from costco….Thanks for the advice. I think I will make it again tomorrow night.

  4. Wow, my wife tried this out last night and it was amazing. It was exactly right. I nearly shed tears of joy. Thanks!

  5. I made the pork, salad dressing, and beans today for our Memorial Day picnic. It was fantastic and everyone loved it! Thank you for the recipe.

    I have 1 question, is it really necessary to drain the marinade before you put it in the crockpot and start over with a new coke?

    • I know that this is a couple years later… But for anyone else wondering this same question…. Throw away the marinade! Holy bacteria city!! Never ever try to heat or boil down a marinade that has had raw meat in it! To save yourself from getting a horrible food born illness, just throw away the marinade and start over with a new sauce to thicken!

      • Oh good grief. If you bring the marinade up to temperature (160F) for at least 5 min it will kill any bacteria. How do you think the bacteria is killed in the meat itself?

        • Debbie… that has to be one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard. You are putting new coke on RAW Meat when you put it in the crock pot… the hole point of crock pot cooking is to slow cook your food to allow your food to soak up the most possible flavor. Therefore your New “sanitary” coke is going to sit on uncooked meat and thereby becoming as you state Bacteria city… Nancy is absolutely correct as long as you bring your meat to 160F it will kill any bacteria both in your marinade and your meat. So Amy to answer your question no you do not have to start over with new coke as long as you allowed your meat to marinade in the refrigerator.

          • Nothing like a bit of ‘helpful’ advice. Perhaps next time you guys can be kind. Just a thought. Anonymous posting can turn us into animals.

          • Awwww, hey! Be nice. I was always taught to toss out the marinade, too. Food-bourne illness is not really something to scoff at. “Many people don’t know it, but some foodborne illnesses can actually lead to long-term health conditions, and 3,000 Americans a year die from foodborne illness.” (foodsafety.gov) When in doubt, toss it out. But hey! If it doesn’t bother you, or the people eating your food that you don’t toss your marinade…then who am I to say? Besides, according to that website, the temperature is the main thing to be concerned with, so I suppose that if you marinade in the fridge (please, yes) then cook it all up right away…thennnnnn…ehhhh? I can’t see it becoming a huge issue as long as leftovers are refrigerated right away. But as for me and my house…I’m a tosser-outer. Raw meat fuh-reaks me heck out! Anyways, I’m gonna try this recipe right now, ‘cept I don’t have time for the marinade part. Wish me luck!

  6. What size can of chopped green chilies and enchilada sauce did you use? I just bought all the ingredients for the entire recipe today, and don't want to destroy it :-)

  7. I'm about ready to try this recipe tonight – I've never been able to get the exact Cafe Rio taste so I hope this is it. I do want to mention that after extensive research and discussions with butchers – the boston or pork butt is the best cut to use. Note – it's name has to do with the shape rather than the location – it's not really the "butt". I've never used the rib meat – hopefully it's as tender. According to the butcher it's not but who knows. The only thing I DO know is NEVER use a pork roast – especially the Costco pork roast. The reason is that a pork roast has NO fat and is the most lean cut and will never become tender and shred. The costco pork roast is really high quality so it has even less fat. I made this mistake recently when a grocery store advertised a boston butt for a great price and I was making a hawaiian Kaluha pork for a luau. The cut looked a bit different than I was used to but I cooked it anyway. When it had cooked for 8 hours it was rubbery and non shreddable so I called the store only to discover it had been mismarked and I had actually used a pork roast. What a nightmare!

    • I’ve never used pork butt before but I have some in my freezer right now. Should I trim any of the fat? Or just use the whole cut in the crock pot? It sounds like a delicious alternative to the traditional rib meat and I would like to give it a try!

      • I have always used a Costco boneless pork loin and it shreds very well! You have to cook it in the crock pot for a while first and then shred,. It’s easy to do after it’s cooked!

  8. So I just finished making the pork and well, it's pretty close. It's been 1 year today since my last Cafe Rio and we thought we would remember it by trying this recipe. Thanks for posting it, yummy.

  9. we have used nothing but the costco pork and it has shredded and worked great every time… you should give it a try..

  10. Would there be enough room in a large crockpot to double this recipe? My husband's family is coming in to town and we need to feed his family of 8 plus us!

  11. I am in the middle of cooking the pork right now. . .as I type. I'm worried that there isn't enough liquid in the pot. Should it cover the pork completely? I got 6lbs of meat for our family party tonight.

    Thanks!

  12. It doesn't need to cover the pork completely. It should be fine, you don't want it too thin. If you are still worried about it– add more brown sugar and coke.
    Let me know how it turns out!

  13. I'm so excited to make this Sweet Pork! I am actually wanting to make the Sweet Pork Burrito… Any suggestions??? It has been a long time since I've had Cafe Rio, so I'm not sure what all goes in or on them. I hope you can help… Thanks!

  14. Hey Holler Hinckleys:
    I think in the burrito, they put the lime rice and beans and they top it with your choice of sauce when they do it enchilada style. You either want to make your own tortilla shells or try to find the biggest ones you can at your local store. Good luck! Let me know how they turn out!

  15. I just found this recipe and am excited to try it! I do have a few questions, though, if you don't mind.

    Do you use light or dark brown sugar?
    Do you use red or green enchilada sauce?

    Thanks for posting your hard work for us to enjoy! :)

  16. light sugar (if you like a richer flavor use dark though)
    and RED enchilada sauce.
    Hope you like it!!

    Erica

  17. I was wondering if I could make the pork, beans, and dressing a few days before I need them and they will store okay and still taste good?

  18. Hillary-
    I usually do make the ranch and rice the day before. I make the beans the same day just because I don't like them mushy.

  19. I was wondering how many salads you usually get out of this recipe. I'm making dinner for 12 and am wondering if I need to double it or how much I need to make! Thank You!

  20. You probably want to double the recipe. Last time we made it, it fed 6 comfortably. I am sure by doubling it, you will be able to feed 12 easily.

  21. @ Nate– I have never tried it with green. I don't know how it would affect it. If you try it, let me know how it turns out!

  22. Hi Erica, love your recipes… I haven't ever seen sliced green chilies so is it actually a can of diced green chilies that you use? I did find a can of whole green chilies that I can slice if need be. Just want it to be perfect. Thanks!

  23. So I moved away about 8 months ago to sc and there is a missionary in my ward. Every Sunday we talk about how good Cafe Rio "was". I told him we could escape and drive 11 hours up to DC and come right back after eating at the new Cafe Rio in MD. However, I don't think that will work. So, I found this on line and was wondering if you ever figured out the Pinto Bean recipie? I like black beans but they don't like me and so I had converted to the Pintos the last couple of years. Let me know and thanks for the post!!

  24. Ya know, I have only had the pinto beans once. I wonder if you added cilantro and green chilies to the beans that maybe they would taste similar? And if you are making them from scratch, use chicken broth?

  25. I've had this recipe bookmarked for a while, but haven't ever gotten around to making it, until today. I looked for caffeine free coke, but the store was out. I tried root beer instead, and yeah, it didn't work so well. It tasted fine, but the meat definitely had a root beer taste! So just a warning for anyone else out there, don't use root beer!

  26. I just found your blog and I love it already. I am making the cafe rio pork right now. I am so excited. I'm going to make the dressing and rice now too!

  27. I just found your blog and I love it already. I am making the cafe rio pork right now and I am also going to make the dressing and rice!

  28. This recipe is fabulous! Thanks for sharing. I even tried it with chicken to see how it would turn out, and it was delicious!!

  29. Thanks for sharing this. We love it. We combine the first and second steps together, I cook it in the marinade, brown sugar and garlic. and then I just mix the enchilada sauce and chilis into that sauce. Why toss perfectly good sugar and Coke? It may not taste the exact same but my hubs still raves about it and it's easier. I use caffine free Coke too.

    I've used green enchilada sauce too I just added some tomato paste to get the flavor and color, still tasted great!

  30. Do you have to use Coke or can you use Dr Pepper? It is pretty sweet; maybe less brown sugar, if so, at least for the marinade. I wanted to start today and cannot get to the store for Coke.

  31. @kimmyh – I have only used Coke because I know that is what Cafe Rio uses. I have heard of others using Dr. Pepper though and it turning out fine. I don't think it will make that huge of a difference.

  32. When you say pork rib meat… what is the actual cut of meat called that you buy? Pork shoulder? Pork Butt? I'm assuming you don't buy spare or baby back ribs and shred that meat… do you?

  33. I love Cafe Rios Sweet Pork!! Thanks for posting this recipe! I am totally trying this out… perhaps for SuperBowl!

  34. Mmm! Made this, and LOVED it! If I double it, will it need to cook longer on low? Or just around 8-10 hours on low?

  35. Mmm! Made this, and LOVED it! If I double it, will it need to cook longer on low? Or just around 8-10 hours on low?

  36. @Mike and Heidi–
    If you double if you just might need a bigger crock pot.. the time should stay the same! Glad you liked it! This recipe is DEFINITELY one of my favorites!

  37. Fantastic recipe! Have been playing around with various versions for a few years now and definitely like yours the best! I used a shoulder roast and it turned out fantastically. For a bit of a deeper spicy-ness I used chipotle peppers instead of green peppers and loved it. Thanks!

    • I always find it funny that Mormons love to make a Cafe Rio knock off with Coke in it (I am Mormon also, but have NEVER used Coke in the recipe.). Coke is definitely not necessary – or any other soda. Enchilada sauce also not needed. No need to marinate, that is just a waste of ingredients. Put all your ingredients into the slow cooker. Have only made a version of Cafe Rio Pork without Coke for 7 years (that is when we left Utah) and EVERYONE tells me that it is better than the original. It is highly requested. We stopped craving the original years ago. Be confident in your cooking and you will be surprised what you come up with.

      • Actually, yes, the Coke is necessary. This recipe is for people who want to have the Cafe Rio Barbacoa Pork, not your altered recipe. It’s nice that everyone loves your recipe. WE love the original, with the COKE, and the SUGAR, and ENCHILADA SAUCE, and we are CONFIDENT everyone else will too.

  38. Just went to the store today to buy the cans of Coke and they looked a bit smaller than last I’ve seen them. Sure enough it’s in a 7.5 oz instead of all the other cans of pop that are in a 12 oz can. So that being said, do I use 36 oz or 22.5 oz?

  39. I was at costa Vida the other day and saw a lady come out from the kitchen and fill a bin with coke from the soda machine. I asked if that is what they cooked the pork in and she said “yes”. SOOOO excited to try your recipe. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

  40. I used Costco pork roast, coke zero, and splenda (I am diabetic). It worked perfectly! Thank you for this recipe!

  41. This is light years away from being Cafe Rio’s sweet pork.
    1. Not dark enough — needs something to make it darker. Perhaps dark Karo syrup instead of brown sugar? Or add molasses..
    2. Needs more time to simmer. It isn’t broken down enough.

    • Try these ideas out and let me know how it turns out! I haven’t had any complaints about it being broken down enough.. I don’t know what to tell you.

      • You might have used the wrong cut of pork–if it doesn’t have enough fat on it, then it can turn out tougher and won’t shred well. I’ve had this happen before. I just used a pork roast I got from someone and it didn’t break down very well. However, I cooked it on low for a few more hours and it finally started to break down. I always cook my roasts (beef or pork) longer than stated in recipes so that the fibers break down…..it literally falls apart and is super tender! Good luck!

  42. we are so excited to try this recipe, we used to have a costa vida here in Maine and my husband and I ate there every other day, we loved the sweet pork and the cilantro lime vinaigrette. The only thing we can never find here is cotija cheese. Thanks for posting the recipe!

  43. i have never eaten at Cafe Rio , so I can’t tell if the recipe was “spot on” or not, but I did enjoy it. I can’t wait to try it again. Next time I think I will cut down on the sugar a bit and use spicy enchilada sauce. It was very good and very easy to make. I used about 2.5 of pork butt . It came out so tender….

  44. Want to make this for a baby shower luncheon but there is a lot to do. Can I make the pork and freeze it ahead of time? Has anyone tried this and did the flavor/consistency of the pork suffer

    • I always make a bunch of the pork when it goes on sale and freeze it. It is a family favorite and a staple at our house. Love the sweet pork. You won’t be disappointed when you thaw it out and reheat it.

  45. This recipe is really close to what an anonymous source at a certain restaurant told me, except he says they use an obscene amount of butter, and it’s Dr. Pepper instead of Coke. I did it his way and it tasted exactly the same as the restaurant. But this recipe is so close, I’d rather skip the butter and do it this way.

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