Cafe Rio Sweet Pork {Copycat} Recipe [+ Video]

 If you’ve ever been to Utah you’ve probably had Cafe Rio, specifically Cafe Rio Sweet Pork. We’ve perfected the Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Copycat Recipe! It’s a tender pulled pork recipe with a code or dr pepper sauce that Utah loves! 

 

an entire pan of shredded cafe rio sweet pork copycat recipe with chopped cilantro on top

 

I know I’ve posted about a few copycat recipes from Cafe Rio like the cilantro lime rice, Creamy tomatillo Cilantro Ranch and slow cooker Cafe Rio chicken, but this recipe is so dead on I had no choice but to post. I’m letting you in on all the secrets!

This recipe is clearly a little different because it uses Coke, but trust me it’s the way it’s prepared that is key. Doing a slow roast on the pork with a spice mixture, those root veggies and preparing the sauce separate makes for an identical result. 

When we go to Cafe Rio, I pretty much always get the salad to split (this is quite rare as the hubs DOES NOT split anything. EVER.), but occasionally I’ll get the quesadilla because it’s gooey. That’s the only reason, it’s just gooey. In fact you can make the quesadilla at home too with our Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Quesadilla recipe…you’re welcome! Go goo goo for gooey with that one!

What Kind of Pork Should I Use for Cafe Rio Sweet Pork?

If you want a true copycat of Cafe Rio sweet pork, you have to use a bone in pork shoulder/butt with a nice fat pad on top. Cuts of pork are not created equal! A pork loin or roast is going to be too lean and won’t turn out exactly like Cafe Rio. The pork shoulder/butt has the fat and flavor you need!

 

an entire pan of shredded cafe rio sweet pork copycat recipe with chopped cilantro on top

 

Pot Herbs or a Bouquet Garni

Have you ever seen a chef create a bundle of herbs and place it in a pot or with a roast to cook then it gets discarded? That’s one of the secrets to this Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Copycat Recipe. The aromatics totally make a difference, but you throw them out after it’s done cooking. 

So what is Pot Herbs or a Bouquet Garni?

First off, “bouquet garni” is pronounced exactly how it looks, so don’t get hung up on that! It is a bundle of aromatic herbs and sometimes vegetables that are used to enhance the flavor of soups, stews, stocks, poaching liquids and even braised dishes. It is removed after cooking and can be made with either fresh or dried herbs, root veggies etc.

These items are bundled up in cheesecloth, tied off with string and throw into the dish with the food. 

If you don’t have cheesecloth, don’t stress! Merely arrange everything in the dish with the pork and get rid of it after baking. Yes, the onions will get quite dark, but it’s ok.

What to Add to the Bouquet Garni:

  • carrots
  • celery
  • onions
  • bay leaves

This will add the perfect flavor to this pork!

Is Pork Better for You Than Beef?

If you are trying to lose weight, pork is a better choice than beef, because pork is lower in calories. But both have a good side, for example the protein and iron is awesome in beef. 

A 4 oz. serving of beef provides 11 g of fat, with 4.5 g of saturated fat, while a 4 oz. serving of pork contains 4.5 g of fat, with 1.5 g of saturated fat.

Pork and beef have about the same amount of protein, with beef being slightly higher, so really, it just depends on what you’re looking for.

 

an entire pan of shredded cafe rio sweet pork copycat recipe with chopped cilantro on top

 

 

Can You Make Sweet Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker?

Using a slow cooker is an easy way to make pulled pork. This Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Copycat recipe does much better in the oven as it really brings out the flavor, but a slow cooker will work just fine. Sometimes making a slow cooker sweet pork just fits into your schedule better, I totally get that! Set it and forget it…that’s why we love that slow cooker!

Prepare everything the same, but set the pork and bouquet garni (see section below) in a slow cooker for 8-10 hours. Shred as normal, preparing the sauce separate and toss to combine. 

Make It Authentic!

Want to make it authentic? Just cook up some fresh flour tortillas with a little sprinkle of cheese and throw in those recipes for the cilantro lime rice and tomatillo sauce. You can put this sweet pork into a salad, in a burrito, in enchiladas, on top of nachos, in a rice bowl, or in a quesadilla like we already discussed above. It’s is good any way, shape or form!

I really am not exaggerating when I say that we have tried pretty much every single Cafe Rio Pork recipe that’s out there and while many are quite delicious, they just aren’t close enough to the real version. We have spent YEARS, much like we did for the perfect Melt in Your Mouth Buttermilk Pancakes and The Very Best Banana Bread, searching out exactly how this pork is made. While we don’t have the actual recipe, we literally cannot taste a difference. 

We should set up a taste test for the neighbors and see if people can tell which is which. I’m liking this idea!

Best Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Copycat

Through the years we’ve had many friends who have moved on to new adventures in places other than Utah (though Cafe Rio is spreading like crazy across the country…now in CA, AZ, CO, FL, ID, MD, MT, NV, VA, WA, and WY!) They crave Cafe Rio! It is on their must-eat list when they come back to visit every single time. I get it! It’s THAT good! Crave no longer my friends! You can now make Cafe Rio Sweet Pork at home! Try it and let us know if your Cafe Rio cravings are satisfied!

 

 

 

All Cafe Rio Copycat Recipes:

Cafe Rio Creamy Tomatillo Cilantro Ranch Dressing [+ Video]

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Cilantro Lime Rice Cafe Rio Copycat [+ Video]

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Crock Pot Cafe Rio Chicken Copycat [+ Video]

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Cafe Rio Copycat Sweet Pork Quesadilla

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Smothered Cafe Rio Chicken Burrito

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All our favorite Mexican Recipes here!

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Copycat Recipe

Yield: 2 lbs pork

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Cafe Rio Sweet Pork
If you've ever been to Utah you've probably had Cafe Rio, specifically Cafe Rio Sweet Pork. Oh it's so good! We've perfected the Cafe Rio Sweet Pork Copycat Recipe!
Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Pork Shoulder/Butt -3 lbs Bone in with a nice fat pad on top
  • 1 Tablespoons Garlic Powder
  • 1 Heaping Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1 Heaping Tablespoon Kosher Salt
  • 2 Teaspoons Black Pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons Onion Powder
  • 3 Teaspoons Dried Oregano
  • 2 Large Carrots cut in half
  • 1 Large Onion, Halved
  • 2 Stalks of Celery, Halved
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Cup Coke (Or Dr Pepper is great too)
  • 2 1/3 Cups Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Cornstarch
  • 1 Teaspoon Water

Quick Version

  • 1 10 ounce can Red Enchilada Sauce or a sauce packet
  • 1 1/2 Cups Brown Sugar
  • 2 Cans Rootbeer, Dr Pepper, or Coke
  • 1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

Instructions

  1. Heat the oven to 225°
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, onion powder, and oregano.
  3. Rub the seasoning mixture all over the pork and place in a 9x13" pan, fat pad facing up.
  4. Arrange the carrots, celery, onions, and bay leaves around the pork, or place in a square of cheesecloth (the traditional way), pull up the corners and tie it shut with a string. Wedge the bundle next to an end of the pork.
  5. Set the uncovered pork butt in the oven and bake for 12 hours.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 1-2 hours.
  7. Pour the juices into a fat separator.
  8. Shred the meat well, discarding large pieces of the fat pad.
  9. Pour 1/3 cup of the juices back onto the pork and toss to combine well.
  10. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water.
  11. Meanwhile, in a pot, add the brown sugar, garlic powder and Coke. Whisk to combine.
  12. Bring to a boil and whisk in the cornstarch mixture. Turn to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes.
  13. Pour the sauce all over the pork and toss to coat.
  14. Place the meat in a warming oven with tin foil over it until ready to use or for at least 20 minutes to let the meat soak up the sauce a bit.

For the Slow Cooker

  1. Prepare everything the same, but set the pork and bouquet garni in a slow cooker for 8-10 hours.
  2. Shred as normal, preparing the sauce separate and toss to combine.

For the Quick Version

  1. Sprinkle the pork with the garlic powder and roast in a slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
  2. Shred the meat.
  3. Mix the Sauce packet, brown sugar and pop and bring to a simmer over medium high heat until thickened a little. Toss with the shredded meat and cook an additional 30 minutes.

Notes

Rumor has it that Dr Pepper or Coke are the preferred pops for Cafe Rio, choose whichever you prefer

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

20

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 268 Total Fat: 10g Saturated Fat: 3g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 5g Cholesterol: 60mg Sodium: 384mg Carbohydrates: 27g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 25g Protein: 18g

OTHER COPYCAT RECIPES

Looking for more copycat recipes?  

 

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Carrian Cheney

Lover of all things beautiful, good and delicious. Wife, mother, friend, foodie.

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118 comments on “Cafe Rio Sweet Pork {Copycat} Recipe [+ Video]”

  1. Can you please tell me how many this recipe will feed? I need to feed 100 hungry lacrosse players after practice next Thursday and want to have enough! Thank you so much for this recipe!!

    • Hi Kathy! You are amazing!! In general, 1 lb of pulled pork will feed 3 people, so you will probably want 30-35 lbs to feed 100 people. Maybe closer to 35lbs if you are feeding hungry lacrosse players! So the recipe as is feeds 6-8 people. Hope this helps!

  2. Hello! I was just freaking out wondering where my sweet pork recipe went! After reading the comments, I figured out that you changed the recipe. Ugh! I always have used the old recipe and I used the frontera red Chile enchilada sauce packet and still love how it turns out. Is there anyway that you could still leave the old recipe up too? Being a mother of 5, I love the simplicity and still great taste of it!

    • Hi Faith! I’m going to have to try and find that sauce packet!! Here is the old recipe:
      1 packet sauce (no longer made)
      2 cups brown sugar
      1 cup rootbeer, coke or Dr Pepper

  3. Your recipe for Cafe Rio Sweet Pork looks fantastic. I do have one question though, how much taco sauce do you use? It’s not listed in the ingredients. Thanks Lori

  4. What was the other recipe that called for the “elusive” sauce packet? Thanks!

  5. Your ingredient list doesn’t have the taco sauce on it.

  6. Can you please post or send me the old recipe? 

  7. Did you have an update to this recipe? I can’t find that sauce packet. Thank you!!

  8. Any progress on a new recipe? I am so sad the Old El Paso sauce is no longer available. I did see some Frontera sauces at my grocery store today. Maybe they will work?

  9. Have you found a good replacement for The Old El Paso cooking sauce packet which is no longer available? I saw you hint at a Kroger substitute but didn’t specify which one.

  10. Pingback: Instant Pot Cafe Rio Cilantro Lime Rice - 365 Days of Slow Cooking

  11. Do you think canned enchilada sauce would work instead of the cooking sauce?

    • Hi Melissa,

      We have used it and it was pretty good but we are working on a new recipe since we can’t find that cooking sauce anymore.

      • Hi! I’m planning to make this for cinco de mayo tomorrow. Do you have a good suggestion to replace the sauce packet since they aren’t sold anymore? Or would you recommend using your older recipe? Thanks!

      • Hi! Do you live around a Kroger? They have new sauces in the Mexican aisle that will work!

      • Yes, I do. I’ll see what I can find. Thanks so much! Also, just received your cookbook and can’t wait to flip through it at lunch! ?

      • That is so exciting! Thank you so much for your support!

    • I read in a comment that you would recommend some sauces at Kroger. I do not live near any Kroger stores. Is there any particular sauce you recommend?

  12. I absolutely love this recipe but havent been able to find the sauce lately. I actually called General Mills and was told they discontinued it. Any suggestions for a good replacement?

  13. I have made this recipe several times (we love it) and suddenly I can’t find the Old El Paso sauce at the grocery store we’ve always gotten it at. I found a sauce packet by Frontera. It’s red chile enchilada sauce with roasted tomato and garlic. Hoping it turns out!

  14. Have you made this and froze it for use later? And if so, how did you re-heat it? I’m so excited to try this. Hoping to take it on a trip we are going on next week.

    • Hi Michelle,

      I have actually! I do not like the taste of frozen cooked meat so I do two things. Either I toss everything in a bag with the meat and freeze it then pop it in the slow cooker on low for 10-12 hours or I cook it and allow it to cool completely then put in bags (we separate into two meals since our family is small) and freeze for up to 1 month. I don’t go longer than that as each week the flavor seems to fade a little in my opinion. Hope that helps!

  15. Just made this recipe for the second time. We have tried a few “Cafe Rio Pork” recipes because we love it and live in a state where there is, sadly, no Cafe Rio. While it isn’t spot on (I think it would be very hard to get it right), it is very tasty. We especially like it in quesidillas. Yum!

  16. I made it exactly per the directions. It doesn’t taste like cafe rio pork at all. It’s a good sweet pork recipe but it’s definitely not the cafe rio one. A bit disappointed but it’s still yummy

    • Sorry Christine, but thanks for trying it. We feel like the Cafeo Rio pork, at least the one by us, tastes totally different than it did years ago which is a bummer too.

  17. How do you serve this pork? We Don’t have Cafe Rio in Michigan. Do you serve this as a pulled pork sandwich on a bun or on a tortilla? Sounds yummy.

    • Oh, I wish you did! It’s so yummy! So they do a fresh flour tortilla, a little cheese, cilantro rice (recipe is on my blog as well as the cafe rio tomatillo dressing), beans of choice, meat, lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and the special dressing with crisp tortilla strips. Or they make, tacos, tostadas, burritos and quesadillas with the pork

  18. Hi! I am doubling the recipe. Should cook time stay the same or would you suggest longer?

  19. Finally got around to making this in the crockpot yesterday. I couldn’t find the old elpaso sauce packets so I ended up using a 10oz can of red enchilada sauce and adding an entire small head of crushed garlic to it.

    I haven’t tried the old elpaso version, but this is very close to the cafe rio flavor.

    I was definitely skeptical about adding that much sugar but it came out about perfect. Also, did not take 8 hours in our crock pot, more like 6 total.

    • Ours always appears to be done at 6 as well but I like how the flavor builds when going to 8 hours. 🙂 Try Walmart or Smiths for Old El Paso sauce packets. Ours are now by the Mexican aisle and the italian tomato sauces.

      • I need guidance. I am likely the only person in the world that couldn’t get this to work for me. Used the above ingredients on low. I used pork butt and my meat was thought at 6 hrs and I can’t even shred. I’m going to have to slice and it absorbed no flavor. Can you tell me what I maybe did wrong?

      • Hi Anita,
        What size of cut did you use? If it was bigger than 3-4 pounds it just needed more like 8-12 hours.

      • As far as pork butt/shoulder goes, if it’s not shred-able, just keep cooking. This applies to braising or smoking or an oven roast.

        You’re not making something that needs to be cooked to a temperature, so unless you cook to the point where the meat starts dissolving, which is possible, you can’t really over cook it.

      • Really? I have had pork butt get tough before, and good results other times even cooking around the same amount of time with about the same size butt! So I didn’t cook it too long when that happened – I actually need to cook it longer and it will get more tender? I figured some butts/shoulders were just tougher.

      • The longer the better. Sometimes at 7 hours it’s even still a bit tough and then 8 hours and it’s falling apart.

      • You are awesome – I’m glad I read this! I did it for 8 hours and it was falling apart… YUM!

      • Oh good! I always hope my replies are seen, but I’m never sure as spam loves to take my emails. So happy you enjoyed it!

  20. This looks so good! I wonder if I can use chicken for pork? Would I be able to reduce the amount of cooking time in that case?

    Thank you for sharing!

  21. Thank you for this easy recipe! We have moved to a state that doesn’t have Cafe Rios and needed to recreate it! 😉 I’m actually so excited about this that I’m going to make it as a crockpot freezer meal for my freezer exchange group, too!

  22. This was delicious!! Not quite the same as Cafe Rio, but I’ll definitely make it again! My family loved it! Thanks!

  23. Pingback: Eggplant Experiment – Cafe Rio “sweet pork” | Me, You and PKU

  24. This was absolutely perfect! The best imitation of the café rio pork recipe I’ve tried! I would love to pin this, but there is no image associated with it, so it won’t let me pin the recipe. Is there any way to fix that? Thank you!

  25. I’ve gone to three grocery stores and can’t find el paso sauce packet WITH roasted garlic. Could I pull this off w/the normal sauce packet and then add garlic powder? I’m not sure how much…

    Thank you!

  26. This was super yummy! I added a teaspoon or two of Cumin. We ate on it for 2 days!! Thanks for posting the recipe.

    ~Angie

  27. This is the best sweet pork recipe I’ve tried! Love your blog:)

  28. So…this recipe is sugar, pre-packaged sauce, and meat. Being critical is mean, but this is not what I’d expect on a food blog. In the comments,someone asks for a substitute for the sauce package. Basically, that’s asking for an actual recipe.

    • Calm down now. Let’s all be nice. Here’s the definition of recipe:

      rec·i·pe [res-uh-pee]
      —noun

      a set of instructions for making or preparing something, especially a food dish: a recipe for a cake.

      Whether it’s from scratch or not, it’s a recipe. Don’t like the one she posted? Move along. Let’s treat others how we’d like to be treated 🙂

  29. I’ve read those books and enjoyed them – except for the ending of the Giver. I like my endings all wrapped up. You might enjoy ‘Cinder’. It’s a fun series of futuristic ‘fairy tale’ stories with a twist
    that all work together. It’s really quite fun.

  30. Hi what kind of old el paso like an envelope or bottle?

  31. I’m wanting to make this this weekend and put it on Rumbi-style rice. I’m hoping to serve 8 people. Do you think it will be enough?

  32. Thank you so much for posting this! I didn’t have root beer so I used Dr. Pepper, also I added a little more brown sugar but I like things very sweet. I’ve tried a couple other times to make this and this was by far closest to Cafe Rio. I have a very happy husband! Thanks!

  33. The packet is at walmart in the “Mexican food” area. $2.49 is about what I paid 10 minutes ago

  34. I’m having a hard time finding the spice packet. Where did you get yours and what part of the grocery store is it in? I am anxious to try this recipe since we love their pork : )

  35. So how many servings does this make? 6?

  36. I love Cafe Rio’s pulled pork. I would love to make this for my wife, however she is allergic to sulfites. Does anyone have a suggestion for recreating the Old El Paso sauce. It is safer not to risk a reaction.

  37. Hiw big of a pork shoulder did you use??

  38. This looks so delicious!! I do have a couple of questions, will this amount of sauce work for 4.5 lbs shoulder/butt, do you buy yours with or without the bone? Is the 2c brown sugar packed or unpacked? Ok and lastly can you post a pics of the old paso sauce packet you used, I can’t seem to find it at the local grocery store… Thanks a lot!!!! Appreciate it;)

    • Calista… This amount of sauce will work fine for 4.5 lbs. I’ve tried it only with the bone and it’s been great. 2c packed is too sweet so I used 1.5c. Also, the sauce is actually called “roasted garlic and chile” or something like that. It’s in a yellow liquid sauce packet. Hope this helps!

  39. I am SO excited to try this recipe. We absolutely LOVE Café Rio. I’ve never heard of this old el paso sauce packet. Is it a powder or liquid and where have you found it?

  40. Just finished eating this for dinner and I raced to my computer to say: Oh. My. God! This pulled pork was amazing! Thanks for sharing a fantastic recipe, can’t wait to make it again!

  41. Pingback: Sweet Pork Burritos (or Salad!) | The Monthly Lineup

  42. It’s in the crockpot right now. I did try the sauce and it is tasty. Can’t wait to see how it all comes together. We don’t have Café Rio where I am, so I have nothing to compare to, but it sounds like a great combo.

  43. Not only that this pork sounds deeelicious, I absolutely LOVE that serving bowl!

  44. Yikes, typo. night in pampering myself

  45. I’m a total homebody. I secretly love when the hubs is out of town, I put the kids to bed WAY early and spend the night pampering in myself with dinner, a movie and a pedicure! And I’m excited to try this new recipe.

  46. This sounds so yummy! I love Cafe Rio! My hubby doesn’t share anything either. 😉 Thanks for sharing this, I can’t wait to try it!

    ~Jen @ Yummy Healthy Easy

  47. Moving to my new house this weekend. This looks like the perfect dish to prepare for all my hungry helpers. Thanks!

  48. I love anything and everything with root beer….and now you’ve made pulled pork with it. I knew there was a reason we get along.

  49. Amazing flavors and I love the slow cooker meals!!

  50. I love Cafe Rio sweet pork, so I will definitely try this.

    I am a homebody and especially love a night to myself to putter in the kitchen with a glass of wine…

    sigh…

  51. Love an easy recipe!

  52. YESSS! I have been looking for a new crockpot pork recipe for this weekend! Seriously, made my day!

  53. Pure comfort food! Looks incredible, Carrian!

  54. Oh, I already know I am going to love this week over here!! This pork look so saucy and delicious!