Main Dish | February 25, 2018

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

If Cafe Rio Sweet Pork is your family favorite you’re going to love this recipe! Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork is an updated version of my original recipe made in the oven or slow cooker, which takes up to 12 hours to cook. This new IP recipe takes about two hours start to finish, with most of the time spent in the Instant Pot, cooking the meat!

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

What is Cafe Rio and the complete list of make at home recipes…

Cafe Rio is a popular fast-casual Mexican style restaurant with headquarters in Utah. If you’ve ever even had a flight  layover in Utah, you’ve probably eaten at Cafe Rio (thanks to the airport location)!  Years ago, I posted a slow cooker or oven version of Cafe Rio Sweet Pork, along with a complete menu of recipes.  This updated recipe allows cooking of the sweet pork in a fraction of the original 5-12 hour time.  The at home version of Cafe Rio recipes includes: sweet pork, black beans, cilantro lime rice, pico, guac, and of course the most important part of the meal, the dressing!  All of the recipes are linked below. I’ve had dozens of readers email and leave comments regarding the at home version of this recipe and reported back huge success in making Cafe Rio Sweet Pork for family reunions, weddings, girls camp, and youth conference gatherings to name a few. We love to eat this dish when we are at our cabin. I make everything ahead and then we simply  chop up lettuce and tomatoes and grill  fresh tortillas for a homemade Cafe Rio style feast!

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Not all pork created equal

There are many different cuts of pork sold in the grocery store and at big box stores, such as Costco. One caution, not all cuts of pork work well in this recipe!  I’ve had readers tell me they didn’t get the desired finished product when making Cafe Rio Sweet Pork. When we boiled it down (no pun intended) I found they used a cut of meat OTHER THAN the cuts I recommend. I know the huge Pork Loin Roast at Costco is ridiculously inexpensive, and hardly has any fat on it, so not much waste as far as discarding fat goes. I get it. But here’s the deal. If you buy  lean cuts of pork, your Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork will not taste like Cafe Rio’s Pork. And you’ll wonder why. Pork tenderloin and pork loin roast are not good choices for this recipe. Neither has a high enough fat content to make the fall apart finished product you’re looking for.
I experimented with pork loin, Boston butt and pork shoulder for Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork.  After trying a few different cook times and water levels and also marinating vs not marinating, I found pork loin to be too lean. No matter how it was cooked,  it was too lean to achieve the fall apart texture I was looking for.  It often turned out dry tasing no matter how little the cook time. Boston butt and pork shoulder, technically from the same part of the pig or hog, are from the top portion of the shoulder area. Interesting fact- the name Boston butt originates from 18th century New England when pork was packed in barrels (which were also known as butts) to store and ship meat. So, it’s actually  not the butt at all, but the shoulder. Maybe we still call it butt because butt is more fun to say than shoulder?  The butt is usually sold without bone and the shoulder almost always is sold with a large bone-in. When purchasing the shoulder cut pork, I ask my grocery butcher to trim to off, along with the thick piece of fat that accompanies it. You can also use Boneless Pork Rib meat, which is basically the same thing as the shoulder, without the bone. All of this info was compiled from various butchers and online sources. In the end, your best bet for tender fall apart meat is either Pork Shoulder, Boneless Pork Ribs or Boston Butt. My preference is Pork Shoulder or Boneless Pork Rib meat!

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

timing is everything

The cook  time in the Instant Pot  will vary according to the cut of meat used. I tried several different cook times, from 30-75 minutes.  Thirty minutes did not give the meat enough time to tenderize while 75 was too long. I found the best time combination was 50 minutes at high pressure and then a 45+ minute natural pressure release, which means no touching the valve that allows pressure to release from the pot for at least 45 minutes.  This time combination allowed the meat to cook for the proper amount of time, breaking down almost all of the fat so it melted back into the meat when using a pork shoulder.  During the natural pressure release time, the meat continues to cook with the residual heat in the pot and the pressure is slowly released and the juices stay in the meat instead of escaping out of the pan (or pot).   Many pressure cooking experts agree that releasing the pressure manually (turning the pressure valve to release) will cause the meat to be tough. I believe allowing the pressure to naturally release results in a moist and  tender finished product,  similar to slow cooking the meat for 8-10 hours! If you want to start the meat at 3:00 pm when you leave to start driving carpool, go ahead, the meat will be fine in the Instant Pot for hours. You can turn on the ‘keep warm’ feature and the meat will stay on a low temperature for hours and be ready to eat later in the evening without overcooking.

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork
Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork- Spice and Sauce

After eating more than my share of Cafe Rio meals, I came up with this oven or slow cooker recipe back in 2011. Cooking in the Instant Pot  is totally different than cooking in a slow cooker. The IP cooks at such a high temperature and pressure for a small amount of time, while the slow cooker is the complete opposite. The IP tends to release a higher volume of liquid from ingredient in the pot, which can dilute sauces. For this reason, when cooking in the IP,  I often make the finished sauce after the main dish has been cooked.  During early experiments with this recipe,  I cooked the pork in the sauce but  found the sauce ingredients to be so diluted (even without adding water)  and the sauce so runny that it was better to drain off some of the sauce and  start over after cooking.

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

I decided the best way to flavor the pork, without wasting the sauce was to coat  the pork in a seasoning mix which you can make on your own, or purchase for less than $2 at your grocery. I used Menudo Spice mix, which is a combination of Chili Pepper, Onion, Garlic and “spices”, sold in the Latino section of any grocery store.  Making  your own Menudo mix at home is simple-  just  combine the following in a dish:  2-3 tablespoons chili powder, 1 tablespoon cumin, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder,  1 teaspoon oregano 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon finely ground pepper. Mix together and store in a ziplock bag or small container. After seasoning and browning the meat (not required), I simply pour water around the edges of the meat and cook as directed. Also, to clarify, I do not marinate the meat in a sauce or mixture of spices before cooking. I didn’t find much of a difference in flavors when marinating in the sauce. If you are organized and plan ahead, coat the meat with the spices a day or two before cooking this will only enhance the flavor of the meat!

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Secret tips from former employees …

Over the years I have read many comments, suggestions and tips for preparing the highly guarded secrets in Cafe Rio recipes, namely the Sweet Pork recipe.  I think a few are helpful. A few I use, a few I do not. What better place to share tips for making the best sweet pork,  than on a recipe for Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork?!  Here are the tips and secrets, all in one place for you to sift through and decided if you want to incorporate any into your recipe…

Tips and Secrets for perfect Cafe Rio Sweet Pork!

-Pork is marinated in Coke, full strength, not Diet Coke.  Some say Dr. Pepper.
-Only use pork butt or shoulder.
-Simmer pork in a pan with cut up yellow onions, serrano peppers and chopped carrots. Remove the peppers and carrots after cooking.
-Use a spice blend of garlic powder, dried oregano, cumin, salt and pepper.
-Make red enchilada sauce from scratch. My favorite homemade red enchilada sauce is found here.
-Use a canned red enchilada sauce.  Las Palmas brand used at Cafe Rio.
-Cook onions in a pan with oil until caramelized, add to cooked pork and enchilada sauce.
-Thicken sauce with cornstarch after cooked.
-Shred pork after cooked and let sit in a ziplock bag overnight with sauce made fresh after pork is cooked. Warm in a slow oven or stovetop. Pork is best served the day after it is cooked completely and sauce is made.

Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions for cooking Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork at home. Please share below and rate the recipe after you’ve given it a try!

5 from 8 votes
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Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 8 -16 servings
Author Si Foster, A Bountiful Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 4-7 lbs boneless pork shoulder butt or boneless pork rib meat*, cut into large chunks, large visible chunks of fat removed
  • Menudo spice mix or make your own (see post for instructions)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups cold water
  • for sauce
  • 3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar light or dark to taste
  • 1 - 16 oz can red enchilada sauce*
  • 1 4 oz can chopped green chiles not drained
  • 1 12 oz can Coke Pepsi or Dr Pepper

Instructions

  1. Place 3 tablespoons spice mix in a large gallon size Ziplock bag. Shake until meat is coated.
  2. Turn Instant Pot to Saute mode.
  3. Add one tablespoon olive oil.
  4. Place meat in pot when hot and brown on both sides. If you are in a hurry, skip this step and omit the oil in the pot.
  5. When meat is browned on both sides, Add water around sides of meat.
  6. Place the lid on the top of the pot (make sure the sealing ring is in place inside of the lid) and lock into sealing position. Turn the setting to Manual or High Pressure and set the timer for 50 minutes. Make sure the lid is set to the Sealing position.
  7. After the timer goes off, allow the pot to naturally release the pressure for at least 45 minutes.

  8. Carefully remove the lid from the pot when all of the pressure is released.
  9. Remove the meat and set on a cutting board. Allow to cool for a few minutes. When cool enough, pull any remaining visible fat off of meat and set aside. Discard any fat. Shred meat with a fork.
  10. Remove the remaining juice from the pan and place in a small bowl.
  11. Whisk the enchilada sauce, chopped green chiles, brown sugar and one can of soda together in the Instant Pot. . Place the shredded meat back into the Instant Pot and turn the setting to Saute. Heat just until sauce boils and the meat is heated through, then turn the setting to keep warm mode.
  12. If you would like to thicken the sauce a bit, whisk one tablespoon of cornstarch into a cup of the liquid removed from pan after the meat was cooked and add back to the Instant Pot with meat and enchilada sauce. Continue to heat up until thickened.
  13. Serve on top of tortilla chips, tortillas, or a bed of rice. All Cafe Rio style recipes listed and linked on post.

Recipe Notes

-If using Boston butt, or pork butt, count on about 1/2 of the total pounds before cooking being discarded (after cooking). The fat will need to be picked off and thrown away.
-I use both homemade and canned red enchilada sauce for this recipe. I believe homemade is best, but it's very difficult to taste the difference between homemade and canned when the brown sugar and green chiles are added! The link for my homemade sauce is on this post under the last paragraph "secret tips from former employees". It takes about 5 minutes to make.
-As stated in the post, I did not marinate the pork in the sauce before cooking. My slow cooked method posted previously recommends marinating, but this recipe does not.

71 thoughts on “Instant Pot Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

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  1. Our family doesn’t like pork, but we love the beef. Can I sub beef for this or do you have the cafe rio shredded beef recipe?

    1. Hi Aubrey,
      You may substitute beef for this recipe. I have not done so, but would use a pot roast or a chuck roast in place of the pork.
      thanks and let us know if you try the beef!
      xo
      Si

    2. Help!!! I followed the recipe to a T with a 5 lb boneless butt roast and my meat turned out a gelatinous mess swimming in sauce. I strained the meat, but it looks nothing like yours!!

  2. Excellent! Just made this today and no one in my family could wait a day to let it set. Oh my gosh, can’t thank you enough for perfecting this recipe for the instant pot. It is spot on! We also made your Tomatillo Sauce/Dressing and it’s perfection. Pork Tacos today, Pork Salad tomorrow! No words can describe how happy my family is. The nearest Cafe Rio is 1200 miles away and we miss it as much as we miss The Mandarine….which is a lot!!!

    1. Becky,
      It makes me feel so good to hear how much you love this recipe. I’m glad you can make sweet pork any time you need a Cafe Rio fix. Thank you for your kind comments!
      xo,
      Si

  3. Looking forward to making this. But I maybe missed this, but when do you put the brown sugar in? I’m guessing when making the sauce?

    1. Heather,
      Thank you! I just added that to step 11 (where it should have been!).
      When you try this recipe, please tell me how you like it.
      Thanks for reading ABK.
      xo,
      Si

    1. Lauren,
      Yes, thank you for your observant eyes! I’ve added brown sugar to step 11.
      Have you made this recipe yet? It’s a keeper.
      When you make it, please let me know how you like it.
      Thanks for reading ABK and thanks for your help.
      xo,
      Si

      1. 5 stars
        Yes, I made it last night for our Relief Society activity. Two neighbors have texted me today asking for the recipe! I’m eating leftovers for lunch with my 5yo and 2yo and they also approve. Thanks for all the work you put in to figure this out for the instant pot!

  4. I made this yesterday and it was delicious and so much better than having to remember to thaw the pork a day in advance and then put it in the crock pot first thing in the morning. Thanks for making this recipe possible in the instant pot!

    1. Sarah,
      I think that is one of the most valuable benefits of the IP, not having to plan dinner early in the morning anymore! I love using the IP to speed up what used to take hours to cook in a slow cooker or oven.
      thanks for reading ABK
      xo
      Si

    1. I don’t believe Sirloin pork is fatty enough to achieve a shredded finished product I highly recommend either pork shoulder or butt!
      thanks for reading ABK,
      Si

    1. Christine,
      If you scroll down the “IP Cafe Rio” post, under the second photo are links to all the Cafe Rio recipes (the words in blue writing). Here is the link to the cilantro-tomatillo dressing, but there are also links to my guacamole, black beans, rice and pico. Yum. I hope this helps!
      xo,
      Si

    1. Hi Megan,
      I have both a 6 nd 8 quart, I most often use the 6 quart unless Im cooking for a big crowd or cooking two dishes at once in the IP.
      xo
      Si

  5. I used to work at a Costa Vida and the sweet pork is very similar to Cafe Rio’s. We also used coke, the red enchilada sauce that we made, onions and carrots, sugar and butter. I need to get myself an instapot and try this!

    1. Mariel,
      Making this recipe in the Instant Pot is so easy and delicious! You can just turn it on and walk away!
      Mother’s Day is coming soon…(hint, hint)
      xo,
      Si

  6. I made this last night for my family and we had Missionaries over and everybody loved it- the leftovers are amazing too! Definitely a new go to!

  7. I made this last night for my family and we had missionaries over and everybody loved it- the leftovers are amazing too! Definitely a new go to!!

    1. Jennilyn,
      Go ahead and make this recipe as written. There is no change in cooking time. Enjoy using your Instant Pot! Let me know how this recipe turned out for you. It’s delicious!
      xo,
      Si

  8. 5 stars
    LOVED this cafe rio pork recipe and got multiple compliments on it- I always tell everyone you are my recipe hero. 🙂 It was a life saver for me as my sister was blessing her baby and my other sister went into labor two days before and my mom flew out to Florida to be with her. To help my sister out for her blessing I offered to do the pork for my mom and was feeling a little nervous but of course this recipe was not only delicious it was simple too! Thank you Si for another great recipe!

    1. Hi Ginger, that’s so sweet of you to help out your sister! This recipe has always been a hit, especially in our family. I’m so glad it turned out well for you and thanks for sharing.
      xo
      Si

  9. I’m trying to cook this now but only have 3 lbs of meat. Would I still cook it for 50 mins? Help please. And thank you! I’m so excited to make this. No cafe rio close by.

    1. Hi Elise, you could try cooking it for 45 minutes if you only have 3 lbs of meat. I’m so glad you’re trying this recipe, I know you’ll love it! Thanks for asking and for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si

  10. Hello! Excited to try this. If I’m using 2.5 lbs of pork instead of 4 like this recipe calls for, do I still do the full two cups of water and 50 minutes pressure cooked time?

    1. Hi Melissa,
      I haven’t tried this with frozen pork yet. I have cooked frozen chicken breasts successfully in the IP, but chicken is a much smaller cut of than a pork roast… I suggest letting it thaw and cooking afterward. Thanks for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si

    1. Jaselyn,

      The recipe calls for a 4-7 lb roast, and you are using a 7-8 lb roast, so the cook time should be close to the same. Maybe 5 minutes longer? And I think you will have enough sauce for an 8 lb roast. No need to increase sauce amount. Let us know how it turns out!
      Thanks for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si

    1. Hi Jeri, yes you can freeze it. I would wait to put the sauce on until you are ready to serve it. Thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si

  11. Can’t wait to try your recipe. I make my IP pork similar to yours but pour 1/2 liter of Dr pepper around pork chunks in IP and cook under manual pressure for 60 min unless very large portion in 8 qt I would cook for 75 min. The Dr pepper moistens the pork incredibly. The sugar in the drink break down the fibers in the meat. It is wonderful. I so look forward to trying some of your recipes.

    1. I also love the effect soda has when cooking meat, especially pork. It always turns out tender and moist. I love your variation and thanks for sharing, Joana!
      xo
      Si

  12. 5 stars
    HAVE you ever tried Diet Pepsi for the soda in place of coke or Pepsi? I’m wondering if it will works or if I need to go to the store!

    1. Hi Morgan,
      I think you need the sweetness of regular soda for this recipe. I’m fairly certain the carbonation is what breaks down the meat and tenderizes, but the sugar adds sweetness. You could try to add more brown sugar to compensate if you absolutely cannot find or use a regular soda. Let us know! Thanks for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si

  13. I’m wanting to make this for a group of 20-25 people. I think if I double it there should be enough. How long would you recommend I cook the meat for in my 8qt IP?

    1. Hi Melissa, you can cook it for the same amount of time, 50 min. Changing the amount doesn’t change the time when using the IP. Thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si

  14. Hi there!
    I’m going to try this recipe tonight but I mistakenly got a bone-in shoulder butt pork roast. Should I take the time to cut it off the bone? Would it effect the cooking time if I left the bone in?
    Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Hi Kate, it should be the same cooking time even with the bone in. You can go ahead and cook it with the bone in and then remove the meat when it’s done. Hope this helps and thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si

  15. Hi Si!

    I need to make this for 20-25 people. How many pounds of meat do you recommend, and should I alter the cooking time? It’s a little scary making a meal for a group when you’ve never tried the recipe before!

    1. Hi Brenda, I would use about 8-10 pounds of meat. You do not need to change the cooking time. And this recipe is perfect for a crowd! Thanks for asking and for reading ABK,
      xo
      Si

  16. 5 stars
    This cafe rio pork recipe is my absolutely favorite. I have been making various “copycat” recipes for the past 15 years and this is the best and least fussy. When I first made this I was so happy to see that adobo sauce and marinating the meat weren’t part of your recipe (I’m glad you agree that it doesn’t add noticeable extra flavor). Thank you so much for compiling this recipe and all your other recipes.

    1. You’re welcome, Lindsey! I try to keep recipes as simple and easy as they can be. Thanks so much for sharing and for reading ABK!
      xo
      Si

  17. This may seem like a dumb question, but could you also use this recipe with chicken? I love the pork don’t get me wrong, but I have a ton of frozen chicken I need to use and I’ve been craving the sweet pork so I’m hoping I can still get the flavor and use up the chicken (we are moving in a few weeks so I’m trying to use up our food)! 🤞🏼

    1. Hi Crystal, I haven’t tried it with chicken yet, but it should turn out just as well. The pork will just be more tender than chicken. Thanks for asking and for reading ABK!
      xo
      Si

      1. Crystal I should have mentioned above, chicken will take way less time. If the chicken is frozen cook for 13 minutes and then check it should be easy to shred. If the chicken is fresh or thawed it takes about 6 minutes both of these times are on high or manual pressure.
        Si

  18. 5 stars
    I have tried a lot of different sweet pork recipes. We just tried this and it was AMAZING! I am one of those people that won’t print out a recipe until it meets the mark. Well, this one got printed out right after dinner! That is how yummy it is! I am so excited to use it for years to come. So delicious!

  19. My butcher wouldn’t cut the bone out of the shoulder for me, should I put it in the insta pot with the bone and pull the bone off after or cut it off the bone before

  20. 5 stars
    i made this yesterday! took the tip to let it sit overnight, so i am excited to try it tonight for dinner! first taste before i put it away was tip top, best pulled pork i’ve ever made 👌🏼👏🏼
    thank you si!!!

  21. Can you say easy? I have been a little intimidated by new recipes in my IP, but had a great cut of meat from a sale and thought I would give it a try. The process was so easy and the results were amazing. My husband doesn’t like sweet sauces so I pulled some meat out for him to make carnitas and even that was fantastic. The cook time was perfect. The meat was super tender and shredded with the slightest of pressure.

  22. Do you by chance have a copycat recipe for the Cafe Rio spicy green chile pork? I love all your copy cat recipes but can’t seem to find one for the spicy pork!

  23. I make this so often and it is now the ONLY way i make sweet pork! First it’s so easy, and second – it’s delicious! I love the recommendation of using Pork Shoulder or Boneless Pork Rib meat – the meat is perfect every time! Thanks for this amazing recipe!

  24. Could you put soda in the instant pot instead of water? Just curious if it would make the flavor different. I saw someone else comment that they use half a liter of Dr Pepper but I wasn’t sure if they meant in the instant pot instead of water or what.

    1. Hi Melissa, I haven’t tried cooking it with soda, but I’m sure it would turn out great! I’ve seen some other recipes use Coke and I think it would definitely add to the flavor. Thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si

    1. Hi Allison, if you’re using a 4 lb roast, I would set the pressure time for 70-80 minutes. I would also place the trivet at the bottom of the instant pot before you put the roast in. Thanks for asking!
      xo
      Si