Smoked Kalua Pork – Authentic Hawaiian Flavor
Kalua pork is a classic Hawaiian dish made by roasting a pig in an underground oven known as an imu. Cooking the pork this way renders the meat incredibly tender and juicy. Top this succulent pork with Hawaiian Pineapple Slaw.
While you might not be able to recreate an authentic imu oven at home, you can still make delicious Hawaiian pulled pork by smoking it.
If you don’t have a smoker, no worries. You can also make Hawaiian Kalua Pork in the oven, in your slow cooker, or even in an instant pot. [see the recipe card for the deets]
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to make kalua pork using these methods and provide tips for getting the perfect results. So bookmark this page and get ready to cook up some of the best kalua pork you’ve ever had!
What Cut Of Pork
I recommend using a bone-in pork shoulder for this kalua pork recipe. 6 to 10 pounds is a completely reasonable size.
How is Hawaiian Kalua Pig Cooked?
Traditional Hawaiian Kalua pig is common in Hawaii. Kalua pork is tender and juicy with a rich, smokey flavor. It’s seen at almost every luau celebration. Roasted pig is often prepared for the Hawaiian New Years’ festival known as Makahiki. It typically begins in late October or early November. Makahiki starts when the star cluster Makali‘i (Pleiades or Seven Sisters) rises over the horizon in Hawai‘i. This celebration last approximately 4 months. It’s a time of rest of restoration.
To make this dish authentically Hawaiian, you need an imu, otherwise known as an earth oven. This would require digging a large hole in the ground, lining it with lava rock, and then building a wood fire. Most of us don’t have the luxury of having a yard that is pit worthy, so we must settle for other cooking methods. Let’s get into the alternatives.
There are 3 essential ingredients that you’ll need to get close to authentic flavor as possible.
- Alaea salt. This orange-colored Hawaiian salt from evaporated seawater is coated with Hawaiian red clay. The iron oxide in the clay gives alaea salt its flavor profile and color. You can order it if you can’t find it.
- Banana leaves. Banana leaves can be hard to find, depending on where you live. I found some in an obscure East Indian market in my area. But you can also order them online. You can also use Ti leave. But these may be even harder to find.
- Kiawe wood. Kiawe wood can be ordered from Firewood Hawaii. If you want the closest thing to the real thing, order it. If not, you can use mesquite wood which has a rich, fruity flavor.
Other Things You’ll Want On Hand
- A smoker. This is your choice here. I use a Kamado-style grill to smoke.
- Lump charcoal such as Jealous Devil.
- A probe thermometer. My favorite probe thermometer is Thermoworks Signal multi-probe digital thermometer. It’s completely awesome!!!
- Pink butcher paper.
How To Prepare The Pork
- Use a paper towel to dry off the pork, and ensure you don’t have any bone chips lurking on the surface.
- Salt the pork using the alaea salt. You’ll probably use between 2 and 4 tablespoons of salt.
- Wrap the pork shoulder in fresh banana leaves and tie it with butcher’s twine to secure the leaves.
Kamado Grill-Smoked Kalua Pork
The closest thing you can find to an imu in the modern world would be the ceramic grill. It’s perfect for maintaining consistent heat. The combination of pork wrapped in banana leaves and the smoke from the kiawe wood create the closest flavor profile to the traditional Kalua pig you will find without a traditional imu.
- Heat the grill to 225℉. Add the Kiawe wood and then allow the grill to return to temperature.
- Add the pork shoulder to the grill. Insert a probe thermometer to monitor the temperature.
- Smoke the pork shoulder until it reaches 165℉, then wrap it in pink butcher paper. Return to the grill. Reinsert the probe thermometer.
- Continue to smoke until the pork reaches 200 to 225℉.
If you don’t have a smoker, you can cook the Hawaiian pork on a grill, in the oven, in a slow cooker, or in the Instant Pot. [see the recipe card for alternative cooking methods]
For all of these methods, you will prepare the pork the same way you would for the smoker. The timing and temperature will vary depending on the cooking method you use.
Ingredients For Kalua Pork
The ingredients for making kalua pork are super simple. The only thing you will use in this recipe is salt and pork. The smoked banana leaves and mere caramelization of the pork are where the flavors come from.
- 6 to 8 lbs bone-in pork shoulder
- 2 to 3 tablespoons Hawaiian alaea salt or Himalayan salt
Smoking Kalua Pork
- Prepare the pork shoulder by drying it with clean paper towels and then seasoning it well with the alaea salt [note 1].
- Wrap the pork should in fresh banana leaves. Secure the banana leaves with butcher’s twine.
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F. Add a few chunks of Kiawe wood. If you can’t find kiawe wood or don’t want to source it from Hawaii, you can use mesquite.
- Place the wrapped pork on the grill for 3 hours or until the internal temperature is 165°F.
- Wrap the pork with pink butcher paper. This will allow the banana leaves to steam and impart the smoky banana leaf flavor to the meat.
- Continue to cook the pork until its internal temperature reaches 200-225°F. Possibly for another 5 to 7 hours.
- Allow the pork to rest for 1 hour. Shred and serve with your favorite Hawaiian sides.
What To Serve With Kalua Pork
Serve kalua pork with crunchy Hawaiian-style coleslaw and King’s Hawaiian Rolls. They make the perfect sliders. Top these with Huli-Huli Sauce, and you have one heck of a mouthwatering Hawaiian slider.
Add a few Hawaiian sides like; Mac Salad, Hawaiian Pineapple Slaw, or Spam Fried Rice.
More Smoked Pork Recipes
If you’re hungry for more recipes from the grill. Give a few of these a try.
- Kalbi Short Ribs
- Smoked Pulled Pork
- Pork Shish Kabobs — these have bacon rub. So yeah!!! 🥓
- BBQ Rub for whatever you’re smoking.
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Kalua Pork Recipe
- fresh banana leaves [note 2]
- lump charcoal do not use charcoal briquets
- kiawe wook [note 3]
- smoker [note 4]
- slow cooker if not smoking the pork
- Instant Pot if not smoking the pork
- 6 to 10 lbs bone-in pork shoulder
- 2 to 4 tablespoons Hawaiian alaea sat, or himilayan salt
How To Make Smoked Hawaiian Kalua Pig
- Prepare the pork shoulder by drying it well with clean paper towels and then seasoning it well with the alaea salt [note 1].
- Wrap the pork should in fresh banana leaves. Secure the banana leaves with butcher's twine.
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F. Add a few chunks of Kiawe wood. If you can't find kiawe wood or don't want to source it from Hawaii, you can use mesquite.
- Place the wrapped pork on the grill. Cook until the internal temp reaches 165°F.
- Wrap the pork with pink butcher paper. This will alllow the banana leaves to steam and impart the smoky banana leaf flavor to the meat.
- Continue to cook the pork until its internal temperature reaches 200- 225°F. Possibly for another 5 to 7 hours.
- Allow the pork to rest for 1 hour. Shred and serve with your favorite Hawaiian sides.
Laura’s Tips + Notes
- Alaea salt. You may use 2 to 4 tablespoons of salt, depending on the size of your pork shoulder.
- Banana leaves. Try to find fresh banana leaves. If not, they can often be found in the freezer section of Asian grocery stores.
- Kiawe wood. I source my wood from Firewood Hawaii. If you don’t want to order the wood, you can use mesquite wood.
- Smoker. This is up to you. Use whatever smoker you have or are most comfortable
Alternative Cooking MethodsYou can use liquid smoke to mimic the smoked flavor for the following methods. See step 7 for the roasted pork. Roasted Kalua Pork – In the oven (adapted from Sam Choy’s recipe)
- Preheat the oven to 350℉.
- Prepare the pork according to the directions above.
- Wrap the pork tightly in foil.
- Place the wrapped pork in a large roasting pan with 4 cups water.
- Roast until the internal temperature reaches 210 to 224℉. Approximately 5 hours.
- Remove the pork and allow it to rest for an hour before shredding.
- To create the smoke flavor, combine 2 cups of the reserved juice from the roasting pan + ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke. Bring this liquid to a boil. Season the shredded pork with the broth before serving.
- Prepare the pork as in the recipe above. Place it into the slow cooker on high heat.
- Cook until the pork is falling apart tender.
- Finish the pork by allowing it to rest for an hour, shredding it, and then adding the liquid smoke broth, if desired.
- Cut the pork into large chunks to make it easier to put into the instant pot.
- Salt the pork with alaea salt.
- Line the instant pot with the banana leaves, then place the pork chunks inside.
- Cover the pork with the remaining banana leaves.
- Combine 1 cup of water and ½ teaspoon of liquid smoke. Add this mixture to the instant pot.
- Pressure cook on High Pressure for 45 mins, then 15 mins Natural Release.
- Reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes if you’re not using banana leaves.