Kalua pork. My favorite Hawaiian pork dish ever. Typically seen at Luaus in Hawaii this amazingly easy and incredibly delicious Hawaiian style slow cooker Kalua pork is a mostly hands off recipe, my favorite kind of recipe. This is also called crock pot kalua pork, kalua pig, luau pork. However you call it or make it, anyway is delicious. And if you ever get the chance to cook it in a pit in your yard, invite me over. I will bring the mai tais.
I have a funny story about this Kalua pork. We were in Hawaii a few years ago hanging out on a gorgeous beach in near Poipu, Kauai on a Sunday, when all the locals are out having their weekend Luau. There were all kinds of yummy smells coming from the picnic areas at the beach. I adore Hawaiian food, and this was making us really hungry! We happened to be near one couple that had some little kids that were playing near our little girl. So we started chatting with them. Our daughter hit it off with their kids, we hit it off with the adults. This is what I love about Hawaii, that Aloha spirit. We were asking them what they were cooking etc. The conversation turned to Kalua pork and I told them how it was my favorite dish. Traditional Hawaiian Kalua pig is cooked in an underground oven called an Imu. Its basically a 2- 4 foot deep pit dug and filled with kindling and rock, most often lava rock or basalt, and lit on fire. It takes a few hours for the kindling to turn to coal and the stones to get to an even heat and once they are ready to cook the pig, leaves are placed on top to steam cook the pork. Hawaiians would traditionally use anything from coconut palm fronds to grass to banana leaves. The prepared whole pig is then laid on top of the bed of greenery, covered with more leaves or greens then the dirt that was dug out of the pit is used to cover it back up to keep the heat in. Its cooked at least 8 hours, depending on the size of the pig. Similar amount of time it takes to cook a 4-6lb pork shoulder in a crock pot, but without having to dig a hole in your hard and find banana leaves. Or climb your neighbors palm tree to harvest leaves.
Traditional Kaula pork is seasoned with Hawaiian salt, rock or red salt. I always buy a bag of this salt when we go to Hawaii on vacation. I also find it at Cost Plus World Market.
The smoke flavoring comes from the style of the cooking in the underground oven. Digging that pit for the imu to get that smoky flavor isn’t happening anytime soon, although our puppy has dug some nice holes in the backyard for us the past few months, liquid smoke is the next best thing. The Hawaiian guy we were talking to on the beach told us that for making Kalua pork in the oven or crock pot that hickory flavored liquid smoke was better to use than mesquite. We also own a smoker and have made the Kalua pork in our smoker as well and it comes out just as good. The smoker is my husband’s “baby” so when I make the kalua pork I make it in the slow cooker, he makes it in the smoker.
So back to this story from the beach. The guy was telling us that the best way was either in an oven in a pan with the pork wrapped in banana leaves after being smothered in liquid smoke and Hawaiian sea salt or to use a slow cooker but he had never used a slow cooker, just had many cousins that had. And that either recipe would work. Hawaiians call each other Aunty and Uncle and Cousin. No matter what, blood relation or just friends. He told us to call him Cousin Ben and that we were now his “Cousins” and to come visit any time. Aloha spirit again. His wife was super nice and their kids were so adorable. And I am forever thankful for being on the beach that day for this recipe. Although when I got home I had maybe forgotten so I googled and found the exact same recipe on like 50 different sites but who cares I heard it first from a local Hawaiian so my recipe is courtesy of ” Cousin” Ben of Poipu, Kauai, Hawaii.
Pork in the crock pot. First you want to get anywhere from a 4-6 lb pork shoulder roast or “Boston” butt. We get our pork shoulder roasts from a small Utah pig farm that delivers to Vegas through the food co-op. Sustainably and humanely raised and so incredible tasting. We have also gotten shoulders from Whole foods and Costco. Since we place a huge emphasis on where our food comes from and how its raised, we mainly use pork from the farm that we buy from. Place one of the sections rinsed and patted dry with paper towels into the crock pot.
Cover it liberally with the Hawaiian salt and the liquid smoke as demonstrated 3 pictures back. You can also used smoked salt if you want to instead of the liquid smoke. The flavor won’t be as smoky. Also I have seen man recipes that add bacon and this isn’t authentic. Then bacon renders down into soggy bacon and adds a lot more liquid fat at the bottom of the pot and since the pork shoulder already has a good amount of fat that renders out adding the bacon is really just a waste of bacon. Nobody wants to waste bacon, and it really doesn’t add more smoky flavor to the kalua pork.
6 – 8 hours later ( or overnight) Kalua pork/pig.
- 1 4-6 lb pork shoulder or Boston butt roast
- 1 Tbsp liquid smoke, Hickory or Mesquite flavor
- 2-3 tsp red Hawaiian Sea salt (for a smaller roast, 2-3 tbsp for a larger)***
- Banana leaves - optional (I personally don't use them)
- Wash and pat dry the pork roast and place in the slow cooker
- Pierce all over with a fork, pour the liquid smoke evenly over the roast and sprinkle liberally with the sea salt.
- Place the lid of the slow cooker on and set the time for 8-12 hours on LOW.
- Check at about 8 hours for doneness. If not done let go the full 12 hours, checking every hour.
- Either remove the pork from the pot and shred with a fork and return to pot or shred in the pot when its done. You can remove some of the liquid and shred then add some back in to keep the pork from drying out.
So many friends ask me for this recipe and since we make it so often, and it’s so simple with few ingredients, 3 exactly, that I tell them verbatim and never email the recipe. This is also a base for so many recipes we make and it freezes really well.