Hawaiian Slow Cooker Kālua Pork
Hawaiian Slow Cooker Kālua Pork Originally published in 2012. Updated in 2018 and 2023.
My favorite Hawaiian pork dish ever. Typically seen at Luaus in Hawaii this amazingly easy and incredibly delicious Hawaiian Kālua Pork recipe is a mostly hands off recipe, made in your slow cooker with just a few easy to find ingredients, my favorite kind of recipe.
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- Hawaiian Slow Cooker Kālua Pork
- What is Kalua pork?
- How is Traditional Hawaiian Kalua Pork made?
- Salt for Kalua pork:
- Smoke flavoring:
- Kālua pork in a smoker:
- Kālua pork in an oven:
- Instant Pot Kālua Pork:
- Kālua Pork Ingredients:
- How to make Hawaiian Style Slow Cooker Pork:
- What kind of pork is used in kalua pork?
- How long does it take to cook Kalua Pork?
- What to serve with Kālua pork:
- Make it a meal:
What is Kalua pork?
Kālua pork has been a staple of Hawaiian cuisine for centuries. We are talking about when the first Hawaiians settled the islands, Kālua pig was a staple item. And has been ever since. Polynesian settlers brought many items with them to the islands such as coconut, taro, pigs and more. With Hawaii being as remote as it is, it wasn't home to many indigenous plants and animals.
The word Kālua ( don't get it confused with Kahlúa the liqueur) translates to "to cook in an underground oven." The underground oven is called an "imu" which I discuss in a bit.
Many foods can be made kālua style, kālua pork happens to be the most famous and or well known. Due to modern Hawaiian luaus. It is a staple at every luau.
How is Traditional Hawaiian Kalua Pork made?
Traditional Hawaiian Kālua pig is cooked in an underground oven called an Imu. An Imu is 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, tropical leaves are placed on top to steam cook the pork.
Hawaiians would traditionally use anything from coconut palm fronds to grasses, ti leaves or 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 large (8-10lb) 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.
Salt for Kalua pork:
There are lots of options in the notes but the most important is how much salt to use which is dependent on how much pork you cook. There has been confusion from several readers. Smaller roast less salt. (4-6 lb roast) Larger roast more salt. (10-12 pound roast). And as always adjust to your own taste.
I prefer saltier Kalua pork, some might not like it as salty. As a general rule ¾-1 teaspoon of salt per pound of pork is suggested, depending on kind of salt used. Some salts ( table salt) are saltier than others ( Hawaiian sea salt, diamond Kosher salt).
The smoke flavoring comes from the style of the cooking in the underground oven. Digging that pit on my backyard 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.
Kālua pork in a smoker:
We also own a smoker and have made the Kālua pork in our smoker as well and it comes out just as good. Cooking time is similar to in a slow cooker and I suggest wrapping the pork in banana leaves or foil when using a smoker.
Kālua pork in an oven:
- Kālua Pork is cooked low and slow so you want to set your oven to 300-325 Deg at the most.
- Get a heavy bottomed, oven safe pot with a lid, such as a dutch oven, and heat a little oil in over medium high heat on a stove.
- Sear the pork all over, a few minutes a side then remove from the pot. Turn off the heat.
- Let the pork cool enough to handle.
- Place the pork back in the pot and rub with the Hawaiian Alaea salt and pour the liquid smoke over the pork.
- Add one and a half to two cups water to the pot ( depends on size of pork roast) place the lid on the pot
- Place in the oven and cook for 3-4 hours. Start checking the pork at 2 ½ hours and every half hour after that until it shreds easily
- Can also wrap the seared and seasoned pork in banana leaves or foil before cooking all the way.
Instant Pot Kālua Pork:
You can speed up the time to make this dish in an instant pot, and I recommend this method only if in a time crunch and using a small amount of pork.
- Sauté - start with searing the pork on all sides with a little oil or bacon fat. I prefer bacon fat for the smoky flavor
- Take the seared pork out of the pot and add in water and liquid smoke. Same amount of liquid smoke as stated in the recipe as well as ½-3/4 cup water.
- Place the roast back in the pot and add the Alaea salt.
- Place the lid on and set the instant pot to "manual" and 90 minutes.
- Allow pressure to release, remove the lid then check the pork. If it is not tender enough to easily shred with a spoon, set the instant pot to manual for 5 minutes then repeat with releasing pressure and checking the pork consistency.
Kālua Pork Ingredients:
- Pork shoulder or Boston Butt cut - Depending on how many people you are feeding or if you want lots of leftovers will determine how many pounds or pork shoulder you will need
- Salt - Hawaiian Alaea or red salt.
- Liquid Smoke
- Banana leaves - optional
How to make Hawaiian Style Slow Cooker Pork:
- Prep the pork - pierce all over with a fork
- Season - with the salt and liquid smoke
- Cook - I usually start the pork and night and let it cook all night. You can start the cooking whenever you want depending on the amount of pork you are making.
What kind of pork is used in kalua pork?
Pork shoulder also known as Boston Butt. You can get boneless or bone in.
We get pork 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 via our Las Vegas Food Co-op.
How long does it take to cook Kalua Pork?
Time cooking depends on size of roast and temperature. Keep an eye on your roast depending on the size when it gets close to being done. Minimum of 4 hours.
Once done the slow cooker Kālua pork is so tender you can shred with the back of a spoon. So ono as the Hawaiians say, meaning so GOOD!!!
- To keep Kālua pork from drying out, always store with the liquid remains from cooking it. This will solidify some when chilled due to the pork fat, but will reliqiuify when reheated and keep the pork nice and moist.
- Store in the refrigerator up to 4 days in an airtight container or in the freezer up to three months.
- Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating from frozen.
What to serve with Kālua pork:
Kālua pork is traditionally served with sticky rice and Hawaiian mac salad which is also known as plate lunch in Hawaii. Often served with cabbage ( which is lightly cooked in the liquid leftover from cooking the pork) and fruit.
When served at a Luau you will often see it with poi, sticky rice, lomi lomi salmon, Hawaiian rolls, Mai Tais, Piña Coladas, Guava cake and more.
Make it a meal:
Hawaiian Slow Cooker Kālua Pork
- 1 slow cooker
- 6-8 pounds pork shoulder or Boston butt roast*
- 1 Tablespoon liquid smoke Hickory or Mesquite flavor
- 2-3 teaspoons red Hawaiian Sea salt 2-3 Tablespoons for a larger roast- over 6 pounds***see notes
- Banana leaves - optional I personally don't use them in the slow cooker, but I do when we cook it in our smoker - see notes for smoking instructions
- Rinse and pat the pork shoulder dry with paper towel, do not trim off excess fat 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 eight to twelve hours on LOW.
- Check at about eight hours for doneness. If not done let go the full 12 hours, checking every hour.
- If you have used banana leaves you can remove them before shredding the pork.
- Remove around 2 cups of liquid (500ml) and set aside. This should be most of the cooking liquid removed. Shred the pork with forks and then add some of the liquid back in to keep the pork from drying out. You might not add all the liquid back in, save it for storing the pork if there are leftovers.
- The pork should be kept warm-hot in the liquid before serving. You can place the banana leaves on a platter then serve the pork on top of them or use fresh banana leaves for serving. Do not eat the banana leaves.
- The pork saves well kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer, keep some of the cooking liquid with it. Thaw in refrigerator if frozen. It can be reheated on low in the slow cooker.
Aloha and enjoy my favorite easy kalua pork recipe.