Kalua pork plate lunch

What is Kalua Pork or Kalua Pig?

For those that aren’t familiar with kalua (ka-loo-ah) pork, it’s the Hawaiian way to cook a whole pig in the ground for large gatherings or luaus.  Traditionally, the pig is cooked in an underground pit, called an imu (e-moo). However, since I’m not cooking a whole pig and an imu requires me to dig a hole in the backyard, I’ll share with you an oven method to cook kalua pig using a pork butt.

This cooking preparation has basic seasonings and lets the pork flavor shine through. Of course, the pork is delicious on its own, but you could also add other ingredients to the leftovers (we always have leftovers) and make a whole new dish. You could add cabbage (pork & cabbage – another Hawaii favorite), make BBQ pulled pork sandwiches,  stuff quesadillas, add to soups, and more.

Ingredients for Kalua Pork

  • Banana leaves – I’ve recently seen a lot of kalua pork recipes pop up on the internet for Instapot or various other methods, but there’s one main issue with some of these recipes…they don’t use banana leaves. This is essential for giving the kalua pork flavor and should not be skipped. Banana leaves can be found in Asian markets, Ralphs grocery stores, and sometimes in Walmart in the frozen section. If you can’t get banana leaves, use lots of banana skins.
  • Liquid Smoke – This will add some smoky flavor to the meat and should not be skipped. Use mesquite liquid smoke.
  • Hawaiian Salt or Sea Salt – Do not substitute regular salt. Use large granule Hawaiian or sea salt.

How to Make Oven Kalua Pig

 Let’s get started…

Line baking pan with foil for kalua pig
Line baking pan with foil.

Step 1. Line your roasting pan with foil. The pork will release a lot of liquids and this will make clean-up a lot easier.

Defrost banana leaves
Defrost banana leaves

Step 2. Take the frozen banana leaves and rinse under water to soften. Note: You can get frozen banana leaves at most Asian markets. If you can’t find banana leaves, eat some bananas and use the peels on top of the pork. Peels won’t give it quite the same flavor, but it is a decent substitute.*

Place banana leaves in pan so it will hang over vertically.
horizontal banana leaves
Place banana leaves over vertical leaves so it overhangs horizontally.

Step 3. Place the damp banana leaves in the pan in a cross pattern. Leave enough of the leaves hanging over the sides to be able to wrap around the pork (think gift wrapping). You want this moisture to help steam the pork.

Make criss cross cuts into pork butt.
Criss-cross cut on fat side of the pork butt.

Step 4. Slice a 1/4″ deep criss-cross pattern all over the pork. Space cuts approximately 1″ apart.

Add sea salt to pork butt
Add Hawaii salt to pork butt on both sides.

Step 5. Sprinkle sea salt all over the pork and rub it in. Make sure both sides of the pork butt is salted.

Apply liquid smoke onto the pork butt for kalua pork flavor
Pour liquid smoke over pork butt.

Step 6. Pour liquid smoke on the pork and rub it in.

Bring banana leaves over to cover the pork butt.

Step 7. Wrap the banana leaves over pork.

Cover the baking pan with foil before placing it in the oven.

Step 8. Cover pan with foil and place in a 400F degree oven for one hour. After one hour, drop the oven temperature to 275F degrees and cook for another 4 hours 30 minutes to 5hrs. 

Cool down kalua pig.

Step 9. When done, let the pork sit for 30 minutes to cool down a little before shredding.

Shred kalua pork with fork.
Move kalua pork to a container to give yourself more room to shred the pork.

Step 10. After 30 minutes, start shredding the pork. It should shred easily using two forks. I usually take the pork out in chunks and shred it in another container.

Make salt water for kalua pig
Make salt water with kalua pig pan drippings.

Step 11. Once the pork is shredded, there will be a lot of liquid (fat) in the pan. Take a few tablespoons (3-5 T.) and spoon onto your shredded pork. This will help keep the pork moist and will add back some of the salt/liquid smoke flavor.

Add pan dripping and more sea salt to a pot to make salt water for the kalua pork.

Step 12. Heat water and sea salt on the stove until the salt is dissolved.  Take a few spoonfuls and mix into the shredded pork to your taste. This is just to add more salt flavor OR you can just use the salted pan drippings. Just spoon some of the salty pan drippings onto the pork to add moisture and salt flavor as needed.

What to serve with kalua pork?

Oven Kalua Pork Recipe

I like to eat kalua pig with Lomi Lomi salmon salad and poi, but it isn’t something that I can easily get in Southern California. And since my kids prefer rice over poi, I serve it plate lunch style with rice and macaroni salad.

If you would like a taste of Hawaii without breaking a sweat, I hope you give this recipe a try and let me know how you like it. In fact, I’ve decided to dedicate the rest of the month to a few more favorite Hawaii recipes. So please check those out too! 

Oven Kalua Pork Recipe

Oven Kalua Pork

Yield: 10-15 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
Additional Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes

How to make oven kalua pork using banana leaves and liquid smoke.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 lb pork butt
  • 2 -3 T. Hawaiian salt or sea salt
  • 2 T. liquid smoke (Kiawe or Mesquite)
  • 1-2 banana leaves*
  • 2 cups water + 2 T. Hawaiian salt
  • 3-5 T. of pork liquid left in pan

Instructions

  1. Foil lined baking pan for Kalua Pig Take a roasting pan and line with foil (for easy clean-up).
  2. Criss-cross banana leaves Lay banana leaf in a criss-cross pattern in the pan, leaving enough overlap to be able to wrap over pork.
  3. Make criss-cross pattern all over the pork butt – 1/4″ deep and approximately 1″ apart.
  4. Apply Hawaiian salt on pork Apply liquid smoke on pork Rub 2-3 T. sea salt and  2 T. liquid smoke all over the pork.
  5. wrap banana leaves around kalua pork Foil covered kalua pork Wrap banana leaves over pork and seal pan with a foil. Place pan in 400°F degree oven for one hour.
  6. After an hour, drop the temperature to 275°F degrees and cook for another 4 hr. 30 min. – 5 hours. For a 6 lb. pork butt, cook approximately 5 hours. and longer for a larger pork butt.
  7. Resting cooked kalua pig Remove pan from oven and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  8. shred kalua pig Remove chunks of the pork and start to shred with two forks.
  9. Kalua pig drippings Add 3-5 T. of pan liquids into the shredded pork for moisture.
  10. Salt water for kalua pig seasoning Note: before making the salt water, taste test the kalua pork to see if it needs more salt. Sometimes adding the salted pan drippings is enough seasoning. If the kalua pork needs more seasoning, heat 2 cups of water and 2 T. sea salt on the stove. Stir to dissolve the salt. Add several spoonfuls of the salt water to the shredded pork to your taste.
  11. Oven Kalua Pork Recipe Serve with your favorite sides. I like serving it with rice and macaroni salad. Note: Leftover pork can be frozen in an airtight container/bag for up to 3 months.

Notes

*4-5 banana peels can be substituted for the leaves, but the leaves give a much better flavor and should be used if you can find them in your local Asian market. You should be able to find the leaves in the frozen section.

  • You could make this in a crock pot on low for 6.5 hours, but I prefer the oven method. The kalua pork just seems to shred better when it is done in the oven.

Did you make this recipe?

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14 Comments

  1. Any suggestions on time to cook for an almost 10lb pork? Planning to do it this weekend. This sounds so amazing and I hope my parents approve(born and raised in Hawaii)

  2. Wow – this recipe is spot on!! Because we had access to an imu back home in Hawaii, we have always made kalua pork in an imu. So being recently transplanted to seattle, I tried different kalua pork recipes. and some was ok, but I found yours to be the best.

    I’ve also done this with slow cooker and also didn’t like the texture of the pork. Plus it was missing certain tones of flavor. Also tried baking it at 325 for about 3 hours. It was close, but still missing something.

    After running across and trying your recipe twice, my family and I was totally blown away by its taste and texture of being just like kalua pork from an imu. I’m thinking the 400 degrees initial heat mimics the initial high heat of an imu.

    I’m glad to have come across your page and thank you for sharing. Will try out your other recipes as well.

    Mahalo!!

  3. I bet this pork would be yummy on Hawaiian haystacks. I’m having a big luau at my place next month, I’ll have to try this out! Thanks! I found your post through Marvelous Mondays link party.

  4. Fabulous way to do pork. At first I thought it would be pork with kahlua liqueur – but that would be spelled differently! So glad I found you via Ms En Place – which is one of my 2 favourite link ups (except my own of course….) Cheers from Carole’s Chatter

  5. I never thought to use liquid smoke for an indoor bbq flavor. I’ll definitely try this! (Though probably in the crockpot on high for an hour then low for 5-6 hours just because I’m never home long enough to leave the oven on.) Stopping by from Put a Bird On It

  6. Looks really tasty! I would cook it in the oven, too. Of course, it would be great to see how they cook it in Hawaii. Perhaps, I’ll put it on my bucket list and visit one day so that I can get a site of that.

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