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…
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.
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.*
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.
Step 4. Slice a 1/4″ deep criss-cross pattern all over the pork. Space cuts approximately 1″ apart.
Step 5. Sprinkle sea salt all over the pork and rub it in. Make sure both sides of the pork butt is salted.
Step 6. Pour liquid smoke on the pork and rub it in.
Step 7. Wrap the banana leaves over pork.
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.
Step 9. When done, let the pork sit for 30 minutes to cool down a little before shredding.
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.
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.
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?
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!
- 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
- Take a roasting pan and line with foil (for easy clean-up).
- Lay banana leaf in a criss-cross pattern in the pan, leaving enough overlap to be able to wrap over pork.
- Make criss-cross pattern all over the pork butt – 1/4″ deep and approximately 1″ apart.
- Rub 2-3 T. sea salt and 2 T. liquid smoke all over the pork.
- Wrap banana leaves over pork and seal pan with a foil. Place pan in 400°F degree oven for one hour.
- 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.
- Remove pan from oven and let it sit for 30 minutes.
- Remove chunks of the pork and start to shred with two forks.
- Add 3-5 T. of pan liquids into the shredded pork for moisture.
- 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.
- 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.
*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.
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