Origin: Taste of the Islands
Method: SmokerJump to Recipe
Kalua pork is the centerpiece of any good Hawaiian luau. Typically, this Hawaiian pulled pork is a result of slow roasting a whole hog for hours in an underground cooking pit called an imu. The hog is wrapped in layers of cloth, banana and ti leaves and lowered unto the imu with hot stones and coals. It is then buried and allowed to steam for hours resulting in a perfectly tender and juicy Hawaiian pork that is so tender you can shred it with your fingers.
Fortunately, you do not need to travel halfway across the Pacific Ocean to replicate this Polynesian pork recipe at home. Our Kalua Style Pork is made at home on your BBQ grill or smoker and is a super simple recipe to make.
Making the Kalua Style Pork at home
You only need a few ingredients to make this luau style, pulled pork recipe. You will need a pork shoulder or pork butt, red Hawaiian salt, a little bit of olive oil, and some banana or ti leaves for wrapping the pork. Either boneless or bone-in pork butt or shoulder can be used for the recipe, depending on your preference. The recipe is also easily adjustable depending on how many people you want to serve. In general, you can figure about ⅓ to ½ a pound of Hawaiian pulled pork per person. Thus, a 4-pound pork butt should be enough to serve about 8-12 people.
Trim the pork shoulder and season with salt
Trim any excess fat from the exterior of the pork butt and then move to a pan. Pork butt has a lot of intramuscular fat so try to trim most of the exterior fat off.
Kalua pork is traditionally rubbed down with Alaea Sea salt. This red Hawaiian salt gets its red color from a rich volcanic clay known as Alaea. Alaea is rich in iron oxide which give the salt, and thus the pork, its rich red color. This salt is typically available at stores like World Market, or you can find Alaea salt on Amazon.
You will want to rub the pork down with a little bit of the olive oil, then use about ¾ teaspoon-1 teaspoon per pound of meat of the Alaea sea salt. For example, for a 5-pound pork butt we typically use about 1.5 tablespoons of the red salt. You do not need a lot of oil, just enough to lightly coat the pork and help the salt adhere.
Cooking the Hawaiian Kalua Pork
When cooking the kalua pork on your grill or smoker you have a couple of options. Our favorite method is to let the pork butt smoke a little bit before wrapping it up in the banana leaves. This lets the pork get a nice subtle smoke flavor. Traditionally Hawaiian Kalua Pork is wrapped up tight and steamed in the ti and banana leaves with very little smoke flavor, so make it according to your preference.
Preheat your smoker to 250 degrees and set up for indirect heat. Smoke the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of about 160 degrees. Timing will vary, but this typically takes about 3-4 hours for a 5-pound pork butt. Larger pork butts will take longer. At this point you will want to proceed to wrapping the kalua pork.
Wrap the kalua pork in the banana leaves
Traditionally kalua pork is wrapped in a combination of ti leaves and banana leaves. We have never had much luck finding ti leaves on the mainland, so we typically just use banana leaves.
We typically wrap in a layer of banana leaves and then a layer of foil to hold it all together. Remember that traditional kalua style pork is basically steamed in the imo so the foil will replicate this. If you choose to avoid the foil you will want to wrap in several layers of banana leaves because the outer leaves will tend to dry out pretty quickly.
Continue to cook the pork butt to an internal temperature of about 200-203 degrees. You are monitoring the internal temperature with a temp probe, right? If you are not monitoring with a temp probe, the wrapped stage will typically take another 2-3 hours for a 5-pound pork butt. Again, this will vary greatly depending on many variables so please monitor your temp.
Rest the Hawaiian Pulled Pork
Once the pork has reached temp, remove it from the grill and let it rest for at least 15-30 minutes before shredding. You can also rest the pork, wrapped, in a cooler or Cambro for many hours if it is done before you are ready to start your luau.
Serving the Hawaiian Style Kalua Pork
When you are ready to serve, shred the Hawaiin pulled pork into a large bowl. Discard the banana leaves or use as a garnish or to line the bowl but don't eat it.
One of the traditional ways of serving Hawaiian pulled pork is as part of a plate lunch. The kalua pork goes great with homemade macaroni salad, and rice. Wash it down with a Coconut Mai Tai or your favorite tiki drink.
For a little more flavorful rice, serve it with some Caribbean Rice and Beans or Puerto Rican Arroz Con Gandules: Rice with Pigeon Peas.
If you have leftovers, wrap them tightly in foil. To reheat, place in the oven and cook, wrapped, until warm. For the absolute best way to store and reheat leftover meat and BBQ, vacuum seal the pork and then reheat in a sous vide to 145-150 degrees. This is without a doubt the most failproof way to reheat meat and is a great method for reverse sear cooking meat like our Sous Vide Florentine Style Porterhouse. A sous vide is one of our must own kitchen gadgets for meat lovers. There are endless options for sous vide, but the Anova Nano is a great unit for a reasonable price for those interested in getting into sous vide cooking.
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Hawaiian Kalua Pork
- 6 pound Pork Butt
- 2 Tab Red Sea Salt
- 2 Tab Olive Oil
- Banana Leaves
- Trim excess fat from the exterior of the pork butt.
- Lightly rub the outside of the pork butt with the olive oil and then rub with the Alaea Red Sea Salt.
- Preheat your grill or smoker to 250 degrees. Smoke the kalua pork to an internal temp of 160 degrees or for about 3 hours.
- Wrap the kalua pork in banana leaves and then in foil. Continue to cook to an internal temperature of 200-203 degrees (about 2-3 more hours). If you are not monitoring internal temperature the pork is done when you can easily shred it with a fork.
- Shred and serve warm, or you can keep wrapped and place in a cooler for several hours before eating.