Kalua pig and cabbage are classic luau food. Kālua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method that uses an imu, a type of underground oven (you can read more about imus and traditional kalua-style dishes here). However, you don’t need to dig an imu or roast a whole pig to enjoy kalua pork at home- you just need a few ingredients and a little know-how to recreate the dish in your own kitchen.
When shopping for the pork, look for a shoulder or “butt” roast with a good bit of marbling and a thick fat cap on it- most of this fat will melt away during cooking, and the fat helps keeps the meat juicy, flavorful, and tender (don’t worry- you can always trim away any excess fat when you shred the kalua pork).
As written, this recipe makes about ten cups of shredded pork (about eight to ten servings). However, this recipe can easily be scaled for a larger or smaller roast – just adjust the seasoning accordingly, and calculate your cooking time by the weight or your roast. Cook at 500°F for 30 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350°F and continue cooking for 35 minutes per pound. You can even go over by an hour or so- extra roasting time renders off more fat from the meat and cooks off more water, which produces a more concentrated, flavorful cooking liquid that you can use to make cabbage to accompany the kalua pork (The Tasty Island has great directions for how to make delicious cabbage to go with your Kalua Pork). Any leftover kalua pork juices are also great to use in saimin stock or ramen broth too.
- 1 large banana leaf*
- 6 pound boneless pork shoulder Boston roast (Boston butt), cut across grain into 6 pieces
- 2 1/2 tablespoons coarse salt (preferably Hawaiian alaea salt)
- 2 1/2 tablespoons natural liquid smoke-flavoring
*Notes: You can find frozen (and sometimes fresh) banana leaves in Latin and Asian grocery stores. Hawaiian alaea salt is a coarse natural salt permeated with minerals from red alaea volcanic clay. It’s an ingredient used in many traditional Hawaiian dishes such as kalua pork and poké.
Heat oven to 500°F.
Lay two sheets of foil (each about 12-inches long) on a work surface with long sides overlapping by about 4 inches. Cut two 12-inch lengths from banana leaf and center one piece of banana leaf on the foil. Place pork on banana leaf and sprinkle with salt and liquid smoke. Cover the pork with the other 12-inch length of banana leaf and two more overlapping sheets of foil (each about 18-inches long). Crimp edges of foil tightly to form a packet and place in a large roasting pan. Add one inch of water to the pan and cover tightly with more foil.
Roast pork in middle of oven at 500°F for 30 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350°F and continue roasting for four hours. Pour off the roasting liquid from pan (reserve for later use, if desired). When pork is just cool enough to handle, shred with 2 forks in a bowl. Spoon some of the cooking juices over the shredded pork and serve warm.
last updated August 17, 2023