Impress Your Guests with This Classic Kalua Pork Recipe

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The Luau Must-Have: Kalua Pork

Kalua pork is pretty much the main dish served at any luau. I even served it for my baby’s first luau! It was definitely a hit at the party. But what is Kalua Pork? It’s a Hawaiian cuisine that was traditionally prepared in an imu (underground oven).

But you know…not everyone has the time and um ground space to cook a whole pig in an imu. So for a typical home cook, you can easily make it in a crock pot, instant pot, or the oven. Pick your choice, you’ll still have that same smoky, salty flavor and tender texture that makes it the number one main dish in any luau. 

Pork Butt, Liquid Smoke, and Salt: Kalua Pork Ingredients

Yup, that’s pretty much all you need to make Kalua Pork. Easy right? I’ll just list the ingredients again:

  • 3 pounds of boneless pork butt
  • 1 tablespoon of Hawaiian salt (or kosher salt)
  • 1 tablespoon of liquid smoke
  • Ti leaves or tin foil (optional)
  • Banana leaves

If you can’t find Hawaiian salt, kosher salt can be used as a substitute.

When shopping for pork butt, look for a cut that’s well-marbled with fat, as this will make the meat more tender and flavorful when cooked.

Ti leaves or banana 

Pork Butt or Pork Shoulder: Which One to Use for Kalua Pork

Pork butt and pork shoulder are not the same cut of meat, but they are similar and can be used interchangeably in many recipes. Pork butt comes from the upper part of the shoulder, while pork shoulder comes from the lower part of the shoulder. Both cuts are typically used for slow-cooking methods like braising or roasting, and they have a good amount of fat and marbling, which helps keep the meat moist and tender during cooking. In recipes like Kalua pork, either cut can be used with good results.

Crock Pot, Instant Pot, or Oven? Cooking Kalua Pork Made Easy

Either of these options will still yield a juicy and tender Kalua Pork. Use the crock pot when you have a busy schedule. Make minor preparations for the meat, pop it in the crock pot and forget it until it’s time for dinner.

If you’re short on time and want to cook Kalua Pork quickly, Instant Pot will be your friend in a time of crunch. It can cook the pork in a fraction of the time it takes in a crock pot or oven yet it still produces that classic tender and juicy meat.

Juices from sautéing the pork in the Instant Pot.
Juices from sautéing the pork in the Instant Pot.

But if you prefer the traditional approach and want to infuse the smoky flavor, try out the oven method. I remember seeing tutus and aunties huddling around the oven making sure the kalua pork was cooking nicely. Overall, it’s almost exactly the same as cooking with a crock pot, but you use ti leaves or foil to wrap the pork to contain the moisture.

Serve it Up: The Best Sides and Toppings for Kalua Pork

Normally locals like to serve kalua pork with lomi salmon, poi, chicken long rice, squid luau, and rice. They all are versatile to complement the rich and savory kalua pork. I especially love to eat my kalua pork with rice and lomi salmon. The freshness from the lomi salmon helps balance the savory meat and the rice evens out the saltiness with its neutral flavor. 

Tips and Tricks for Perfecting Your Kalua Pork Game

Making the perfect Kalua Pork can be a fun and creative process, and there are plenty of ways to customize the recipe to suit your taste. Here are some additional tips and tricks to help you achieve delicious and tender Kalua pork:

  1. Experiment with different cuts of meat: While pork butt is the most commonly used cut for Kalua pork, you can also try using other cuts like pork shoulder or pork loin. Keep in mind that the cooking time may vary depending on the cut of meat.
  2. Add extra flavorings: While the basic recipe for Kalua pork is simple, you can add additional flavorings to make the dish unique and personalized. Some popular options include garlic, ginger, onion, and soy sauce.
  3. Adjust the cooking time: Depending on the cooking method and the size of your pork pieces, you may need to adjust the cooking time. For example, cooking in a crock pot or instant pot may require less time than cooking in the oven. Be sure to check the internal temperature of the pork to ensure it’s fully cooked.
  4. Let the pork rest: Once the pork is cooked, be sure to let it rest for at least 10-15 minutes before shredding it. This allows the juices to redistribute and results in more tender and flavorful meat.

Remember, there’s no one “right” way to make Kalua pork. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ingredients and techniques to make the dish your own. With a little creativity and a lot of love, you can create a truly delicious and unforgettable meal.

Give this onolicious recipe a try! If you did give it a try, please leave a comment with a star rating below. Mahalo!

Instant Pot or Oven Kalua Pork

Make Kalua Pork in the oven or Instant Pot. It's so easy and 'ono, that you'd probably want to have this meal on your menu weekly.
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Ingredients

Instant Pot Kalua Pork

  • 3 lb pork butt
  • 1 tbsp Hawaiian sea salt (or regular sea salt)
  • 1 tbsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cabbage head (optional)

Oven Kalua Pork

  • 3 lb pork butt
  • 1 tbsp Hawaiian sea salt (or regular sea salt)
  • 1 tbsp liquid smoke
  • ti leaves or foil
  • banana leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 cabbage head (optional)

Instructions

Instant Pot – Kalua Pork

  • Select Sauté on the Instant Pot. Drizzle in some oil to the pot and brown all sides of the pork. Remove and set aside.
  • Add water, liquid smoke, and half of the salt to the pot. Stir and scrape off the brown parts from the pot.
  • Place the pork back into the pot and sprinkle the salt back onto the pork.
  • Seal the instant pot and cook on high pressure for 90 minutes.
  • In the meantime, stir fry the cabbage. Drizzle some oil into a sauté pan and add in the cabbage. Cook until the leaves are tender.
  • Once the pork is cooked, let the pressure release naturally for about 10-15 minutes or once the metal pin drops.
  • Remove the pork from the instant pot and let it rest for 10-15 minutes.
  • Shred the pork using two forks. Then mix in the cabbage.
  • Serve the Kalua pork hot with your choice of sides and enjoy!

Oven – Kalua Pork

  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Score the pork into diamond shapes on the top and bottom.
  • Rub the salt into the pork on all sides. Coat all sides of the pork with the liquid smoke.
  • Place pork in a large roasting pan and cover tightly with foil. Or if using banana leaves and ti leaves, line the pan with the leaves and wrap the pork with the ti leaves.
  • Bake for 3-4 hours, or until the pork is fork tender and falls apart easily.
  • In the meantime, stir fry the cabbage. Drizzle some oil into a sauté pan and add in the cabbage. Cook until the leaves are tender.
  • Shred the pork using two forks. Then mix in the cabbage.
  • Serve the Kalua pork hot with your choice of sides and enjoy!

Video

2 Comments

  1. Maybe it’s just me being lazy but I always shredded the cabbage and threw it in under the pork halfway through the cooking process so it all cooked together in the juices haha
    I also use banana peels to line my dish to add that slightly sweetened flavor

    1. I was just going to ask why I couldn’t d just throw the cabbage in with the meat and cook it all together. Maybe I am lazy too! I just hate dirtying another pot!

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