Kalua pork (also called kalua pig) is a Hawaiian dish. It's traditionally made from a whole pig roasted underground. But now you can prepare kalua pork at home in the oven or with an Instant Pot / pressure cooker. Super easy, just 3 ingredients!
What is Kalua Pig / Kalua Pork?
It's roast pig!
Kalua refers to a traditional Hawaiian cooking method in which you use an imu (an underground oven).
So Kalua pig / kalua pork means pork cooked in an underground oven.
*No need to find an imu! Our recipe for making kalua pork in oven or with an Instant Pot / pressure cooker is at the bottom of this post ^_^
Preparing the imu (underground oven) for kalua pig (⅙)
More specifically, it's a whole pig cooked in an underground oven. Once finished, the pork meat is shredded and seasoned. It's traditionally served with many other Hawaiian dishes, and of course, rice and/or poi.
The pig is in the imu and covered with banana leaves, ti leaves, and cloth. Now putting on the final layer of soil to seal all the heat in (2/6)
What is an Imu?
An imu is an underground oven that is made from hot stones and coal, plus layers pounded banana trees and ti leaves.
A whole pig is placed in the middle, then covered with more ti leaves. The imu sealed with several inches of soil. (There is usually a layer of burlap between the ti leaves. and soil to keep the soil from touching the pig.)
The distinct flavor the ti leaves. imparts on the pig is what makes kalua pork different from just cooking a whole pig over a fire.
Pig is done roasting! Now, removing the cloth layer that protects the pig from the soil (3/6)
Kalua Pig or Kalua Pork?
Locals call it kalua pig. Tourists and anyone not from Hawaii call it kalua pork.
They are both correct but if you want to sound local/legit while in Hawaii, go with kalua pig ^_^
Removing the top layer of banana leaves and ti leaves (4/6)
How To Eat Kalua Pork?
Removing the more layers of banana leaves and ti leaves (⅚)
Sometimes we'll just eat it at home with a big bowl of rice and some sautéed some vegetables on the side.
Or you can make kalua pork and cabbage (details below).
Pig is out! Next step, shred, season, and eat (6/6)
Kalua Pig and Cabbage
When you go to a Hawaiian restaurant you might see two kalua pork options on the menu. One just says kalua pork and the other says kalua pork and cabbage. When given the option, I'll take the latter.
When the cabbage is mixed with the kalua pork, it's absorbs all of the pork's savory fatty goodness. It's heavenly! I like a 1:1 ratio of kalua pork and cabbage.
We have a whole post on how to make kalua pork and cabbage. It's a very flexible recipe ^_^
Kalua pig from a long gone local spot, Ono's (rip)
Where to Eat Kalua Pork
The below four places are my favorite places for kalua pork (Helena's Hawaiian Food is my single favorite if I had to pick).
Note that when you eat kalua pork at any of these spots, the kalua pork won't be your only/main dish. Kalua pork is usually eaten with many other dishes.
So at Helena's you might order the kalua pork with rice and/or poi, lomi lomi salmon, luau stew, maybe chicken long rice and many other things. The individual dishes are purposely small so that you can enjoy a variety.
My favorite! Kalua pork and cabbage at Helena's Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
You have the option to order just the kalua pork alone at all of these places, but I think it's essential to eat it with all the other dishes for the full experience. (Unless you just really love kalua pork and want only that).
- Helena's Hawaiian Food (Oahu) - That's the photo pictured above. I like the kalua pig and I LOVE the kalua pork and cabbage! Takeout and full service dine-in available.
- Yama's Fish Market (Oahu) - Takeout only, but there are a few tables to sit and eat outside. (Don't forget to try one of their many types of haupia for dessert.)
- Waiāhole Poi Factory (Oahu) - Order at the counter and seat yourself at the outside tables. (Don't forget kulolo for dessert.)
- Fort Ruger Market (Oahu) - Takeout only, great stop pre or post-beach.
Kalua pork and mushroom saimin at Merriman’s Waimea (Big Island)
Classic Versus Fancy Kalua Pork
All the places mentioned above are what I consider classic kalua pork, but there are many places that serve fancy versions of kalua pork...
Kalua pork hash with Okinawan potatoes and lomi tomato at Over Easy (Oahu)
Kalua pork loco moco (also with luau stew and sweet potato) at Travaasa Hana (Maui)
Pre-packed kalua pork and kalua chicken at Yama's Fish Market (Oahu)
Super Casual Kalua pork
So there's classic kalua pork, fancy kalua pork, and....super casual kalua pork.
On this super casual end, you can get kalua pork from local supermarkets like Foodland (they come in small containers under the Ono Ono Brand) and even Costco Hawaii!
Yama's Fish Market also sells pre-packed kalua pork and kalua chicken (pictured above) that you can keep in the freezer. Kalua pork is everywhere if you keep your eyes open ^_^
You only need 3 ingredients to make kalua pork at home:
One recipe, two methods! You can use the Instant Pot/Pressure Cooker or make it in the oven.
Kalua Pork with Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker
Brown the pork butt. Then add water, sea salt, and liquid smoke to the Instant Pot. Cook for 90 minutes.
Remove the meat to a bowl. Then shred the meat (which will be fall apart tender). Mix back in some of the pork drippings to make it super juicy. Eat and enjoy.
Kalua Pork in Oven
Score and rub the pork butt with sea salt and liquid smoke. Place in a roasting pan and wrap tightly with foil. Roast in oven for 3-4 hours till super tender.
Let cool for a bit and then shred the meat. Add back some of the pork drippings to make it really juicy. Ready to devour.
Questions and Tips
3-4 days in the fridge.
Kalua pork also freezes very well! You can even double the recipe, then portion the shredded pork into individual packages and keep it in the freezer. Use as needed. Comes in handy for everything from kalua pork saimin to kalua pork quesadillas or tacos, to just plain kalua pork with rice and fried egg ^_^
Up to you! When we buy pork butt in Chinatown, it always comes with skin-on. When we buy pork butt from non-Asian supermarkets, it comes skin-off. Skin-on is more fatty and rich, so it's just personal preference. Both ways are onolicious.
Once the pork is done cooking, there will be a lot of drippings/juice. This is liquid gold! Save it. I usually use half to add back to the shredded kalua pork (to make it real juicy). And then I use the other half to make Kalua Pork and Cabbage.
Good question! We always serve it rice. And on good days, we also serve it with many other traditional Hawaiian dishes including:
- Poi (poi and rice are the two main starches)
- Luau stew (one of my all time favorite Hawaiian dishes)
- Lau Lau (a great weekend project!)
- Chicken long rice (think chicken noodle soup, but Hawaiian style)
- Lomi lomi salmon (a chilled tomato and salmon "salad")
- Don't forget about Hawaiian desserts. We love Haupia (here's a version made with agar agar) and Kulolo.
Instant Pot Kalua Pork Recipe
See below and enjoy ^_^
- 3 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 3 pieces
- 1 tablespoon Hawaiian sea salt (or regular sea salt)
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
- 1 cup water
- Cut the pork butt into 3 pieces:
- Press the “saute” button on the Instant Pot. When the pot is hot, add a little oil and brown the pork pieces on all sides. Remove pork onto a plate and turn off the Instant Pot.
- Add the water to the Instant Pot. Stir to scrape up all the brown bits (that’s the good stuff!) on the bottom of the pot.
- Add the liquid smoke and sea salt, and stir to mix.
- Place the pork pieces back into the Instant Pot. Cover and select the ‘High-Pressure.” Cook for 90 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally. This is what the Kalua Pork looks like right after it's finished cooking:
- Remove the pork to a bowl. Pour the remaining pork drippings/juice into another bowl.
- Shred the pork, and add back as much juice as you’d like to keep it moist and tender. Traditional way is to shred the Kalua Pork super find, but people like to keep chunkier pieces of pork. Either way is delicious.
- Serve hot! With a bowl of rice ^_^
To prepare Kalua Pork in the oven:
- Score the pork butt all over, and season with sea salt and liquid smoke.
- Place it in a roasting pan and cover tightly with foil. (Note: if you happen to have banana leaves, use them! Wrap the whole butt with banana leaves. You'll need several leaves to make sure all of it is wrapped tight. Tie the whole thing with kitchen twine. Then wrap it all in an outer layer of foil.)
- Roast 3-4 hours at 325F, until the meat is really tender.
- Let cool a little, and then shred the pork meat, adding back some of the kalua pork juices/drippings to make it extra juicy. Eat with rice.