Kalua pork (also called kalua pig) is a traditional Hawaiian dish made from a whole pig that’s roasted underground. The pork meat is shredded, seasoned, and served with rice and poi.
Preparing the imu (underground oven) for kalua pig
Hot and shredded, super savory. Juicy!
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.
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 pig /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.
If you want to sound local/legit, go with kalua pig ^_^
Removing the top layer of banana leaves and ti leaves (4/6)
How Do You Eat Kalua Pig?
With rice! And poi! When dining out, you’ll see it often as part of a Hawaiian plate lunch, which will include other items like rice and/or poi, lomi salmon, and other goodies.
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 pig and cabbage (details below).
Removing the more layers of banana leaves and ti leaves (5/6)
Can You Make Kalua Pig at Home?
Yes!! The traditional way of making kalua pig requires the imu. But since most of us don’t have a giant underground oven in the backyard, you can make kalua pig in the oven. (There are many kalua pig slower cooker recipes online, but I prefer the oven.)
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Get a five-pound pork butt. Score the pork butt all over, and season it good with sea salt (Hawaiian sea salt is ideal) and liquid smoke. (If you don’t have liquid smoke, this kalua pig seasoning packet includes both sea salt salt and hickory smoke.)
Wrap the whole butt with banana leaves (you’ll need several leaves to make sure all of it is wrapped tight). Tie it all with kitchen twine then wrap all of that in foil. Roast 4-5 hours, until the meat is really tender. Cool, shred the pork meat, and season to taste. You can season with more Hawaiian sea salt, or add back some of the kalua pig juices/drippings. Eat with rice!
Or you can make that kalua pig and cabbage…
Pig is out! Next step, shred, season, and eat (6/6)
What’s Kalua Pig and Cabbage?
When you go to a Hawaiian restaurant you might see two kalua pig options on the menu. One just says kalua pig and the other says kalua pig and cabbage. When given the option, I’ll take the latter.
Kalua pig and cabbage (with rice and mac salad) at Blue Ginger Cafe (Lanai)
Kalua pig and cabbage is made with kalua pig mixed with cabbage (that has been chopped and sautéed). When the cabbage gets mixed with the kalua pig, it’s absorbs all of the pig’s savory fatty goodness. It’s heavenly! I like a perfect 50/50 ratio of kalua pig and cabbage.
Kalua pig from a long gone local spot, Ono’s (rip)
Where to Eat Kalua Pig / Kalua Pork
The below four places are my favorite places for kalua pig (Helena’s Hawaiian Food is my single favorite if I had to pick). Note that when you eat kalua pig at any of these spots, the kalua pig won’t be your only/main dish. Kalua pig is usually eaten with many other dishes. So at Helena’s you might order the kalua pig with rice and/or poi, lomi lomi salmon, luau stew, maybe chicken long rice and many other things. The portions are purposely small so that you can have the variety.
My favorite! Kalua pig and cabbage at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (Oahu)
At all of these places you have the option to order just the kalua pig alone, but I think it’s essential to eat it with all the other dishes for the full experience. (Unless you just really love kalua pig 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 pig 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 pig and mushroom saimin at Merriman’s Waimea (Big Island)
Classic Versus Fancy Kalua Pig
All the places mentioned above are what I consider classic kalua pig, but there are many places that serve fancy versions of kalua pig…
Kalua pig hash with Okinawan potatoes and lomi tomato at Over Easy (Oahu)
Kalua pig loco moco (also with luau stew and sweet potato) at Travaasa Hana (Maui)
Pre-packed kalua pig and kalua chicken at Yama’s Fish Market (Oahu)
Super Casual Kalua Pig
So there’s classic kalua pig, fancy kalua pig, and….super casual kalua pig.
On this super casual end, you can get kalua pig 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 pig and kalua chicken (pictured above) that you can keep in the freezer. Kalua pig is everywhere if you keep your eyes open ^_^