Kalua pork is a staple in Hawaiian cuisine and is typically cooked in an underground oven called an imu.
While it may seem daunting to recreate this dish at home, it is actually quite simple with the right ingredients and techniques.
This resource is part of our Best Keto Meals for a Delicious Low Carb Diet series.
By following a few key steps, you can achieve the same mouthwatering results without the need for an imu.
If you’ve always wanted to try making Kalua pork at home but didn’t know where to start, this article is for you.
What is Kalua Pork?
Kālua is an ancient Hawaiian cooking method characterized by the use of an underground oven. Despite its phonetic similarity to the famous coffee liqueur, our focus here is on the traditional Hawaiian kalua technique.
The kalua approach lends itself to preparing various types of dishes, with one of the most renowned being Kalua Pork, a beloved Hawaiian delicacy made from pork roasts expertly smoked.
This traditional method involves generously seasoning the pork’s surface with Hawaiian salt, introducing hot stones into its cavity, and then gently lowering it into the subterranean oven, known as an imu.
Subsequently, the pork is carefully draped with banana leaves or ti leaves and earth, where it undergoes a lengthy cooking process over several hours.
The outcome is perfection: the pork emerges exquisitely cooked, boasting a tender texture with a smoky flavor that also carries a subtle earthy essence imparted by the soil and banana/ti leaves.
Creating an authentic kalua pork experience at home can prove to be a challenge for those on the mainland, given the specificity of ingredients and the unique cooking method required.
Nevertheless, with diligence in sourcing the necessary components, this endeavor becomes entirely achievable and relatively straightforward.
Feel free to complement your kalua pork with accompaniments such as white rice, fresh pineapple, or pork pieces for an extra flavor dimension.
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Ingredients for Kalua Pork:
- 4-5 pounds pork shoulder (also known as pork butt), bone-in or boneless
- 3 tablespoons sea salt (or kosher salt)
- 2 tablespoons liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup water
Instructions for Kalua Pork:
- Pork Shoulder Preparation: Start with preparing the pork shoulder. To get rid of any extra blood or residue, rinse the pork shoulder under cold, running water. To ensure that the surface is dry, pat it with paper towels. A dry surface will aid in the seasonings’ better adhesion. Use a sharp knife to score the skin and fat in a crisscross pattern to improve flavor absorption.
- Create the Seasoning Blend: In a small bowl, combine the seasoning blend. Combine sea salt, liquid smoke, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, brown sugar, and black pepper until a paste-like consistency is achieved. The blend should be mixed well to ensure that the flavors are evenly distributed.
- Apply the Seasoning to the Pork: Evenly distribute the seasoning mixture over the pork shoulder, making sure to cover all areas of the meat. Gently apply the seasoning to the scored areas of the pork to ensure it gets absorbed. For optimal flavor, it is recommended to marinate the seasoned pork in the refrigerator for a period of time ranging from a few hours to overnight.
- Prepare for Cooking: Place the seasoned pork shoulder into a slow cooker or a large roasting pan. To create a moist cooking environment, add approximately 1/2 cup of water to the pan. To retain moisture during cooking, it is recommended to cover the pork with either aluminum foil or a tightly fitting lid.
- Cook the Pork: If using a slow cooker, set it to low heat and allow the pork to simmer for 8 to 10 hours or until it’s tender and easily shredded with a fork. If a roasting pan is being used, the oven should be preheated to 325°F (160°C) and the pork should be roasted for about 6 to 8 hours cooking time. To keep the pork moist and flavorful, regularly baste it with the pan juices.
- Shred the Pork: Once the pork is cooked and soft, carefully remove it from the slow cooker or roasting pan. Use two forks to shred the pork into smaller pieces for easier handling. If a bone-in pork shoulder was used, it is necessary to remove any excess fat or bones before shredding.
- Serve and Enjoy: To enjoy the shredded kalua pork, you can serve it with your preferred side dishes like steamed rice, cabbage, or Hawaiian macaroni salad. Experience the delicious flavors of kalua pork as a satisfying meal option.
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Tips And Tricks For Achieving Maximum Flavor
Achieving maximum flavorful Kalua Pork requires a combination of proper preparation and cooking techniques, as well as attention to seasoning and ingredients.
Here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most flavorful Kalua Pork:
- Select the Right Cut of Pork: The traditional cut for Kalua Pork is a pork butt or shoulder. These cuts have a good balance of meat and fat, which is essential for flavor and tenderness.
- Use Hawaiian Sea Salt (Alaea Salt): Authentic Kalua Pork is seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt, also known as Alaea salt. This salt has a distinct mineral flavor that enhances the overall taste of the dish.
- Immerse the Meat in Salt: Generously rub the pork with Hawaiian sea salt and let it sit for at least an hour or overnight. This salt-curing process helps flavor the meat deeply and tenderizes it.
- Slow Cook or Smoke: Slow cooking is key to tender and flavorful Kalua Pork. You can use a slow cooker, oven, or even a smoker to achieve this. Cooking low and slow allows the flavors to meld and the meat to become tender.