Hawaiian Kalua Pig

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Fire Starter
Original poster
Mar 20, 2007
Honolulu, Hawaii
Kalua Pig is a traditional Hawaiian luau dish prepared by ROASTING and SMOKING a whole pig in an underground oven called an Imu. The finished dish is similar to pulled pork, with a smokey, slightly salted flavor and a natural, aromatic flavor imparted by Hawaiian Ti Leaves used to wrap the pig during the cooking process.

Here's a pictorial of Kalua Pig made the traditional way in an Imu, except with some modern methods applied, such as the use of burlap bags (for moisture and steam) and poultry wire to keep the pig meat intact. In that pictorial, also take note that they didn't dig a hole in the ground, as it's done traditionally, but built the imu on the surface, which still works, as long as it's covered properly.

The wood of choice for smoking in Hawaii is Kiawe, which is said to be a cousin of Mesquite. It's a very dense wood, especially in more mature parts of the tree limbs, and with that it has quite a long burn time.

Kiawe wood is started using kindling wood in the imu pit. After the Kiawe is burning well, river rocks (traditionally lava rocks) are placed in the pit with it to heat them RED HOT. Once they're heated to that point, they're placed in the cavities of a whole, cleaned out pig that's been seasoned liberally with Hawaiian Sea Salt. Some rocks remain on the bottom of the Imu pit to help retain heat, and more Kiawe wood is added.

The pig is then wrapped with poultry wire and placed over the imu, which is layered with banana stumps and leaves, then covered with Ti Leaves, more banana leaves, then with wet burlap bags (for steam and moisture) and then finally covered with a heavy-duty tarp to retain the heat and smoke.

This is usually done the afternoon before the event, then left to cook overnight.

The next day, family gather to uncover the delicacy and help to shred the Kalua Pig into large pans and get it ready for the big Luau.

Kalua Pig is often the most popular dish with mainland tourists, as it reminds them of the smoked pulled pork they're familiar with at home.

So ono (delicious) with Poi!

Kalua Pig Cooked and Smoked in an Imu
From my blog...

You can make Kalua Pig either the traditional way in an Imu (underground oven) or the easier faux method using liquid smoke in a conventional oven (which I'll explain here at SMF later).

Well leave the hard labor and the liquid smoke behind this time, as Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]ll show you how to make Kalua Pig using a barbecue grill!

The natural smoked flavor from the Kiawe (or mesquite) is unbeatable, and itâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s relatively easy to do, only requiring a few simple steps, time and some TLC. If you like barbecuing (like me), this should be a fun and rewarding project!


Tender, moist and smokey Kiawe-roasted Kalua Pig… Ono!
What you will need for the fire:
  • A large coal-burning barbecue grill that has a cover (in this case, Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]m using the classic 22″ Weber Kettle Classic)
  • Kiawe Wood Logs (if you donâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]t have this, use mesquite wood chips found at most grocery and hardware stores)
  • Charcoal
  • Disposable foil pan
  • Lighter fluid
  • Newspaper (to start burning coals)
What you will need for the pig:
  • Pork butt (bone-in with plenty of fat is preferable for better flavor), in this demo, Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]m using a 5 pound cut.
  • Hawaiian rock salt
  • Ti leaves (prepared by washing thoroughly and stems cut off), enough to completely wrap the pork butt(s). If you can't get Ti leaves, banana leaves may be substituted
  • 18″ width heavy-duty aluminum foil
First, prepare the pig…


Begin by laying a large sheet of foil on the work surface. Then layer the Ti Leaves on the foil as shown above. Place the pork butt on the Ti Leaves, then sprinkle Hawaiian Salt on all surfaces of the Pork Butt. Enough just that itâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s evenly, but not heavily covered (donâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]t over salt it!). If you want, you can lomi (massage) it in. Make sure the fat-side is up when wrapping it (as shown).

To wrap it all up, first gather up the Ti Leaves and wrap it over the pig, leaf by leaf, then hold them together with one hand, while with your other hand, bring up the foil to form a “packetâ€, which will look like this…


One thing critical in how you wrap it is that you provide a sealed “bottom†to retain all the flavorful juices from the pork. If thereâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s a leak on the bottom, the juices will drip off and your pig may turn out dry. So keep that in mind.

Finally, using a sharp knife, poke holes on the TOP SIDE of the packet to allow the smoke (flavoring!) in. Poke all the way through until it penetrates the meat. Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]ve made 8 holes here.

Repeat this process for however many pork butts you plan on cooking. In this demonstration, I only made one. Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]d say the 22″ Weber I used could fit about 4 total.

Continued next post...
Continued from Part 1...

Put wrapped up pork butts in refrigerator and prepare the fire…


Before you begin, remember to WORK SAFELY. Just cook the pig. Not yourself or your house!

Build the fire by laying a (small) bed of 10 charcoal briquettes on one side of the bottom grate, with the Kiawe log sitting on top of it. Drizzle the coals and kiawe with enough lighter fluid for a light soak, then get the fire started with a crumpled newspaper on the side.

Here are several pieces of dried out Kiawe wood logs...


The shorter dark ones on the left came from a more mature tree and are much more DENSE, hence they burn much longer. Theyâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]re a struggle to cut, even with a chainsaw; almost like cutting a metal pipe.

If youâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]re using Mesquite chips, use more coal (about 25 briquettes) and add the chips only when youâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]re ready to cook. Pre-soak the chips in water (for smoking).

When the lighter fluid has fully burned off, the coals are almost ashed over (white) and the Kiawe is burning consistently (usually takes about 30 minutes), itâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s ready for the pig…


Place a foil pan filled with water next to the fire. This will create some steam in the chamber that will help keep the pig moist. Place the cooking grate on the grill then place the wrapped pig on it. In this case, the fire was REALLY HOT, so I kept the pig on the opposite end. This is INDIRECT cooking, where youâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]re only using the fire as heat source. DO NOT place the pig near the flame up area (shown on the left side).

If using Mesquite chips, this is the time to sprinkle them over the burning coals. It will immediately begin smoking.

Continued next post...
Continued from Part 2...

Cover the grill...


Notice the billowing Kiawe smoke!

With the heat source on one side and the cover on, you’re basically turning your grill into an outdoor oven. Albeit, one with all that flavor-enhancing Kiawe smoke!

Set all the vents open, underneath and on the lid. Let the “Kalua’ing” begin! It takes about 6 hours for the pork to fully cook and reach fork-tender, fall-apart consistency. Because of this long duration, you’ll need to feed more Kiawe and Charcoal to the existing burning coals every hour or so. The charcoal briquettes can be slipped through the side opening of the grate, but you’ll need to remove the grate when adding the larger Kiawe log. You want to keep the heat inside the grill (not the meat) maintained between 250 degrees (F) to 325 degrees maximum. If in doubt, use a BBQ temperature gauge. I use the “hand-testing” technique, as I’ve done this many times already.

About 5 hours into the cooking time, it looks like this…


As you see, I’ve just fed more charcoal and a new chunk of Kiawe. The existing burning embers will eventually start to burn the new batch. The foil wrapper has taken on a bronzed color from the heat and billowing smoke created by the Kiawe wood (or Mesquite Chips if you use that). That new chunk of Kiawe will burn long enough for the final 2 hours of cooking it needs.

Remember to keep the grill COVERED throughout the cooking process (even though it’s tempting to look!). This is how you maintain and keep a stable cooking temperature. Only uncover it when you need to add more coal and/or Kiawe or Mesquite.

After approximately 7 hours, it’s done! Remove the pork butt(s) from the grill, bring into kitchen and prepare to shred the meat. Here it is just unwrapped. Yum!….


Continued next post...
Continued from Part 3 (Final)...

IMPORTANT! Before you open the foil, poke a whole on the bottom of the packet and drain the precious liquid into a clean transfer pan that you will use to shred the pig in. Then set the packet down, open the foil and Ti leaves and remove the cooked pork INTACT and place in transfer pan with cooking juices…


Discard foil and Ti leaves (or banana leaves).

Using two sturdy forks, shred the Kalua Pig (thatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s what it is now!) in the pan while itâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s still hot. Taste test for saltiness. Adjust with more if necessary. After several times, youâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]ll get the hang of how much salt to use at the prepâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji] stage. Remember, you can always add, but you canâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]t subtract.
The finished result will look like this…


A full pan of Kalua Pig with a bowl of Poi to be served along with it.

Thatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s it. All pau cook. Now time to kaukau (eat)!


Notice how moist it looks. This is why you need to retain those cooking juices, so you can mix it with the Kalua Pig. And so smokey good.

Hope this encourages you folks to try making this popular Hawaiian Luau dish right in your backyard! If you don't like poi, another popular way to serve this is cooked with cabbage, simply cut up and heated together with the Kalua Pig in a pan until the cabbage is soft. Drizzle a little (just a little!) shoyu in for additional flavor. Serve with steamed rice.



Mahalo Kumu ! Pona Pua`a!

Thank you teacher! Excelent pig!

Wonderful instruction! Greatly appreciated! It has been many years since I prepared a pig for the Imu with ohana! Mahalo!
I used to live in Waipahu below the sugar mill when it was all cane and pineapple fields.
great job Brada, mahalos for the how to..maybe some Kalua turkey to go with that kalua pig and poi.. nice to see someone from Hawaii here.. i'm on the big island. living large on the homestead in Keaukaha.. laters my friend!!!
Looks like the pig was cooked around the Waimanalo area. One of the best pigs I've eaten was done this way. Takes time......but the best things come out prefect when done slow........ Great pictures!

I just looked at your other thread. Then I looked at this one. Fantastic job on the cook and the post!!

Take care, have fun, and do good!


I can definitely tell you are getting the most out of your Weber kettle! I need to show this to a buddy of mine that is enamored with his kettle as well. Sure he would love to try some of your recipes.
howsit, I'm new to this smoker stuff and just read your posts. brah, I'm dyin. I live in Cali now and I'm jones'n for da grinds. I gotta try your recipes and get back to you. laters, mahalos..
Pomai, I will back ya on that. I was fortunate to go to Hawaii a few years back. Best darn pig i ever ate.
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