Kalua Pork

June 4, 2020

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Kalua Pork – the famous luau style pork made easy in the slow cooker. It’s unbelievably tender, and deliciously flavorful!

Shredded kalua pork shown from the side in a white serving bowl set over a blue napkin and wooden platter. Pineapple slices and tropical flowers are shown to the side.

What is kalua pork?

Kalua pork is a smoked shredded meat. It is the main dish and most common food served at traditional Hawaiian luaus and feasts. It is a centuries old tradition that uses a rather laborsome process of cooking a whole pig underground (this recipe uses just a cut of pork and a simplified cooking method to make it more realistically doable for everyone).

How is it traditionally made?

In Hawaii kalua pork is cooked in an underground oven called an imu. The world “kalua” actually translates “to cook in an underground oven” in the Hawaiian language.

To make the oven and cook the pig:

  • A large pit is dug into the ground about 3 – 5 feet deep.
  • Koa or Kiawe wood is placed at the bottom of the pit and topped with large rocks.
  • The kindling is lit and it’s allowed to heat for several hours.
  • After that the pit is lined with vegetation (usually ti leaves or banana leaves).
  • A whole pig is then salted, stuffed with some of the hot rocks, sometimes topped with vegetables, and wrapped or covered in more damp leaves.
  • Then it is placed in the prepared underground oven and covered with a layer of soil.
  • From here it is left to cook underground for about 6 to 7 hours.
  • Finally it is removed and the meat is shredded.

As you can see it is quite the process but a neat tradition. It is the tastiest, most authentic method but definitely not something all of us are able to do.

Single serving of shredded kalua pork on a white serving plate shown with sides of white rice, sautéed cabbage, fresh pineapple and flowers.

Easy Kalua Pork

This version of kalua pork couldn’t be easier to make! 3 ingredients added to a slow cooker – and let the crockpot do the rest!

Since most of us don’t all have a underground oven dug out to cook this the traditional way I think this is the next best option, still cooking it low and slow.

It is amazing what a lengthy cook time can do for a cut of meat like a pork shoulder. You’ll really will be impressed at the tender end result.

It’s perfect for backyard parties, summer get togethers, and really just a simple dinner you can serve any day of the year.

And then with leftovers freeze them for a second meal, it makes plenty!

To keep it super simple just pair it with rice and a steamed veggie for a no-stress, almost entirely hands-off dinner.

3 Ingredients Needed for Kalua Pork

  • Pork shoulder: Also known as “pork butt” or “Boston butt.”
  • Hawaiian salt or Himalayan salt: Hawaiian salt is more difficult to find so I opt for Himalayan salt.
  • Liquid smoke: I use mesquite flavor but hickory will well work too.
  • Optional vegetable oil: This is only needed if you opt to brown the pork first for extra flavor.

Image of ingredients used for kalua pork. Includes pork shoulder, pink salt, and liquid smoke.

How to Make Kalua Pork (Slow Cooker Method):

  1. If time allows, heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Dab roast dry with paper towels then sear in pot for about 3 minutes per side to brown.
  2. Transfer to a 6 or 7 quart slow cooker.
  3. Pour liquid smoke over both sides and season with salt.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat 14 – 16 hours.
  5. Remove from slow cooker, let rest a few minutes then shred, while removing bone and fat.
  6. Toss with some of the juices from the slow cooker and serve warm.

Can it be cooked on high heat?

Low heat is recommend for this recipe for the most tender results, but it can be cooked on high if that’s your only option. It will take about half the time.

Two images, left image showing whole pork butt in a slow cooker after cooking and second image showing shredded pork in a bowl.

Can I make kalua pig in the Instant Pot?

Yes. While the slow cooker will yield the most tender results the Instant Pot is another option too.

To cook it in the Instant Pot:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in slow cooker on saute setting.
  2. Brown 4 lb pork roast on both sides, remove. Turn Instant Pot off.
  3. Pour in 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 Tbsp liquid smoke, stir and scrape up browned bits from bottom of instant pot.
  4. Return pork to Instant Pot and season with 2 – 4 tsp salt (depending on how salty you like it).
  5. Cover and seal, and set valve to sealing position.
  6. Set to manual mode and set to 90 minutes.
  7. Once time is up let pressure release naturally.
  8. Remove pork, shred, toss with some of the liquid from Instant Pot and serve.

Can it be cooked in the oven?

If you don’t own a slow cooker or instant pot you can try the oven method:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Lay 6 lb pork shoulder over a sheet of foil large enough to cover.
  3. Season with liquid smoke and salt.
  4. Wrap with foil and place in roasting pan.
  5. Roast in preheated oven about 6 hours or until very tender.

Kalau pork shredded on a cutting board with two forks to the side.

What to Serve with Kalua Pork

To build up a luau style meal try it with:

Overhead image of shredded Kalua pork in a white serving bowl with pineapple. It is garnished with sliced green onions.

More Hawaiian Inspired Recipes to Try

Kalua Pork

5 from 2 votes

The famous luau style pork made easy in the slow cooker. It's unbelievably tender, and deliciously flavorful! Makes around 3 lbs cooked pork (once bone and fat are removed).

Servings: 12
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 14 hours
Total Time 14 hours 3 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 lbs. bone-in pork shoulder (aka pork butt or Boston butt)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp natural liquid smoke flavor (mesquite or hickory)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Hawaiian salt, Himalayan salt, or sea salt, then more if desired
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil (optional)

Instructions

  1. If time allows, heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Dab roast dry with paper towels then sear in pot for about 3 minutes per side to brown (you can skip this step but it will add a bit of extra flavor, if skipping omit vegetable oil).

  2. Place pork in 6 or 7 quart slow cooker. Drizzle liquid smoke over both sides.

  3. Season both sides with salt.

  4. Cover and cook on low heat 14 - 16 hours until incredibly tender.

  5. Transfer to a cutting board (reserve liquid in slow cooker), shred pork with two forks while removing bone and excess fat.

  6. If desired toss pork with about 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid (rendered broth and fat from pork).

  7. Serve right away, or refrigerate in reserved liquid for a few days or freeze in reserved liquid for a few months. Thaw overnight and reheat over low heat in a pot on stovetop, tossing gently just occasionally, until heated through.

Recipe Notes

  • Roast doesn't need to be exactly 6 lbs. Just about any size will do but decrease or increase cook time slightly based on size and adjust seasonings accordingly.
  • See notes in script up above for Instant Pot and oven cooking instructions.
Nutrition Facts
Kalua Pork
Amount Per Serving
Calories 336 Calories from Fat 144
% Daily Value*
Fat 16g25%
Saturated Fat 6g38%
Cholesterol 152mg51%
Sodium 754mg33%
Potassium 773mg22%
Protein 44g88%
Vitamin A 14IU0%
Vitamin C 2mg2%
Calcium 32mg3%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Hawaiian
Keyword: Kalua Pork
Author: Jaclyn

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14 Comments

  • Evelyn

    When you plan to serve this for dinner, do you get up reeeaaally early to cook it for 14-16 hours? Or does it taste just as good reheated? I’m planning to make it for this weekend with a pork shoulder just shy of 5lbs. Would 14 hrs be OK?
    Thanks! Exited to try this one

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      I usually just reheat or yes wake up early then go back to bed.
      14 hours will be ok.

      • Evelyn

        Thanks for getting back to me! So I made this and I was so surprised that it was a big fail! Surprised because your recipes have never ever let me down! Keeping this in mind, I thought surely I did something wrong. It was so salty and dry, and I mean dry! Not one spoonful of broth/liquid came out of this thing! Your pic shows so much broth! Well I think my mistake was the cut of meat. I bought “pork shoulder” like the recipes calls for BUT underneath it said “arm picnic” I didn’t think twice about that. I’d never made a pork shoulder. I thought it was weird that the meat still had the skin attached when i took it out of the package but I just cut it off since your recipe didnt mention skin. Well, after the meat was cooked and turned out inedible, i did quite a bit of googling i discovered that a pork butt/Boston butt and “arm picnic” shoulder are different, even though they all are “pork shoukder” Boston butt has more marbled fat which probably explains why yours had more broth/rendered fat.
        Sigh! Anyway, I WILL try again because like I said, your recipes never fail me! But I thought I’d post my experience in case you have any readers that like me, were unfamiliar with pork shoulder!
        Oh and, do you cut any of the fat off your boston butt?
        Thanks!

        • Jaclyn

          Jaclyn Bell

          Sorry about that! With that cut of pork I wouldn’t cook as long or yes it does start to dry. It probably would only need about half the time. Next time I highly recommend the pork butt roast.

  • Kathy Fischesser

    It’s only my husband and me. I bought a 2 lb pork shoulder- I know you said to adjust time for different sizes but what do you recommend? My 2 lb-er is 1/3 the size so 1/3 the time?
    Thanks

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      Sorry for the late reply! I would probably do half the time for 2 lbs.

  • Michelle Garlando

    Looks good. I’m going to try it. But I have a question. In step 4 of the slow cook recipe am I supposed to add any water or broth?

  • Lor

    it’s exactly how I madee it at home myself! Serve it with Lomi Salmon or plain Lomi Tomato and it’s a perfect dinner. We’ve stopped eating pork and beef so Im curious to try it with poultry. hmmm
    Aloha from Maui!

    • Jaclyn

      Jaclyn Bell

      That does sound delicious! I need to try Lomi lomi salmon. Thanks for your comment!

      • Lor

        Thank YOU for your recipes! It’s very simple – salted salmon, tomatoes, onions, and green onions.

        • Jaclyn

          Jaclyn Bell

          Of course, thanks for following along! And yes that does sound so easy, gotta try it!