Kalua Pork – the famous luau style pork made easy in the slow cooker. It’s unbelievably tender, and deliciously flavorful!
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.
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.
How to Make Kalua Pork (Slow Cooker Method):
- 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.
- Transfer to a 6 or 7 quart slow cooker.
- Pour liquid smoke over both sides and season with salt.
- Cover and cook on low heat 14 – 16 hours.
- Remove from slow cooker, let rest a few minutes then shred, while removing bone and fat.
- 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.
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:
- Heat 1 Tbsp oil in slow cooker on saute setting.
- Brown 4 lb pork roast on both sides, remove. Turn Instant Pot off.
- Pour in 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 Tbsp liquid smoke, stir and scrape up browned bits from bottom of instant pot.
- Return pork to Instant Pot and season with 2 – 4 tsp salt (depending on how salty you like it).
- Cover and seal, and set valve to sealing position.
- Set to manual mode and set to 90 minutes.
- Once time is up let pressure release naturally.
- 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:
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Lay 6 lb pork shoulder over a sheet of foil large enough to cover.
- Season with liquid smoke and salt.
- Wrap with foil and place in roasting pan.
- Roast in preheated oven about 6 hours or until very tender.
What to Serve with Kalua Pork
To build up a luau style meal try it with:
- white rice, jasmine rice or coconut rice
- macaroni salad
- fresh pineapple
- sauteed cabbage or roasted cabbage
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- 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)
- 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).
- Place pork in 6 or 7 quart slow cooker. Drizzle liquid smoke over both sides.
- Season both sides with salt.
- Cover and cook on low heat 14 - 16 hours until incredibly tender.
- Transfer to a cutting board (reserve liquid in slow cooker), shred pork with two forks while removing bone and excess fat.
- If desired toss pork with about 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid (rendered broth and fat from pork).
- 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.
- 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.