Hawaiian BBQ Kalua Pig

Sunset on the Big Island

While vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii a couple years ago having a cocktail on the balcony of my hotel room. I noticed that there was some smoke coming from a pit in the ground with a few people gathered around. I thought that is should go and investigate because where there is smoke there is certainly fire. I found out that they were getting ready to cook the kalua pig for the luau and was delighted to witness them prepping the imu (Hawaiian BBQ pit). You see, I have always been a big fan of kalua pig.

As they were making the coals and heating up the rocks I asked them how they cooked the meat. This interested me because growing up my father would barbecue meat in a pit (but that’s a whole other post). What I learned was that they cook not so much with the coals as they do with the heated rock and the steam that is created from the vegetation that they add into the Imu. There are enough coals in the cooking process to add a nice smoky flavor to the meat. I asked them what kind of wood they were using and they told me it was kiawe, the Hawaiian equivalent to mesquite. So, as with anything, a little information in the wrong hands can become quite deadly.
Afterwards I researched recipes for kalua pig, but most of the ones that I came across called for a Crock Pot and the use of liquid smoke. That just wasn’t going to work for me, seeing how I own a smoker and all. So here is what I did…

Ingredients
Pork butts – however many you want to barbecue
Hawaiian sea salt – or rock salt
Banana leaves – enough to wrap each pork butt and for presentation (available in some Latin and Asian markets)
Aluminum foil – or Ti leaves if you got them
Charcoal – enough to keep your fire lit overnight.
Mesquite wood chips

Step 1
Weber Smokey Mountain smoker
I use a technique with my Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) smoker that allows me to cook my food overnight without really having to tend to it too much. This is a great way to go if you want to eat a little earlier and you have better things to do at night, like sleep for instance.
I load up the charcoal bowl of my WSM with unlit charcoal and dispense a chimney load of lit charcoal over the pile. This will burn down overnight and is pretty much a maintenance free way to barbecue especially with this recipe. I ended up cooking this meat for 16 hours.

wrapping your kalua pig
Fold the banana leaves over and wrap in aluminum foil

Step 2
You prepare your meat by sprinkling the salt on all surfaces then loosely wrap in banana leaves. You then wrap the wrapped meat in the aluminum foil; this keeps the meat extremely moist and allows enough smoke in to give you authentic kalua pig flavor.

Step 3
Assemble the rest of the smoker and fill the water pan. Put the lid on and let the smoker pre-heat for around 10 minutes. Add the mesquite wood chips (presumably pre-soaked for at least an hour) onto the lit charcoal then add your twice-wrapped meat. Don’t forget to start your timer. I have a thermometer that I stick in the top vent, which allows me to judge the temperature inside the smoker. I try to keep that temperature between 230-240F by adjusting the air intake vent at the bottom of the smoker. I keep on eye on it for a couple of hours and make sure that everything is going good, add some more wood chips and go to sleep.

Step 4
First thing in the morning, I check the smoker temperature (which is usually right where it was at the night before) and the charcoal in the bowl. If the temperature is running low and you don’t have that much charcoal left in the bowl light a new batch in your chimney and add it to the smoker. By this time you should be around 10 or so hours into your kalua pig.

Step 5
Line a tray with any additional banana leaves. Remove the meat from the smoker and let it rest in a cookie sheet (or some other type of tray) for around 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the foil and leaves and place into the pre-lined tray. Shred the meat with a couple of forks and you are good to go.

Unwrapped kalua pig
This what it looks like when you unwrap it… it also smells o-so-good.

Kalua Pig in tray
You can line a tray and take it to go as I did, or just plate it.

Enjoy.

Comments

  1. says

    My husband was born and raised on Maui. I make kalua pig all the time and I do it in the oven. I use rock salt and plenty of garlic powder along with liquid smoke. I slice the pork butt length wise and coat all sides with the salt and garlic powder. Then I poor liquid smoke over the top and wrap with spinach and then foil (about the best I can do in Arkansas lol). It smells terrific and my husband loves it! I have had it in Maui and there is a difference but when you are 3,000 miles away this will do! I do like the smoking and may have it during the summer as we have an electric one and with this cold it would take forever. Thank you!

  2. says

    Im really interested in learning how to cook all kinds of hawaiian food on the grill or in the smoker i drive my family nuts every weekend makeing them test the foods that i grill or smoke if anyone could help me out with this new quest i will gladly share any of my recipes for chineese bbq or anything else i have quite alot thanks

    • Alexander says

      Why would you even post an immature comment such as “ew”. Those opinions don’t matter in these posts-try to respect other cultures/foods even if they aren’t your own.

  3. jon keitz says

    interesting, however i’m wanting tp do this in the ground. dug hole 3 ft. deep and plan to use a rack to keep meat off coals. i have mesquite wood, aged and dry. i don’t have banana leaves here in the az. desert. any suggestions. meat is a barbados sheep. we also have some goat in our freezer for another time. this is our first attempt doing it in the ground.i will line bottom of pit with rocks as well. thanks

    • Mark says

      Banana leaves are is to find at large Asian markets. Got mine at
      Asian Market
      (623) 780-1234
      4410 W Union Hills Dr Ste A-1
      Glendale, AZ 8530

      My wife does not like the flavor the leaves impart, so I no-longer use Banana leave.

  4. Kevsipe says

    Substitute banana leaves with 2-3 whole (unpeeled) bananas. Poke a ton of holes in meet pour on liquid smoke rub on sea or kosher salt. Then wrap with foil so it’s air tight.

  5. Greg says

    BBQ Junkie, thank you so much for this post. I had been looking for days online for a smoker recipie for Kalua Pig. I have a well used Smoke Vault smoker made by camp chef and couldn’t see making Kalua Pig in a crock pot or oven (nothing wrong with that if you don’t have a smoker). I can’t wait to try this out. Thanks again.

  6. Dave nc says

    Thanks for the guidance. I tried this with a picnic / shoulder roast and was happy with the results. My smoker was running hot at around 300 degrees and so the cook time was only five hours, but I think it turned out fine.

  7. Larry says

    Hang loose and forget the tin foil bra. No need for foil using teh WSM grill. Let more of that mesquite flavor soak in. Wrap with tin foil after six to eight hours because after a certain period of time, more smoke won’t help, wrap tight in tin foil so meat steams and easier to shred.

  8. Lucky says

    If you want to go traditional hawaiian style called the IMU underground earth overn. dig a hole in the ground at least 2-3 feet deep. get river rocks or stones and firewood. first put firewood in ground and light up. when burning place stones and rocks on top of burning wood. when rocks and stones are red or hot then remove firewood from hole. place bannana leaves on top of hot stones then foil up all of your food, pork, chicken, lamb, cow (beef) even vegetables ect. place on top of leaves then once all food is placed, put more leaves on top of food. then place carpet on top of leaves, tarp on top of carpet then burrie and cover tarp with dirt from hole. wait 2-3 hours remove dirt, tarp, carpet and leaves. enjoy the free hawaiian imu oven!

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