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 thatâ€™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 wasnâ€™t going to work for me, seeing how I own a smoker and all. So here is what I didâ€¦
Pork butts â€“ however many you want to barbecue
Hawaiian sea salt â€“ or rock salt
Banana leaves â€“ enough to wrap each pork butt and for presentation (available in some Latin and Asian markets)
Aluminum foil â€“ or Ti leaves if you got them
Charcoal â€“ enough to keep your fire lit overnight.
Mesquite wood chips
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.
Fold the banana leaves over and wrap in aluminum foil
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.
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. Donâ€™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.
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 donâ€™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.
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.
This what it looks like when you unwrap it… it also smells o-so-good.
You can line a tray and take it to go as I did, or just plate it.