While vacationing on the Big Island of Hawaii a couple of 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 of mesquite. So, as with anything, a little information in the wrong hands can become quite deadly.
Afterward 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…Print
Kalua pork is a traditional Hawaiian dish made by slow-cooking a seasoned pork shoulder in an underground oven called an imu. The pork is typically rubbed with sea salt and wrapped in ti leaves before being placed in the imu, where it cooks for several hours until it’s tender and flavorful. The cooking process creates a smoky, rich flavor that’s unique to Kalua pork, and the meat is often shredded and served with rice, cabbage, or in sandwiches.
- Pork butts – however many you want to barbecue
- Hawaiian sea salt – or rock salt, enough to season your pork butts
- 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
- I use a technique called the Minion Method, with my Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) smoker which 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 to one side of 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.
- Prepare your meat by sprinkling the salt on all surfaces then loosely wrap in banana leaves. You then wrap the banana leaf-wrapped meat in aluminum foil; this keeps the meat extremely moist and allows enough smoke 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 30 minutes. Add the mesquite wood chips 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 an eye on it for a couple of hours and make sure that everything is going well, 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 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.
- Line a tray with any additional banana leaves. Remove the meat from the smoker and let it rest on a cookie sheet (or some other type of tray) for around 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the foil and leaves and place it into the pre-lined tray. Shred the meat with a couple of forks and you are good to go.