Kalua Pig

This is Luau Food
Making Kalua Pork without an Imu

In a traditional Hawaiian Luau in the Islands, Kalua Pig is an essential.

In the real deal, a whole pig will be baked for hours in an underground earthen oven called an Imu.

The pit will be lined with volcanic rocks and hot embers and often water is added at some point to create steam.

The Kalua Pig will be served with Poi, Laulaus and other traditional Hawaiian dishes. In the old days dogs were often roasted along with the Kalua Pig, but they are missing from the menus today.

Chicken and other Meats and Fish may be added, often wrapped in tropical leaves and either steamed or grilled on spits. Turkey is a popular choice for Kalua-style cooking nowadays, too.

Turkeys, incidentally, have been raised in Hawaii since the time of the old Hawaiian monarchy, so they have become assimilated to local cooking.

The name Kalua comes from a Hawaiian word that means “cooked in an Imu oven.” The term Kalua Pork or Kalua Pig may have been coined by  Hawaiian gourmet chef Sam Choy to describe this method of cooking in a stove oven and using liquid smoke, but done to resemble the Imu cooking technique.

For times when you have a smaller party to feed and do not have a ready-dug underground oven ready to hand, here is a recipe from a Kamai’ina friend for Kalua type Roast Pork made in a conventional kitchen oven.

The actual assembly work only takes about ten minute,s but you need to count on several hours roasting time.

The result is very tender and succulent and quite similar to the results obtained in an Imu oven.  The Pork will be so tender it is almost falling apart.  You can use a fork to  apart for serving.

First, organize the ingredients:

Kalua Pig



4 pounds Pork Butt
2 tablespoons Hawaiian Salt
4 tablespoons pure Liquid Smoke — Mesquite Smoke is good for this
4 to 6 large Ti leaves
Aluminum foil


First, heat the oven to 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  Score the Pork on all sides by slashing it diagonally, about ¼ inch deep and about an inch apart. Rub the Meat well with Hawaiian salt — you can use coarse Sea Salt or Rock Salt if you cannot find Hawaiian Salt.  Also rub the meat with the Liquid Smoke, which you can get in most supermarkets.

About the Ti Leaves: They may sound exotic if you are not currently in the Hawaiian Islands, but most florists have them, as they are often used in floral arrangements. Banana Leaves are also often available from Asian or Latin markets and work well.  Lacking them, Chard Leaves are a good substitute.

Wrap the Pork in Ti Leaves or whatever leaves are available, and finally wrap it again in aluminum foil.

Put the Pork in a rack in a shallow roasting pan.

Roast the Pork for 45 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and continue roasting at 400 degrees for another 3 hours.

Unwrap the foil first and place the leaf-wrapped Pork on a large platter and carry to the table, where we will unwrap and serve the finished Meat.  It will be so tender it will be almost falling apart. It may be shredded with a fork for serving.

This recipe makes enough for about eight to ten servings, depending on the number of side dishes.  Preparation is simple, and only takes about ten minutes to put togehter. Total cooking time is about three and a half hours.

With some Laulaus, salads and Hawaiian Fried Rice, as well as some of the popular Hawaiian Kamai’ina favorite Cakes, Pies and tropical fruits, you can have a simple but attractive Luau at home – without the earth oven.

Honolulu, Hawaii, Charlie Chang Steeplejack vehicle###

2 thoughts on “Kalua Pig

  1. Pingback: Hawaiian cuisine | Pacific Rim Gourmet

  2. Pingback: How to make Hawaiian fried rice, essential for luaus | Pacific Rim Gourmet

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