Hawaiian Kalua Pork–in Virginia–Without Digging a Pit in the Backyard

Traditional Hawaiian style pork is roasted in Imu, or pit on top of hot lava rocks, covered with giant banana leaves and slow-cooked for a day. It is shredded to mix the fat with the meat and have a uniform texture.

On a recent visit to Hawaii I tasted the Kalua Pork and it is amazing!  Always shredded it had a deep intense flavor.  I talked to a lot of people there and the Hawaiian pig roast is pretty impressive. 

A pit is dug in the sand and it is lined with lava rocks.  A fire is started which heats the rocks and when the fire has burned down to coals, a whole pig is placed on top of them, then covered with banana leaves.  Banana leaves are huge, often over 6 feet long and they act to hold in the moisture and impart some flavor. 

The pit is covered and the pig is left overnight to roast, steam, smoke, and concentrate all of that flavor into the meat.

When removed it is shredded to mix the fat with the meat and obtain a uniform consistency.

I set out to recreate this flavor at home.  Several factors prevented me from the traditional approach.  First off, we don’t have sand, we have hard red clay.  Second we had no need to cook and entire pig!  Finally, my wife’s take on the pit idea, “Oh hell no!”

So I would start out modestly with the slow cooker and go from there.

The cut of meat to use is the pork butt.  This is loaded with fat throughout which will render and tenderize the meat.

Banana leaves from the freezer section of an Asian grocery store.

I found banana leaves at an Asian grocery store.  They were frozen and only $1.50 per pack so I bought several.  The woman at the checkout counter laughed and asked me how many pigs was I going to roast?  I didn’t understand why she asked until I got home and opened the banana leaves.  They were 2 feet wide and 5 feet long!  Each pack had six of them!  They were like flags.

On the counter the banana leaves measured 5 feet long!

I had brought home a coarse salt seasoning from Hawaii so I used that to season the meat.  I also used one key ingredient which internet research indicated was essential if not cooking in a pit, liquid smoke.

I wrapped the seasoned pork in the banana leaves and started the slow cooker on Friday evening around 6pm.  By morning the meat was submerged in its own fat and at this point became a confit. 

A confit is when you cook something at low temperature in its own fat.  There is an interesting scientific occurrence in which this process draws the fat out of the meat.  It seems counterintuitive as I would expect the meat to come out greasy and fatty but this is not the case at all.  In the days before refrigeration this was done and the fat became a barrier to bacteria and spoilage. 

It cooked for a little less than 24 hours and I pulled the meat out and shredded it with a pair of forks.  The result was not fatty in the least and had an excellent flavor.  Authentic Hawaiian?  I’m not sure about that but it was getting there and certainly disappeared quickly!

Kalua pork with black-eye pea salad, Hapa rice garnished with crispy yucca.



    1. I served a bottled barbeque sauce on the side, but the pork had a great flavor of its own. I took all the fat and juices and separated them and returned the juices to the pork…some of my better work!

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