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Kalua Pork


No survey of regional American barbecued pork would be complete without Hawaii’s kalua pig. If you’ve ever been to a luau, you’ve probably sampled this porcine masterpiece, with meat moist as stew and tender enough to eat with your fingers (which, of course, is what you’re meant to do). To achieve this, Hawaiians have traditionally cooked whole pigs underground in pits. A similar effect can be achieved by wrapping a pork shoulder in banana leaves and grilling it using the indirect method.


Kalua Pork

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: 12 hours for curing the pork
  • Yield: Serves 10 to 12
  • Method: Indirect Grilling


For the pork:

  • 1 pork shoulder (5 to 7 pounds)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons liquid smoke (optional)
  • 2 banana leaves
  • 1 medium-size onion, thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 piece (3 to 4 inches) fresh ginger (optional), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic (optional), thinly sliced
  • Lime wedges, for serving

For serving, any of the following

  • Taro root
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Butter
  • Buns or bread
  • 4 1/2 cups (1 1/2 batches) Pineapple Barbecue Sauce
  • Passion Fruit Applesauce

You’ll also need:

  • Butcher's string

Recipe Steps

1: Using a sharp knife, make 6 to 8 shallow (‘/2-inch-deep) cuts running the length of the pork shoulder. Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and liquid smoke, if using, all over the pork, patting them onto the surface of the meat and into the cuts with your fingertips.

2: Wrap the pork shoulder in the banana leaves: If using fresh banana leaves, soften them by holding them with tongs for a minute or so over the lit burner of your stove or over a lit grill. Let cool slightly, then place a banana leaf on your work surface. Put half of the onion, ginger, and garlic slices, if using, on the leaf toward the center. Place the pork shoulder in the center of the banana leaf on top of the onion, ginger, and garlic slices, if using, then place the remaining onion, ginger, and garlic slices on top of the pork. Draw the ends of the banana leaf up over the pork to enclose it. Place the banana leaf-wrapped pork on the second banana leaf so that the leaves are at a right angle to each other. Draw the second leaf up over the first and tie the leaves in place with butcher’s string. Place the wrapped pork in the refrigerator and let cure overnight.

3: Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-low. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center.

4: When ready to cook, place the wrapped pork in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook the pork until very tender, 5 to 6 hours. To test for doneness, insert an insta-read meat thermometer through the banana leaves into the pork, but not so that it touches a bone: The internal temperature should be about 190°F.

5: Transfer the cooked pork to a cutting board and let it rest for 10 minutes, then unwrap it, discarding the banana leaves and string. Tear the pork into chunks or shreds, discarding any bones or lumps of fat (you’ll probably want to wear latex gloves or even heavy-duty insulated rubber gloves to do this). Serve at once. The traditional Hawaiian accompaniment is sweet potatoes and poi (pureed taro root). You can roast taro root and sweet potatoes in the embers, then peel the taro root and break open the sweet potatoes and serve both with butter. You could also serve the pork on buns or bread as a sandwich. Serve the Pineapple Barbecue Sauce and Passion Fruit Applesauce alongside.