Kalua Pig

Kalua pig--the classic luau dish, traditionally a whole pig rubbed with salt cooked in an underground pit called an imu--is a perfect party dish, as it takes just minutes of hands-on preparation and is absolutely delicious. It’s also easy to transport to a potluck.


Many recipes call for the removal of all visible fat before cooking the pork but this is not a good idea. Other recipes call for pork loin, something else I do not recommend, as it is not marbled and can turn out quite dry. Fat lubricates and flavors the meat but most of it is released during cooking; water is added to the pan so that the rendered fat does not burn. Fat that remains after cooking can easily be removed if it’s not wanted (though it is really delicious).

  • Serves 8 to 10


  • Ti leaves (available at Asian markets)
  • Large (about 6 pounds) pork butt (Boston butt) or pork shoulder
  • Liquid smoke
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt
  • Kitchen twine
  • Hawaiian alaea salt


  1. If you have a clay roaster, soak it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

  2. Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

  3. Set several ti leaves on a clean work surface, arranging them to overlap slightly and setting them all in the same direction. Arrange a second layer, setting them at a right angle to the first layer.

  4. Put the pork roast on a separate clean work surface and use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer of liquid smoke. Rub the salt over the pork, using all of it.

  5. Set the pork on top of the tea leaves and wrap the leaves around the pork, adding more leaves as necessary to completely envelop the meat. Tuck the leaves where they are needed and don’t worry too much about making a perfectly uniform, neat package. Use kitchen twine to tie the leaves in place tightly.

  6. Set the wrapped pork in a clay roaster or deep roasting pan and add enough water, pouring carefully at the side of the pan and not over the pork, to come up the side of the meat by about 1/4 inch. Cover the roasted or pan with its lid or seal it tightly with aluminum foil.

  7. Set in the oven and cook 5 hours, or until the pork falls apart when pressed firmly with your thumb; if should give easily.

  8. Remove the pork in its pot from the oven and let rest at least 15 minutes and as long as 30 minutes. Carefully lift the pork out of the pot and set it on a large serving platter. Snip the twine and unwrap the leaves. Use two large forks to pull the pork into pieces. Sprinkle very lightly with Hawaiian salt and serve.

-Although it is not at all traditional, I find adding 2 teaspoons (or more to taste) of chipotle powder to the salt before rubbing the pork adds a delicious layer of smokey heat. I use the leftovers to make tacos.
-Instead of adding water to the pan, add fresh lime juice. Serve the pork with lime wedges.
-Combine the two suggestions above.

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