(See slideshow at the bottom)
Kalua Pork is a traditional Hawaiian dish that is a staple of Hawaiian tradition. A whole pig is roasted in a large pit called an Imu (EmU). They get a large bed of coals nice and hot and lay wet banana leaves on top. Then they lower the pig into the ground, fill the cavity with hot rocks, cover with more wet banana leaves and then fill the hole back up with dirt. The pig stays in the pit all day and then they dig it up and have a luau. Here on the Mainland, we call this pulled pork.
Most of us do not have the time or the room to dig an Imu. You can make this delicious pork in your oven. This is my version. There are many versions and I’m sure they are all delicious. This is a combination of many different recipes I found and a little trial and experimentation.
This is a full two day process. It is not difficult, however patience is required, you will simply have to wait to enjoy the fruits of your labors.
- 1 large Pork Shoulder (also called a Pork Butt or a Boston Butt)
- Sea Salt
- Celery (chopped rough)
- Onion (sliced rough)
- Garlic (smashed and chopped roughly)
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- Liquid Smoke
- A container large enough to fit in the refrigerator or that can be sealed and will hold the shoulder and water with ice. I use my 5 gallon Igloo water cooler and it is perfect.
Day 1 – Brine the pork
I fill a gallon Ziploc bag with ice and place in the bottom of my igloo. If you are going to refrigerate, you can skip the ice. Then I mix 1 gallon of cold water, 1 cup of Sea Salt and 1/2 cup of sugar until dissolved. Pour into cooler or container over the ice bag. (If you are not putting the ice in a bag, you will need to compensate for dilution when the ice melts and add additional sea salt. The brine mix should be 1 cup sea salt and 1/2 cup sugar per 1 gallon of water. One side of the pork shoulder will have what is called a fat cap on it. Use a very sharp knife and slice into the fat cap diagonally to make a criss-cross pattern over the top of the fat cap. You want the slices to go completely through the fat cap to the meat but not slice into the meat. Place the shoulder in the container. Add onion slices, celery and garlic. Liberally grind fresh black pepper on top. Add about 3 tablespoons of liquid smoke. Now you will need to completely cover the pork with brine solution. I mix it 1/2 gallon at a time at this point. Remember 1 cup sea salt and 1/2 cup sugar to 1 gallon water. I had two pork shoulders that weighed 17.83 pounds (about 8.75 pounds each). I used 1 1/2 gallons of water, 1 1/2 cups sea salt and 1 cup sugar. I also use 1 large onion, 4 stocks of celery and 1 head of garlic. If you are using a cooler, you will need to leave enough space at the top to add another bag of ice. You want the pork to be completely submerged in the brine. Cover and let brine for 24 hours. If using a cooler, check the ice bag at the top frequently and keep it full of ice.
Day 2 Cooking
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Using a baking pan large enough to hold the pork, line with a double layer aluminum foil in both directions leaving enough hanging over the edges to completely wrap the pork. Remove the pork from the brine and rinse thoroughly. Discard the brine NEVER attempt to reuse the brine! Dry pork with paper towel. Place pork in center of foil lined baking pan. Liberally rub pork with sea salt, garlic powder, onion powder and freshly ground black pepper. I’d estimate I use about 1 cup of sea salt, a tablespoon each of garlic powder and onion powder and 2 teaspoons of black pepper. Make sure you rub the salt into the slices in the fat cap well. Don’t be afraid to use the sea salt liberally, it will not make the pork salty, I promise. Sprinkle 2 or 3 tablespoons of liquid smoke over pork. Wrap both layers of aluminum foil around the pork to completely surround it. Put a meat thermometer into the shoulder taking care not to touch the bone. The tip should be in the center of the thickest part of the meat away from the bone. Add about 1 inch of water to the pan, add 2 tablespoons liquid smoke to water and place in the oven. Here is where the patience comes in. It will take from 12-24 hours to cook. When the thermometer reaches 170 degrees it will plateau for several hours and stay there…be patient it will continue to rise eventually. When the thermometer reaches 190 degrees remove from the oven and let stand for 1 hour still wrapped in foil. Open foil, remove fat cap and bones. I use a slotted spoon to move pork to a platter or large shallow bowl. (The pork will literally fall apart as you lift it.) Using two forks break up the pork (it will fall apart easily). Add liquid from pan and mix well. Serve as you wish, this is great with BBQ sauce for a pulled pork sandwich or all by itself, it melts in your mouth! I like it with mashed potatoes or rice. You can also add it to a stir fry (just add it last as it is already cooked).