Smoked Kalua Pork

May 12, 2020

Smoked Kalua Pork is my BBQ take on a traditional Hawaiian recipe. The hardwood smoke mimics the flavors from an underground pit and the tenderness and moisture are off the charts! This recipe is perfect for your next backyard luau. 

Vertical image of shredded smoked kalua pork arranged on a wood cutting board with pineapple chunks, rice, and a bowl of teriyaki sauce in the background. Decorative text says "smoked kalua pork"

What is Kalua Pork?

Kalua pork is a traditional Hawaiian dish of slow pit-roasted pork. Typically, it is a whole hog that is salted with pink Hawaiian sea salt, wrapped in banana leaves, and cooked in a charcoal pit dug into the ground. The pig is cooked until it is fall-apart tender and just melts in your mouth. Since there isn’t much seasoning other than salt, you can really taste the flavors of the smoldering charcoal and the richness of the pork itself.

A bag of pink Hawaiian salt on a wood cutting board, with a raw pork shoulder in the background

Kalua Pork in the Smoker

Since I haven’t gotten around to digging a pig pit in my backyard (yet), and I don’t have easy access to banana trees for leaves, I had to come up with my own backyard BBQ interpretation of this tasty pork dish. My version of kalua pork still uses a lot of classic elements to keep the flavor on point, but makes it more approachable for the home BBQ enthusiast.

Cross section image of raw pork shoulder seasoned with Hawaiian pink salt

Ingredients for Kalua Pork

Since this recipe only has 2 ingredients and a few additional tools/products, it is important to get the good stuff. Some things can be ordered online, but I’m providing substitutes in the list below to help you get as close as you can with what you have.

I use a well marbled, bone-in pork shoulder to get beautiful shreds of smoky pulled pork. For wood, I smoked this with mesquite because it is a super strong wood flavor that most closely mimics the traditional Kiawe wood used in Hawaii (and is easily accessible for most of the continental US). Since I couldn’t find banana leaves

  • Pork Shoulder: Look for a bone-in shoulder with plenty of fat marbling and a nice reddish/dark pink color.
  • Hawaiian Pink Salt: This salt provides a very unique salt flavor. I was able to order it online. One package has lasted me through about 8 pork shoulders. Ordinary sea salt can be a substitution, but won’t deliver quite the same flavor. Please note, Hawaiian pink salt is not the same thing as pink curing salt or Himalayan pink salt. Do not confuse these salts.
  • Banana Leaves: I couldn’t get a hold of banana leaves in stores near me and none online would ship on time. If you can find banana leaves, use them during the wrapping portion of the recipe below and secure with butcher’s twine. The closest substitute I could find was using my pink butcher paper. It provided the breathability of the banana leaves while still keeping in all of the moisture.
  • Mesquite wood: In Hawaii, kiawe wood is used for kalua pork. The closest flavor match I could find with affordability and availability in mind in the continental US in mesquite wood. It has a nice, bold, strong smoky flavor.

Kalua pork wrapped in pink butcher paper in a smoker

 

How to Make Kalua Pork

Creating a smoked kalua pork variation required a little creativity. Since the pork shoulder wasn’t buried in a pit with hot coals, I needed to find a way to still get all the tasty pit-roasted flavor on my backyard smoker. Here’s how I did it. 

  1. Fire up the smoker. Preheat your smoker to 275 degrees F with a strong hardwood like mesquite (or Hawaiian kiawe wood if you have access to it).
  2. Prep the pork. Remove the pork shoulder from the packaging and wipe down with a paper towel to remove any bone fragments or other processing remnants. Season the pork on all sides with the sea salt.
  3. Smoke! Place the pork on the smoker, close the lid, and smoke for 3 hours.
  4. Wrap the pork. Remove the pork shoulder from the smoker and wrap tightly in the banana leaves, securing with butcher’s twine. If you don’t have access to banana leaves, I used pink butcher’s paper to mimic the effect of the banana leaves on the smoker.
  5. Continue smoking. Return the pork shoulder to the smoker, close the lid, and continue smoking for an additional 5-7 hours, or until the internal temperature of the pork reads at least 200 degrees F.
  6. Rest, shred, and serve. Remove the pork from the smoker and allow to rest for 1 hour before shredding and serving. I like to serve mine with teriyaki BBQ sauce on Hawaiian sweet rolls with grilled pineapple.

Shredded kalua pork stacked in a pile on a metal rimmed baking sheet

More Smoked Pork Recipes

We love pulled pork in all of its many glorious variations. If you’re also a pulled pork lover, you may enjoy these other smoked pork recipes we have on the site:

Smoked Pork Carnitas
Cherry Cola Smoked Pork Butt
Simple Smoked Pulled Pork

Shredded kalua pork on a wood cutting board in the foreground with pineapple chunks, rice, and a small bowl of teriyaki sauce in the background

Smoked Kalua Pork Recipe

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Shredded kalua pork on a wood cutting board with pineapple chunks in the background

Smoked Kalua Pork

Prep Time : 15 mins
Cook Time : 12 hrs
Resting Time : 1 hr
Total Time : 13 hrs 15 mins
Servings : 16 people
Calories : 205kcal

Ingredients
 

  • 1 8-10 pound bone in pork shoulder
  • 2 Tablespoons Hawaiian sea salt
  • Banana Leaves (or pink butcher paper)

Instructions

  • Fire up the smoker. Preheat your smoker to 275 degrees F with a strong hardwood like mesquite (or Hawaiian kiawe wood if you have access to it).
  • Prep the pork. Remove the pork shoulder from the packaging and wipe down with a paper towel to remove any bone fragments or other processing remnants. Season the pork on all sides with the sea salt.
  • Smoke! Place the pork on the smoker, close the lid, and smoke for 3 hours.
  • Wrap the pork. Remove the pork shoulder from the smoker and wrap tightly in the banana leaves, securing with butcher's twine. If you don't have access to banana leaves, I used pink butcher's paper to mimic the effect of the banana leaves on the smoker.
  • Continue smoking. Return the pork shoulder to the smoker, close the lid, and continue smoking for an additional 5-7 hours, or until the internal temperature of the pork reads at least 200 degrees F.
  • Rest, shred, and serve. Remove the pork from the smoker and allow to rest for 1 hour before shredding and serving. I like to serve mine with teriyaki BBQ sauce on Hawaiian sweet rolls.

Nutrition

Calories: 205kcal | Protein: 27g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 93mg | Sodium: 105mg | Potassium: 472mg | Vitamin A: 8IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 19mg | Iron: 2mg
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5 thoughts on “Smoked Kalua Pork

  1. I use to live in Hawaii. Make Kahlua pork a couple times a year. I recommend however to kick it up a notch. Use 2 tablespoons chopped (jarred is fine) garlic and an equal mount of chopped ginger (I use the stuff prepared in the tube). Rub all over the pork, then add the salt.

    You can use powdered ginger and garlic instead but then you only need about 1/2 as much.

    Also I used about twice the amount of salt you do in the recipe.

  2. Wow! Great recipe. Made it for a family gathering and it was a hit. For my taste, I used quite a bit more salt and smoked for 4 hours before the banana wrap but I’m sure it would be good exactly as written. Thanks, will use this again and again.

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