Hawaiian Kalua Pork: A Mouthwatering Delicacy Rooted in Island Tradition

Hawaiian Kalua pork is on the most popular favorite Hawaiian dishes you’ll enjoy on the islands and so easy to make on your own.  Kalua pork is easy to make at home now and fast with modern and convenient appliances like an instant pot or crock pot and you can easily set up and then let it cook on its own.

Hawaiian Kalua Pork
Immerse Your Taste Buds in Hawaiian Tradition: Experience the Irresistible Delight of Kalua Pork

What is Kalua Pork

Kalua Pork is shredded pork meat that served as a main entrée in most traditional Hawaiian meals at a potluck, gathering or a special luau celebration in Hawaii.  The process of cooking traditional pig and other Hawaiian food is very time consuming and labor intensive in underground and that is why this done mostly for special occasions that celebrate a special celebration.

Nowadays, you can easily make an easy Kalua pork dish following the recipe below and in a modern process with a crock pot or instant pot.

What is Kalua Pork
authentic kalua pork

How is traditional Kalua pork made in Hawaii?

A traditional Hawaiian dish found at all Luau you go to in Hawaii, the world “Kalua” actually translates “to cook in an underground oven” in the Hawaiian language. The kalua pork is cooked in an imu which is a dug-up pit where the pig is placed and surrounding with hot stones that are heated up separately with local kindling wood for a few hours. After the stones heated and ready, the pig and other traditional food dishes are placed into the pit lined and then covered with banana and ti leaves and then buried in soil and steamed to perfection. The pork is seasoned with Hawaiian salt or red salt which highlights the flavor in the meat and after about 6 to 8 hours of steaming the process is done and the various foods including the pork is taken out and eaten.

Cooking Kalua pork with an instant pot or crock pot

Today’s version of making delicious Kalua pork is a lot easier with modern appliances using an instant pot or crock pot and the time is definitely faster and more care free once everything is set up. To get the smoky flavor that mimics the imu cooking, most modern techniques utilize liquid smoke that is used on the meat to impart a smoky flavor. This easy to cook version just relies on four Ingredients to include:

  • “Pork shoulder” or “Pork butt” or a “Boston Butt”
  • Liquid Smoke – you can use hickory or mesquite flavor
  • Hawaiian sea salt or Himalayan sea salt if you cannot find Hawaiian salt
  • Vegetable oil for browning the meat first to seal in the flavors.

Cooking Kalua pork with an instant pot or crock pot
traditional kalua pork recipe

Instructions to make Kalua pork on a crock pot

Add a few teaspoons of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Dab the pork shoulder dry to get rid of excess liquid and then add the pork shoulder to the pot and sear to get a crusty exterior skin. Do this for about 3 minutes on each side to brown each side.

If you are using a crock pot, after searing add the liquid smoke and salt to both sides of the meat and then cover and cook in low heat for 14 – 16 hours

Remove the pork from the pot and let the meat rest for a few minutes and then shred the meat into easy edible pieces. Toss some of the juices from the pot and you can serve the dish warm.

Instructions to make Kalua pork on a crock pot
easy kalua pork instant pot

Cooking by Instant pot

In an instant pot, you can brown the meat directly in the pot using the sauté function. Place the oil into the pot and then the pork shoulder to sear the meat until the outside is brown. Take the meat out of the pot and add a half cup of water and 1 ½ teaspoons of liquid smoke and scrape the sides of the pot browned bits back into the pot bottom. Dry the pork shoulder with napkins and use between 2 to 4 teaspoons of the salt depending on your salt intake and then place back into pot and cover and switch the seal back on.

Set on manual mode and cook for 90 minutes.

Let the pressure release naturally until the small metal part depresses

Remove the pork from the pot and then shred and add some of the juices left in the pot to the meat and then serve.

Instructions to make Kalua pork on a crock pot
kalua pig

Sides to go with your Kalua pork

Typical sides that pair well with Kalua pork include:


Sauteed cabbage


Macaroni salad

Additional Kalua pork recipes with sliders and other delicious recipes

Instructions showing this video with an Instant pot cabbage and pork

Another delicious Kalua pork slider dish

Pulled pork eggs benedict

Kalua pork sliders with Hoisin Sauce

Check out these other local food related posts from Hawaii

You’ll find poke goes well with these other traditional Hawaiian foods and other local food favorites around the islands.

what to serve with kalua pork


What is the authentic Poke done on the islands? Poke style is made with local fish typically ahi and mahi cut raw and with other basic ingredients used like shoyu, sesami oil, pepper and local spices along with avocado, peppers and other toppings to create tasty and just made poke style bowls. Typically the freshest ingredients of the best quality are used to create delicious poke from the islands.

Check out this post about poke in Hawaii here for more details, images and recipes.

Hawaiian breadfruit or Ulu

Hawaiian breadfruit or Ulu

Locally grown breadfruit is a staple Hawaiian food that is used for savory to sweet dishes on the island. This plant that grows so well on the islands produces a variety of breadfruit that can translate to so many delicious dishes and we share our favorites on the islands to try.

Check out our post to Hawaiian breadfruit here for more inspiration and images.

Hawaiian sweet potatoes

Hawaiian sweet potatoes

The original canoe plant and staple food, Hawaiian sweet potatoes are locally grown with Okinawan purple sweet potatoes. These healthy foods are used for a variety of sweet to savory dishes or simply eaten freshly steamed with their earthy and sweet taste.

Check out our Hawaiian sweet potato post here for more inspiration, recipes and the story about this very important crop grown around the islands.

Hawaiian Poi
sides for kalua pork

Hawaiian Poi

Poi is typically the starchy component of any Hawaiian meal, all of the traditional Hawaiian foods works perfectly with this dish. In between the bites of your mostly salty or savory entree dishes, you get a nice spoonful of poi to mellow out the flavors so everything is not too rich and saturated in taste. Mixing poi with your dishes really helps to clean the palate of flavors and complements all the different ingredients and foods eaten at the same time frame.

Check out this post about Hawaiian poi here for more inspiration and images on this traditional dish.

Check out these other delicious Hawaiian inspired food topics

A complete guide to Hawaiian food

Locals love these tasty Hawaiian snacks

Popular Hawaiian dishes you need to try

Traditional Hawaiian food favorite dishes

Comfort foods of Hawaii

Delicious Hawaiian tropical fruits

All about Poke

Hawaiian Spam and recipes

Hawaii chocolate making and tour

Hawaiian style banana bread

Avocado season in Hawaii

Mango season in Hawaii

Have you ever tried Hawaiian Kalua Pork?

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.