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Kalua Pig Roasted in a Barbecue Grill


Tender, moist and smokey Kiawe-roasted Kalua Pig… Ono!

You can make Kalua Pig either the traditional way in an Imu (underground oven), or the easier faux method using liquid smoke in a conventional oven. Well leave the hard labor and the liquid smoke behind this time, as I’ll show you how to make Kalua Pig using Kiawe (mesquite) wood and a barbecue grill!

The natural smoked flavor from the Kiawe is unbeatable, and it’s relatively easy to do, only requiring a few simple steps, time and some TLC. If you like barbecuing (like me), this should be a fun and rewarding project!

 

What you will need for the fire:

  • A large coal-burning barbecue grill that has a cover (in this case, I’m using the classic 22″ Weber Kettle Classic)
  • Kiawe Wood Logs (if you don’t have this, use mesquite wood chips found at most grocery and hardware stores)
  • Charcoal
  • Disposable foil pan
  • Lighter fluid*
  • Newspaper (to start burning coals)

What you will need for the pig:

  • Pork butt (bone-in with plenty of fat is preferable for better flavor), in this demo, I’m using a 5 pound cut.
  • Hawaiian rock salt
  • Ti leaves (prepared by washing thoroughly and stems cut off), enough to completely wrap the pork butt(s). If you can’t get Ti leaves, use Banana leaves.  You need this for proper flavor, so don’t omit it!
  • 18″ width heavy-duty aluminum foil

First, prepare the pig…

Begin by laying a large sheet of foil on the work surface. Then layer the Ti Leaves (or Banana leaves) on the foil as shown above. Place the pork butt on the Ti Leaves, then sprinkle Hawaiian Salt on all surfaces of the Pork Butt. Enough just that it’s evenly, but not heavily covered (don’t over salt it!). If you want, you can lomi (massage) it in. Make sure the fat-side is up when wrapping it (as shown).

To wrap it all up, first gather up the Ti Leaves and wrap it over the pig, leaf by leaf, then hold them together with one hand, while with your other hand, bring up the foil to form a “packet”, which will look like this…

One thing critical in how you wrap it is that you provide a sealed “bottom” to retain all the flavorful juices from the pork. If there’s a leak on the bottom, the juices will drip off and your pig may turn out dry. So keep that in mind.

Finally, using a sharp knife, poke holes on the TOP SIDE of the packet to allow the smoke (flavoring!) in. Poke all the way through until it penetrates the meat. I’ve made 8 holes here.

Repeat this process for however many pork butts you plan on cooking. In this demonstration, I only made one. I’d say the 22″ Weber I used could fit about 4 total.

Put wrapped up pork butts in refrigerator and prepare the fire…

Before you begin, remember to WORK SAFELY. Just cook the pig. Not yourself or your house!

Build the fire by laying a (small) bed of 10 charcoal briquettes on one side of the bottom grate, with the Kiawe log sitting on top of it. Drizzle the coals and kiawe with enough lighter fluid for a light soak, then get the fire started with a crumpled newspaper on the side.

Here are several pieces of dried out Kiawe wood logs (hana hou photo added 3.13.07)…

The shorter dark ones on the left came from a more mature tree and are much more DENSE, hence they burn much longer. They’re a struggle to cut, even with a chainsaw; almost like cutting a metal pipe.

If you’re using Mesquite chips, use more coal (about 25 briquettes) and add the chips only when you’re ready to cook. Pre-soak the chips in water (for smoking).

When the lighter fluid has fully burned off, the coals are almost ashed over (white) and the Kiawe is burning consistently (usually takes about 30 minutes), it’s ready for the pig…

Place a foil pan filled with water next to the fire. This will create some steam in the chamber that will help keep the pig moist. Place the cooking grate on the grill then place the wrapped pig on it. In this case, the fire was REALLY HOT, so I kept the pig on the opposite end. This is INDIRECT cooking, where you’re only using the fire as heat source. DO NOT place the pig near the flame up area (shown on the left side).

If using Mesquite chips, this is the time to sprinkle them over the burning coals. It will immediately begin smoking.

Cover the grill.


Notice the billowing Kiawe smoke!

With the heat source on one side and the cover on, you’re basically turning your grill into an outdoor oven. Albeit, one with all that flavor-enhancing Kiawe smoke!

Set all the vents open, underneath and on the lid. Let the “Kalua’ing” begin! It takes about 6 hours for the pork to fully cook and reach fork-tender, fall-apart consistency. Because of this long duration, you’ll need to feed more Kiawe and Charcoal to the existing burning coals every hour or so. The charcoal briquettes can be slipped through the side opening of the grate, but you’ll need to remove the grate when adding the larger Kiawe log. You want to keep the heat inside the grill (not the meat) maintained between 250 to 325 degrees maximum. If in doubt, use a BBQ temperature gauge. I use the “hand-testing” technique, as I’ve done this many times already.

About 5 hours into the cooking time, it looks like this…

As you see, I’ve just fed more charcoal and a new chunk of Kiawe. The existing burning embers will eventually start to burn the new batch. The foil wrapper has taken on a bronzed color from the heat and billowing smoke created by the Kiawe wood (or Mesquite Chips if you use that). That new chunk of Kiawe will burn long enough for the final 2 hours of cooking it needs.

Remember to keep the grill COVERED throughout the cooking process (even though it’s tempting to look!). This is how you maintain and keep a stable cooking temperature. Only uncover it when you need to add more coal and/or Kiawe or Mesquite.

After approximately 7 hours, it should be done. Check it by opening the foil slightly and taking a fork to it, try to “pull” the pork. If it shreads easily, it’s done! Remove the pork butt(s) from the grill, bring into kitchen and prepare to shred the meat. Here it is just unwrapped. Yum!….

IMPORTANT! Before you open the foil, poke a whole on the bottom of the packet and drain the precious liquid into a clean transfer pan that you will use to shred the pig in. Then set the packet down, open the foil and Ti leaves and remove the cooked pork INTACT and place in transfer pan with cooking juices…

Discard foil and Ti leaves.

Using two forks, shred the Kalua Pig (that’s what it is now!) in the pan while it’s still hot. Taste test for saltiness. Adjust with more if necessary. After several times, you’ll get the hang of how much salt to use at the prep’ stage. Remember, you can always add, but you can’t subtract.

The finished result will look like this…

After shredding, that (originally) 5 lb. pork butt filled this entire 9″x11″x2″ deep pan… that’s alot of Kalua Pig!

That’s it. All pau cook. Now time to kaukau!

Notice how moist it looks. This is why you need to retain those cooking juices, so you can mix it with the Kalua Pig. Whinnahz.

This might be a good time to bust out that Squid Luau and Poi!…

If done properly, you can get “almost as good as the Imu” results in the oven thanks to the liquid smoke. Yet this barbecue grill method tastes that much closer to the Imu thanks to the natural smoke, without nearly as much work.

Hana hou photo added 3.13.07…


A full pan of about 13 lbs of Kalua Pig made from two very large pork butts. Next to it is a fresh bowl of 3 lbs. of Taro Brand Poi, which currently costs 11.99/bag at Costco. Ouch. The pork butt was on sale at Foodland for $1.49/lb. Cheap! Most of that pan will be bagged and frozen for a luau we’ll be throwing for a family visitor from the mainland a week from now.

Note that it took longer than 6 hours to cook those larger pork butts (about 8 lbs. each). Taking about 10 hours total and using more coals and Kiawe.

*If you have an aversion to lighter fluid, use a fire chimney. The smoking wood will eventually start to burn and give off smoke.

76 thoughts on “Kalua Pig Roasted in a Barbecue Grill

  • May 13, 2013 at 5:21 pm
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    Hi,
    I’m ready to try this on a four-burner gas grill with wet Mesquite chips in a tin container.
    So I should place the Mesquite chip container on an active burner and the wrapped pork on the inactive burners? A six-pound pork butt should take what…..six hours with an internal temp of 250 degrees? Thanks.

    Reply
    • May 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm
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      Nancy, yes, I’d definitely place the wrapped pork over the side of the inactive burners, while maintaining a chamber temperature within the closed grill at around 220º to 350ºF, give or take, for about a total of 7 hours for your 6 lb. pork butt. Really though, if you’re confident, I’d throw in at least one more pork butt seasoned with Hawaiian Salt and wrapped generously with Ti Leaves in foil to maximize the use of energy, as that’s kind of a waste of gas for just one pork butt in that much cubic barbecue grill roasting/smoking area. You could get two, three or four times more finished “Kalua style” pork using the same amount of energy (gas and/or wood) in that amount of barbecue grill space.

      Note, watch for a steady flow of smoke from your mesquite chips in the tin container, so that you see at least a slight amount of smoke wafting out the cracks and vents of the grill cover. Not too much though, lest it will be overpowering. That’s where the “art” of smoking and barbecuing in general comes in. It’s never really fool proof. You just need to know by “feel”, as well as “eye”.. and most importantly, TASTE! And by all means, STAY THERE and watch over your job. Don’t walk away and expect it come out right the first time without supervising over it.

      It’s not that hard at all. You just have to have a “feel” for it. Ya’ know? Good luck!

      Reply
  • May 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm
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    Pomai,
    A friend of mine has taken an empty keg and turned it into a giant steamer. We are constantly using it to make kalua pig, lau lau (when we can get luau leaves) and doing huge seafood steamers with all kine goodies.

    Reply
    • May 18, 2013 at 5:52 am
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      mitch,

      Then there’s the other way around, where you have a “Kegerator“.

      Reply
  • May 27, 2013 at 5:22 pm
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    Ti leaves can be found in San Diego at Specialty Produce checkout their facebook page

    Reply
  • July 3, 2013 at 5:28 am
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    Any suggestions on doing this with a whole 10-12 lb suckling?

    Reply
    • July 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm
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      yes- cut a 55 gal drum can in half. burn enough misquite wood till it becomes charcoal, wrap your pig in ti leaves after seasoning, then wrap around in banana leaf, then soak burlap bags and wrap pig. Push charcoal to the side, lay pig on to0p of grill on the non heat side. cover completely the drum can with the other half, make sure no heat escape from drum can, cook for 4 hours then remove , shred and eat.

      Reply
  • August 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm
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    I recently used your recipe for Kaula Pork, but I cooked it in my electric smoker. I two pork shoulders totaling 17 pounds. I cooked them for 8 hours. I used mesquite wood chips. I was pretty darn nervous that it would taste too smokey, but since I wrapped it in the banana leaves and then a double layer of foil with the slits on the top … it burned out just right. And it was delicious! I also made Hawaiian Style Macaroni Salad. That is the only macaroni salad I will ever make again. I made Huli Huli chicken wings, then served the sauce on the side. I served the pork as sliders with the Hawaiian Rolls. The Huli Huli sauce was great with the sliders. I fed about 30 people for my daughter’s housewarming party with a Luau theme. The nicest thing I heard about my food, was someone asking my daughter, who catered it! I have a Weber, but I had a lot of food to prepare and I didn’t want to mess with keeping the coals hot all day. I was very pleased with the results. Next time when I am just cooking at home for fun, I will try the Weber. Thanks for your great instructions and photos.
    —Kat Brown, Southern California

    Reply
    • August 11, 2013 at 7:24 pm
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      Aloha Katheryn,

      As always, great to hear the positive feedback you got from your guests using this recipe and method.

      I seriously need to do a follow-up and compare the taste results using banana vs.Ti leaves. I really believe Ti Leaves are a critical factor in what gives dishes such as Kalua Pig and Laulau that authentic “Hawaiian” flavor, whereas banana leaves are more South American. Yet I can’t prove that until I compare them side-by-side!

      As for you serving “Hawaiian style Macaroni Salad” on the side, that is too funny. As you know, there’s nothing “Hawaiian” about Macaroni Salad at all, and frankly, it seems to be losing popularity here in the islands due to the “Honolulu Hipsters” being more health conscious (more greens, less carbs). Still, I understand where you were aiming at from an overall theme aspect. That’s cool. A little tip when you make “Mac’ Salad”, is to keep it simple. Make sure to use Hellman’s/Best Foods Mayonnaise. And add a little milk to the mixture. It gives it that extra creamy flavor! And by all means, DO NOT add “the kitchen sink” to your Mac’ Salad! Keep it simple! At the most, finely sliced carrots and cabbage, and that’s it!

      Next time, you should try making Lomi Salmon. Easy to do on the mainland. All you have to get is a filet of salmon and salt it with sea salt overnight to several days (time permitting). Then cube the salted salmon, add sliced onion, diced tomatoes and green onion. That’s it! The Lomi Salmon will TOTALLY round out the flavor of the Kalua Pork you’re serving. Trust me. The Lomi Salmon will further kick-up the “Hawaiian” in your next Luau feast! And so easy!

      Reply
  • October 4, 2013 at 5:58 am
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    When you freeze it, how do you reheat it? Plan on making some this weekend for the weekend after.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2013 at 8:57 am
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      Manny,

      For best results, thaw it out first, then steam the Kalua Pig by placing it in a heat-proof bowl placed in a covered pot with a low level of water in the pot (not the bowl). Set the fire on medium-high and let her go until it’s heated thoroughly. Key is not to heat it too long, or it loses some flavor. For smaller portions (like late night “sessions”), you can also microwave Kalua Pig, but make sure to cover it with very wet paper napkins, key being to preserved the moisture. That’s where the most fatty parts come in handy! Oops. Did I say that? lol

      Reply
  • June 17, 2014 at 11:26 am
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    Pomai,

    I’m very excited to try this recipe for a “Hawaiian party” at the neighbors! This was exactly what I was looking for and appreciate you posting this technique. I was able to get some Kiawe wood sent over from HI and wish I would have spent more time looking for Ti Leaves, but settled on frozen banana leaves instead.

    I’m used to the more “traditional” pulled pork that is not wrapped in foil and takes 10+ hours to do a 10lb. butt at around 225-250. So, I need to rethink things a bit. I need the meat to be ready at 7pm on Saturday night. Cooking approximately 10 lbs. Based on the other replies and your comments, it looks like 8 hours +/- should be about right at 250. (I’m guessing that since it is wrapped in foil it helps skip the “stall” from an unwrapped butt.)

    Because I don’t want to get into a pickle and want to err on the side of caution, if I get it cooking earlier and it is done sooner then needed – do you see any issues with wrapping it up in more foil, in a blanket, and in a cooler to sit until ready to pull and serve? I’ve had luck with this in the past on regular pulled pork – letting it sit for about 2 hours before ready to serve and still piping hot.

    Will the leaves get soggy or any ill effects caused to the meat?

    I greatly appreciate your advice – first time maker and never had kalua before, so trying to make this a good experience, not an experiment!

    Reply
    • June 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm
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      Brady (from Minnesota),

      “Hawaiian” Kiawe is the same as what you get on the mainland as Mesquite. It’s essentially an invasive species tree with very, very, VERY hard wood to cut through!

      The key as mentioned repeatedly is the green LEAVES you wrap the pork with. That will make all the difference in differentiating it from tasting “Hawaiian”, to tasting like “standard” All-American Pulled Pork. I’m a bit reluctant that the frozen banana leaves you got to wrap around and make it with will work, yet I’m routing for you, my friend!

      As for any ill effects from the leaves turning soggy after cooking, well, that’s the nature of it, and what imparts the flavors. And along with the smoke, lots of it! There should be no ill effects at all, as long as your cooking temperature maintains a consistent 200+ degrees in the cooking chamber within your Weber (or whatever grill you’re using). That’s well above the safe cooking temp’ threshold.

      Perhaps on the next try, see if you can seek out something botanically similar to banana or ti leaves “somewhere” around Minnesota that’s fresh, not frozen. The (preferably fresh) leaves that you wrap the pork with upon roasting are the key that makes Hawaiian Kalua Pig truly “Hawaiian” and unique to the dish. From there, it’s how you simply season it with sea salt and smoke it with the mesquite (Kiawe) that makes it all come together for that perfect, truly authentic Hawiian luau flavored Kalua Pig you seek to achieve.

      Reply
      • June 18, 2014 at 3:07 am
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        Awesome, thank you for the feedback! I’m kicking myself now, I had an opportunity to get either ti or banana leaves fresh sent in from CA but found frozen at the local Asian market, so thought that would be sufficient. Now, time isn’t on my side! I’ll do some more calling around to see if anyone has fresh banana/ti leaves locally, but so far have struck out.
        I’ll post some feedback after my first attempt this Saturday! Thanks again!!

        Reply
  • June 23, 2014 at 9:09 am
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    Pomai,

    I was able to find fresh Ti Leaves with the help of Ron at Auntie Sheila’s Sauces and Catering in California: http://www.alohaprimeproducts.com/ He really came through for me – called him on Wednesday and they were in my mail box on Friday, in perfect condition. Highly recommend for anyone trying to find ti leaves but aren’t available locally.

    Meat turned out great and all the neighbors really enjoyed it on Saturday evening. I’m taking full advantage of the leftovers as well!

    A few things I learned from this first cook that I wanted to share with others who stumble upon this recipe.

    I followed most of your instructions to the T.

    I got the Kiawe wood from http://www.hawaiiguava.com. Priced fair compared to other wood chunks and shipping was included. They sent me enough for probably 10 cooks, so I’ll be busy for a while!

    I have a kamado (Big Green Egg style of grill) and was able to maintain a temperature of 240 the entire cook without opening the lid once. I still had about 90% of my lump charcoal after the cook was done.

    The wood smelt great as I walked by the cooker, but I didn’t see it billowing out like I had expected. There wasn’t a strong smoke flavor, which I know there really isn’t supposed to be, but I would have liked a bit more. Once the grill was cool and I inspected the 3 wood chunks I put in there, they were just barely burned. On my next cook, I will make sure that these get a better chance to burn along with the charcoal to impart some more smoke flavor.

    The Ti leaves work amazingly well to lock in the moisture, I was really impressed. There was a lot of liquid when I opened up the tin foil packaging, which I then used in with the meat and added more salt. Probably could have still used a little more salt, but I didn’t want to overdo it. Next time I’ll go a little stronger with the salt at the start of the cook. I can’t describe what flavor the ti leaves add, a very nice aroma – nothing overpowering though.

    I was anticipating that the tin foil would help reduce the stall at around 160 degrees, but I can’t say I really noticed any improvement. I put the meat on at 7:30 am based on the information I saw here and online thinking it’d be ready for pulling around 6:15 pm. I did have one bigger chunk of bone in butt – 10 lbs. I took off the grill at 6:15 at 200 degrees. I typically like to let it get to 203, but wanted to have it to the party on time. Next time, I’d allow an extra hour or two to be safe. Everyone said it tasted great and while not tough by any means, as I pulled it, it did look more like a pork roast then pulled pork. The bone fell right out though. I attribute this to just rushing and not giving it enough time to do its thing. I had anticipated more of a temp fluctuation in the smoker – figured it’d probably be closer to 300 degrees. I’ll just keep an eye on this next time.

    I believe that all the instructions you provided are great and will give anyone trying it wonderful results. Again, a couple of rookie mistakes on my end; if I would have just allowed more time and had better placement of the wood, it would have been a home-run instead of a triple!

    Thank you very much for the advice and the great recipe! I still have the frozen banana leaves, maybe I’ll do some experimenting with those some.

    Reply
  • September 2, 2016 at 11:05 am
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    Hi, I just got very many ti leaves but do not have pork. Can I freeze the leaves.

    Mahalo, Michelle

    (they sit on my kitchen counter awaiting your reply.

    I hope you are safe from all the rains.

     

     

    Reply

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