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.


Kalua Pig Roasted in a Barbecue Grill — 79 Comments

  1. Nice! I’ve made crock-pot kalua pig more times than I can count, but never on the grill. Like you say, it’s one step closer to the imu. Next time, I’m trying this way.

  2. Your instructions were very clear and precise; it sounds so easy and looks so ono! Do you think a propane powered BBQ would work just as well? I would use the indirect heat method and mesquite chips. Mahalo!

  3. LanaiLady,

    Yes you certainly can, as long as you have a double burner gas grill. You will use only one of the burners as a heat source, which is also where you’ll be placing the wood chip foil packet.

    Soak the mesquite chips in a bucket of water for at least 1 hour first. Then wrap a large handful of the chips in tinfoil and poke holes on top to allow the smoke to escape. Place it near the active burner where it will get enough heat to make the wood chips smoke. Put the wrapped pig on the cooking grate on other side with the inactive burner and close the cover. Make more mesquite chip foil packets so they’ll be ready to add when the current ones burn out.

    This method is part-smoking, part-roasting and part steaming; similar to what an imu does. I would stop adding Mesquite after the 2nd half of the cooking time, as it might make the kalua pig taste over-smoked. Just keep the heat going from the gas burners for the last 3 or so hours.

    Thanks for the nice comments folks!

  4. My mother makes her kalua pig on the grill, too. It definately is delicious that way. Too bad I’m in an apartment complex and can’t grill. But I will be attempting crock pot kalua pig after seeing this, it has made me crave some!

  5. *mouth waters* Wow… Man, I wanted to try this with my weber, but I have the smaller version… and i dunno if everything can fit in it. Nothing beats real smoke.

    I find it interesting how this technique is so similar to southern style bbq, but without the sauce and spices… might also try this with a beef brisket!

    thanks :)

  6. Wow… that looks incredible!
    Why oh why was I vegetarian last time I went to Hawaii?
    At least next time I’ll know (I don’t have a grill yet, and being a small-apartment dweller, probably wont anytime soon)

  7. Pingback: JoAnn vs JoAnn » No Imu Kālua Pig

  8. Gwen,

    I’ve heard mainland folks have had favorable flavor results using Banana leaves, although it gives off a slightly sweeter flavor. I’m sure banana leaves are available in California at the local farmer’s market, or wherever produce imported from Mexico are sold.

    What’s insteresting is my Aunt who lives in Maryland says she has a Ti Leaf plant growing in her yard. I don’t believe it!

  9. Decided to try this myself and it was ONO!!!

    My friends loved it so much that they wanted me to make more for a surprise party she is throwing.

    I used a gas smoker instead of a charcoal grill though. Used mequite chips instead of kiawe since I don’t have that around the Bay Area. I was able to find some Ti leaves where I usually get my groceries.

    I didn’t rub too much salt on it but I added more after I shredded the pig.
    I used kosher salt instead of hawaiian salt, any difference between the two? I also added some liquid smoke when I added the salt to add some more smoky flavor to it.

    Thanks for the post, now I am looking forward to your future posts. :)

  10. Howzit Joe.

    Glad to hear the recipe/method worked out for you!

    Kosher salt is perfectly fine, which just has a slightly smaller grain texture to it.

    Main thing is you had da’ Ti leaves! That’s a very important ingredient that separates Kalua Pig from just being “pulled pork”. It gives the meat that unique “Hawaiian” flavor.

    I’ve read on the net about folks who use either Banana leaves or just tin foil, but I’m skeptical about that.

    Let me know how your next batch turns out when/if you do that one for your friend’s surprise party.


  11. This spring we went to Kauai and I loved the food, so I am hooked. I wanted to start cooking Hawaiian style dishes so I tried this for the 4th of July this year.

    It turned out awesome, lots of compliments from the guests. I used a 9lb roast, which took about 7 hours to cook. I did it on my Weber Kettle using natural mesquite charcoal and soaked mesquite chips. I used a chimney starter to get my fire going.

    I went to an Asian market and found frozen bananna leaves which I used instead of the ti leaves. I don’t have any Hawaiian salt, so I used kosher. I am going to buy the Hawaiian salt for next time.

    The flavor was fantastic! Great for parties.


      • Hi Michelle,

        Yield is a tricky question to answer and you’ll get 100 different thoughts on this. If you search “pork butt serving size” on the web, you’ll find several sources for information.  It really depends on what serving size you’re planning to make – on a bun: what size of bun, by itself, or as a 2nd meat, ratio of men to women to kids, etc. – all kinds of fun scenarios!  Most pork butts I purchase are in the 7-8 lbs. range.  I generally serve this on a sweet roll (not the small ones, but a party sized bun) and figure a 3.2 oz (1/5 lb) serving size.  Taking shrinkage into account (pork butt has a lot of “waste – bone, fat, moisture loss, etc) I figure I’ll get 16-3.2 oz. servings out of a 7 lb. butt.  You may yield better (or worse than this), but this formally typically works out well for me.  Now, is when you need to determine your demographics of the party as there’ll likely be those that want two+ sandwiches, some won’t try it at all, and so on.  I try to plan on a slightly smaller bun to stretch the dollar – would rather have them take two smaller sandwiches with less meat on each one than one large sandwich loaded with meat. (fill them up on the bread!)  Just my take on things – again, you’ll likely see several different thoughts on this topic.

        Good luck!


  12. Matt, that is awesome to hear! Even better that you went out of your way to seek out Banana leaves.

    As far as buying Hawaiian Salt, I’d place more priority on getting Ti Leaves than Hawaiian Salt. The Kosher Salt is perfectly adequate. It’s the Ti Leaves that put the true “Kalua” in Kalua Pig, from a flavor point-of-view. I swear by that.

    It sounds like you nailed the mesquite (a.k.a. Kiawe) smoking element of the process. A true pro!

  13. pomai

    Thank you for posting such a great receipe and instruction!!!!! I have been doing research for a whil but have not seen anything like yours.

    My daughter asked me for a Luau party for her 6th birthday. As a father I could not tell her no. I looked and looked and found your receipe. I am newer to this and thought I would try it before I served it. I tried it this weekend and it rocked. I followed this site the whole time. I cooked a bone-LESS, all I could get, 6 lbs pork butt for 7.5 hours in a vertical smoker with bannana leaves, kosher salt, and mesquite chips. The temp was between 200- 290 the whole time. It was great, although not perfect due to loosing juice. I want to make the real party the best ever. Could you answer a few things for me?

    * How long would you smoke two 6 pound butts using the above stats?
    * What should the temp of the pork butt be at the end?
    * how much Salt???
    *do you let the salt and pork sit overnight?

    Sorry for the questions but there is no one else to help me make this party great.

  14. Shawn,

    First of all, you mentioned “loosing juice”, which is critical for the ideal flavor and texture of the finished Kalua Pig. If in doubt, place the two wrapped pork butts in a disposable pan while roasting to catch the drippings. Ideally, just make sure you wrap them properly with the aluminum foil to catch “the goodness”!

    Now to answer your questions:

    Q) How long would you smoke two 6 pound butts using the above stats?
    A) As mentioned at the ending of this write-up, I had roasted 2 eight pound Pork Butts, and those two took 10 hours. I think you could reduce that time if you kept the heat on the higher side, like the 290 F. degree range. Then lower it towards the latter part of the cooking time.

    Q) What should the temp of the pork butt be at the end?
    A) To be honest, I don’t check the temperature of the meat itself, only monitoring the temperature of the Weber Grill’s roasting “chamber” while it was covered and cooking. If I were doing steak or Prime Rib, where medium-rare doneness was a requirement, of course I’d have a thermometer probe in the meat, not the cooking vessel.

    With that, the cooking temperature in the chamber maintains a variable range between approx. 250-325 F. Towards the end of the 10-hour duration, I let the coals and Kiawe (Mesquite) completely burn off, then checked the meat for it to be “fork-tender, pulled-pork” done. <—-Only at that point will it be ready to serve. The only other variable I think you might have to consider and compensate by is the climate outside, wherever you live.

    Q) how much Salt???
    A) If you look at the photo I provided, you can see a sort of semi-liberal sprinkle. Kosher is a finer grain than Hawaiian Salt, yet perfectly fine. Think of how you would apply salt to table food, then kinda’ increase your “sprinkle rate” by about 50% more than that. The goal is to season the pork butt evenly enough to flavor its entire mass. If in doubt, go light, then you can easily compensate AFTER it’s done by taste-testing it. Add more salt while it’s still piping hot, just after you pulled it with the forks. You can’t go wrong that way. As you know with salt, you can always add, but you can’t subtract! Kalua Pig is not salty by any means. It should have balance.

    Q) do you let the salt and pork sit overnight?
    A) No. Not necessary. Even when a pig is “kalua’d” whole, the Hawaiian Salt is added just before it goes into the Imu. Same for this method.


    Since you’re trying to recreate a Luau party for your daughter (very cool), based on your rather young guests, I’d recommend you complete the experience by looking online for recipes for:

    • Chicken Long Rice
    • Pipikaula (kinda’ like “Hawaiian style” Beef Jerky, but not as tough)
    • Lomi Salmon (this is really good with the Kalua Pig!), besides, kids should learn to eat more fish. It’s healthy.. especially Salmon!
    • Chicken Luau (this can be made using Spinach leaves). Everyone might be frightened by its appearance, but will revel in its flavor!
    • Haupia dessert

    The ingredients for these dishes should be readily available in your neck of the woods.

    Most likely your 6 year old won’t like Poi, so don’t worry about that. And Laulau requires Ti leaves and Luau leaves, which are hard to get, sometimes even here in Hawaii! You might also want to consider making Poke (diced raw tuna with seasonings), which is easy and the grown-ups will (should) especially like it.

    I’d also steam some sweet potatoes, whichever variety you can get. Not only does it provide the starch, it also compliments the savory flavors of the main entrees suggested above. Chances are, you’re gonna’ get that one person who will rave just about that. lol

    Hope this helps. Keep us posted on the results!


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  16. Pomai,

    My man! Sorry it took a while for me to post the results of my friend’s surprise party.

    Well I made 20lbs total, 2 10 pounders. Smoke a little bit over 8 hours considering that I am smoking more meat this time. The outer part of the meat started to turn hard so next time I will keep it at 7 hours and under 8 for bigger batches.

    The meat turned out great and juicy and the best part of it, everybody loved it. Some thought it was catered and some made comments like it is better than L&L’s.

    By the way, I am starting to grow my own Ti plant here in the Bay Area. Got some online and bought one at the Aloha festival.

    Thanks. JOE

  17. I just tried this recipe yesterday on my gas BBQ and it turned out great. I did an 8.5lb butt for about 8hrs keeping temp between 300-325. The meat just fell away from the bone!
    I live in Southern California and was able to get the Ti Leaves from a local florist.

    Thanks Pomai for the clear instructions and photos. I will do this again for sure.


  18. Joe, wow, 20 lbs.! That’s a lotta’ pig! Interesting hearing how you folks can get Ti Leaves out there in Cali’. I figured the climate should be adequate to grow that plant there. It really makes all the difference in the world on the flavor of the Kalua Pig. As I said, without that, really all you’re making is pulled pork that could have just as well come out of Tennessee. The Ti leaves are what really imparts that “Hawaiian” flavor into the meat. When you wrap the pig in the Ti Leaves, no shame, use choke leaves. Mo’ flavah.

    Mark, interesting also that you could get the Ti Leaves from a florist there. I hope they didn’t charge you an arm and leg for it. Florists are often expensive when buying “accessories” like that. Here on Oahu at some local supermarkets, they sell Ti leaves in bunches of 10 large leaves for about $2/bunch (20 cents/leaf). Glad to here you had success with this method as well. Yeah, you can do it at 300ºF, as that will speed up the cooking process. Still, at that temperature, I’d definitely make sure to keep a water pan in the cooking chamber to maintain moisture.

  19. This recipe is all encompassing and gives even the most amateur Grill-Man all the necessary tools to make the best “above the ground” Kalua Pig possible! I used this recipe to the “T”, with a few improvisations and it come out as good as any authentic Hawaiian Kalua I’ve had. I even won praise from my wife and mother-in-law both Native Hawaiians born and raised in Hilo, HA ! Not bad for an East Coast guy from Frederick, Maryland (far from the Big Island) that made his first attempt to smoke anything with this recipe. With a little expert tutelage from Derrik “GrillMaster” Ross and a few minor modifications, here is my perfect recipe for charcoal grilled Kalua Pig.

    I used a Char-Broil Silver Smoker BBQ/Grill, Banana Leaf, and two banks of Kingsford Charcoal. I used mesquite chucks and Red Hawaiian sea salt. 9.35lb Boston Butt took 8.5hrs at a temp ranging from 250-325. Followed everything else as directed on this recipe, scrumptious results! Nuff said.

  20. Vincent, glad to hear it all worked out, even with the substitute banana leaves. Fantastic! Funny you post this now, as my girlfriend just picked up some Kalua Pig from Haili’s Hawaiian Foods in Ward Farmer’s Market in Honolulu last night. Excellent Kalua Pig!

    The point with that said, is, I bet yours was just as great. Especially being naturally slow smoked, which makes all the difference.

    With that, she made the ever-popular local favorite, Kalua Pig and Cabbage. Really easy to make. All you do is sautee the Kalua Pig with chopped cabbage (cut the cabbage in about 1″ to 2″ wide chopped strips). Just throw the kalua pig and cabbage all in one big sautee pan or wok and cook until the cabbage becomes soft and al dente, then finish to taste with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Easy! Serve with hot white rice. Vince, I guarantee you serve Kalua Pig and Cabbage (next) to your wife and mother-in-law without telling them before hand, you’ll be DA’ MAN!

  21. Cool thanks I will try that next time. I eventually plan on building a traditional imu pit in my backyard and cooking a whole pig but I’m sure I will have my challenges finding Ti leaves and river rock in Colorado Springs. But I’m determined to make it happen I will keep you posted on how that all turns out. I know it will at least a two day process but I plan on enlisting a few strong backs to get it done.

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  23. Thanks for the great instructions. My question is that I have tried this twice and both times the Pork comes out way too tough. I can’t shred it. I use a thermometer to check the internal temp of 160, which is the proper temp for pork. Am I over cooking, under cooking, or cooking too fast?

    Aloha – Eric

  24. Eric Philippart, you must be UNDERCOOKING it. Just because the internal temperature of the pork is 160ºF, that doesn’t mean it’s done. It’s gotta’ go long enough to break down the proteins in the meat fiber. Don’t worry about it drying out. As long as it’s wrapped up, the moisture in the pork and the Ti leaves will keep it that way.

    What temperature is the cooking chamber in your GRILL? It should be at least 250 degrees as stated in the instructions. At that minimum temperature, after 7 hours, the pork butt should already be tender enough to pull apart with a fork. If not, let it go longer until it is. It might take another hour or so. Add more Kiawe (mesquite) to make the fire hotter if you want to speed up the cooking time, but personally I’d keep it no more than 325 degrees in the grill’s cooking chamber.

    If you take it out, unwrap it, and it’s still tough, just wrap it back up and put back and let it roast in the grill longer.

    Don’t keep opening up the grill cover to peek, as you’ll lose precious heat doing that. Just let it go and monitor it with a thermometer.

    Hope this helps on your next Kalua Pig Roasted in the Grill attempt.

  25. Pomai, heard many hunters in the islands. Would like to learn how to hunt for wild pigs and other wild animals during hunting season. Up the mountain got 150 lb pigs for the hunting. Now not sure of fresh water shrimps but it somewhere on the other side of Oahu shore.

  26. You were very right. I tried it again a second time and cooked it longer. It came out AWESOME!

    Aloha – Eric

  27. Eric, glad to hear it worked out for you this time. Do it a few more times and you’ll quickly get the hang of temperature and timing to get it where it’s perfectly ready to shred, flavorful (just the right amount of salt and smoke) and moist.

  28. BBQGrill Covers, real easy to do. Don’t be discouraged. Just make sure you use either Banana or Ti Leaves to wrap the pork up. It’s a very important flavor component to making authentic-tasting Hawaiian Kalua Pig.

  29. Hi, We are going to have a Luau for my husbands B-day soon. We have looked @ a bunch of recipes for smoking/cooking a hog. We realy like the Kaula pig. My problem is that we are wanting to do a whole hog about 100#. Our cooker is a side box smoker that will except a full pig. But we are not sure if we can do a 100# pig at once Kaula style. Have you ever tryed this? Any Idea how long we should cook it for or any other idies or suggestions you could tell us I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks Barbra

  30. Pomai, Barbara question sound like my friend when she use to own Lee Kai Market on Manakea St. Her mom could not roast a whole pig in roaster so they cut in half to roast. Since they have no man to help roast it due to father was in hospital at that time.

  31. Sound so interesting . I would get measurment and contact butcher to find out how many pounds for the pig and to know how many hours to cook it.

  32. I heard Alan Wong is cooking at the White House for Obama Luau today. Wonder how many pigs he got going for it? Not sure some guests will like or eat poi. Be trying to get New Kahai but sure they think it too mass of job for them pity it chance for them to be famous.

  33. Made the pork this past weekend during a Hawaii party with 17 pounds of pork butt from Costco and using Mesquite wood chips. Pork was cut into two pieces (one about 9.5 pounds and the other 7.5 pounds). It took 8 hours but was absolutely delicious. Thanks so much for posting the recipe.

  34. Pigging out in SJ, glad to hear the recipe worked out. By “SJ”, I”m guessing you’re in San Jose, California? With that, I’m guessing you used Banana leaves, right?

  35. Found Mesquite Wood Chips on lowes.com and shipped to my branch in Woodbridge NJ for free. Woohoo… I’m near Edison NJ Costco so I will be picking up the pork butt there. Will let you know how it goes.

  36. Tommy, I SERIOUSLY need to do a comparo’ of Kalua Pig made with A) Ti Leaves; B) with Banana Leaves; and C) with BOTH Ti Leaves AND Banana leaves.

    The flavor results of that will be VERY interesting!

  37. Mahalo for the article…To get the real kind “smoke flavor”, smoke for about an hour to absorb the smoke then wrap in foil. I also put a banana or two when I wrap ‘um up with foil if I don’t have ti leaves . I order ti leaves from Hawaiian General Store here in Seattle. When I do kalua in the imu, I use corn stalks and or watercress. Aloha no… keo

  38. I was looking for a Kalua pig recipe that didn’t involve using liquid smoke, and was an actual smoking process. I found this one, and followed the directions, but used a Brinkmann electric water smoker. I was able to get a hold of some actual Kiawe and used that as my smoking wood. It smoked 7 hours, and when I served it everyone sitting around the table was silent as they began eating. I asked, “Is it ok?” Responses were things like, “I’ve never tasted anything like this”, “This must be what Kalua pig is supposed to taste like.”. It was incredible. Thank-you for posting this recipe.
    Jeff – Eagle Creek, OR

    • Jeff, Kalua Pig should have about a “medium” smokey accent, where it’s distinct, but not overbearing.

      You didn’t mention what kind leaves you used to wrap the pork in, which is just as, if not more critical to the final result in flavor as the smoking. If not Ti Leaves (probably impossible to find in Oregon), hopefully you at least used Banana leaves, which I’m sure can be found at your local open markets, asian markets and/or chinatown. The flavor imparted from either of these leaves are what separate Kalua Pig from regular ‘ole Pulled Pork, as it gives the meat that “Hawaiian flavor” if you will.

      Whatever the case, sounds like it all worked out (silence usually/hopefully means people are enjoying the meal. lol)

      • Pomai,

        Well, I have to confess that I didn’t have a chance to get banana or Ti leaf, so I just used parchment as the wrap. Our Asian groceries do carry both. Next time I will use it. However, it was the smoke flavor, beautifully subtle, like you describe, that took everyone back. It was just melt in your mouth. One of the people at the meal grew up in Hawaii, and he was impressed. I think actual Kiawe wood makes a difference. To me Kiawe and Mesquite don’t taste that similar; Mesquite is stronger and more astringent. Anything I’ve eaten cooked with Mesquite always reminds me of barbeque potato chips. I’ll let you know how it turns out when I use Banana or Ti leaf.

        • I was finally able to get Ti leaf at a local Japanese grocery store. I prepared two pork butts as recommended above and smoked them in a Brinkman water smoker using Kiawe wood. The end result was served at a 4th of July picnic with a couple Hawaiian families attending. It got the thumbs up! It was great. The Ti leaf adds a slight tannin taste that wasn’t present before. I’m now growing Ti to use in the future. Thank-you for this great information on making Kalua Pig.

  39. Success! I got the pork shoulder from Costco — comes with two 8-lb pork shoulders. Bought Kiawe chunks from the Naval Exchange outdoor store. I have a large charcoal grill so I put the pork on 1 half and the charcoal & kiawe on the other side. I added charcoal and kiawe every 45-60 minutes to keep the heat at 250ish.

    Made the other shoulder in the over using the “Sam Choy” recipe from food network. Much tougher — almost a pork roast — and I am not impressed by the liquid smoke flavor. I will defintely use your recipe again! Mahalo!

    • Tony, fantastic to hear yet another success using this recipe!

      No need the liquid smoke using this method, as obviously the Kiawe (Mesquite) will add more than enough smoke flavoring. The only other key ingredients are Hawaiian Salt and Ti Leaves. Hopefully you wrapped yours up with Ti Leaves, as that’s what imparts that unique “Hawaiian Luau” flavor.

  40. Aloha, I made this recipe like you told and it was ono. However, this week I couldn’t get Ti leaves. So, I tried luau. Akamai grindz! The luau mixes in with the pork and you are in pork heaven! It’s da kine.

  41. 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.

    • 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!

  42. 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.

    • 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.

  43. 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

    • 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!

    • 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

  44. 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!

    • 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.

      • 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!!

  45. 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.

  46. 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.



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