Big Island Smoked Pork, also casually called “smoked meat” is a family tradition that goes back to generations of wild pig hunters and Paniolo ranchers on the island of Hawaii. It’s probably done a similar way on most other Hawaiian islands, and everyone has their own secret flavoring or method to make it their own.
Presented here by yours truly is the basic way to make smoked pork “Big Island style”.
Big Island Smoked Pork (smoked meat)
- Pork Butt, 5 lbs. or more, preferably boneless (easier to cut into steaks)
- Hawaiian Salt (rock salt)
- Shoyu (use your favorite brand), 3 cups
- Sugar, 1-2 cups
- Fresh Ginger, 1 large finger, minced
- Fresh Garlic, 5 large cloves, minced
- Hawaiian Chili Pepper, 3 pieces, minced
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a pot on the stove heated to medium. Add the sugar gradually and adjust to how sweet you want it. Make the shoyu/sugar ratio between 1:1 and 2:1; the latter being less sweet. Up to you. You can also adjust the Chili Pepper heat to your own liking, too. Again use your taste buds for best judgement!
After the marinade ingredients are well incorporated and you’re happy with the flavor, put it in the refrigerator to cool down.
*In this demo I substituted the Shoyu and Sugar with a premixed bottle of Aloha Teriyaki Mango and Pineapple sauce, which has a nice shoyu-sugar balance right out of the bottle. All I added to it was the ginger, garlic and chili pepper. Never needed to heat it on the stove since the sugar was already incorporated.
Marinade base: Aloha Shoyu
Marinade flavor components (clockwise from bottom left): Hawaiian Salt, Ginger, Hawaiian Chili Pepper (very hot!), Sugar (Hawaiian Cane variety shown) and Garlic
I found this bottle of Mango Pineapple Teriyaki Glaze on clearance at Costco for a song ($1.97/half-gallon)! So I substituted the marinade foundation using this. So easy!
Prepare the pork butt…
5 lbs. of boneless Pork Butt well marbelized with fat (for flavor of course!)
Safety first! Remember to always wash your hands, cutting board and utensils thoroughly after handling pork. And don’t cut yourself, just the pork!
Cut the pork butt into “steaks” approximately 3/4″ to 1″ thick. There’s no rhyme or reason, but don’t make them too thin, or the finished pieces could end up dry. Here’s that same piece after the knife…
Boneless Pork Butt cut into steaks
While they’re spread out on the cutting board, sprinkle each piece lightly with Hawaiian Salt and lomi (massage) the salt into the all sides of the meat. This will add a burst of flavor to the finished product and also help the brining process. Be careful not to overdo it.
Place the cut up and salted pork butt into a pan deep enough to marinade them in (or you can put them in Ziploc bags if you prefer)…
Remove the cooled shoyu-based marinade from the refrigerator and pour it over the pork then toss to coat thoroughly. You can also lomi the marinade into the pork. Cover the pan with foil or plastic wrap (or zip up the bag) and place the marinaded pork butt into the refrigerator and and let it soak overnight or up to 24 hours. Perhaps you can let it marinade longer, but this is the longest I’ve done it.
Let’s get smokin’!
Traditionally, many big island folks have a “smoke house” that’s built specifically for this duty. Others have consumer brand smokers such as the Weber Smokey Mountain “WSM” model. Well, I’m just a casual smokin’ hobbiest, so what I have here is my method using an off the shelf Weber 22-1/2″ model Kettle Barbecue grill. Who woulda’ thought?!
The tools and fuel of this trade:
- Large, charcoal burning barbecue grill with a cover (in this case the Weber Classic 22″ kettle model)
- Smoking wood: Kiawe branches/logs and/or; Mesquite and/or: Guava branches/logs
- Charcoal briquettes (at least 5 lbs. worth to be safe)
- A chimney starter and newspaper (or your most successful way of starting a BBQ fire)
- A lighter or matches
- Small disposable foil pan for water
- 9″x13″ disposable foil service pan used to make modifications (see following instructions)
Because this is a low temperature smoking process of around 200 degrees F., you need to create a heat shield in the grill to protect the meat from burning or overcooking. Here’s how!
First you take an aluminum disposable pan and cut the corner walls so you can shape it into a “shield”…
Then you set up the grill for smoking like this…
In the photo above, about 10 briquettes of charcoal are placed on one side of the grill. Then “heat shield” pan is bent into a position over the coals at an angle to shield the charcoal flame-up area as shown. It’s held in place by the weight of the water-filled pan placed on one of the “shield pan’s” flap at the center. This looks strange, but’s it’s very effective at keeping the heat away from the meat and maximizing the smoking space in the grill. If this looks like too much extra set-up work for you, just go buy a smoker, but this does indeed work!
Now get your charcoal briquettes started. Once they’re ashed over, place the cooking grate on the grill, and begin layout out the marinaded pork on the grate like this…
Make sure to positions the cooking grate where the opening is over the charcoal, so you can add smoking wood without having to remove the grate every time. This will make life much easier here!
Once you have all your raw, marinaded (brined) pork spread out on the grill surface, you can add your smoking wood to the charcoal pyre through the opening as shown above. The initial wood I’m using here is Mesquite wood chips that have been pre-soaked in water.
As soon as the wet mesquite are added, it begins to smoke…
What else to do? COVER IT!…
Yes, cover it and set the vents underneath the fire and on the lid to full open position. You want as much air circulation as possible.
What do you do now? Go grab a cold beverage and let’s talk a little about smoking woods!
In Hawaii, three types of smoking woods are typically mentioned: Kiawe (same family as Mesquite, and the most popular), Guava (yes from the fruit tree’s namesake) and Lychee.
Here I have three varieties I’ve used for this particular smoking session..
Top to bottom: Kiawe, Guava and Mesquite (chips, pre-soaked in water)
The Kiawe shown above are smaller pieces that I prefer using for this duty, as they’re easier to add through that small opening in the grill grate. All these woods are very dense and fairly difficult to cut in comparison to other woods, whether you’re using an axe, handsaw or chainsaw. They’ll give you and your saw blade a workout!
The Kiawe – especially the large pieces – have the longest burn time of the three here. Because the Mesquite is store-bought, they’re already very dry and need the water soak in order to give off smoke. The Guava and Kiawe, found right in our backyard and/or given to us by relatives, still had residual moisture and therefore smoked naturally without the need for a water soak. But you could do that if necessary.
Part of the fun (yes it’s fun!) of smoking meat is the gathering of family and friends while the process goes on, and everyone anticipating the finished result. Also, something primal about tending to a smoking fire with meat on it is just, well, so satisfying and relaxing!
Back to business now! This process takes a total of 4 hours at a temperature of approximately 200 – 220 degrees F. Here I’ve used a regular old meat thermometer to read the temperature of the “smoking” chamber inside the grill…
Whenever you add more “fuel” (the smoking wood and/or charcoal), the reading will jump over 220, but then it will drop down to around there. That’s fine. Keep a watch on the smoke coming out the top vent(s). When there is absolutely no smoke escaping, it’s time to add more smoking wood. Uncover it and simply place more of either variety shown previously through the opening in the cooking grate. If the fire seems to be weak (burning embers are dying), add a few charcoal briquettes, along with the smoking wood. This will help maintain the pyre. As soon as you see it smoking again, cover it!
After 2 hours of smoking time, it will look like this…
Although not necessary, at this point you may brush them with some of the reserve marinade for additional moisture and flavor. What the heck, I did.
Keep it covered and maintain a lighter smoke towards the last 2 hours of the smoking time. When it’s done, they’ll look like this!…
Notice how the pieces closer to the fire formed a darker crust, but that’s O.K., as these pieces are thicker than the pieces surrounding it. It’s ALL GOOD!
A close-up of finished pieces…
Remove and place in a pan…
Notice (above) the grill marks from the underside of the pork, and a golden-brown caramelized finish from the sugar and shoyu marinade.
Let it cool, then you’re ready for service, and/or you can store it away in Zip Loc bags (or even better in Seal-a-Meal bags) and store in the refrigerator or freezer for a future dining event…
Be sure to mark the name and date. This stuff is considered “gold” in the freezer!
These are actually not fully cooked yet. Similar to bacon, you need to pan fry it before you serve it. In the case of Big Island Smoked Pork, the best way to to it is to fry them until the edges are “papa’a”, or slightly burnt at the edges. That’s the best!
Slice into bite size pieces like this…
Place a frying pan on the stove on medium-high heat. No is oil necessary, since the fat from the pork will melt and create its own. Add the sliced smoked pork…
All that oil came from the natural fat in the pork… so bad, yet so good!
Keep a close eye, as the sugar will caramelize and burn quickly, flip them as soon as they begin to crisp on the edges like this…
When they look like this on both sides, remove them immediately onto a paper towel to drain the excess oil. If you’re doing batches (most likely), keep draining the excess oil fat from the pan into a heat-safe container and discard properly.
My favorite accompaniment with Big Island style Smoked Pork is POI! The salty rich flavor and heat of the meat, followed by a chaser of the smooth texture, cool temperature and mild flavor of the poi is as perfect as it gets. But you can just as well serve them as a pupu (appetizer) just by itself. Another good accompaniment are sliced raw Maui Onions. Stir fry perhaps? Or you could get creative and use it as a substitute for bacon in recipes that call for that.
The wafting smell of smoked pork while they’re being fried in the kitchen will have everyone running in asking, “what is that? I want some!”. Before you know it, all your Big Island Style Smoked Pork will be wiped out, so make plenty! Trust me.. this stuff goes fast!
Only when the internet has “smell-o-vision” will you fully be able to grasp how good this local delicacy really is. The closest thing to it is bacon. Go fry some and tell me that doesn’t smell awesome? Of course it does! Well this BLOWS bacon out the door and takes smoked pork to another level. While it’s not exactly healthy due to the high sodium and fat, on occasion and in moderation, it’s one of the tastiest of indulgences that you’ll ever experience.
**In Memory of Uncle Jack**