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Big Island Smoked Pork

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)

The meat:

  • Pork Butt, 5 lbs. or more, preferably boneless (easier to cut into steaks)
  • Hawaiian Salt (rock salt)

The marinade*:

  • 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)…

The shoyu/sugar/ginger/garlic/chili pepper marinade begins to impart their ono flavor!

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)
  • Water

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…

Notice how the aluminum heat shield below the opening of the grate comes right to up to that point, maximizing the effective smoking capacity inside the grill

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…

Brush with reserve marinade

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!…

All pau!

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…

Notice the pink color inside and glazed edges. Perfect! All they need now is a quick pan fry!

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.

Big Island Smoked Pork, served with a bowl of Poi… Broke Da’ Mout’!

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**

The Tasty Island related links:

Coverage: 5th Annual ‘Hogs Gone Wild’ Smoked Meat Cook-off

Coverage: 4th Annual Up in Smoke Cook-off

3rd Annual ‘Up in Smoke Challenge’

1st Annual Smoked Meat Competition a Big Hit

Kalua Pig Roasted in a Barbecue Grill

Smoked Tako (Hawaiian He’e Octopus), prepared 4 + 3 Ways


60 thoughts on “Big Island Smoked Pork

  • March 21, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    There are tears of joy in my eyes right now. Sheer @#$%ing joy. It’s beautiful, bra. Beautiful.

    I’m a poi heretic. I add salt. =)

  • March 22, 2007 at 4:18 am

    These are great posts—BETTER THAN recipes—because you show each step for people like me who need to SEE it to understand it. Broken down step by step. Thank you!

  • March 23, 2007 at 6:00 am

    Yeah baby! I’m gonna do some smokin’ like this and soon. As though the bbq wasn’t enough, frying it up right. Damn! This looks fantastic! Great post, thanks.

  • March 23, 2007 at 8:33 am

    Yum…you made so much, wanna sell me some?! lol. I am going camping next week at bellows for spring break and I will definately keep this pork in mind!

  • March 25, 2007 at 2:25 am

    This pork looks incredible. We just stocked up on pork butts at $.99/lb and this looks like something my husband would like to try- he is a grill fanatic. We need to try it soon before Tidewater heat and humidity hit!

  • March 25, 2007 at 9:23 am

    What an entry, Pomai !! Great job and awesome recipe and instructions!!! I really enjoy that Big Island Smoked Pork!! Thanks for sharing your wonderful recipes and cooking tips !!! YUMMY!!!

  • April 5, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Smoked Pork. It’s a beautiful thing.
    Many thanks from the mainland.
    You’ve made all our mouths water.

  • June 17, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    I smoked this for 5 hours, on a treager grill, froze half of it and cooked the other half, to me it seemed like it took a long time to cook till I got the crisp marks on the edges, but the half I froze, got crispie right away and it taste soo much better. Don’t get me wrong they both were good, BUT THE FROZEN WAS MUCH BETTER,by the way it was in the freezer for about a month

  • July 3, 2008 at 6:06 pm


    Thank you so much for this post. You weren’t kidding when you said everyone will be running asking “What is that?”.

    That was exactly what my wife and 3 year old son said. No kidding.
    And when you said, make plenty, hoh bra, I quickly found out the hard way because the pork disappeared.

    I did make some minor subs. I used huli-huli sauce instead and added a couple of teaspoons of liquid smoke.

    Smoked under some mesquite for 4 hours, let it cool down afterwards.
    The smoky scent filled my kitchen the second I started frying them. That’s what got my wife and son to run downstairs drooling and wondering what it was.

    Great for appetizer but better served with eggs and rice.

    Again, thank you.


  • July 3, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Howzit Joe,

    Glad to hear it turned out great.

    Well, since your family immediately wiped out your “test run” batch, that gives you an excuse to do it again! Every batch has its own unique character, depending on your marinade, heat management and amount of smoke you maintain during the process.

    Next time, try a batch (or one on the side) that’s sweeter. Like 1/1 shoyu/sugar ratio. That type is great as a pupu by itself, and doesn’t need “sides” as much as the more salty, shoyu-like smoked meat.

    Interesting that you used the Huli Huli Sauce for it. I was always curious about that stuff. The Aloha Mango Pineapple Teriyaki marinade I used worked out great (and it was CHEAP!), as it already had the seasonings mixed in. Although I still added more garlic and ginger, plus the Hawaiian Chili pepper, as those are key ingredients that you really should taste which allows this to be labeled “Big Island Smoked Meat”.

    But yeah, that smoky scent that wafts through the house (not just kitchen) when you fry ’em up is what will bring anyone around in droves. “I like some! I like some!”

    Gary, that’s odd how the frozen one tasted better.

    Billy, I imagine by now you’ve already got the recipe locked away in a Texas vault.

  • July 3, 2008 at 8:35 pm


    I’m going to try to go home early today and try it with the Aloha Mango Pineapple marinade. I have some family staying for the weekend so this will be perfect.

    I tried the huli-huli sauce since the ingredients says that it has everything in there except for the Hawaiian Chili Pepper.

  • October 5, 2008 at 3:02 am


    I started smoking the pork butt on Thursday, and served it while we were playing a friendly game of Texas Hold’em on Saturday. My neighbor who bought some smoke meat from the big island brought his over for comaprison.. We put them on seperate plates and took a vote as to which one was the best. YOUR SMOKE MEAT WAS THE OVERALL WINNER, HANDS DOWN. Our family had some for breakfast with eggs and boy did they enjoy it. Only trouble now is that everone is asking that I make some more and I just went down to the market to purchase 10 pounds of pork butt. Thanks for the awesome recipie.

  • October 5, 2008 at 3:23 am

    Ray, that’s fantastic to hear! Keep in mind, I only provided the guideline, but really, it’s YOUR smoked meat, as you adjusted the marinade and smoking process based on YOUR talent.

    I didn’t know you could buy commercially-sold smoked meat on the big island. I’ll have to ask some cousins about that. Usually it’s made by family members and prepared at family events or given away as omiyage (gifts).

  • October 5, 2008 at 3:47 am


    Regarding my email above, my neighbor bought them from someone on the big island who smokes them at his house out of an old ice box. He says from now on we will smoking our own using your recipie and as you said put them in the freezer. I don’t think it will last long since we will be taking it for tail gating at the UH fooball games. IT SURE GOES GOOD WITH BEER . PS: Since I do not have a Weber grill, I used my Kamado and got the same results. Again thanks for making me the hero with my friends and family.

  • November 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Aloha Pomai,

    We tried your recipe using goat that a hunter friend provided. Its a Winner!!

    • April 1, 2013 at 3:46 am

      OMG! Smoked goat! That brings back memories! My pops used to get some from the family in Kona and he used to fry it up and serve it up as pupus. After reading your recipe, I’m pretty sure that the goat was done just like you described! I remember my dad getting us to try it the first time by telling us it was pipikaula… wow surprise when it tasted different! But sooooo ono! Thanks for the recipe and the memories it brings back!

  • February 20, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Pomai, I am going to try for the first time to make smoked meat by myself following your method. My son has a smoker, but it’s too big PLUS whenever I have the onos for it I have to wait till he has time. But with your step-by-step method and great photos, I feel confident that I can do it by myself on a grill like yours. Thanks for making something that always seemed hard to me actually so easy. Can you show us how to make Portuguese sausage?

    Aloha to you, Pomai, and mahalo for your very generous and happy nature!

    My son’s mother,

  • February 20, 2010 at 9:52 am

    Myla, it’s really easy to do. Just follow the steps above and you can’t go wrong. Let us know how it turns out! Don’t forget the poi!

    Val, wow, never tried smoked goat. I bet the shoyu/sugar/garlic/ginger/chili pepper marinade really helped a lot for that one.

    Ray, an old refrigerator is the perfect housing unit to use for smoking. I also seen Alton Brown (Food Network) build one using an old school locker. Hey, if it’s tall and has a door, that’ll work. Glad to hear your neighbor liked the marinade recipe. Along with the Kiawe, that’s the deal maker!




  • February 20, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I am doin ‘this recipe. I’m a Weber guy too… they work great for smoke/cooking. Just have to get used to them. BTW, Weber makes a cool aftermarket grill grate with a little section that flips up, so you can easily add the smoking woods as needed.

    When I was a kid, our smoker back in Wisconsin looked like an outhouse from the outside….. hmmmm…… smelled a lot better though. ;) My dad and his friends used to smoke two things at the same time… fresh caught whole split lake whitefish, and homemade fresh venison sausage. I used to start circling around the smoker in the mid-afternoon, waiting for that door to open. I’ve had a lot of great food in my life, but nothing better than that.

  • February 20, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Marcus, sounds good. Let  us know how it turns out!

    Thanks for the tip on that Weber grill grate. That’s the one with the hinged side part. I seen it in the store and thought of getting it, but it was kinda’ pricey, considering the 22″ stock grate works out fine.

    I have an aunt in Alaska who used to make her own KILLER Smoke Salmon and Smoked Halibut Sausage. Gotta’ get her recipe and method. Good stuff!

    I’m pretty confident your mainland guest will be SOLD on the smoke meat if you follow this recipe. Try making two batches. One more sweet and less hot and one less sweet but spicier. Throw a little variety in there.

  • April 2, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    Hey Pomai… I found this gadget on the webz http://www.smokenator.com/default.htm. I know you’re a Weber guy like me… it converts a 22″ Weber into a low n’ slow smoker. Seems kinda cool.

    I’m sorry to say, I still haven’t made this recipe! Life just went all fast forward on me, lotsa bass playing. I think I need to stop and smell the smoke…;)

  • June 4, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Does anyone have some good recipes to cook the smoke meat beside by itself? I have stir fried it with some onions, bell peppers, guava jelly, etc. Is there other recipes out there?

  • November 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Mahalo Nui!, I’m going to try is this week!


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