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Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig & Cabbage

Kalua Pig and Cabbage

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, occuring this Tuesday, March 17th, many of us will be enjoying the classic Corned Beef and Cabbage feast in honor of that. We surely will. LOVE the stuff.

Therefore, I thought this was a good time to bring up the “local” style version of that, with the also-classic Kalua Pig & Cabbage dish. Try that one on fer size, laddy. lol

WordPress’  site statistics continually reports the posting I did a few years ago on Kalua Pig Roasted in a Barbecue Grill as one of the most popular pages on this blog to date. And that method truly yields fantastic results.

There’s now tons of recipes on the web on how to make Kalua Pork (I prefer calling it Kalua Pig) in an oven. The way I normally do mine is by placing the liquid smoke-rubbed and Hawaiian Salted Pork butt all wrapped up in Ti Leaves and foil on a large roasting pan filled with water, then cover and seal the whole thing with foil before placing it in my conventional oven for a long time.

This time I tried doing it in my rather compact countertop toaster oven, and it turned out equally as great! Not only did it have the same results as the full-sized oven, but I believe the toaster oven consumes much less electricity. Hey, conserve energy and save a few bucks, why not?! You could probably cut the cooking time down significantly by using a convection oven, but I don’t have one of those (yet).

In keeping with the “Tasty Island Style” of walking you through with the aid of photos, here I present how to make Kalua Pig in an oven, this time using a countertop toaster oven, which you could apply the same method using your regular oven.

Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig

• Pork Butt (shoulder) – approximately 5 lbs. ( no larger than what will fit on pan on a rack in the oven you’re using)
• Liquid Smoke – approximately 2 tbsp.
• Hawaiian Salt – approximately 3/4 cup
• Ti Leaves – 5 large leaves (enough to completely wrap and cover the pork butt)

Equipment and materials:
• Tin Foil, preferably the heavy gauge stuff
• Roasting pan with rack (whatever size fits in the oven you’re using)
• An oven! (oh, and in case you’re wondering, NO, an Easy Bake® Oven will not work lol)
• Oven mitts
• 2 forks
• Zip-Loc freezer bags to store surplus Kalua Pig in freezer (no need if you plan to eat all of it within the next 3 or 4 days)

• Poi for later (a must!)
• Cabbage for the next recipe

Let’s do this.

Place a large sheet of aluminum foil down on a large cutting board (this makes it easier to transport), making sure the foil is long and wide enough to wrap around the pork butt and ti leaves. I didn’t have the commercial size heavy duty foil on hand, so made do with standard-gauge 12″ width aluminum foil and layered it.

Next over the foil, layer the ti leaves across it.You can “debone” the ti leaves if you want, but I  don’t. I just cut the thick and stiff stems off.

Then place your pork butt (not your butt) on the ti leaves.

Now pour about a tablespoon of liquid smoke on the pork butt and rub it evenly over the entire surface. It’s important to rub on the liquid smoke FIRST, as that helps the Hawaiian Salt stick to the pork. Don’t over-do the liquid smoke; a little goes a long way. Too much, and its flavor will be overpowering. Trust me, you don’t want over-smokey kalua pig. Just a light, even coat of the liquid smoke is all it needs. After you got it evenly coated with liquid smoke, take some Hawaiian Salt in your hand and sort of “rain” it evenly over the entire surface of the butt. Be generous with your sprinkle, but not TOO much salt. Remember, you can always add more salt after it cooks to adjust the seasoning. If in doubt, salt on the lighter side, than adjust it after you shred the pig when it’s done cooking.

Here’s how it should look after doing those steps…

There you can see how much salt I sprinkled on.

Notice this is the opposite side of the pork butt where the fat cap is. Now repeat the application of liquid smoke, followed by Hawaiian salt on the other side…

Oh yes. See that fat cap? That my friends = FLAVAH! This shot also gives you a better idea how much Hawaiian salt I sprinkled on it. One other important thing I did here was to sprinkle some water on the ti leaves and generally over the pork butt. I did this by wetting my hands under the sink and sort of sprinkling around. What that will (obviously) do is keep the pork moist as it slow-roasts. The reason I did that is because the pan I’m using that fits in the compact countertop oven is a bit too shallow to pour water in it.

Here’s one more angle…

It’s important to roast it with the fat cap on TOP, as, as it melts down, it will permeat the pork beneath it with both flavor, FLAVOR, FLAVOR, and MOISTURE. Of course if you’re trying to limit your fat intake, go ahead and remove the fat cap all together. Then again, if you’re watching your fat intake, you shouldn’t be eating this to begin with.

Now that the pork butt is evenly coated with liquid smoke and Hawaiian Salt, wrap it up! Gather the Ti Leaves around the pork, joining them at the top center. Take one or two more Ti Leaves and place it across the top where the Ti Leaves wrapped from underneath are joining. There’s no rhyme or reason here. The goal is basically to completely encapsulate the Pork with the Ti Leaves. Why? Flavor.

The Ti Leaves are a key component, imparting a unique flavor that separates Kalua Pig from regular ‘ole pulled pork. The liquid smoke simulates the flavor of real smoke from the Kiawe (mesquite) wood used in a traditional Imu (Hawaiian underground oven). I’ve heard folks using Banana leaves and having great results, but I’ve personally never tried it. Perhaps one day I’ll do a comparo’ to see how Banana Leaf-wrapped Kalua Pig tastes side-by-side versus Ti Leaves. Another day.

Let’s call it a wrap…

Because I was using the smaller 12″ width foil, I had to take a few extra sheets to help the whole thing stick together. Just make sure it’s sealed pretty tight so that the moisture stays inside.

The wrapped pork butt is placed on a (toaster oven-sized) roasting pan with a rack on it. The rack is important, as that will help the heat to evenly distribute around the entire pork butt, as well as keep it elevated out of any drippings in the pan beneath.

Place the wrapped pork butt on the roasting pan & rack in a preheated oven (or toaster oven in this case) set at 300ºF. It will take 7 hours to cook. After 1 hour of roasting, reduce the heat to 275ºF and leave it there for the remaining 6 hours of cooking time. Some folks roast their kalua pig at a higher temperature, like the standard 350º, but I believe LOW ‘N SLOW is the WAY TO GO. Low ‘n slow no ka oi.

After 7 hours are up, turn off the oven and open the door. At this point, your kitchen should be permeating with the unique and ono smell of Kalua Pig, as if you’ve got a major luau in that oven. Like, Seriously.

Now let the kalua pig “rest” for another half hour to an hour to cool down in the oven. This will not only make it easier to handle, but also helps to retain moisture.

After its resting period, remove the kalua pig on the rack from the oven, place on counter and open up the foil. This is how it will look…

Now unwrap the Ti Leaves..

Aahhhh… oooohhhhh… aaahhhh…. oooohhhh. lol

A lot of the fat cap melted away and dripped into the pan, yet there’s still quite a bit remaining on top that is now so soft, it practically melts right into the pork as you shred it, adding, yes, MO’ FLAVAH!

The pork butt – which is now essentially Kalua Pig – is now so tender that it’s impossible to grab one piece to transfer into a shredding pan. Therefore, the best way to do it is by turning it over into a large, clean shredding pan by holding it by the foil. Once you do that, discard the foil and cooked-down Ti Leaves.

Now the Kalua Pig is ready to shred…

Before we shred the pig, let’s talk about the DRIPPINGS, which, depending how much fat your pork butt had, there should be quite a lot of. Don’t throw that away! Pour into a heat-safe container and  save it. You’ll need some (not all) to add to the Kalua Pig after it’s shredded. Here’s all the drippings that came out from this roast…

I didn’t pour the Kalua Pig drippings nto a measuring cup to check, but looking at how much it filled this (large) saimin bowl, I’d say it’s approximately 2 cups worth.

Now, going back to the Kalua Pig, shred and mix it around thoroughly using a fork in each hand…

Notice how easy it comes apart and literally falling off the bone. There was not one piece of meat stuck to that bone when I pulled it out.

After it’s all thoroughly shredded apart and mixed evenly, it’ll look like this…

Surely you’ve been picking at it already as you were shredding it, but now that it’s pretty much  done, just one more important step: that is to adjust the moisture and seasoning (saltiness).

This is where the drippings come in. If you want less fat, put the drippings in the freezer for a few hours to help the fat congeal, which will make it easy to separate from the water-based drippings. Otherwise, just stir it thoroughly before adding some into the pan of shredded Kalua Pig. The drippings will have a high salt content, which will help add the seasoning your Kalua Pig many need. How salty you want your kalua pig is a personal preference.

Adjust it to the point where you’re happy with it. Your tongue knows best. If the drippings aren’t salty enough to achieve the flavor, simply sprinkle in more Hawaiian Salt. Chances are you may not have to do any adjusting at all, depending how much you put on from the start, and also the dynamics in how it roasted. Just taste it and you’ll know.

Here’s a super-zoom of the finished Kalua pig…

Serve it up…

That’s it. Just add poi and enjoy!

Or, if you wanna’ do a Hawaiian version of the St. Patrick’s Day classic Corned Beef and Cabbage, make Kalua Pig and Cabbage! It’s one of the easiest dishes to prepare and so ono on rice!

Here’s how I do my Kalua Pig & Cabbage…

Kalua Pig & Cabbage
• Kalua Pig (see recipe above) – approximately 2 cups
• Fresh Cabbage – half of a 4 lb. head, cut into large bite-size squares and or wide strips (cut in shapes you prefer)
• Kalua Pig drippings or chicken stock (water works too, but da’ drippings or chicken stock get mo’ flavah, cuz!) – 1/2 cup  to 1 cup.

Place Kalua Pig and cut fresh cabbage in a pot or sautee pan on stove at medium-high heat. The Kalua Pig should have enough fat to melt and create it’s own oil so it doesn’t stick. Then pour in the drippings (or chicken stock or water) and mix the kalua pig and cabbage together using tongs or chopsticks.

After the stock or water steams and reduces, cover and reduce temperature to medium and cover for a few minutes to let the cabbage steam down. It doesn’t take long for the cabbage to wilt and soften. After the cabbage steams and cooks down, check it and keep stirring. You want the cabbage to be al dente, not soggy.

Once it’s al dente, turn off heat and stir everything once again. Check seasoning for saltiness. Some people like to also add black pepper, but not me. You can if you want. Some also add a drop or two of shoyu, but I don’t. I want it to taste like KALUA pig and cabbage, not shoyu pork and cabbage.

That’s it! So fast and easy to prepare.

Serve over a bed of hot rice and dig in!…

Kalua Pig and Cabbage on hot white rice

With all that surplus Kalua Pig I’ve got now, my next project will be a Kalua Pig Bahn Mi Vietnamese style sandwich, followed by a Kalua Pig BLT, ala The Pineapple Room.

Here’s the Corned Beef and Cabbage I prepared about a year ago

Corned beef brisket and cabbage, with potatoes ‘n’ carrots, and drizzled generously with yellow mustard


33 thoughts on “Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig & Cabbage

  • March 15, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Ho, you made plenty but never invite us over!!!

    I make mine with a crockpot. I think more juicy. Made last weekend.

    • January 15, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      The last Kalua pig I made in the crock pot was so juicy and delicious. I used your method minus the foil. The ti leaves come from our flower beds.
      We froze several packages so tonight we’re having one added to fresh cabbage with rice on the side.
      Have you tried Kalua pig tacos with fresh cabbage and mango salsa? Melt in your mouth goodness!

      • January 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm

        Shirl, a popular version of that served at several restaurants around town is the Kalua Pig and Swiss Cheese Quesadilla, topped with Mango Salsa and Sour Cream. Ono! Try making that with your Kalua Pig tonight. All you do is spread a layer of Kalua Pig on a flour tortilla, then top it with the Swiss Cheese (or your favorite variety), then top it with another flour tortilla, and fry it in a pan until it browns. Slice into wedges and serve with a side bowl or dollop of Mango Salsa and Sour Cream to dip in. So easy, and it’s winnahz!

        I was also successful making Kalua Pig in a pressure cooker. Best part is, it took just 2 hours and it was pau! I still think roasting it in the oven has the best flavor though (next to in a BBQ grill or Imu).

        • June 23, 2013 at 8:11 pm

          Thanks, Pomai. I just saw your comment when a friend posted your link on her page. I’ll try the quesadilla soon since we’re doing a smoked Kalua Pig this week. :yes:

          • June 24, 2013 at 12:10 am


            Here’s an example of a Kalua Pig Quesadilla with Sour Cream and Mango Salsa…

            Kalua Pig Quesadilla with Mango Salsa

            Note, the cheese in this one is the “Mexican Blend” of Jack, Cheddar and Mozzarella.

  • March 15, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    miss having kalua pig and cabbage for an easy dinner! and the corned beef looks ono too! happy st patty’s day!

  • March 16, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Pomai, Yo Man you cooking again?!!!

    Awesome meal. I use presure cooker cuting time more than half. I like sweet potato or yam with it sweet taste with salvory pork make it balance out.

  • March 16, 2009 at 5:26 am

    I would also have spinach or laulau leaves with pork too.

  • March 16, 2009 at 5:43 am

    Pomai, on last entry Amy ask of omrice and where. Bistro A Un at 1960 Kapiolani Blvd at McCully Shopping Mall. Their omrice with katsu is around 8.75 or so. Got other specials popular in Japan.

  • March 16, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Amy, now you got me intrigued on this “omurice” craze. Looks easy enough to make at home.

    Michael, I believe you meant to say “Luau leaves”, which are Hawaiian taro leaves. As for adding more things to the Kalua Pig and Cabbage dish, no can. Gotta’ keep this one as as simple as possible, or it isn’t the same.

    Kimo, a friend of mine swears by Kalua Pig in the pressure cooker. I don’t have one of those, yet now that you mention it, I need to get one and try it out. I hear a PC is also great for making stew and pot roasts.

    Kat, is there any resources (markets) in Japan where you can buy Banana or Ti Leaves? If so, you can do this!

    Nate, crockpot sounds good (and easy!), but in this case, wouldn’t fit in my compact toaster oven. Please share your Kalua Pig crockpot cooking method on your blog, onegaishimasu.

  • March 16, 2009 at 8:30 am

    I too have made it in a crock pot (like two days ago). Like you, I use hawaiian salt (which I get when I come home) and liquid smoke (Mesquite, which is kiawi). I don’t use ti leaves because they are too messy, and I save the ti leaves for Lau lau. Cooked on low for 10 to 12 hours, ono man, and get plenty juice to add when you reheat the pig.

  • March 16, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Georgia Pineapple has it all. So easy.

    I have just the 3-1/2 quart crockpot. Put a pork butt in, couple tablespoons each of alae salt and liquid smoke, then add water to just cover. Cook on high 5 to 6 hours.

    For kalua cabbage I just stir-fry shredded pork, sliced onions, sliced ginger with chopped cabbage, add some of the juices from the kalua pork, and let it steam down like you do.

  • July 17, 2009 at 6:26 am

    I’m planning a luau for ~65ppl, would 4 6lb roasts be enough? How would you modify the cooking time for 2 roasts in the oven? Also, what is the best way to re-heat? I want to cook 2 the day before the party. Thanks for the recipe & pics!!

  • July 17, 2009 at 6:57 am

    Honeygirl, if you’re talking about a typical size residential kitchen oven, you MIGHT be able to fit all four 6 lb. pork roasts in one shot, with 2 roasts on each pan on two shelves.

    As for cooking time, usually 1 roast is done in about 7 hours, so I’d add an hour extra for each additional roast. So if you do two, I’m confident a 8 to 8-1/2 hours it they’ll both be “Kalua Pig tender”. If you can fit all 4 in the oven at once, definitely a minimum of 10 hours. This, at 275 to 300degrees F temperature. Of course if you have a convection oven, make use of that feature to cut down time and improve the distribution of heat.

    As for heating the Kalua Pig for service, since you’re serving a large party, use a very large stock pot on the stove and pour in about 1 cup water and then place the kalua pig in the pot and heat to medium. The water is intended to steam the Kalua Pig, which will not only heat it up, but also keep it moist. Therefore keep it covered as you do this.

    For service, it would be ideal to have a sterno rack and double pan (with water in bottom pan). Keep it covered with tin foil until it’s time to eat.

    Make sure after you roast your Kalua Pig to season it to taste with Hawaiian Salt. Very important to get that right.

  • August 9, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    After searching all over the internet for kalua pig recipes I picked this one; it is outstanding!

    Here’s what I did–nearly 7 lb boneless tied pork butt (it came that way from the butcher), just less than 1/2 cup salt. I slit the fat cap and pushed salt into the cuts, and made sure the fat cap was on top. I was able to wrap the roast in banana leaves (from the local Asian market) inside the foil covering. I roasted it on a rack inside a roasting pan at 250-275 with convection for 6 1/2 hours. I checked the temperature with a probe and it was 191, so I knew the pig was done. After cooling for an hour, I removed the fat cap (just too too fatty) and separated most of the fat from the liquid. I then sauteed the cabbage in the pork liquid and moistened the meat and cooked rice to taste with most of the rest (be careful, because the liquid is very very salty).

    The key to success were your comments about the temperature. The meat was succulent and so much flavor! I’ll be doing this again…this was a luau potluck and my dish was the hit of the evening! Thanks again!

  • August 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Chris, as always, I’m so glad to hear yet another recipe provided on this blog worked out with great results. Mahalo for sharing your take on it!

    250-275º in a convection oven for 6 hours sound about right for 7 lbs. of pork butt. Definitely would have taken much more time using a standard oven. Main thing you went “low ‘n slow”. That’s the way to go!

  • May 26, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I had the best Kalua pig sandwich in Hawaii. I had it 3 times in one week. It was without a doubt the best thing I have ever eaten!

  • May 5, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Great!! This is what we are having for dinner tonight! Mahalo!

  • May 26, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    Mahalo for the Kalua Pig & cabbage recipe. My husband and I lived in Hawaii for 3 yrs and returned to the mainland Jun 2011. One of the things I miss the most is Kalua Pig. I made it tonight for our family cookout tomorrow. I closed my eyes and it was like being in Hawaii. The taste was awesome. I can’t wait to share this dish with my family tomorrow.

    Sharon – Abingdon, MD

    • May 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm

      Sharon, great to hear! What kind of leaf did you use to wrap it? Banana or Ti? IMO, Ti is best.

      • May 31, 2012 at 7:11 am

        Living in Maryland now I don’t know where to get banana or Ti leaves. I just wrapped in foil. It was so good I’ve had friends and family for the recipe. I tell them to visit your website.

        • October 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm

          Banana Leaves can be found in the frozen food section – Goya has nice packaged frozen Banana Leaves (so look for in ethnic frozen food section). Making my first slow cooked Kalua Pork tonight! So excited! Mahalo

          • October 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm

            We always wrapped the pig in Ti first. Then banana, banana stumps, etc. Sort of like a big laulau. But banana would definitely be better than just tin foil.

          • October 28, 2012 at 11:29 am


            Here in Hawaii you can buy frozen precooked genuine Hawaiian Taro “Luau” leaves by Ono Ono, d.b.a. Hawaii Food Products.



            Word, brother, word.

  • August 12, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Following the recipe now. Just transplanted from big island to mass and miss home. Maholos for the blog and recipe. Hope the wifey and i get back soon!

    • August 12, 2013 at 10:51 am


      Huge alohas right back at ya’! Make sure you wrap the liquid smoke and sea salt rubbed pork in banana leaf if you can’t get ti leaf (which I imagine you can’t in Massachusetts). It makes a huge difference in the final flavor. Your local asian market should have it.

  • April 13, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Just tried your recipe for the kalua pork and cabbaage tonight. It was so easy and turned out very well. I will make this again and again.

  • June 2, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    The way I see it and the way I were taught kalua can only be done one way in the imu.Having been in the culinary profession for forty years ainʻt no way you can duplicate the flavor,whether it be in the oven ,steamer ,broiler or what ever it ainʻt da same and it ainʻt kalua Liquid smoke ssshh.Thereʻs a saying in the kitchen:truth in the menu and if it ainʻt the same then call it something else.Hormel came out with kalua pig but they donʻt kalua auwe as alwayʻs people use our culture to make money,how come la dat

  • December 27, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    This looks amazing. I’m going to make this for a party in January. How much much pork, cabbage, and rice would you advise for 20 people?

    • December 27, 2015 at 8:31 pm


      For 20 people, about  7 to 10 pounds of pork shoulder (butt), 2 heads of cabbage, and 10 cups of rice should be sufficient. And of course liquid smoke, Hawaiian Salt and Ti leaves.


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