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!…
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.