Pressure-cooked Kalua Pig

Success! Ah yes my friends, this second time around I’ve successfully made Kalua Pig — “Kalua Pork” if you prefer the sound of that — in my new pressure cooker. This, after FAILING MISERABLY in my first attempt.

As I’ve suggested in comments from my previous post about “My First Pressure Cooker“, the ideal goal of using a pressure cooker should be about both speed and simplicity. Well, this method of making cooking Kalua Pig certainly exemplifies both those virtues in using this “wonder gadget” of a cooking tool. Which, again must say, I’m convinced in this resource-crunched, energy-starved world, that EVERY household should have and use on a regular basis.

Here’s how I did it.

I began by deeply scoring the fat cap on a MASSIVE 7¼-pound pork butt (shoulder) that’s been thawed from previously-frozen state. Then I rubbed it generously on all sides with Wright’s Concentrated Hickory Seasoning Liquid Smoke (the must-have Kiawe wood “nevah stay get Imu’d” substitute), followed by an also generous sprinkling of Hawaiian rock salt. That’s it. NEVER use anything else on your Kalua Pig. No garlic salt. No ginger powder. Believe me, I’ve seen recipes like that before, which always makes me CRINGE. NO!!!! Keep is SIMPLE folks.

Then in it went DIRECTLY in the pressure cooker pot, resting on the bottom, fat cap side up, cut side down, using NO steamer basket.  Just directly resting in the pot. The theory behind that, is that I wanted the bottom to get browned from the heat, so that there’s some “roasted” flavor going on. Then I added 2 cups of water, to which it looked like this…

Fearing it would scorch, burn and essentially turn out rancid like it did in my first attempt, this time, instead of wrapping the pork butt entirely with Ti Leaves, I added it around just the sides like this…

Then topping it generously with layer-upon-layer of Ti Leaves like this, making sure to tuck both ends of each Ti Leaf tightly in so the overall “build” within didn’t obstruct the pressure valves on the underside of the lid, keeping in mind that my 6-quart pressure cooker must have at least one-third of its total capacity reserved to build pressure…

Cover it up, lock the lid, set the switch to “High”, put it on the stove, set the fire to HIGH, then once the yellow pressure button indicator pops up, TURN THE FIRE DOWN TO LOW and start the time for 1½ hours.

As is emphasized in LOCKED CAPS in the previous sentence, LOW HEAT from the stove top fire source is all this pressure cooker needs once it hits 15 PSI, whereas, the big mistake I made in my first ever use of my pressure cooker was leaving the flame on HIGH, which pretty much “blew” the valve.

Keep in mind that, although the heat is reduced to low from the stove top source, the heat within the pressure cooker itself remains at a stable, high pressure 257ºF temperature, which PENETRATES the meat fibers throughout the entire cooking time, in a way conventional oven roasting can’t be achieved.

After about an hour of pressure cooking time, steam starts to slowly release from the automatic valve switch, due to the pressure increasing beyond the valve’s designed threshold…

At this INCREDIBLY QUICK 1 hour cooking point, you already begin to get a drift of “Luau” aroma that wafts in the air from the combined smell of the near-tender pulled pork that’s been thoroughly infused with the flavor of liquid smoke, Hawaiian Salt and Ti Leaves.

1½ hours is up, so I turn off the fire, then turn the valve switch to “release” to depressurize the cooker, which takes about a minute or two to blow all the hot steam out. Once the yellow pressure button drops down, I remove the cover, where it looks like this uncovered…

Aaaaahhhhhh… ooooooohhhhhh… aahhhhh.

The Ti Leaves certainly look like they’ve been “extracted of their essence”, yet amazingly still look incredibly GREEN, and not parched at all.

Uncovering the Ti Leaves, the 1½-hour pressure cooked pork looks like this…

LOOKS tender. Now let’s find out if it’s REALLY done and ready for “pulling”, where the tools of choice are simply two forks…

I really shouldn’t have done it yet at this stage, but I drained the liquid in a heat-proof container, although of course I saved it, as that’s the “essence” of your Kalua Pig… it’s all in that liquid!

But nope, not quite ready yet, as after that 1½-hours pressure cooking time, underneath the top layer of buttery-tender pork and fat cap, the inside part of this massive pork butt was still tough and resistant…

No probs. Put back the rendered Ti Leaves, drained liquid and cover it back up, brought it to back to pressure, then I decided a half-hour (30 minutes) should be enough more time to fully cook this “butt” to pulled-pork tenderness to the very core…

My “guesstimate” proved correct, as sure enough, the 30 minutes of additional pressure cooking time, plus the time it took to let it cool down naturally, which took another 30 minutes, resulted in absolutely ONOLICIOUS, fork-tender pressure-cooked 7 pounds (starting weight) of Kalua Pig…

Once again, that MASSIVE 7½ pound pork butt turned into falling-off-the-bone, super-moist, tender ‘n tasty Kalua Pig in just 2½ hours in my 6-quart pressure cooker. If THAT isn’t incredibly energy-efficient and outright statistically AMAZING if you understand cooking basics, I don’t know what is!

Here in this next shot, you see I’ve saved the cooking liquid, as, once again, this has the “essence” of the Kalua Pig, which you should add to the meat slowly until it reaches just the right amount of moisture and flavor profile that you’re happy with…

Notice in the cooking liquid is the one single bone this pork shoulder had in it.

7.5 lbs. bone-in pork butt cooked for a total of 2 hours under pressure + 30 minutes natural release = a bone that LITERALLY fell off the meat…

At this final stage after you’ve added the liquid drippings to the moisture and flavor profile you like, the last thing you want to do is adjust the seasoning by adding more Hawaiian rock salt to taste, if necessary. Yet be VERY careful when doing this, and by all means, DO NOT go overboard! Remember when salting foods, you can always add, but you can’t subtract. If in doubt, have someone who has a “good palate” do the salt seasoning taste testing for you. I’m pretty good about it, as I’m quite sensitive to sodium on my tongue.

Now to illustrate how my method of not using a steamer basket (and following directions) worked out beautifully, notice here that there was absolutely NO burning or scorching of the pork (or Ti Leaves for that matter, thank GOD!) on the bottom of the pressure cooker pot after all was said and done…

Nothing but net…

Just add poi, live Hawaiian music, hula dancing, da’ pa’ina gang, and we’ve got ourselves a Luau!…

With this, you can also do all kinds of other fun ‘n tasty stuffz.

Oh, like say, being adventurous and going south of the border, “KP style”

Or bowl-up some hot steamed rice and top it with the all-time fave’ Kalua Pig ‘n Cabbage

Summing it up, I give my pressure-cooked Kalua Pig in this successful method an absolutely moist ‘n tender, super onolicious 4 SPAM Musubi.

I honestly must admit that roasting it in the oven or of course in an Imu tastes better, as, if you were to compare it with this pressure-cooked Kalua Pig, you could tell this tastes more “steamed”. Still, at just 2-½ hours of cooking time using this no-fuss method, I have absolutely no complaints!

Follow my energy and time-saving instructions here on making Kalua Pig with your pressure cooker, and I’m confident that — providing you understand the dynamics of your own pressure cooker — you too will have fantastic results!


Pressure-cooked Kalua Pig — 33 Comments

  1. What is the purpose of pressure cooking the skin along with the rest of the pork shoulder? I understand that fat gives it excellent flavor, but doesn’t the skin turn to rubber? If that’s the case, might as well take off the skin and roast that sucker to get pork rinds.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Cheers, for the most part, previously-frozen, mainland-sourced, “commercial” cuts of pork butt (pork shoulder) sold in our markets does NOT include the skin, nor does the HUGE HUNK o’ pork I featured in this write-up have skin on it.

  3. Pomai, I know you think it strange to eat Kalua pig with rice but being Hapa Pake I like both poi along with rice . It with my other friends too.

    My family also make sweet potato along for the meal and haupia and lomilomi salmon.

  4. I think Cheers just mistakenly thinks the fat on top of the pork butt is skin.

    I’m drooooling over your kalua pig and I can’t believe that gargantuan hunk of pork cooked in only 2 1/2 hours! Kudos!

  5. I splurged for a Fagor combo pressure/slow/rice cooker so I can go back and forth between pressure and slow cooking oxtails, kuromame, short ribs, etc. Your kalua looks mouthwatering! You should make some local nachos – layer chopped kalua over taro chips, sprinkle with drained lomi salmon then drizzle with a mixture of mayo and Sriracha… ho! brok da mout!

  6. Safer to put pot in sink and run cold water over cover. It will cool it down fast and when yellow indicator goes down, you can turn the release valve and open cover. No hot steam under pressure, shooting out!

    I have the same pressure cooker and have been doing this for a long while. Made Kalua pig many times already. Yummy and so fast and easy!

  7. Woowoo, that looks so good! Great job, Pomai! I got my Fagor pressure cooker a couple of days ago but the only thing I did so far is steam a cup of rice. I used the pot-in-pot method and it took 2 tries to get the white rice cooked, total of 10 minutes cooking (5 minutes and then 5 minutes more cuz it wasn’t quite done) and about 7 minutes natural release time. Like your kalua pig, although not as good fluffy as my rice cooker or Vitaclay, it was some pretty good rice for such little time.

  8. Very nice to see local foods made with the pressure cooker. Its easy to find pressure cooker cookbooks with mainland type foods. The photos are very professional and very detailed. I love my Fagor pressure cooker and hope to get very proficient with it. Keep up the good work. Looking forward to your Portuguese Bean Soup post sometime in the future.
    aloha, Lisa

  9. Lisa, so far I’ve pretty much SUCCESSFULLY cooked “Local style” Sweet ‘N Sour Spare Ribs, “Hawaiian Style” Beef Stew, Okinawan Pig’s Feet Soup, Filipino Tinola (Chicken Papaya Soup), and here of course, Kalua Pig (pork). Yet I must admit, I’m still working on perfecting the art of “doneness” and overall flavor profile using my pressure cooker. Surely a fun ‘n tasty time of experimentation in the kitchen!

    Midge, how about Chicken Long Rice in da’ Pressah’ Cookah? How you figgah? Da’ buggah going cook way, way, WAY too fast or what? LOL!

    Carol, I’m anxious to hear how my Aunty’s Sweet ‘N Sour Spare Ribs recipe turns in your pressure cooker.

    In light of that, I must note that I just tried cooking a “Yankee” style Beef Pot Roast last night, where I threw in all the veggies from the start of the cooking process. As it turned out, surprisingly the celery was the most overdone, while the carrots were pretty much good to go, texture-wise. Next time I’ll try a sort of “Pressure Cooker food placement” technique.

    Amy, as for the liquid smoke, I simply rubbed more on the pork butt itself than I would if I had done this in an oven. This, assuming the added water will/may dilute it away from the pork. Thankfully that worked out quite well!

    Kawika, at this point in my experience using my Fagor Pressure Cooker, I find it’s still a “toss-up” as far as when or when NOT to release the pressure. I still can’t find a truly definitive “science” on this issue online, as variables are ABOUND more than ever regarding pressure cooker times and methods of release! Ultimately, I’ve more so than not, OVERCOOKED my meats. Yet thankfully even overcooked meats in a pressure cooker yields still-fantastic results!

    Ryan, not related to pressure cooking, but have you ever tried Gyotaku’s “Nattochos”? AWE-SOME! Easy fo’ make too! If you go there and try it, make sure to get the one with the Ahi Poke in it. Oishii-so yo!

    Molly, indeed, just 2.5 hours to cook over 7 pounds of pork to fork-tender doneness is truly AMAZING and certainly beyond commonly understood kitchen physics.

    Raph’, you practically took the words right out of my mouth with “redonkulous”!!!! CLAS-SIC!

    Kelike, I’ve seen some pretty darned ODD things that folks like to eat with rice, yet Kalua Pig certainly ain’t one of them. Not by a long shot. Case in point: only until recently has the “Poke Bowl” (raw Ahi Poke over a bowl of hot rice) taken off, thanks to the good guys behind Pa’ina Cafe in Ward Warehouse (formerly known as “Poke Bowl” in Ward Farmers Market).

    Cheers, Okole Maluna! :-)

  10. Aloha Pomai – try Mesquite flavoring next time! I make the pork in a slow cooker with it for about 20 hours and it to me it seems more like Kiawe smoke than the hickory flavor. Being mainland-bound I’m going to try to grow some Ti just for the pork. It just doesn’t taste perfect without it but it’s pretty great anyway. Love your blog – I’ve been reading it for a couple of years.

    Look for this stuff:

  11. Vince, my mother has/had a bottle of that brand of Mesquite “liquid smoke” in her pantry. I’ll have to check if she still has it. Otherwise, I’ll seek it out in the local supermarkets. Thanks for the tip, as I’m very aware that liquid smoke is a KEY ingredient in making non-imu Kalua pig.

    Please keep us posted on your progress in growing Ti leaves there on the mainland. I h ear they grow well in part of California. Seems like a pretty hardy plant.

  12. Pomai I purchased from Fagor the dessert kit for $25. Was not expecting the silicone bakeware to be microwave usable but the kicker was the included stainless steel cooking rack with feet 1 inch off the pressure bottom. This would be excellent for doing Kalua Pig totally wrapped and sealed in Ti leaves.

  13. Found your site while looking for info on cooking kalua pig (great photos by the way) I,ve cooked Hangi (New Zealand Maori method) heaps of times which is pretty much the same principle as imu good to see the different variations though in the way other cultures do things old and modern, nice blog

  14. I love this recipe, am cooking it again tonight! I don’t like smoke flavoring though, so I char black tea leaves in a cast iron skillet and brew them for a natural smoke flavoring. It’s not the same, but I prefer the smoky tea taste to synthetic smoke flavoring!

    • Actually Wright’s Smoke is not synthetic. It may be too powerful, but it is not synthetic. It is real wood smoke added to water. It was invented by a 15 year old kid in the 1890s. Hard to believe but true. A perfectly natural product. The kid’s name was Wright.

  15. Pomai, I sometime use boneless chicken to make this recipe and see it taste almost like pork too. Great serve with mash sweet potato.

  16. How ironic you folks are talking about pressure-cooked smoked meat. Today I’m making Portuguese Bean Soup, as I have to get rid of a ton of Portuguese Sausage that’s been in my freezer for too long, as well as some Boudin San Francisco Sour Dough Bread. Yes, it’s out of my “diet”, but oh well. As I said before, 90% of my diet now is vegetables and fruits, with my personal weight numbers to prove it, so I have room to “spare”. Will blog it (the PBS) later.

  17. Just got word from the Food & Arts Editor of a major U.S. city newspaper (can’t say which one yet) that she wants to use this Pressure-cooked Kalua Pig recipe in a Pressure Cooker Cookbook that will be published in fall of this year. Including references to this blog of course. Which I find rather amusing, in that this was actually a trial-and-error, then leading to success recipe. But hey! Sometimes those ones turn out the best!

    Actually this is more of a method than a recipe, as the ingredients are the same as oven-roasted Kalua Pig: Pork Butt, Liquid Smoke, Hawaiian Salt and Ti Leaves… that’s IT! NEVER add crazy things like paprika, garlic or onion powder, to even pineapple. I’ve seen recipes floating around the web suggesting that, and I just cringe. No, no, NO! KEEP IT SIMPLE, keep it HAWAIIAN.

    I did make a few notes to her that I recommended she pass on to her readers, or modify the way the recipe (method) is written, especially in regard to cooking time. Primarily in the mistake I made with this one in releasing the pressure manually by opening the pressure valve right after the 1-1/2 hour cooking time. In fact, to be sure it’s done (especially for a pork butt this big), let it pressure-cook for 2 hours, then turn off the fire and let it cool down naturally, leaving the pressure valve SHUT. That should take another half-hour or so. If the pork butt is smaller, like say 4 or 5 pounds, then 1-1/2 hours of pressure cooking, plus an additional half-hour of natural cool down, should be sufficient in getting it to super tender pulled pork consistency.

    Anyhow, I’ll keep ya’ all posted when the book gets published.

    • Cool. And you are absolutely right. Keep out the extra crap. Garlic in particular. It is a waste of time when you are doing something like this and can detract badly when you do it wrongly. likewise ginger.
      Now if you were talking about my kalua duck (yes, the old Hawaiians ate that like it was the boss), I would suggest a bit different. But for pua’a. moa, and pipi, keep it simple and let the table add the extra if needed.

      • Pat,

        “Like it was the boss”. Dig that line! I’m gonna’ start using that when describing something supah’ ono that everyone quickly wiped out. “Everyone whacked my Smoked Tako like it was the boss.” Yeah!

        For you folks who don’t know, Pua’a = Pork, Moa = Chicken, and Pipi = Beef.

        Kalua Duck, eh? I’m not a fan of Kalua Turkey, but Kalua Duck sounds interesting, since it has a such a distinguishable flavor.

        I understand Hawaiians way back when also ate dog. Kalua Dog, perhaps? Ack!

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  19. Thanks for the recipe . This is one of  if not the best pulled pork I’ve had. I couldn’t find and leaves so I used a banana with the peel. I’m going to be making this on a regular basis. 

    • Aloha Mike,

      Glad you enjoyed the recipe, and especially glad you insisted to at least use Banana leaves, since you couldn’t get Ti leaves. Those leaves really do impart that “Hawaiian” and/or “Island” flavor into the pork. I honestly think the roasting version has a bit better flavor than the pressure cooker, however you can’t beat the short time it takes in the pressure cooker, if that’s a factor.

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  21. Aloha e Pōmai,

    Mahalo for documenting this! We adapted your recipe to the Instant Pot pressure cooker. I should have taken pictures.

    5.5 lb roast
    1.5 Tbsp Hawaiian Salt
    2 Tbsp Wright’s liquid smoke
    1 cup water
    Tī leaves
    Manual setting for 120 minutes

    We found that using the rack inside the pot helped cook the bottom of the roast. It must be because of the water we add which submerges that part of the roast which does not cook as well as the top part.

    Ke aloha nō, Liko

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