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Kalua Pig Spareribs

Local style Chinese Sweet & Sour Spareribs

Say what? Yup, Kalua Pig Spareribs! Never heard of it before? Neither have I. I thought of this after recently making several batches of “local style” Chinese Sweet & Sour Spareribs for my mom, who loves the stuff. When I was browning the pork spareribs, I looked at it thinking, “Hmmm, I wonder how this would taste if I “Kalua-fied” it? And here you go!

I scoured the web looking if anyone else had posted such a dish online, and nope, couldn’t find one site that has it. There’s several takes on “Hawaiian Style BBQ Spareribs”, that use various types of BBQ sauces on spareribs, but not exactly what I’m designing and calling it as, being true to the classic, Kalua Pig Spareribs.

Literally taking the Kalua Pig preparation and applying to pork spareribs. Albeit, this is the KEY: the spareribs can’t be roasted too long where it’s falling apart like traditional Kalua Pig. It has to still stick to the cartilage-like “bone”, so you can gnaw at it like any other spareribs dish, or say a good BBQ Rib.

That said, I set my oven to conventional heat, not convection, as I wanted to be careful not to overcook it, which convection might “blow the deal”, cooking it way faster than anticipated.

Other than that, the recipe is still the same for making traditional “just like the Imu” oven-roasted Kalua Pig, using the main 4 ingredients, plus tin foil, no more, no less.

By Pomai


  • Pork Spareribs, about 3 to 5 pounds (more or less, up to you)
  • Liquid Smoke, adjust amount accordingly (eyeball it)
  • Hawaiian Salt, adjust amount accordingly (eyeball it)
  • Green Ti Leaves (not the red ‘kine), enough to completely wrap around the spareribs within the foil “packet”, stems cut off (you can also remove the spine up the back of the leaves if you want to make it easier to wrap, but I don’t)
  • Tin Foil, enough to make a hat, nah just kidding lol… enough to completely envelope the amount of spareribs you’re “Kalua’ing” in the oven


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF on roast (both top and bottom heat elements working)
  2. If the spareribs are frozen, thaw them completely, and cut them into individual bone sections.
  3. Lay out several long sheets of tin foil on your work surface (preferably heavy-duty foil if you have it, otherwise, use multiple layers of the thin stuff).
  4. On the foil, arrange Ti Leaves, overlapping each other slightly. This is CRUCIAL, as the Ti Leaves will impart a unique “Hawaiian” flavor to your Kalua Pig, so you MUST USE green Ti Leaves! If no more that, use Banana leaves. If no more that, use Pakalolo leaves. Nah, just kidding, don’t use that. lol
  5. Arrange the thawed and sectioned pork spareribs over the Ti leaves and foil wrapper in a single layer (you can probably multi-layer them, but I didn’t)
  6. Drizzle liquid smoke over each sparerib so that it lightly and evenly coats it, then kinda’ “lomi” the liquid smoke on each piece.
  7. Sprinkle Hawaiian Salt over the spareribs so that it’s evenly coated; this is where you have to have a good eye in how much to use. If in doubt, undersalt it, as you can always add more after pau cook. Remember the rule with salt: you can always add, but you can’t take away. Ask Ken the “Sodium Cop”. lol
  8. Wrap the liquid smoke and salted pork spareribs completely with the Ti Leaves and tin foil, crimping the foil so that it makes a tightly-sealed “packet” of Kalua Pig Spareribs goodness. If you need, keep adding more foil in long sheets so that the packet is completely sealed at the TOP, as you want to trap in as much moisture from the roasting pork as possible. Don’t let the dripping seep out of it, as that’s where the flavor is!
  9. Set the “packet” on a roasting pan in the oven and let it roast for about 1½ hours at 350ºF. After that, reduce the heat to 250º, then let it roast at that lowered temperature for another 2 hours. This is approximately about half the time it would take to make traditional “fall off the bone”, pull-apart-with-a-fork Kalua Pig. Again, key here is you want that spareribs pork meat to be still clinging to the bone, yet super juicy ‘n tender where you can easily chew it.
  10. After time is up, turn off the oven and let it rest in there for about a half hour, so that the juices stay in the meat. Then remove the packet and open it up. This is the time to take in the wafting aroma of Kalua Pig Spareribs goodness as the steam is released… whoooooooo, da’ buggah smell so ONO! Then transfer the cooked spareribs and ALL THE DRIPPINGS into an adequately-sized pan or pot on stove top to keep warm-hot.
  11. Serve over a bed of cabbage quickly sauteed in the Kalua Pig drippings, plus coat some of the drippings over the spareribs, along with Lomi Salmon ‘n Poi and enjoy!

REVISION UPGRADE 2.0: Kalua Pig Spareribs with Sauce

Kalua Pig Spareribs with Sauce (rev. upgrade 2.0)

Follow all the steps above up to Step 10.

11.) In the pot of transferred Kalua Pig Spareribs and drippings, if needed, add more water to bring the saltiness to proper taste. Over the stovetop, bring the spareribs and drippings liquid to a boil, then add a “slurry” mixture of cornstarch dissolved in cold water, stir, and watch that the drippings “tighten-up” into a sauce thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Turn off heat and let it rest.

12.) Plate as shown in photo above, drizzling the “Kalua Sauce” liberally over the Kalua Pig Spareribs.

OK, now that we made it, let’s try it…

And? For a first attempt, WINNAHZ! It turned out exactly as I imagined it, being simply a bite-worthy spareribs version of traditional Hawaiian Kalua Pig.

However it’s my second attempt (this post has been revised) that put it over the top! As noted,

If  there’s anything I’d do in my next attempt is roast it a bit longer to impart more flavor out of the Ti Leaves and Liquid Smoke, like say about 1 more hour, however no more than that. Also, I only thought of this after the fact of making all this and putting everything away, that I should’ve tried making a “Kalua Pig Sauce” out of the drippings  by simply thickening it with a cornstarch and water slurry. This, being while they taste really ono as is, the spareribs look kinda’ “naked” without any sauce on it. I’ll try doing a Kalua Pig sauced version tomorrow and if it turns out better, I’ll revise this very same post with that.

While the non-sauce version was 4-SPAM Musubi “whinnaz!”, adding that cornstarch and water “slurry”-thickened drippings as a sauce over the spareribs totally kicked this dish out the park into the 5-SPAM Musubi realm. Helping that cause was the additional heating time in the pot while the sauce was thickening, which further tenderized and infused that sauce right into the pork meat.

Either way you make it, you DEFINITELY have to serve this with the usual luau food accompaniments, being of course Lomi Salmon and Poi; the brand I used for both of course being Taro brand.

Following is a pictorial step-by-step of my Kalua Pig Spareribs recipe. Enjoy. ;-)

3.25 lbs. pork spareribs, thawed from frozen and cut into individual meat ‘n bone sections, liquid smoke, Hawaiian salt and green Ti leaves

Pork spareribs evenly coated with Liquid Smoke and Hawaiian Salt (critical  that you “eyeball” this part properly; if in doubt, no cook this dish lol)

Green Ti Leaves (not Tea Leaves) are generously wrapped around the pork spareribs to impart that “Hawaiian Luau” flavor; if no more Ti Leaves, use Banana Leaves; if no more that, use Pakalolo Leaves lol j/k

Wrap the entire contents tightly with the tin foil, making sure the eventual fat drippings can’t leak out; make sure it can’t leak; as you want the steam from those drippings to enhance the flavor of the meat and keep it moist

After a total of 3½ hours roasting in the oven and half hour of rest, voila!

Note, as illustrated in my Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig recipe, above is how you DON”T want it to be, where it easily gets pulled of the bone with a pair of forks

Look at all that tasty drippings the Kalua Pig Spareribs are sitting in. That my friends is FLAVAH!

Kalua Pig Spareribs with Sauce (rev. upgrade 2.0): a cornstarch and water “slurry” is added to the drippings and spareribs in a separate pot to thicken the drippings over boiling heat into a rich and decadent Kalua Pig flavored gravy… so ono!!!

Cutting a sparerib apart, notice how the meat is juicy and tender, yet intact where it’s still stuck to the cartilage bone… that’s EXACTLY how it should be

Kalua Pig Spareribs with Sauce (rev. upgrade 2.0): “money shot”, with thickened drippings coating the tender pork meat so silky and… so ono!

As said earlier, you NEED the Lomi Salmon and Poi to accompany these Kalua Pig Spareribs, while I also added a bed of cabbage that was quickly sauteed in the Kalua Pig drippings… oh yeah, that’s how we roll, baby!

Kalua Pig Spareribs with Sauce (rev. upgrade 2.0)

K’ den, I going kau kau now, no boddah’ me. lol

Pomai’s Kalua Pig Spareribs on a bed of sauteed cabbage, with Lomi Salmon, Poi, sliced onion and Hawaiian salt

A hui hou!

11 thoughts on “Kalua Pig Spareribs

  • September 24, 2016 at 5:02 am

    Pomai, these spareribs look so awesome dude man!   My family love spareribs

    make mostly the Chinese style one but your is now with family recipes.  Mom

    make kalua chicken too. with pork .  Great for sandwiches.

    • September 24, 2016 at 5:19 am


      Mahalo. Yeah, looks pretty ono as is, however see my next comment below:

      I added another note in the dish results within the post on what it could improve upon, which would be the addition of a “Kalua Pig Sauce”.  Reason being, the spareribs look kinda’ “naked” without any sauce coating it or deep brown color. To do that, I’ll simply take the tasty drippings liquid and thicken it with a cornstarch and water slurry, then drizzle it over the Kalua Pig Spareribs upon plating. I think that might be the extra “kick” it needs in both presentation and flavah to boost it to 5 SPAM Musubi status. Stay tuned. ;-)

  • September 24, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Interesting that you use Hickory smoke. I also do. However most everyone I know uses Kiawe(Mesquite by Wright). I think Hickory has less acid taste. For smoke meat, I use mainland fruit and nut wood, such as apple, cherry, and hickory. These are the best for fish. Many here use local fruits such as guava (harsh) Kiawe(excellent for short-medium smokes, a bit intense for long smokes, great for grilling) and Java Plumb (weak, smoke ash tasting).

    • September 24, 2016 at 9:22 am


      Hmm, interesting. Never knew a Mesquite version of Liquid Smoke existed. I’ve always bought the Wright’s Liquid Smoke Hickory style, as that’s the only one I ever seen on the store shelf; unless I wasn’t observant enough to notice other “wood” types. Come to find out they also have Applewood Liquid Smoke.

      Which now has me curious, “what is Liquid Smoke?” And they have an FAQ on their website which answers that:

      • Q.) What is liquid smoke?
        A.) Wright’s® Liquid Smoke is a product that give foods a slow smoked taste.
        It is made from hickory, applewood or mesquite wood that is burned inside a chamber. As the smoke rises it is captured in a condenser and it cools. The cooled smoke forms water droplets (condensation). These droplets are then collected and filtered twice.
      • Q.) Does Wright’s® Liquid Smoke contain any other ingredients?
        A.) Applewood is a mixture of liquid smoke, apple flavor and maple flavor.

      One of the competitors at the local annual smoked meat competition (hasn’t been held for years now) told me he uses mostly fruit wood shipped from the mainland for his award-winning BBQ Chicken and Ribs. Namely lighter, less dense woods such as Apple, and IIRC, Cherry and Peach wood.

      As the name suggests, Guava Smoked, who sells smoked meat here on Oahu, exclusively uses Strawberry Guava wood. “Guaiwi” (sp?) is a very dense wood, which as you know that tree is an invasive species here in the islands, just like Kiawe (Mesquite) trees. That’s why they’ve taken over many areas along beaches lying areas and mountainsides here in the islands. I’m sure you’ve experienced cutting these very hard woods… sheesh, it’s like sawing through solid steel!

  • September 24, 2016 at 10:09 am


    I wonder if this recipe will work with chicken thighs.  If you leave the skin on and don’t trim off all the fat it might work very well.

    • September 24, 2016 at 12:52 pm


      I suppose you could, however you’d have to be even more careful on the roasting time, especially with chicken, being how quickly it cooks. Personally I’ve never cared for Kalua Turkey, and have never tried Kalua Chicken. As Emeril and Anthony Bourdain says, pork (fat) rules!

  • September 24, 2016 at 11:59 am


    Too much electricity used! I would have used the Wright’s Mesquite Liquid Smoke Seasoning  (Brown and yellow label) and pressure cooked them for about 30-45 minutes. When I want to keep the meat on bones I use pressure cooker steam roasting method by placing meat on a rack above the liquid so it gets roasted by steam and high temperature making meat very juicy and favorable.

    • September 24, 2016 at 12:43 pm


      The only reason I didn’t use my pressure cooker is, in my last experience making Kalua Pig in the pressure cooker, it didn’t have as good of a roasted “Imu-like” flavor as doing it in the oven, being the pressure cooker is essentially steaming the meat, not really roasting it. If you can convince me that steam roasting meat in a PC on a rack above the liquid is just as good in flavor as roasting in an oven, than great, maybe I’ll try that next time.

      I just went my own tried-and-proven slow-roasted method in the oven on this first attempt doing this. I agree though, it is too much energy (electricity) use vs. the pressure cooker.

      • September 24, 2016 at 12:57 pm


        When you leave the meat in the water you are braising it. When you put the meat on a rack above the water you are steam roasting it. The methods of cooking in a pressure cooker are 1 Boiling, 2 Braising, 3 Stewing, 4 Poaching, 5 Steaming and 6 Steam Roasting.

        • September 24, 2016 at 1:09 pm


          I understand that. What I’m asking is, does STEAM ROASTING result in the same “browned”, roasted flavor as you can get in an oven? Let’s say you steam-roasted a Prime Rib in a Pressure Cooker, would it develop the same browned crust on the outside as in a conventional oven?

          And I know that doesn’t make sense in how Kalua Pig is made in an oven, being it’s all wrapped up in foil and steam-roasting itself, anyway. However, I dunno’, I found the oven method just tastes better, having a more authentic “Imu-like” (Hawaiian underground oven) flavor.

          Then again now that I think about it, when I did my Kalua Pig in the Pressure Cooker, I did have it braising in the liquid (not very high up though), not raised above it on a rack, so that might explain what you’re getting at.

          • September 24, 2016 at 1:39 pm


            When you raise the meat above the liquid you are basically roasting. You can pre brown the meat for added depth in flavor if you want before roasting it. I do my spare ribs by 15 minutes steam roasting in pressure cooker which fills the ribs up with juice and then I finish them under the broiler with BBQ sauce for 15 minutes.BBQ ribs tender and just beginning to fall off the bone.


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