Traditional Kalua pig is a whole pig that is cooked in the ground. Literally, they dig a giant hole and bury the pig! I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I was up for doing in my backyard. So when we had our Hawaii state dinner I needed to figure out another option. Something that would replicate the amazing flavor of Kalua pig, without having to dig a hole…or buying a whole pig. Smoked kalua pork wrapped in banana leaves was the answer! It turned out delicious!
Traditional Kalua Pork
Before I break down how we smoked our pork, let’s take a look at how Kalua pig (or Kalua pork, as it is also called) is traditionally made. Usually, a hole is dug in the ground and then filled with wood chips. Coarse Hawaiian sea salt coats the pig. It is wrapped with banana leaves and placed on top of lava rocks. Then it is covered with more banana leaves and dirt, for insulation, and is left to roast throughout the day. This dish is served at large events and parties, including the famous Hawaiian luau.
Now, you can do this in your own back yard. However, if you live in a city this means calling the digger’s hotline, renting a backhoe, and purchasing a bunch of sand. Or you can use your grill or smoker and enjoy the same flavor. Which, to me, seems a lot more reasonable.
Alaea Sea Salt
Alaea sea salt is a Hawaiian salt that has been mixed with volcanic red clay. This clay is rich in iron oxide and gives the salt a brick red color. You can buy it on Amazon, or we have also found it at World Market. Using a sharp knife, put slits all over your pork roast. Then rub the salt over it, getting salt into the slits that are in the meat. We used 3 tablespoons for a roughly 5-pound pork roast. Cover your pork and refrigerate for a couple of hours, or overnight.
Pork Wrapped in Banana Leaves
Now get ready for your kitchen to smell like green tea! It’s time to wrap the pig in banana leaves. We found banana leaves at our local Asian market. The leaves are huge! We just used two to wrap our pork. Wrap the first leaf along the long side of the pork, then turn and wrap the second leaf around the short side. This helps seal in the flavor. Use some butcher’s twine to secure the leaves.
Preparing Your Grill
Arrange your coals in a thin layer and have them heating up while you are wrapping your pork. Not too many coals, as it doesn’t take much to create the 225-250 degree mark we are shooting for. You can always add coal, as needed. While this is heating, soak some mesquite wood chips in water for roughly 20 minutes. This will help them create a good smoke without flaming up or disintegrating quickly. After they have properly soaked, remove from water, and lay directly over the burning coals.
Perfectly Smoked Kalua Pork
Once the wood chips are on the coals, place the pork in the center of the grate and cook it until it reaches 200 degrees. For a boneless pork plan for about an hour per pound, but know that with smoking time is really an unknown. it is completely dependent on your individual smoker as well as the piece of meat. One it hits 200 degrees, wrap the entire thing in a blanket and put it into a cooler for at least an hour, or up to 5 hours. This helps to finish the cooking and creates a fall-apart pork roast.
I can see why this is common for large parties! It’s great to have the meat cooked and out of the way early, without having to worry about it getting cold. Make sure to unwrap the pork over a serving tray or large platter to help retain the juices that will come out as you open it!
Smoked Kalua Pork
- 4-5 lb boneless pork shoulder roast
- 3-4 tbsp Alaea sea salt
- 2 banana leaves
- kitchen twine
- mesquite wood chips
- Using a sharp knife, cut 1-inch slits all over the pork roast. Rub salt into the slits and all over the meat. Wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours, or overnight.
- Lay out one banana leaf. Unwrap pork and place it in the center of the banana leaf, with the long side of the pork in line with the long side of the leaf. Wrap the leaf around the pork tightly. Turn the pork and wrap a second leaf along the short side of the pork. Tie the leaves secure with kitchen twine.
- Preheat smoker to 225 degrees. While the smoker is preheating, soak mesquite wood chips in water for 20 minutes. After they have properly soaked, remove from water and lay directly over burning coals.
- Place pork wrapped in banana leaves onto smoker grates. Close lid and roast until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees. This took us about 90 minutes. Wrap the pork in foil and continue smoking until the internal temperature reaches 200. An internal thermometer is helpful here, as the cook time can vary greatly depending on your smoker and your piece of meat.
- Once the pork has reached 200 degrees, remove the pork from the smoker, wrap in a towel, and store in a cooler for at least an hour, or up to 5 hours. When ready to serve, shred the pork and place in a serving platter.