Hawaiian Roast Pork

In Season, Recipes, Special Occasions, Summer
on October 15, 2006
Mark Boughton Photograph / styling by Teresa Blackburn

No luau would be complete without it. But this special something isn’t the hula dancers, the fruity drinks or the fire jugglers.

Instead, the most important ingredient for a proper Hawaiian feast a succulent, falling-apart tender, smoked dish called Kalua Pig. The tradition of luaus and Kalua Pig goes back centuries. Originally, the dish was served to kings and other high-ranking men at celebrations; women, even queens, were not allowed to eat pork until 1819 when the system of kapus (or taboos) was abolished.

“As I understand it, the tradition of Kalua Pig is 5,000 years old,” says Shirley Fong, author and chef featured on in-flight videos for Hawaiian Airlines. “It’s part and parcel of the luau, which traditionally were celebrations thrown for life’s special occasions.”

To make an authentic kalua pig, a whole pig is seasoned with salt, filled with heated lava stones, then wrapped in banana, ti or taro leaves and finally cooked in an underground oven for several hours.

“In Hawaiian, ka lua refers to cooking in a pit or an imu,” Fong explains. Rather than digging a pit in your backyard, Fong suggests cooking the pork in a smoker, using pure lump charcoal from a barbecue supply store. The pork, she says, should be cooked in indirect heat, and if ti or taro leaves aren’t handy, damp grass trimmings can be used. But if a meat smoker isn’t handy, you can also make an oven roasted version of kalua pork using aluminum foil and liquid smoke.

—By Jeanette Hurt