Kalua pig refers to the method in which pork is cooked and has nothing to do with the coffee flavored Kahlua liquor made in Mexico. Ubiquitous in Hawaii; you will find kalua pig at every luau and as an option for the quintessential Hawaiian plate lunch.

Smith’s Family Imu Ceremony, Kauai

Early Polynesians brought pigs in their canoes when they came to settle these islands. Having great religious import, pigs were used in sacrificial ceremonies. Rituals involved placing puaa (pig) on the altar to honor Pele the Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano – thus creator of the islands or Kane (pronounced kah-neh) the God of Life. Kahuna (priests) would then eat before the rest was eaten in a mass celebration.

Wild boar roam freely in the islands tropical rain forests. Wild boar can be very dangerous and destructive and are considered a nuisance. Some indigenous families hunt them and provide their families with food but wild boar, due to its low fat content, does not make for good kalua pig.

Kalua pig is a time consuming, labor intensive process and because of this there are many oven-roasted impostors. Authentic kalua pig is cooked in an underground imu (pronounced e moo) oven. A large pit is dug and porous volcanic rocks are placed on top of a fire inside the pit. The fire heats the rocks for two hours before the oven can be used. When the imu is hot, banana tree trunks and leaves are put in. Sometimes Ti (pronounced tea) leaves are used. The pig carcass is heavily salted and enclosed in a cage made of chicken wire and lowered into the imu. More banana leaves and wet burlap are layered over the pig before it is covered with a canvass tarp and finally dirt. The pig then roasts for eight hours before it is unearthed.

The young men are ready to lift the pig out to be shredded and served for dinner at the luau.

Sometimes items such as turkey, chicken, rounds of beef and fish are added. This is also an excellent way to cook Ulu (breadfruit), taro and sweet potatoes.

The slow cooking process renders the pork tender and if done right, has some crispy bits. Laced with pork fat, the smoky meat is moist and juicy. Its addictive quality will have you eating more than you should!

Photos by Dan Lane


  1. MMMMMM thanks Marta…..you made me so hungry 🙂   I had really good Kalua pig recently at the Royal Lahaina Luau. I was actually amazed a commercial luau had such good food. Usually you only get real authentic pig at family luaus.  I rarely eat it because you're right, it is so addictive, and I tend to overdo it.

  2. Yummmy.  I went to Old Lahaina Luau and Kalua pig  was so good.   Everyone should try it.  I am hungry it now  🙂

  3. I know, I got hungry writing about it! I was like, DANG! Where can I get me some good kalua pig RIGHT NOW!!!! =)

  4. This is such an excellent article… I love articles such as this and it is just so amazing to learn the cultures of places. I didn't know there is also a Hawaiian custom in cooking pig. This is something I would also like to witness when given the chance to visit Hawaii again.

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