Kalua Pig – A Hawaii Tradition

Kalua Pig
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If you’ve spent any time in Hawaii, you’ve heard of Kalua Pig. This local food is a staple at most parties, luau, and restaurants. But what exactly is it? And why do Hawaii residents love it so much? Let’s learn all about this popular dish!

What is Kalua Pig? 

Kalua Pig is roasted pulled pork! So if you like BBQ pork from the mainland, you’ll likely love kalua pig. Just don’t expect the restaurant to have a bottle of barbecue sauce ready to slather the meat. This kind of pork is typically served plain, with just the roasting flavors and salt adding flavor (though we’ll highlight some other ways to eat it below!). 

The Roasting Process

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. You will find kalua pig at every luau and as an option for the quintessential Hawaiian plate lunch.

Roasting kalua pig is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process. Because of this, there are many oven-roasted impostors. 

Authentic kalua pig is cooked in an underground imu (pronounced ee- 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 canvas tarp and, finally, dirt. The pig then roasts for eight hours before it is unearthed.

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!

The History of Kalua Pig

Early Polynesians brought pigs in their canoes when they came to settle these islands. 

Having great religious importance, pigs were used in sacrificial ceremonies. Rituals involved placing puaa (pig) on the altar to honor Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of the Volcano and the 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.

Where Hawaiians Find Pigs Today

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

Instead of hunting the wild boar, many families will either raise their own pigs or buy them from local farmers. Then, when it’s time to host a big celebration, they’ll roast the whole pig in the imu. 

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.

Another popular way to prepare a pig is huli huli, which is when they roast it over a fire, rotisserie style. 

How to Eat Kalua Pig

Kalua Pig from a luau

In Hawaii, you’ll find Kalua pig served as the main dish at luau and restaurants. It’s typically scooped out plain, ready to eat with a fork. Enjoy it with a side of steamed white rice, macaroni salad, and lomi lomi salmon. 

You may also see Kalua Pig & Cabbage as a menu option. This is when Kalua pig is reheated with cabbage and served with a slightly soupy consistency. 

And then there are restaurants and home chefs who get creative with Kalua Pig. While in the islands, you may see it served in tacos, on pizza, or as sandwiches. 

No matter how you enjoy your Kalua pig, it’s sure to be one of the more memorable dishes you try during your Hawaii vacation!

Hungry for more? Check out the top 8 foods to try in Hawaii!