Slow cooker kalua pig and cabbage dinner

How to Make the Best & Easiest Slow Cooker Kalua Pig

Hawaiian style slow cooker kalua pig, That first taste, do you remember it? I have been finding ways to make kalua pig (aka kalua pork) since I left the islands in 2000. Call it a 50th-state pulled pork if you like. To me, it’s merely porky deliciousness.

This iconic Hawaiian staple is comfort food and brings happiness and joy with every smoky bite. Kalua pork transports me back to that first luau on the beach with the kids, a pot-luck gathering with friends, or to times spent at local restaurants like L&L or food trucks grabbing a plate lunch. The taste and the flavor are unmistakable. Whenever I make a kalua pig and cabbage, it makes me feel like I am right back at home in Hawaii.

shredded kalua pig
Shredded Kalua Pig

My History with Kalua Pig

Zippy’s restaurants offered kalua pork with overnight delivery to the mainland, and my mom would send me packages a couple of times a year. Eventually, they stopped this service, and I had to find another means to satisfy my pork cravings.

I learned how to make slow cooker kalua pork soon after, and we could get our fix. It will take about 8 hours or more in your slow cooker, but it is delicious. It is quite a simple preparation, and to me, it tastes just as good as in the islands. My kids love it and request that I make it often.

Many people have left the islands for the mainland and still cling to and yearn for the local food in Hawaii. Mentioning things like Manapua, Pork Hash, Malasada, Kalua Pig, Shoyu Chicken, or Spam Musubi will get their taste buds working overtime. Stories shared are often about favorite places and food preparations and are always told with a smile.

Different Ways to Prepare Kalua Pig

The traditional method of making a kalua pig involves an Imu. An older, more primitive way of cooking food in an underground oven. “Ka” means the, and “Lua” means hole. So Kalua is food made in the hole or imu.

I don’t have a hole dug in my yard just for making kalua pork in this manner (yet). I also don’t have banana leaves and lava rocks. My wife says that I have too many kitchen gadgets already. She doesn’t understand. He who has all of the devices wins. Duh!

Okay, I know you are here because you are hungry and want to know how to make a kalua pig. You can make it in an imu, oven, slow cooker, or Instant Pot. Here I will share with you my recipe for making the best and easiest slow cooker kalua pig. I like to start mine in the morning to be ready for dinner. Set it and forget it.

slow cooker, liquid smoke, rock salt
Slow Cooker Kalua Pig Ingredients

Ingredients for Slow Cooker Kalua Pig:

  • Pork Shoulder Roast
  • Liquid Smoke
  • Coarse Salt

What Type of Meat is Kalua Pig?

First off, we need to discuss the meat that we will use. What you are looking for has different names, so don’t let that deter you. You want a pork shoulder roast. It can be with or without the bone. It might be called pork butt, Boston butt, pork roast, picnic roast, or blade roast.

Why is it called butt? I don’t know, but it is actually the pig’s shoulder, so don’t worry, we aren’t eating Okole today. 

They can vary from around 3 lbs up to a Fred Flinstone brontosaurus size. I usually get a 4-6 lb one, but I have made bigger ones (8-10 lb) when I expect a crowd. They can also come with a fat cap running down one side.

You do not want pork loin, pork loin roast, or pork tenderloin. Leave those leaner cuts for other recipe ideas.

Add Salt and Smoke for Flavor

Alright, now that you have your meat. You are only going to need two more things.

Find some Liquid Smoke (often hanging out near Worcestershire) and grab some coarse salt (rock salt, sea salt, kosher all work). Some liquid smoke comes flavored like wood chips. I have seen mesquite and hickory as options. I use Hawaiian Red Alaea Coarse Sea Salt. When I don’t have that, I use Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

I told you it was an easy, straightforward recipe. That’s it, although I do recommend grabbing a small head of green cabbage (more on that later).

*If you don’t have coarse salt, you can use your regular table or fine salt, but you have to reduce the amount to 1½ teaspoons.*

Instructions for Making Slow Cooker Kalua Pig:

  1. Get a fork out and get ready to take out some aggression. Stab your pork all over on each side, even the fatty part. You don’t have to go all Norman Bates on it.
  2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of liquid smoke and rub it all over your roast. You can use your hands or a basting-type brush if you prefer.
  3. Lastly, add 1- 1½ tablespoons of coarse salt to spread over the meat with your hands or by flipping it around with tongs. (if using regular salt, only add 1½ teaspoons)
  4. Place your pork into your slow cooker fat side up, set it to the low setting, and let it go for 8–10 hours. (some slow cookers will take more time, up to 12 hours)
  5. When done, remove the roast to a pan or bowl and shred the meat with two forks discarding fatty pieces or that fat cap. It should fall apart quickly for you.
  6. Taste and see if you feel it needs more oomph. If so, drain the juices from the slow cooker through a sieve and add a little at a time to the meat. The juices are quite salty, and you don’t want to add them back; keep tasting until you are happy with the flavor. It shouldn’t be bland, and it shouldn’t taste overly salty.
kalua pig over rice, broccoli, dinner roll
Kalua pig plate

Recipe Notes for Slow Cooker Kalua Pig

There is no need to brown the meat beforehand; you will have plenty of flavors when it is done by following this Kalua Pork recipe. Browning or searing doesn’t enhance the dish. After all, it’s not browned before it goes into an imu. You do not need to add any water or broth. The roast will release plenty of juices on its own. You could add cabbage during the last 30 minutes of cooking to soften it. I have read about some people adding bacon to the bottom of the pot or studding it with garlic. Why? I am not sure what that’s all about, and we have enough of the pig in there.

How to Serve Kalua Pig

Thinking about what to serve with kalua pork? We like to serve our slow cooker kalua pig over sticky rice and sauteed cabbage with a dash of low-sodium soy sauce on top. Other tasty side dish ideas are green beans, broccoli, mac salad, and dinner rolls (Hawaiian if you can find them).

If you are one of those people that salt your food before tasting it (I’m looking at you, mom, dad, and wife), go lightly. This kalua pork should have plenty of sodium to tickle your taste buds.

Leftover Ideas for Kalua Pig

You could still eat as above for your leftovers or make enchiladas, nachos, sliders, tacos, and fried rice. Crisp some up under the broiler, and you have tasty kalua pork carnitas.

I hope that you enjoy this Kalua Pig recipe and that you will taste some aloha in every bite.