• Marnie

Authentic Hawaiian Kalua Pork (with garlic!)

Updated: Mar 19, 2021

I remember the first time I ever ate kalua pork. We were on our honeymoon on the Big Island of Hawaii and we stopped at a roadside truck that was cooking up deliciously aromatic food that drew us in. We like pork, but had never had this before. That first bite - we were hooked! Salty, smoky, so simple, yet so flavorful. Fast forward, we're back home in L.A. Sure, we can get kalua pork at our local Hawaiian joint, but I wanted to try to make it myself. First, it's really economical - pork shoulder (or butt) is really not that expensive - and there are only a few ingredients to make it.

We are fortunate to have banana trees in our backyard (even though they've never produced actual bananas!) so we make good use of the leaves. Traditionally, kalua pork (which actually means "pork baked underground") is made in an underground oven called an Imu. A whole pig is placed over a pit fire lined with banana leaves and hot rocks. It bakes all day and is removed at sunset for a family, or ohana, feast. It's traditionally made with cabbage, but we prefer it without. Since digging up my yard to cook a pig is not a great idea, I decided to make it in my slow cooker. And let me tell you - it's truly the real deal. I've even had Hawaiian friends tell me it's better than what they get on the Island!

The last time we made it, we did something a little different - we added garlic. It really gave it a much deeper flavor that was outstanding. But you can make it without if you prefer the more traditional flavor.

You can eat the pork over rice and top with green onion and furikake, or you can make nachos, tacos, sandwiches on hawaiian bread (or my sweet amish white bread or focaccia), Japanese okonomiyaki, or really anything you want. It's delicious however you choose to eat it. I recommend making my lomi lomi salmon with it for your own home luau! Ready to make it?

Here's how to make it in your slow cooker:


  • 3 - 3 1/2 pounds pork shoulder/butt - bone-in is okay (this makes about 6-8 servings. I buy 6 pounds and freeze the other 3 for later use.)

  • Course sea salt

  • 1-2 TBS liquid smoke plus 1 TSP

  • 4-5 whole garlic cloves, peeled (optional)

  • Banana leaves (you can get these at Vallarta market, or try any hispanic grocery store)


  1. Rinse and carefully pat dry the banana leaves and pork.

  2. With a large fork or knife, pierce the meat on all sides.

  3. Score the fat with a sharp knife.

  4. Rub the salt all over the meat and really massage it in. I use maybe 1 TBS per 1 1/2 pounds of meat, but use less if you want to be careful.

  5. Massage the liquid smoke into the meat. You want to be sure it's all over the meat.

  6. If you want to add garlic, place the whole garlic cloves in between the meat slices. If you have just one large chunk of meat, press the garlic into the top of the meat.

  7. Wrap the pork in the banana leaf and tightly tie with twine.

  8. You can put additional banana leaves to line the slow cooker if you have them. This is optional.

  9. Add 1/2 cup water to the slow cooker.

  10. Place the pork into the slow cooker (fat side up if you can) and cook on low for 12 hours. I usually start around 8-9pm on a weekend so I can do the next steps in the morning. You'll wake up to the most amazing smells!

  11. After the 12 hours, take the pork out (leave the liquid in the cooker) and with 2 large forks or a meat shredder, shred the meat and discard any fat.

  12. Put the shredded pork back into the slow cooker, add 1 TSP of liquid smoke and stir the meat to combine.

  13. Cook on high for 1 hour.

  14. Remove the pork from the slow cooker and enjoy!

Did you make this? Share pics in the comments!

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