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Big Green Egg: Hawaiian ‘Kalua’ Pork

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Posted by johngl

Yeah, I know, it has been a long while since I’ve posted anything let alone something that really had some substance to it.  You see, my most glorious spousal unit and I have recently returned from a two-week stint in the archipelago of Hawai’i. We extensively covered four islands: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the “Big Island”, spending several days on each island.  We also cruised between Molokai and Lanai on the way from Oahu to Maui. In other words, we pretty thoroughly covered the last state in my quest to visit all 50 of our United States.

The "Grand Canyon" of Kauai

The shot above is probably something you are not used to seeing when perusing photos from Hawaii.  This is what is called the “Grand Canyon” of Kauai and is located just inside of the Na’pali Coast, a 15 mile stretch of wonder that was created when about a mile’s worth of island fell into the Pacific.  The valleys here are easily 3000 feet deep and can be accessed only by aircraft, watercraft, or via hiking trails. The variety of colors here are simply amazing.

Du-u-ude, it’s the colors, man.  Check out the colors.

Where was I?  Oh yeah!  Pig!

No touristy visit to Hawaii is complete without a luau, right? Right.  Which is why we didn’t go to one.  While I love the feasting on pig part, I’m just not into the pumped-up tourism nonsense. I always feel like the well-meaning native peoples are being exploited to entertain the “nice white people” who nearly wiped them off the face of the planet. The name luau is even a misappropriation of the word used to describe foodstuffs served at these kinds of celebrations. We sure like truthy but truth itself is rather elusive.  But, again, I digress.

So, ‘kalua’ isn’t something you put in your coffee or a type of feral pig found on the islands.  It is actually a cooking method that involves an imu, or “big hole in the dirt”. Well, actually, kalua translates loosely to “cooking in a big hole in the dirt”.  For whatever reason, this hole is called an imu much like “insulated metal box that produces heat” translates to oven.

Before I deviate from the intended subject yet again, how about another picture?

Banana Plant

Above is a banana plant on the island of Oahu. Notice the bananas.

Below is a banana plant in my back yard.

Backyard Banana Plant

I’ve been waiting to get bananas off this thing for a decade. But it does have leaves, which for kalua pork, are essential.

My harvest of banana leaves

I harvested a few leaves, then cut away the stemmy bits.

Destemmed leaves

Not wanting to wrap my pork butt (which isn’t butt at all) in dirty leaves, I thoroughly washed them in the sink.  To increase their flexibility and limit breakage, I blanched them in boiling water.  It also brought out their inherent green-ness.

Banana leaves over pork butt

Backing up for a minute…

Deboned pork shoulder

This is a seasoned, deboned, pork butt.  Actually, the butt is the front shoulder of the pig. It has muscle tissue running in all sorts of directions which is why it is frequently tough and chewy unless cooked for many hours and used for pulled pork sandwiches. The seasoning I used was mesquite-smoked Hawaiian sea salt, black pepper, and small amount of dried ginger.

Trussed and ready to cook

Here is that same butt all trussed-up with someplace to go. The foil was a wrapping aid I came up with.  Trying to flip over the fatty pork butt with wet leaves placed upon it made for a “greased pig” kind of adventure.  Placing the foil atop the banana leaves, pressing it firmly against the butt, and just rolling it over solved the problem nicely!

Off to the Big Green Egg it went! I’d started the charcoal about 20 minutes earlier and set the Egg to around 275°F. Since the pork was still pretty cold, I went for a higher temperature for the first few hours, then dropped it down to around 225-240 later in the cooking process.  You’ll probably want to cook this until the internal temp reaches about 195°F.  This may seem hot, but it ensures that all the connective tissue breaks down and provides for a tender product.

cooked butt, hours later

Much later, it looks like this.  I’m not even going to give you an estimate on how long the cooking process takes.  The size of your butt and the temp of your grill is so variable that it will just cause me too much trouble.

Oh, and foil…I decided to keep a layer of foil between the pork and the charcoal for two reasons.  Firstly, it kept a nice pool of juices (fat mostly) bubbling around the pork and secondly, it kept the bottom ‘nana leaves from drying out.

tender, juicy pork

This pork came out amazingly juicy and tender. It also had a nice 1/8″ “smoke ring” around the exterior which gave it a very light smoky flavor.

Sliced pork sammies

We opted to have small slider-sized sliced pork sandwiches this night, but there’s pounds of pig leftover for pulled pork.

The sauce was a special blend of 2/3 cup soy sauce, 2/3 cup dry sherry, 1/3 cup dark brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of five-spice powder, 3 teaspoons of minced ginger, 2 teaspoons of minced garlic, and enough pequin powder to give it some heat.  I mixed everything together and cooked it down until it thickened.  It’s amazing pungent, so you may wish to cut it 50/50 with your favorite bottled barbecue sauce.  It will still have enough Hawaiian punch to help you envision the islands.

To top all this off, most glorious spousal unit rummaged through the wine cellar and dug this up:

Cameron Hughes Lot 160 Old Vines Zinfandel (Lodi)

This stuff was nearly as thick and juicy as the barbecue sauce and frontend-loaded with rich, black fruit. Flavor-wise, it combined with the complex sauce amazingly well.  For a $9 wine, this was unbeatable.

Coast of Kauai

Almost as unbeatable as this view.

Mahalo! to the wonderful folks over at Wings Over Kauai for the great ride, super-friendly personal service,  informative narrative, and for landing safely!

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5 Responses to “Big Green Egg: Hawaiian ‘Kalua’ Pork”

  1. Oh I WISH you would have shared your cooking times based on your pork weight… I’m taking this on tomorrow w/2 four lb butts.

    • JohnGL says:

      I don’t do time for poundage amounts. Invariably, people have their Egg’s temps set differently than mine.

      Cook by temperature. When it hits about 190-195FF, it should be fall-apart tender.

  2. Gayle says:

    That looks amazing! yet more reason I want a big green egg

  3. That looks great. Welcome back!

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