Single Guy Chef: Kalua Pork

Kalua Pork (or pig) is one of my favorite Hawaiian dishes. It’s a smokey, salty pulled pork dish served over white rice, with optional katsu sauce.1 When I found out how you make it, I was stunned at how easy it is.2 It takes a long time to cook, and there’s some work involved, but it requires no skilled labor, much less murdering a pig with a knife while sobbing. In fact, I thought it was some half-assed way to make it, but a friend who is very wise in the ways of Hawaiian cooking told me nope, that’s the way everyone makes it on the island.3 And after making it, I can honestly say it matches the one at my favorite Hawaiian restaurant. Kick ass!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Hawaiian sea salt
    It’s usually found in Japanese markets or gourmet stores. You can try searching for “Hawaiian” on Yelp, or click the links to buy it on Amazon.
    It comes in black (charcoal based), red (alaea/clay based), and white (nothin’ special). It was recommended I get black to enhance the smokey taste, but I could only find red and white. I went with red because I didn’t have time to order it online; it turned out fine. Definitely don’t use regular table salt!
    Oh, to save you look-up, 1/2 tablespoon is 1 1/2 teaspoons.
  • 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
    I chose Colgin’s mesquite over hickory. I’m not sure why I did that, but when I opened the bottle at home it smelled right.
  • 5-6 lb. pork butt roast
    5 lbs was the biggest I could find. Sometimes this is called Boston butt. You don’t want the picnic arm with the skin – at least not for this.
  • sushi rice
    By sushi rice, I mean short or medium grain white rice. You’ll find this at the Japanese market or the Asian section of your supermarket. I bought Calrose rice, which is a California-grown rice that’s actually preferred in some Asian countries. As for brand, I picked Botan simply because they included cooking directions. If you can cook rice without explicit directions, I have no idea what you’re doing here.
  • tonkatsu sauce (optional)
    Pick this up at the Japanese market when you’re getting the salt. If you are faced with a dizzying array of choices, use this opportunity to chat up a cute employee.

Equipment

  • crock pot (aka slow cooker) big enough to fit the roast
  • measuring spoons
  • carving fork

Make like the pros and put the salt and liquid smoke into 2 small bowls. This will help in a minute when your hands are covered in pork fat.

The pork roast will have one side with a thick layer of fat. Nice when you’re roasting, but we ain’t doin’ that, so trim it off. Using the carving fork, uniformly poke holes all over the roast. While stabbing it, pretend you’re administering an adrenalin shot to an OD’ing Uma Thurman. Sprinkle the salt all over the roast and rub it in. Then pour the liquid smoke on and rub that all over. Reflect on how rugged you’ll seem when your hands smell like smoke for a week. Transfer the roast to the crock pot. Some finagling may be required to make it fit. Set it to low and mark the time.

The original recipe called for 16-20 hours of cooking (flipping it once halfway through) for a 6 lb. roast. My crock pot gets a bit hot, even on low, so it was ready in 12. Odds are you’re going to be sleeping while this is cooking, so plan accordingly. Following the rules for pulled pork on the grill, the internal temperature should be about 190 degrees Fahrenheit. When it’s done, transfer the roast onto a large platter or baking dish. It may fall apart during transfer, so be careful.

Separate the juices from the fat. The easiest way is to use this genius device, a fat-separating gravy pitcher. Just pour the juice from the crock pot onto the pitcher, taking care not to get it everywhere. If you don’t have one of those, pour it through a strainer or colander into a bowl. If you don’t have that, you can use a ladle to skim the juice while leaving the bits of fat and collagen behind. Put the bowl into the freezer to get the grease to harden.4 When cold, you just scrape the grease off the top. See how much easier it would be with that pitcher?

But don’t wait for the grease to separate – shred the pork while it’s hot. You can use a fork, or more easily, use your hands with insulated food gloves. Pull out any chunks of fat you find – there will be a lot. This is the hardest part, so I suggest you find a cute girl and ask her if she’ll pull your pork for you. I find that, “Hey baby, wanna pull my pork?” works great. Now take the separated juice (reheating in the microwave if you used the freezer method) and pour it on the shredded pork. That will keep it nice and moist and add back that smokey, salty flavor.

Now go make the rice according to the directions on the bag. If yours doesn’t have directions, God help you. Or mom help you. Or buy one of those awesome Zojirushi rice cookers that figures everything out for you and makes rice like Matsuhisa-san. The Botan Calrose rice was very easy to make and came out perfect.

Now throw them together in a bowl and wolf it down! If you find it too salty, throw a little katsu sauce on there. Another friend adds rooster sauce, but that’s crazy. Try not think about what eating that much pork will do to you.

Actually, you should think about it. I separated at least 2.5 cups of fat and grease from my roast. That’s 4,557 calories, 500 grams of fat (230g of saturated fat), and 515mg of cholesterol. Yours may have even more. So if you’re not going to follow all three fat separating steps, just go to a restaurant. It ain’t worth a triple bypass.

  1. Thanks to Agent Doubledeuce for the tip. []
  2. But don’t worry, I’ll still explain it to you like you were held back a few times. []
  3. Not counting those supermen who actually dig a hole, add fire, and roast the whole pig all at once. []
  4. Uh, you don’t wait for the whole thing to be frozen, just the fat. Maybe 20 minutes. []

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2 thoughts on “Single Guy Chef: Kalua Pork”

  1. Wow, after conquering the b-b-q grill domain, you are now single-handedly making crock pots cool !!!

    Only caveat for me is the use of rice as side dish — it’s carbohydrate city, and must be avoided. I would recommend the use of a slow carb such as barley (which can be cooked in your rice cooker as well !!) or nice sauteed vegetables in olive oil. They soak up the juices pretty nicely.

  2. If you can’t do carbs, I’d go with the cabbage salad they have at The Loft. It’s basically coleslaw but with a slightly sweet vinaigrette and some crunchy (uncooked) ramen noodles broken up and mixed in. I’m not a salad guy, but I dig it. Even worse for you, though, is their fantastic macaroni salad. I usually skip the cabbage and get double mac. I guess the consolation of doing this at home is portion control.

    Anyway, if I had to have barley, I’d probably find a recipe for beef barley soup.

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