Slow-Cooker Kalua Pork

Kalua pork, like shave ice, is just kind of something that happens in Hawaii wherever you go, but it can vary drastically in quality, which can range from cafeteria-style mystery meat to shreds of smoky, tender-crispy deliciousness. Kalua pork is traditionally the meat from a whole pig that’s been roasted in the ground, but since most of us don’t have access to whole pigs or pig-sized roasting pits, we resort to other methods of cooking.

I’ve been making this recipe since I was a newlywed, but I hadn’t made it in years when Sara called me in a state of wonder saying that she’d had Kalua pork cooked in a crockpot and it tasted like the real thing and I kind of kicked myself for going so long without this amazingly easy meat candy. So today’s the day. And in case you’re wondering what you can do with it, don’t worry, I’ve got about 733 things I ate in Hawaii that involve Kalua pork that I’m trying to replicate at home.

shredded pork in a bowl

Ingredient Notes

  • Pork Roast – You’re going to need a boneless pork shoulder (boneless pork butt roast). You could even scale it down for a small family and use a smaller picnic roast. Try to choose one with a decent amount of fat on it, as this will produce a nice, tender final product. You’ll want to plan on 6-8 ounces of pre-cooked meat per person–pork shoulder is quite fatty, so the weight will really cook down and this is one thing you definitely don’t want to run out of.
  • Salt – You can make this recipe with simple kosher salt (or any salt, really) and it doesn’t make a huge difference since you’re using a rather small amount- because your liquid smoke contains salt as well. That being said, using a smoked salt can really enhance the flavor here. You can find smoked salt on Amazon, or at most grocery stores these days. I really love the inexpensive Great Value Brand smoked salt at Walmart.
  • Liquid Smoke – Hickory-flavored liquid smoke provides a good kick of smoky flavor. You can find liquid smoke near the barbecue sauces on the condiment aisle, usually in a small bottle on the top shelf.

How To Make Kalua Pork

  1. Discard any meat juices from packaging and pat pork roast dry with paper towels. Pierce the entire roast with a fork and place in slow cooker.
  2. For a 3-ish lb roast, sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt on meat, trying to get a little on all sides. Pour about 1 tablespoon liquid smoke over the top, and then place lid on slow cooker. (Do not add any additional liquid to slow cooker.)
  3. Cook on low for approximately 8 hours, or until the meat shreds easily with a fork. If your roast is larger (4-6lbs) you’ll want to aim for more like 8-10 hours, and if your roast is extra large (7lbs+) I’d plan on about 12 hours.
  4. When your roast very easily shreds with a fork (it should almost fall apart) Use large tongs to carefully remove meat to a cutting board or serving platter and shred.
  5. I find a fat separator very helpful for this recipe. If you have one, pour juices into separator and then pour juices back over meat. You can keep the whole mixture warm in the slow cooker, or serve on a platter.

Flavoring Note: The amount of both salt and liquid smoke in this recipe is flexible and amounts vary depending on your exact size of roast, and brand of liquid smoke you’re using. Keep in mind when tasting your shredded meat, that a lot of the smoke and salt is in the juices, so refrain from adding anything additional until you’ve tossed your pork back with the juices. I like to dip a piece of pork into my juices to sample first, then if needed- you can add a little more salt and/or liquid smoke to your juices and toss together with the remainder of the pork.

        shredded pork in a bowl

        Frequently Asked Questions

        Will other cuts of pork work for this recipe?

        Pork shoulder or pork butt are the best choice for tender pulled pork like this. They contain the ideal ratio of lean meat to fat. When the fat renders during the cooking process, it infuses the meat with both flavor and moisture. Slow cooking leaner cuts of pork results in a very dry finished product, so stick with the recipe as it’s written for best results!

        Can I make this in the oven?

        You can! You just want to cook the pork low and slow so to break down the fat and collagen to produce a tender finished roast. Place your pork roast in a roasting pan, cover with liquid smoke and salt as directed, then cover tightly with foil. Roast at no higher than 325°F for about an hour per pound of meat, or until the meat shreds easily with a fork.

        Is it possible to overcook Kalua Pork?

        It is possible. The goal is fork-tender pull-apart meat. If cooked too long, the muscle fibers degrade and turn mushy. For this reason, just keep an eye on your roast and if it looks as though it might be getting close to being done, do a fork test to see if it’s shreddable. Just remember not to take the lid off your slow cooker too frequently, as letting the steam out repeatedly will slow the cooking process.

        How much meat do I need?

        Plan on 6-8 ounces of pre-cooked meat per person–pork shoulder is quite fatty, and will lose about half of its weight during the cooking process. For boneless meat, the rule of thumb is 1/2 pound per person for adults and 1/4 pound per person for children.

        shredded kalua pork in a white bowl

        Slow-Cooker Kalua Pork

        5 from 17 votes
        This no-fuss smoky pulled pork is incredibly simple. Serve with traditional Hawaiian sides or treat as you would BBQ pulled pork.
        Prep Time 20 minutes
        Cook Time 10 hours
        Total Time 10 hours 20 minutes
        Servings6 4oz portions (approximate)

        Ingredients

        • pound boneless pork shoulder/butt Approximate size
        • Kosher salt or smoked salt See notes
        • Hickory-flavored liquid smoke

        Instructions

        • Discard any meat juices from packaging and pat pork roast dry with paper towels. Pierce the entire roast with a fork and place in slow cooker.
        • For a 3-ish lb roast, sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt on meat, trying to get a little on all sides. Pour about 1 tablespoon liquid smoke over the top, and then place lid on slow cooker.
        • Cook on low for approximately 8 hours, or until the meat shreds easily with a fork. If your roast is larger (4-6lbs) you'll want to aim for more like 8-10 hours, and if your roast is extra large (7lbs+) I'd plan on about 12 hours.
        • When your roast very easily shreds with a fork (it should almost fall apart) Use large tongs to carefully remove meat to a cutting board or serving platter and shred.
        • I find a fat separator very helpful for this recipe. If you have one, pour juices into separator and then pour juices back over meat. You can keep the whole mixture warm in the slow cooker, or serve on a platter.
        • Flavoring Note: The amount of both salt and liquid smoke in this recipe is flexible and amounts vary depending on your exact size of roast, and brand of liquid smoke you're using. Keep in mind when tasting your shredded meat, that a lot of the smoke and salt is in the juices, so refrain from adding anything additional until you've tossed your pork back with the juices. I like to dip a piece of pork into my juices to sample first, then if needed- you can add a little more salt and/or liquid smoke to your juices and toss together with the remainder of the pork.

        Notes

        You can make this recipe with simple kosher salt, but for additional flavor, look for a smoked salt at the grocery store.  Walmart sells a terrific inexpensive one that's Great Value Brand!
        • This recipe calls for a 3 pound roast, but you can easily adjust up or down. It is possible to overcook Kalua Pork. If your roast is on the smaller side, you may want to check on it at around 6 or 7 hour mark to see if it's shreddable yet.  
        • Plan on 6-8 ounces of pre-cooked meat per person–pork shoulder is quite fatty, and will lose about half of its weight during the cooking process.
        • A question we often get is “How much meat do I need?” For boneless meat, the rule of thumb is 1/2 pound per person for adults and 1/4 pound per person for children.
        • Serve this dish with any combination of sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice, macaroni salad, or fresh fruits and vegetables (or a green salad). Or, try these recipes:

        Nutrition

        Serving: 4oz, Calories: 336kcal, Protein: 60g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 0.04g, Cholesterol: 159mg, Sodium: 143mg, Potassium: 1000mg, Calcium: 19mg, Iron: 2mg
        Course: Main Course
        Cuisine: Hawaiian
        Keyword: slow cooker kalua pork
        Calories: 336kcal
        Author: Kate Jones
        Cost: $20
        Did You Make This Recipe?Snap a picture, and hashtag it #ourbestbites. We love to see your creations on our Instagram @ourbestbites!
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        Meet The Author

        Sara Wells

        Sara Wells co-founded Our Best Bites in 2008. She is the author of three Bestselling Cook Books, Best Bites: 150 Family Favorite RecipesSavoring the Seasons with Our Best Bites, and 400 Calories or Less from Our Best Bites. Sara’s work has been featured in many local and national news outlets and publications such as Parenting MagazineBetter Homes & GardensFine CookingThe Rachel Ray Show and the New York Times.

        Read More

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        Questions & Reviews

        1. I make this all the time but since I dislike liquid smoke I put a layer of bacon on the bottom of the crock pot, rub the roast with the Hawaiian salt, then put one or two whole bananas on top. After it’s cooked I discard the bananas and the bacon and shred the meat. Yum!

        2. Absolutely stunning pictures! I bet it was worth bringing the kids along in the end! Sounds and looks like they had an experience of a lifetime 🙂

        3. 5 stars
          YUM! I have also been making this since a trip to Maui 5 years ago, and we love it. I shred the cooked pork and mix it back into the liquid in the crock-pot, it soaks up some of the liquid and keeps it even more moist. We always serve it with coconut rice- rice cooked in coconut milk- topped with toasted coconut!

        4. Kalua pork is sooo good! Trader Joe’s used to carry Hawaiian pink sea salt….I haven’t looked recently because I have a stash so I’m not sure if they still do. We made Kalua pork once for a ward Christmas party and everyone loved it. We had teriyaki chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, fresh pineapple, and rolls to go with it. Not to mention a tiki hut with smoothies. It was fantastic to celebrate Christmas in Hawaii during the middle of a Chicago winter. 🙂

        5. My family loves Kalua pork! I usually make it in my electric pressure cooker but I love that it can be done in the Slow cooker. I must do this soon!

        6. Our Denver area World Market carries red Hawaiian sea salt, but no pink Hawaiian sea salt. Is that the same thing that you are using in this recipe? Thanks for the help!

        7. I think it’s awesome you took your kids! One of the reasons my family is so close is because we took our kids everywhere. :):)

        8. As a variation, I make my kalua pork with 3 lbs boneless country style pork ribs. I love the easiness of those. In a pinch, I’ve used them with bones but the meat just falls off the bones by the time it’s done so it’s not a big deal.

          1. Jenn, You just made my night. I have some counrty style ribs that I defrosted yesterday in my fridge. I was thinking what I should do with them for tomorrow and now I will make this with them! Thanks for saying it is ok for me to use em for this recipe! HA HA

        9. 5 stars
          My hubby is Hawaiian, and this is one of the first recipes I’ve seen for Kalua Pork that is actually authentic–thanks!
          We make this every few months (in the crockpot–I’m still not convinced we need to dig an imu in our backyard for roasting pigs).
          The leftovers are amazing on pizza with some smoky BBQ sauce and light cheese. 🙂

        10. Do you have a recipe for that roasted chicken they always serve with the kalua pork at the Polynesian food stands? I can’t get enough of that stuff!

          1. Are you talking about Huli Huli chicken? I just found a sauce at a store called Huli Huli sauce made by the aloha shoyu company. I marinated some chicken in that sauce, dh grilled it, and it tasted like the real thing. I grew up in Hawaii, so I know 🙂

        11. I have a question – I use a pork shoulder for bbq pork sandwiches, and I find my crockpot runs a little hot, so my meat reaches a “done” temperature on a meat thermometer much sooner than 8-10 hours. But some parts were very gritty and hard to shred. Was that a reflection of the quality of my meat or just that I didn’t cook it long enough?

          1. I do the same thing. When I cooked it 8 hours it was WAY too long. The meat was falling apart and almost mush so I guess my crockpot runs hot too on low. I put foil over the top of the meat so maybe I’ll try leaving it off next time. Shooting for 6-7 hours next time.

        12. 5 stars
          This is a great recipe because it is so versatile with leftovers! You can add BBQ sauce and have pulled pork sandwiches or put it on tortillas for pork tacos…

        13. How does this compare in taste to the pork carnitas or other pulled pork recipes done in the crockpot?

        14. I spent a lot of my childhood years living on Oahu and I have been making this dish for years! It is one of my favorites and is great for feeding crowds. I always place mine in the crock pot the night before, flip it over in the morning and then devour it at dinner. Devine!

        15. I didn’t even know a 3lb pork butt existed lol! We always buy the big 8-12 pounders…but that’s because we’re feeding Poly’s here.

          Here’s my tip to help with keeping the meat moist: I cook mine in an electric roaster, but you can def do this in a crock pot. I lay a bed of spinach down, then place my butt fat side down. I take a sheet of aluminum foil and place it straight over the top, then put the lid on. The spinach will help to create tons of moisture, and the foil keeps it in. (I also use ti leaves to wrap the butts if they’re big enough)

          I cannot say enough how happy I was to see this post, and to see it using Hawaiian sea salt!!! I can’t buy it here in KY, so I use kosher salt in a pinch and it’s still good, but not ono!

        16. My mister and I took our two-year old to Oahu while my brother was stationed there….best vacation ever! Awesome beaches, sight-seeing, water, sand (plus Hula Pie from Duke’s!!!) It was family heaven!

        17. 5 stars
          I’ve been making this non-stop since our last trip to the islands. I love it so much! One comment I have is to be careful with the salt, especially because liquid smoke has so much salt in it. I have a Hawaiian salt and if I used a whole tablespoon it would be inedible (fact: from experience, lol). I literally use only 1/2 of a *teaspoon* for a 3 lb pork roast and it’s perfect, so if people are using something non-commercial they should be wary of that and salt sparingly. You can always add more salt at the end if it’s not enough!

        18. My sister and her family live on the big island. Kalua pork is amazing, and now I can’t wait to make this at home myself! I think it would be delicious in tacos! This will be on my menu next week!

        19. We live on Oahu and the Big Island is a vacation favorite of ours. Try the Kalua pork as a base for eggs benedict. So good. We have a restaurant on island that does it. Did you hike to the green sand beach on the south shore? I am surprised I am still married and that my children haven’t asked for emancipation after doing that hike into the unknown! Glad you had a great vacation. ALOHA!

          1. Ha! No. If we had been better equipped to hike with a baby, we probably would have tried it, but it sounds like it was probably all for the best, haha!

          2. Hi Jill,
            My husband and I are going to Hawaii in October for our 10 year anniversary. To say the least, I cannot wait to go!! We are staying at a house in Honolulu, but will probably fly to Maui for a couple days. Do you have any advice, things to do? not to do? places to visit? Should we fly to Maui or would you suggest somewhere else. I have never been to any of the islands so any advice would be greatly appreciated. You can email me if that is easier… [email protected]

            1. Hi amber! I will send you an email too. Maui is fabulous. I highly suggest if you have time you fly over there. You can also take a ferry from Maui to Lanai and Molokai which are two smaller islands. Not much to do on them, but super neat to see. Sending you an email now with more info.

        20. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about taking your kids to Hawaii. We’ve been lucky enough to go three times in 6 years and have taken our kids all three times and never regretted it.

          Hawaii is a dreamy, magical place. Yes it’s hard to get to with kids but I think it’s the perfect place for a family vacation. Worth the work. I just hope we can go again someday. I think about it everyday.

          I’m looking forward to making your meat. It sounds delicious!

        21. This looks delicious! So jealous of your trip, I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii!

        22. I’ve been making Kalua Pork for years in a crock pot and it is totally worthy of eating it straight out of the container from the fridge lol! One thing I’ve done instead of using hawaiian pink salt is to use kosher salt in a pinch. Still turns out awesome. Oh and I actually wrap my meat in two layers of heavy dury foil before I put it in the crock pot. That’s how I was taught to make from a friend who married a Hawaiian guy. Oh and Kate I think the Kalua pork and chocolate chips would be fantastic together 😉

        23. This is going on my must-make list right now! I love Kalua pork, but I’ve never tried to make it at home.

        24. It almost looks like you brought your dog to Hawaii too! Target is ‘da bomb’! This recipe looks fantastic as do all of yours. Will be making this very soon. By the way, I tried the homemade chicken nuggets….SCORE! Once I figured out the oil was too hot, mine starting looking like your golden brown beauties! Thank you for all that you do with this blog!! 🙂

          1. We’re crazy, but we’re not THAT crazy, lol!! That dog just sat there on the ball. I don’t know where her owner was, but she was a very well-behaved dog, haha!

            And I’m so glad to hear the nuggets were a success! 🙂

        25. Hiking into a volcano sounds like something I’d accidentally do…hilarious.

          I am totally ordering that salt now — this pork needs to happen up in here!!

          1. We should go on a vacation together sometime and see heat craziness ensues, lol!

        26. So you don’t put any liquid in the crockpot with the pork, just the meat and that’s it?

          1. Yep, just the meat. That’s why you need to do it with a pork shoulder–it’s fatty and juicy and keeps the meat moist, and you’ll discard a surprisingly huge amount of liquid when you’re done.

        27. I’m so happy to see these pictures, I currently live on Oahu and went to Big Island a few months ago, all these places bring back such happy memories! Glad you had fun, and can’t wait to try this recipe out 🙂