Slow Cooker Kalua Pork is tender, smoky, salty deliciousness, roasted to perfection in a slow cooker. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a more delicious smoked pork loin recipe!
This slow cooker kalua pork recipe is my interpretation of a simple and classic Hawaiian favorite, sometimes called Kahlua Pig. But, I use ingredients and equipment that are available to me, here. So, while I’m not able to make traditional kalua pork, I do make a melt-in-your-mouth delicious interpretation.
Using ingredients and tools available to us, to create new variations of delicious food is a skill that cooks, throughout history, have perfected. Even though my ingredients and equipment are different, I hope this variation closely mimics the flavors of Hawaiian pork. I know it definitely makes smoky and flavorful morsels of tender meat. The easy recipe has only 4 ingredients. Pop them in your slow cooker and dinner is going to be a dream!
What is Kalua?
Kalua means “to cook in an underground oven”. Kalua pork is made by cooking the whole pig, seasoned with sea salt and wrapped in banana leaves in one of those ovens, called an imu. Koa wood provides the heat and smoke for cooking this popular Hawaiian dish. And, the banana leaves hold in moisture, as well as preventing the meat from burning. In Hawaii they traditionally serve the shredded pork with rice and cooked cabbage.
Digging a deep oven pit in the backyard or buying a whole hog are events that don’t seem likely for us at present. For that matter, even finding fresh banana leaves in our small Midwestern town, isn’t going to happen. So, this easy pork loin recipe is my attempt to create a flavor that comes close to how the traditional version tastes. I just use the tools and ingredients available to me, here.
I did cook my kalua pork in a covered oven of sorts — my slow cooker. It produces tender, juicy pork with the salty, savory smokiness I want, plus a subtle hint of the earthy, greens qualities that the banana leaves would impart in a traditional kalua pork recipe.
This is an affiliate link to a slow cooker like I use. Mine is only 8 quarts, but the feature I most love is the lock-down lid for easy transporting to a get-together or potluck. When I need a new one, this larger model will be my next slow cooker.
Pork Loin Roast: For this recipe, choose a roast between 2.5 to 3 pounds. Be sure to pick up a pork loin, NOT a tenderloin.
Hawaiian Red Sea Salt: I used a fine grind variety, so I would recommend doing the same. This is an unprocessed sea salt with lots of minerals. The color comes from red volcanic clay. It is milder, lower in sodium and less salty than regular table salt. I wasn’t able to find it in our small town grocery stores, so I ordered it from Amazon. If you live in a larger community, you’ll have better options for grocery shopping and can probably get it locally.
Liquid Smoke: Capture smoke inside a condenser. Then, cool and capture it in water as a condensate. Next, filter it and bottle the liquid. Ta da! Liquid smoke. This product has apparently been around since the 1800’s. I love the flavor it adds to recipes. And, when it’s too cold to fire up the smoker, liquid smoke is a great option for adding flavor.
Green Tea: I used 1 tea bag in 1/2 cup of water and steeped it for 4 minutes. This was my attempt to recreate the mild and subtle earthiness and “green” flavor that the banana leaves normally infuse into the meat.
Green Cabbage: I used a large head of cabbage, coarsely cut into large pieces.
Kalua Pork FAQs
It is for our family. Pork loin has the perfect amount of fat to help keep the meat moist, but not so much that I need to spend time cleaning all the fat away when the meat has cooked.
You CAN substitute a pork shoulder roast, if you prefer. It will be delicious. It will just have a lot more fat and connective tissue to clean away after cooking. I always feel that I have thrown away so much of the money I spent buying it. For me personally, it’s not as good a value as a pork loin roast.
No. Though they are often confused, pork loin and pork tenderloin are not the same things. So, please don’t buy pork tenderloin for this recipe.
A pork loin is a whole (or sometimes half) roast. It is wide, thick and rectangular and has a thick fat cap across the top of the roast. It’s best when cooked low and slow.
Pork tenderloin is a small strip of meat cut from the muscle that runs along the hog’s backbone. It’s best seared off and cooked quickly over high heat or grilled. Certainly, it would be dry and disappointing in this low and slow recipe.
I haven’t tried it, but as a last resort, I suppose you could. Keep in mind that red Hawaiian sea salt is lower in sodium and not as salty tasting as regular table salt. If subbing in regular table salt, I would use less. However, since I haven’t tried that, personally, I don’t have an exact measurement I can share with you.
How to Make Slow Cooker Kalua Pork
Brew a cup of strong green tea by pouring 1/2 cup boiling water over 1 green tea bag and allowing it to steep for 4 minutes.
Next, use a sharp knife to repeatedly pierce an inch or so into the meat. Do this on both sides of the pork loin and make multiple pokes in each side. Importantly, this will allow flavor to work its way through the entire roast.
Next, rub the red Hawaiian sea salt over the surface of the entire loin, top, bottom and sides. Press firmly and allow the salt to rub down into the slits you cut in the meat, too.
After that, pour the green tea and liquid smoke into your slow cooker.
Lastly, add the prepared pork loin to the slow cooker.
Cover and cook on low for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. You want the pork to be cooked through and fork tender. You should be able to easily break it apart with a fork.
When the roast is tender, add coarsely chopped cabbage to the top of the slow cooker. Replace the cover and cook an additional 20 minutes, until the cabbage is tender.
Serve the pork and cabbage with rice. Use drippings from the slow cooker as a drizzle over everything.
How to Serve Kalua Pig
After doing quite a bit of reading on the subject, it seems to me that kalua pig is most commonly served with cooked cabbage and rice. Additionally, I discovered that another common side dish for the smoky pork is macaroni salad.
I wanted to stay as close to those traditions as I could. So, I added the rough chopped cabbage to the slow cooker during the last 20 minutes of cooking. It was probably the best steamed and braised cabbage I’ve ever eaten. And, I love cooked cabbage!
Some of the cabbage sat on top of the pork and simply steamed, while other pieces dropped down, braising in the smoky drippings around the pork. It all absorbed that wonderful smoky flavor. But, there was also a great textural contrast based on where the cabbage cooked. That on top of the roast was firmer, while the leaves cooked in the drippings were wilty, soft and juicy. Absolutely delicious!
And that was just the first meal! This recipe makes plenty for leftovers. You won’t believe the delicious dishes you can create with those!
Using Leftover Meat from this Kalua Pork Loin Recipe
This recipe is the beginning of multiple delicious pork loin meals for you. Incorporate this delicious meat into dozens of delicious main dishes that never make you feel like you’re eating the same old thing.
So, start with the traditional pork, cabbage and rice. Then, save the leftovers to make quesadillas, pulled pork tacos or sandwiches or even add it to a quiche for a to-die-for brunch dish. Add meat from this yummy Kalua pig recipe to a stir-fry or make a quick pork fried rice.
You could also chop it and bake it into biscuits with a little grated cheddar. Additionally, Kalua Pork would be a scrumptious addition to bean or potato soups. It’s amazing added to broccoli and pasta in a creamy casserole, too. Use this juicy, tender meat to top baked potatoes or in a breakfast hash. Anywhere smoky, salty and delicious are called for, this slow cooker Kalua pork will be a hit. You’re gonna love it!
Succulent and tender morsels of salty smoky pork that lend themselves to dozens of scrumptious main dishes. This Kalua pork recipe only uses 5 ingredients and is simply cooked in your slow cooker. It’s perfect for batch or freezer cooking and will become a fast favorite in your kitchen.
- 2.5 to 3 lb. pork loin roast
- 1 Tablespoon Hawaiian sea salt (fine grind)
- 1 Tablespoon liquid smoke (I use hickory.)
- 1/2 cup freshly brewed green tea
- 1 head green cabbage, coarsely chopped
- Brew a cup of strong green tea by pouring 1/2 cup boiling water over 1 green tea bag and allowing it to steep for 4 minutes.
- Next, use a sharp knife to repeatedly pierce an inch or so into the meat. Do this on both sides of the pork loin and make multiple pokes in each side. This is going to allow the flavor to work its way through the entire roast.
- Next rub the red Hawaiian sea salt over the surface of the entire loin, top, bottom and sides. Press firmly and allow the salt to rub down into the slits you cut in the meat, too.
- Pour the green tea and liquid smoke into your slow cooker.
- Add the prepared pork loin to the slow cooker.
- Cover and cook on low for 3 to 3 1/2 hours. You want the pork to be cooked through and fork tender. You should be able to easily break it apart with a fork.
- When the roast is tender, add coarsely chopped cabbage to the top of the slow cooker. Replace the cover and cook an additional 20 minutes, until the cabbage is tender.
- Serve the pork and cabbage with rice. Use drippings from the slow cooker as a drizzle over everything.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 4 hours
- Category: Main Dish, Meat, Pork
- Method: Slow Cooker
- Cuisine: Hawaiian/American