Pulled pork. Is there any carnivore whose heart wouldn’t skip a beat? And, Hawaii? In the dead of the winter? Can it get any better? Yes, it can. You can make it right at home, in your run-of-the-mill slow cooker.
If you’ve ever been to a luau, you are no doubt well familiar with kalua pig. It’s a main attraction of the show. An actual kalua, however, requires imu – an underground oven. Since very few of us are likely to dig a 6 feet long and 3 feet deep pit in our backyard, let’s do the next best thing – cook the closest possible dish in a slow cooker. Fair warning: if you have a dog, make sure you control him at all times when the smell starts permeating the premises. The same can be said for your neighbors.
You need 4-5 pound boneless pork shoulder, banana leaves (sold in frozen goods section of Asian supermarkets), 2-3 cloves of garlic (optional), apple cider vinegar (optional), liquid smoke and 3-4 tsp sea salt. If you can’t find banana leaves (or don’t want to bother), spinach leaves will do as well; you just will have to spend 3 minutes more to plaster the meat with them. If you don’t have any liquid smoke, get a bottle; this is not the last dish we are going to use it for, I promise:
Take a few pieces of the banana leaves out of a package and leave them to thaw; evaluate how much you need to wrap the meat. They take just about 5-7 minutes to thaw. Put the rest back in a freezer. The package is flat, doesn’t take much room and will wait patiently till the next time you make a kalua pig. Peel the garlic and cut it in slivers about this size:
Cut deep slits in the meat with thin knife and push garlic slivers in. Dilute 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar in a half cup of water and inject it in the meat all over. Both of these steps are optional; I like to do them but if you are in a hurry or feel particularly lazy, skip them. The difference in the end product will be noticeable only for those who tried both versions.
Now line your cooker’s pot with banana leaves, leaving a piece aside to cover the top later, like so:
Sprinkle the bottom with some liquid smoke and 1/3 of sea salt. Place your meat in. Sprinkle it with liquid smoke from the top and sides and sprinkle the rest of the salt on. You don’t need much of liquid smoke; just moisten the surface with a few drops and rub it over.
Now start wrapping the sides with banana leaves:
…and cover the top with the pieces you set aside earlier:
That’s it. Cover and set your slow cooker on Low for 16 hours. The heavenly smell starts emanating about a couple hours in. Hopefully you fall asleep by that moment so that aroma starts tormenting you only in the morning. If your slow cooker has max setting for 12 hours as mine does, just reset it for 4 more hours when the time comes. You can also leave it for an hour on Warm setting if needed. This is how it will look unwrapped:
Now take out the banana leaves from under the meat and discard them. The next step must be done after you take the meat off the heat, before it cools off. Take the meat out, get two forks and start pulling it apart:
It shreds rather easily. If you decide you are going to make this dish regularly, you may want to get this convenient inexpensive tool called bear paws (it’s useful for more than shredding pork):
You can use some of the remaining liquid to moisten up the meat. The rest can be discarded or thickened to make gravy.
Leftovers keep very well in the fridge.
Enjoy your own luau dish. Adorn your guests with leis to welcome them to your own island. Aloha!
Hawaiian Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker
Time: prep 15 min, cook 16 hours. Servings: 12-15 Download PDF
- Pork Shoulder – 4-5 pounds
- Banana leaves – 2 pieces (bought frozen; can be replaced with spinach leaves)
- Garlic cloves – 2-3 (optional)
- Apple cider vinegar – 2 Tbsp (optional)
- Sea salt – 2-3 tsp
- Liquid smoke
1. Take banana leaves out of the freezer to thaw while you prepare the rest
2. Peel the garlic and cut it in slivers
3. Make deep slits in the meat and put garlic in (optional)
4. Inject the meat with apple cider vinegar diluted in ½ cup of water (optional)
5. Line the pot with banana leaves
6. Sprinkle banana leaves with a few drops of liquid smoke and 1/3 of salt
7. Put the meat in and sprinkle it with a few drops of liquid smoke and the rest of the salt
8. Wrap the meat with banana leaves
9. Set the slow cooker on Low for 16 hours
10. When ready, unwrap the meat and discard banana leaves;
11. Take the meat out, shred it with forks and moisten with some of the liquid.