Slow cooker kalua pork, also known as kalua pig, is a Hawaiian style recipe with only four ingredients: pork shoulder, bacon, garlic, and Hawaiian sea salt (more on that below). There’s minimal hands-on time, and the recipe yields plenty of leftovers, making this perfect for weekend meal prepping. We make this kalua pork recipe at least once per month, sometimes more. It’s great on its own or in tacos. You can also adapt the recipe to work with an Instant Pot. It’s easy and flavorful!
When I tell people how much I love kalua pork, I’m often met with a confused stare and a response along the lines of “you mean… like the drink?”
No, I’m not talking about pork that’s prepared with coffee liqueur. The word “kalua” literally translates to “pork baked underground,” and kalua pig is a traditional Hawaiian lu’au dish. Since I don’t think my homeowners association would appreciate me digging a hole in the backyard, I use my slow cooker.
I originally learned about the wonders of kalua pork several years ago from Nom Nom Paleo, and we now make it at least once per month because it’s just so dang easy. I’ve tweaked and experimented with the recipe over time. The meat is smokey from the alaea sea salt, savory and rich from the garlic and bacon… it’s just really really good.
What is Alaea Red Hawaiian Sea Salt?
Alaea Red Hawaiian Sea Salt is made from a combination of Hawaiian sea salt and red alaea volcanic clay. The clay gives the salt a distinctive reddish brown color an earthy, smokey flavor.
I strongly recommend that you don’t substitute the salt in this recipe. This is the brand I use, and the bag lasts for ages. You get a full pound of salt! There are plenty of other ways to use the salt, so you’re not limited to this recipe. For example, it can also be used on red meat, fish, and salads.
You’ll still get tasty slow cooker pulled pork if you use something like kosher salt or Himalayan salt, but it won’t have the smokey flavor that makes this recipe so distinctive.
Kalua Pork Recipe Notes
- You can use either bone-in or boneless pork shoulder. I prefer using bone-in shoulder because I think the bone adds richness.
- You can remove the fatty skin from the pork before cooking or leave it. I let it slow cook with the pork and then remove it at the end. If you remove it prior to cooking, you could possibly use it to make chicharrones.
- If you’re using a much larger or smaller cut of meat, you’ll need to adjust the salt quantity in the recipe. Go by this rule: 3/4 teaspoon of medium-coarse salt for every 1 pound of meat.
- Some slow cooker recipes go for a more traditional 8-10 hours on low. The first recipe I tried said 15-16 hours, and that’s what I’ve stuck with because it’s perfect. You can try 8-10 hours and see what happens. However, don’t try to take shortcuts with the “high” setting. This is a low and slow recipe.
- Don’t shred the meat in the cooking liquid or it will be too salty. Remove it to a cutting board first. You can also transfer it briefly to a colander set over a bowl to drain away some of the excess liquid. If the meat needs more seasoning after you shred it, drizzle some of the cooking liquid over it.
The only negative about this recipe is that it requires planning ahead, and I’m not always good at that. In those instances, I love breaking out my Instant Pot and converting this to a pressure cooker recipe. In my opinion, Instant Pot kalua pork isn’t quite as tender and juicy, but it’s close enough.
More Slow Cooker Recipes
- 4-5 slices good quality bacon (I like applewood smoked bacon)
- 4-5 pound pork shoulder, either bone-in or boneless
- 5-6 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 1/2 tablespoons alaea red Hawaiian coarse sea salt
- Line the bacon along the inside of your slow cooker.
- Use a knife to make incisions around the meat, and insert the garlic cloves.
Sprinkle the salt all over the pork, on all sides.
Place the meat in the slow cooker on top of the bacon, then set the time for 15-16 hours on low. (Note: I typically let this cook overnight.)
- When it's done, transfer the pork to a cutting board or a colander set over a bowl if you want to drain off some of the excess liquid before shedding. The meat will be VERY tender, so I recommend using a spatula underneath while gripping the meat from the side with tongs, or using two spatulas. Shred the meat with two forks.
Taste for seasoning. If it needs more salt, drizzle some of the liquid from the slow cooker over top. I also recommend mashing and stirring the garlic cloves into the meat as you see them.
- Serve! Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for several months.
You can remove the fatty skin from the pork prior to cooking or leave it there. I let it slow cook with the pork and then remove it at the end. It practically falls off. I don't notice much of a difference whether the pork is placed skin-side up or down in the slow cooker.
Don't shred the meat in the cooking liquid or it will be too salty. Remove it to a cutting board first.
Please read my post for additional notes.
Adapted from Nom Nom Paleo.
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