Kalua literally means “to cook in an underground oven,” but here’s an above-ground way to cook the classic Island luau dish of pit-smoked pork — and serve it as an overstuffed sandwich topped with an Asian slaw. Unlike traditional barbecue with its rubs and sauces, kalua pork is relatively unseasoned, all the better to enjoy the flavor of the meat. Recipe courtesy of Flavors of Aloha: Cooking with Tommy Bahama.
Most butchers sell boneless pork shoulder roasts. If necessary, purchase a whole pork shoulder with bones, weighing about 10 pounds, and ask the butcher to bone it and separate the meat into two roasts. Kiawe is plentiful on the Islands, and is the most common wood used for outdoor cooking. If you use kiawe wood chips instead of chunks, soak 2 large handfuls in hot water for 30 minutes before using. Do not soak the chunks. Not all gas grill configurations will accommodate large wood chunks, so in that case, use the easily purchased and smaller mesquite chips (every hardware store carries them). Ti leaves are used in Hawaii to wrap the pork, but they aren’t easy to find on the mainland. Banana leaves make a good substitute.
- 2 boneless pork shoulder roasts, skin and butcher twine removed (about 3 pounds each)
- 5 Teaspoons kosher salt
- 1½ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 thawed frozen banana leaf, cut into 2 pieces, each about 16 inches square
- 12 soft sandwich rolls, split
- Guava barbecue glaze
- Asian slaw with ginger dressing
- 2 chunks kiawe or mesquite wood or 2 large handfuls kiawe wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes and drained
Season the pork all over with the salt and pepper. Wrap each roast in a banana leaf piece and overwrap with heavy-duty aluminum foil to make 2 large packets. Crimp the foil tightly at the sides so the juices won’t run out of the packet during cooking. Tear open the top of the foil to expose the leaf. Let stand at room temperature while preparing the grill.
Prepare an outdoor grill for indirect cooking with low heat. For a charcoal grill, let the coals burn until covered with white ash. Mound the coals on one side of the grill and let them burn until you can hold your hand about 1 inch above the grill grate for about 4 seconds (300 degrees F). Place a wood chunk on the coals. For a gas grill, preheat the grill on high. Turn one burner off and adjust the heat on the other burner to 300 degrees F. Place a wood chunk (or a handful of drained wood chips) in the grill smoker box or on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil placed directly on the heat source (you may have to remove the grill grate). Let the wood burn until it smokes.
Place the wrapped pork on the cool side of the grill. Close the grill and cook for 45 minutes.
Add another chunk of wood (or the remaining chips) to the grill (and 12 briquettes to the coals of a charcoal grill) and cook until the pork is very tender and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reads 190 degrees F, about 3 hours 15 minutes more.
For a charcoal grill, add 12 briquettes to the coals about every 45 minutes to maintain the heat. You may need to leave the lid ajar for a few minutes to allow enough oxygen into the grill for the briquettes to begin to turn gray around the edges.
Transfer the wrapped pork to a platter. Open the foil completely and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.
Carefully discard the foil and leaves (the juices will be hot). Transfer the pork to a carving board. Using two forks, pull the pork into shreds. Transfer the pork to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
Divide the pork among the buns, drizzle with the glaze, and top with a spoonful of slaw. Serve immediately.