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Kalua Pork with Cabbage is a Hawaiian dish often served at Luaus. This version is made in the slow cooker and tastes just like authentic shredded Kalua Pig.
What is Kalua Pork?
If you have been to Hawaii or a luau, chances are you have had shredded Kalua Pork with Cabbage. This is one of my VERY favorite Hawaiian dishes because it is just so juicy and flavorful. In Hawaiian, the word “kalua” means “to cook in an underground oven” or imu. Traditional Kaula pork butt is seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt and wrapped in ti leaves, banana leaves or coconut palm fronds. It’s then buried underground to cook with a special kindling that gives the meat a smoky flavor. It’s delicious and tender, yet time consuming and kind of complicated to cook it this way.
Kalua Pork in the Crockpot
This Kalua pork recipe tastes so much like the actual, authentic Hawaiian Kalua pork but can be done with MUCH less effort. You literally throw it in the slow cooker and let it do its thing all day. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the true “imu” method, but I can’t pass up the ease of the Crockpot when I am just making Hawaiian pulled pork for my family. If you want to smoke it in an underground pit to get the “true” experience I won’t stop you! But with this recipe, you’ll get the same fork tender pork and the great taste with a fraction of the effort.
Alternative Cooking Methods
If you want to speed things up, you can actually make this Hawaiian pulled pork in an Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker. Just follow the directions as indicated in this recipe but instead of putting it in a Crockpot, put it all (including the cabbage) in the Instant Pot. Set the Instant Pot for high pressure for one hour and allow to slow release pressure on it’s own for about 30 minutes. Once it is done, just shred and serve. SUPER easy.
My favorite way of serving this Kalua Pork with Cabbage is with a “plate lunch”. A plate lunch usually consists of a protein or two (such as Kalua pork, teriyaki chicken, teriyaki beef, or even spam), rice, Hawaiian macaroni salad and a side of fresh pineapple. Getting a bite with each of these things all at one time is seriously roll-your-eyes-back delicious. Savor each bite and eat it slowly. People often ask me what my very favorite food is, and I can honestly say it just might be a Hawaiian plate lunch. It is THAT good.
Of course you can serve this all on its own or you can add BBQ sauce and make Kalua Pork Sandwiches, sliders or Kalua Pork Tacos. We also love just making simple shredded pork quesadillas or nachos and dipping them in teriyaki sauce (my kids’ favorite way). You will love any way to decide to serve this pork!
More Hawaiian Flavor
Having a Luau or just in the mood for more delicious, authentic Hawaiian food? You have got to try these:
Crockpot Hawaiian Kalua Pork with Cabbage
- 3-4 pound pork roast
- 1-2 Tablespoon Kosher salt
- 1/3 cup liquid smoke
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 head cabbage coarsely chopped
- Place in Crock Pot or Slow Cooker. Rub pork generously with salt and pour on liquid smoke.
- Add water. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
- An hour before serving, carefully lift pork out of the slow cooker (do not drain out juices) and place cabbage in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place pork on top of the cabbage, place lid back on, and cook for another hour.
- Shred pork and serve.
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My family went to Hawaii last summer, so I’ve been searching frantically for Samoan/Hawaiian recipes. This one definitely makes the “save” list!
Which flavour of liquid smoke do you use?
We usually use hickory!
So good!! We just got back from Hawaii and I was *desperate* for some good Kalua pork. This recipe is a hit!!
I’ve tried tons of Kalua pork recipes….from putting it in a smoker to even going so far as wrapping in banana leave for that authentic flavor. This is by far the best recipe! After reading all the comments and adjusted recipe comments i followed 2 of recommendations; I added pineapple juice for a little sweetness, 3 slices of smoked bacon and kaula pink salt.
Just a question, instead of 1-cup water can i use pineapple juice instead? Anyone try that before?
Pineapple juice contains bromelain which is an enzyme that breaks down protein. This enzyme would dissolve the meat into mush if you slow cooked in it. You could always reduce the pineapple juice on the stove and incorporate it into a sauce that you serve on the side.
I love Hawaii so much, and this is my first time making this! I poured the liquid smoke over the pork before the crock pot, do i pour some/the rest of the liquid smoke in to the crock pot or just the put the pork in and add water?
Just add the water once the pork is in the crock pot!
What brand of liquid smoke did you use? I am trying to pick out a recipe to try, and yours seems to use 5 times as much liquid smoke (1/3 cup vs 1 Table spoon) as many others.
We usually use the Colgin brand!
So glad i found this recipe. I have been craving this since i got back from Hawaii. I’m wondering if throwing in bacon would work if there’s no liquid smoke on hand?
I mean, I never say no to adding bacon! I haven’t tried it before so I don’t know if it substitutes well for liquid smoke but it sounds delicious!
I used smoked paprika. About 2 tablespoons and it gave it that smoky flavor.
This was a great recipe for sliders on New Years!
The family loved it. I varied a little off the recipe by adding the cabbage and an onion halved in with the pork during the last hour of cooking, and it all worked well together. I think I might throw in some pineapple and a little less water the next time I cook it to make it a little sweet.
Can I cut the time in half if I cook it on high?
I wouldn’t recommend that way because the meat won’t be as tender and flavorful if you cook it at a higher temperature.
Can I replace the pork with chicken thighs?
We haven’t tried it that way before – but I don’t see why not! Let us know how it turns out if you do try it!
Thanks for this post! I really liked the extra smokiness of this kalua pork recipe. I used a 7 pound pork butt, 2T kosher salt, and 1/3c hickory liquid smoke, probably could decrease liquid to 1/2c next time. 10 hours on low in my crockpot was more then enough. Before putting in 1 full head chopped cabbage, I drained the liquid, skimmed off the fat, returned 1 c of liquid to pot, sprinkled cabbage with a little salt & crushed chili pepper. I reserved the rest of the juices to moisten the pork as needed. Delish!
Hi Luann- So happy to hear you liked this recipe! Thanks for all your wonderful suggestions, too! Glad it turned out so well for you!
i dont have kosher salt right now, can I use just table salt for this?
Yes, that should be totally fine 🙂
Best if you can find Hawaiian salt – usually rust colored, sometimes black, because it is sea salt dried on lava rocks. Those rocks impart a slight flavor to the salt, and is usually less “salty” tasting. It’s ubiquitous in stores throughout my state, but rare to come by on the mainland. I’ve seen it at Whole Foods, and sometimes specialty stores, when I visit, though.. It’s easy to find online.
Hawaiian sea salt is usually white in color. If you’re getting it rusty colored or black, it’s usually salt from one of the specific islands. Never tried (or even seen) black Hawaiian salt, but I have the rusty color from Kauai and it’s not as salty as traditional Hawaiian sea salt.
Will it still cook right if I don’t use the cabbage? I grew up in Hawaii and always separated the cabbage from the pork so now that I’m an adult, I think I’ll just leave it out. Haha
Yes, it will be totally fine without the cabbage 🙂 You can just completely leave it out without any issues.
I’m Hawaiian, and Interestingly, cabbage is a relatively new addition – 90s/2000s. Cabbage was never added to it when I was growing up and going to Luas/lunches/dinners, etc. Traditional plate lunch shops don’t usually add it, either. I think it’s a modern, mainland style addition used as filler (Hawaiians didn’t have cabbage, or knew what it was). Family, friends, and I don’t like cabbage in it, and have always made it without.
I grew up in hawaii. Now I’m 67 so I do go back a way. My mom cooked Kalua pork and cabbage. It was a staple in our home just like Spam. In fact, I’m make Kalua pork and cabbage tonight for dinner. enjoy
Nice recipe, served it with mac salad and rice! Quick question, do you flip the meat over once its halfway done cooking, or do you leave it on the same side the whole time? Thanks
We leave it on the same side the entire time. Hope this helps!
My son got married to a girl who grew up in the Honolulu area so we all went to Hawaii for the wedding. This dish was one of my favorites. I tried you simple and delicious recipe this week and loved it so much I am making it for the family party in Pennsylvania in a few weeks! My Hawaiian daughter-in-law in London is sad that she cannot attend!
So glad you liked this recipe! We are huge fans of Hawaiian food, that being said we are SUPER picky about it and we try to make sure it’s as authentic and delicious as possible 🙂 Good luck with the family party!
Does this make a full crockpot? I’m serving a crowd, so should I double this?
Thanks for asking, Kiki. After the pork is cooked and shredded, it makes about 1/2 Crock Pot which serves approximately 8-10 people depending on serving size. For a crowd, I would definitely double this recipe and use either two 3-4 lb. pork roasts or a 6-8 lb. roast.
General rule is 1/2 pound of pork per adult.
What cut of pork roast do you recommend for this Kalua Pork Recipe?
You can use butt, shoulder or loin, we have even used pork ribs (not a roast but still a good cut of pork to use). Hope this helps!
I use pork butt, or loin…I miss Hawaii so whenever I can make this, I do it, plus it’s super easy in the crock pot.
Pork shoulder, with or without bone, also known as “pork butt roast”, even though it comes from the shoulder. Best if cut into 2″ squares before cooking.
Yummy! Sounds good. I have heard & seen many recipes for Kalua Pork but not with cabbage. This is something I’ll have to try.
Sounds great Kalua pork with cabbage is my favorite way to eat this dish. I live in Hawaii!