Slow Cooker Kalua Pork with Bacon and Cabbage Recipe
Make your own Hawaiian luau favorite at home in a slow cooker. This slow cooker kalua pork recipe is free of the top 8 allergen, gluten free, paleo friendly, and can feed a crowd! If you aren’t cooking for a crowd, you can easily freeze half of the kalua pork and add fresh cabbage later.
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What is Kalua Pork?
Before you decide to make a slow cooker kalua pork, it’s fun to know how it’s usually made to appreciate the simplicity of this recipe. Jimmy and I honeymooned in Hawaii and when we visited Kauai, we wanted to experience a luau at Smith’s Garden Luau. We enjoyed a tram tour of their lush tropical gardens, an imu ceremony, a luau feast, and hula show at Smith’s Garden Luau. The imu ceremony was fascinating to watch them ceremoniously take a roast pig out of the imu to feed hundreds of luau guests while explaining what is happening.
Kalua Pua’a or Kalua Pig is a whole pig that is roasted in a Hawaiian imu, an underground oven. A fire is built in a pit 6 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 3 feet deep, then lined with rocks to retain heat. The seasoned pig is wrapped with banana and/or ti leaves, covered with dirt and then roasted for hours. Kalua pig is such a favorite that one can enjoy a plate lunch of kalua pig, two scoops of rice and macaroni salad at almost any restaurant in Hawaii. It is so popular that our local Hawaiian supermarket flies in a shipment of freshly made kalua pig every Thursday.
Make a Little Bit of Kalua Pig At Home
Most people can’t dig a hole and cook an entire pig in an imu but Sam Choy popularized “Kalua Pork” a recipe for preparing pork butt kalua style in a home oven. One of my friends from Hawaii made a delicious kalua pork in the oven for a fundraiser event. I was so impressed by how effortless it was and he gave me some simple directions: pork, salt, liquid smoke, and bake in the oven for a long time. For years, I looked longingly at the little bottles of liquid smoke wondering what is it, how is it made, is it safe to eat in general (not even an allergy related question!) but never made kalua pork at home simply because I couldn’t give myself permission to use liquid smoke.
When I saw an adaptation of Michelle Tam’s Slow Cooker Kalua Pig recipe from her blog Nom Nom Paleo, in my January 2014 edition of Costco Connection, I was ecstatic: use BACON instead of liquid smoke, SO BRILLIANT! It’s a 3 ingredient recipe for yummy kalua pork: pork butt, bacon, and red Hawaiian salt. That’s it, but somehow I ended up buying 2 pieces of pork shoulder butt, which is what I usually buy to make pulled pork.
Allergy Aware Bacon and Salt:
I tested the recipe twice, once using allergy friendly Applegate Reduced Sodium Organic Sunday Bacon and the second time using Trader Joe’s Uncured Apple Smoked Bacon. Both are made in a top 8 allergen free facility and nitrate free. Both gave a very nice subtle smoky flavor to the pork. When my kids came home from school today, they were excited for dinner! The red Hawaiian sea salt has some trace minerals that impart subtle flavor but I couldn’t find any red sea salt with allergen information, so I just used sea salt that I have on hand.
Edit (4/14/16) to add that I’ve found that SaltWorks (www.seasalt.com) carries Alaea salt that really makes a difference in how the kalua pork tastes. One time I didn’t have enough Alaea salt, I used a little bit of their Yakima smoked salt and I was in love with the smokey flavor. I recently ordered some and scored a free shipping deal directly from SaltWorks but you could also compare their price on Amazon (affiliate link).
How big and how much? I have a huge 9 quart slow cooker and cooking about 5-6 pounds of meat is just about right. If your slow cooker is smaller, then you can use proportionately less meat (ex. 3 pounds of meat for a 5 qt slow cooker).
Almost done! The first time I made the dish, I used 6 slices of Applegate bacon (good) and the second time I trimmed off the fat and used an entire package (way better!). The cooked pork shoulder butt is very soft and tender, so I used a large perforated ladle or a skimmer and a slotted spoon to lift each piece of meat into two large bowls. I carefully discard the twine and any outer layers of fat and shred the meat with two forks.
Flavor not fat: Some of the liquid from the slow cooker is needed to moisten the meat but there is a huge layer of fat on top. I use a fat separator (affiliate link) to separate the fat and set aside about 3 cups of the flavorful pork juices. Drain the fat from the bowls of shredded meat back into the slow cooker and “rinse” with 1/2 cup of the reserved juices, and drain again. Add about 1/2 cup of reserved juices and adjust to taste depending on how moist and how salty you like your kalua pork
Serve your slow cooker kalua pork with two scoops of rice and a side of macaroni salad, seaweed salad, or sliced Persian cucumbers with a drizzle of rice vinegar (see my recipe for a sweet cucumber salad).
Make once, eat twice: Six pounds of meat is great for a party but way too much for us to eat at once so I cook half of the slow cooker kalua pork with one head of cabbage, which is more than enough for our family of 4 with enough leftovers for another meal. Then I freeze the other half of the slow cooker kalua pork for another day when I need a quick meal to heat and serve to eat as is with rice, over a wilted salad, in a kalua pig slider, with noodles, in musubi, etc..
This recipe, as written, is top 8 allergen free and gluten free.
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork with Bacon and Cabbage
- 5-6 pounds pork shoulder butt 2 pieces
- 1 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 package bacon Applegate or Trader Joe's applewood smoked
- 2 heads of cabbage washed and chopped into bite size pieces
If desired, trim off any excess fat from bacon.
Line half of the bacon at the bottom of slow cooker insert.
Pat dry meat with paper towels and rub in salt.
Set inside the slow cooker, fat side up and add the rest of the bacon on top.
Cook on low for 16 hours.
Carefully transfer meat from slow cooker into two large bowls, discard twine and excess fat, and shred with a fork.
Use a fat separator to separate the fat from the pork juices and reserve about 3 cups of the liquid and discard fat.
If desired, drain the excess fat from the bowls, "rinse" with 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid, and drain again.
Add about 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking juices into each bowl of meat and mix, adjusting the amount to desired amount of saltiness and moisture.
Heat up a large stock pot and sautee 1/2 of the cabbage in 1/2 cup of the reserved liquid (3-5 minutes).
Add 1/2 the meat and stir until heated through.
Repeat with the rest of the ingredients.
Try this slow cooker kalua pork recipe and let me know if it reminds you of being in Hawaii, enjoying a plate lunch at a sunny beach side diner.
Do you like Hawaiian style recipes? Check out my recipe for Spam Musubi, you could use kalua pig to make musubi as well and for dessert, you will want to make Better for You Butter Mochi.
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