Kalua Pork Is The Juicy Hawaiian Meat That's Perfect For Sandwiches

Kalua pork is a classic Hawaiian dish that's been served at luaus and other celebrations across the islands for generations, especially in the Polynesian culture. Its name derives from how it is made: Kalua translates as, "to cook in an underground oven" from the Hawaiian language. The most immediately distinctive feature of this delicacy is that it's usually a whole pig that is slow-roasted in an underground oven called an imu, which is made out of wood and stones.

The result is smoky, tender meat that's typically shredded and served with steamed white rice and Hawaiian macaroni salad. Sometimes you might also be served kalua pork with freshly sliced pineapple, other fruits, braised cabbage, or salad, at a birthday or graduation celebration. We think eating it the traditional way is delicious, but another way to serve any leftover kalua pork is to make a delicious sandwich with coleslaw.

How kalua pork is cooked

Before we explain why, and how, kalua pork should be served on sandwiches, let's look at how it's made. The traditional method, which is still practiced today by Hawaiian locals and restaurants, is to dig an underground imu oven. The whole pig is typically wrapped in ti plant leaves, banana leaves, or wet burlap sacks to protect the meat and preserve the moisture. The only other ingredient, other than the pig, is Hawaiian sea salt. It's then roasted for seven to eight hours, dug up, shredded, and served.

Of course, not everyone can have an imu in their backyard, so modern-day workarounds include using your oven at a low temperature, or even better, a slow cooker. For this method, you use either pork butt or pork shoulder instead of a whole pig — for obvious reasons. It's seasoned with salt and liquid smoke to make up for the lack of real smoke flavors from the traditional method. It's still cooked for up to 10 hours, depending on the recipe. Some variations also add soy sauce, other seasonings like garlic salt, or a barbecue sauce with Asian-inspired flavors.

Using kalua pork on sandwiches

As we said, using kalua pork on a sandwich is a delicious way to enjoy this slow-roasted pork, similar to a barbecue chicken or pork sandwich, especially if you have leftovers. For the bread, King's Hawaiian buns are the way to go, because the sweet bread pairs well with the smoky, roasted pork. A potato bun is also a good alternative, or you can make sliders. You don't need any sauce with this pork because it'll be moist and delicious on its own. But if you can't forgo condiments, spicy mustard or creamy mayonnaise both complement the other flavors of the dish.

Coleslaw is a delicious option to add crunchy creaminess to the sandwich and give it more texture. Any coleslaw recipe works, or you can go with a tub of store-bought slaw if you need to save time. If you want to make homemade coleslaw, we recommend using purple cabbage, and thinly sliced onions and carrots. If you prefer an acidic slaw, use sesame oil and vinegar as the dressing. And if you like it creamy, use mayonnaise in your slaw. You can also throw in crushed pineapple for a more authentic Hawaiian flavor, or kimchi for added umami in every bite.