Nom Nom Paleo

Whole30 Day 11: Slow Cooker Kalua Pig

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Longtime readers know where to find us when we’re not in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ninety-eight percent of the year, Henry and I are crazily juggling a bazillion things at once, but when we need to decompress, we grab the kids and decamp to Hawaii — our home away from home.

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Once or twice a year, we herd the family on a plane to Kauai or Maui, stock up on supplies at a local Costco, and exhale to the sounds of slack-key and ukulele on the radio. Our next trip to Hawaii is just FIVE DAYS AWAY, and I CANNOT WAIT. I love everything about the islands: The people, the pace, the climate, the beaches, the sunsets, the food.

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But foremost among the Hawaiian dishes I crave? Kalua pig.

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That’s right: Slow-roasted porky goodness that’s traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground.

Often the headlining dish in a lu’au, kalua pig is the epitome of slow cooking. And I do mean slooow.

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To make kalua pig the old school way, you first have to dig an imu — a big underground pit oven — and build a fire in it. Into the imu goes a whole pig, stuffed with hot volcanic rocks and wrapped in ki and banana leaves. The pig (pua’a in Hawaiian) is usually enveloped by chicken wire, too, so that once the pork is cooked and ready for removal, the fall-apart-tender meat stays together. The pua’a is then covered by burlap, a tarp, and a mound of dirt, and 8 to 10 hours of slow roasting (and some shoveling) later, dinner is served! 

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Seriously: If you’re feeling ambitious and looking to make the real deal, the instructions are right here.

But hey: It’s the weekend, and you’re tired. Besides, your local fire marshall is probably not cool with you excavating part of your backyard so you can bury-slash-cook a pig in it. 

So I’ve got a better idea: Make kalua pig in a slow cooker

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This is one of my all-time favorite recipes. It’s a super-simple way to recreate this Hawaiian classic, and the slow cooker helps retain all the juices of the meat, producing a roast pork that’s ridiculously tender and flavorful. If you don’t have Whole30 approved bacon, you can replicate the smoky flavor with a teaspoon or two of smoked paprika rubbed over the surface of the pork. Bacon does make it better, though.

The shredded meat is fantastic when served as-is, but it also makes for an incredibly versatile filling. Plus, Kalua Pig freezes well so you can break it out when you need it. Entertaining visitors for brunch? Make porky breakfast scrambles or omelets. Hosting a Mexican fiesta? Fill crisp lettuce tacos with savory kalua pig and top it with homemade guacamole and tomatoes. (Call it carnitas, and your guests won’t be the wiser.)

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And on those busy nights when you’re desperately in need of emergency protein (and wishing you were magically whisked away to Hawaii), just grab your leftover pork and throw it on a summer salad or wrap it in toasted sheets of nori. Dinner’ll on the table in no time.

How do you like to eat your Kalua Pig? Share in the comments!


Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPad® app, and in my cookbook, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel, December 2013)!