Easy 4-ingredient, Hawaiian Slow Cooker Kalua Pork and Cabbage tastes just as delicious without cooking it in the ground! You don’t need a whole pig either!
Kalua Pork is always my family’s go-to recipe for easy and inexpensive entertaining. More specifically, it’s great for mixed plates, or for potlucks, or luaus. Since it only requires 4 ingredients and cooks in the slow cooker, it comes together quickly! Plus, pork is a great protein to feed a crowd on a budget.
Translated, Kalua literally means “to cook in an underground oven”. Traditional Hawaiian Kalua pork is made by cooking a whole pig in an underground pit oven called an Imu. Although, no underground oven or whole pig needed for this recipe! Instead, we’ll use pork butt (or pork shoulder) and a slow cooker.
When cooked in an Imu, Kalua Pork get’s its characteristic flavor from smoked hardwood and banana leaves wrapped around the meat. To mimic this cooking flavor, we’ll use liquid smoke and cabbage leaves!
This is such a great summer recipe because it cooks in one pot, and you don’t have to heat up the whole house. Although, it’s absolutely delicious any time of the year too!
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork and Cabbage Equipment
When I was single, I bought a 6 quart Hamilton Beach slow cooker that I’ve had for years! Whether you are single, or if you have a large family, I recommend buying a larger slow cooker because you can meal prep and freeze larger portions of food. It’s such a time saver to cook ahead and freeze for later use.
TIP: The only other equipment you might need are these slow cooker liners from Reynolds. They are not necessary, but they are a game-changer for fast, easy clean-up.
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork and Cabbage Ingredients
To make this slow cooker Kalua pork and cabbage, you will need:
- Pork Shoulder
- Rock Salt
- Liquid Smoke
That’s it! Only 4 ingredients! Even though the ingredient list is short, I think you’ll be surprised how flavorful this meat is. It’s definitely simple, but it allows the pure flavors to shine through!
The Best Cut of Pork
In lieu of butchering and eating a whole pig, opt for using a pork roast. When shopping for your pork roast, the best cut of pork to use is a pork shoulder, and you may also see it labelled as:
- Shoulder Butt
- Pork Butt
- Picnic Roast
- Boston Butt
- Blade Roast
Pork roasts with the bone-in or the fat-cap on also work well in this recipe because both provide great flavor and help keep the meat juicy while cooking. It can make the shredding process slightly more time consuming because you’ll want to remove any (or some) of the unrendered fat, and you’ll need to remove the meat from the bone.
TIP: Watch for pork roasts to go on sale at your grocery store. When they are on sale, buy extra and freeze for future use. By doing this, you can save a lot of money!
Getting Smoky and Salty
Because we are not cooking the pork with wood planks in the ground, we’ll be adding liquid smoke to the pork before it cooks. At the grocery store, liquid smoke can be found next to the salad dressings, vinegars, or Worcestershire sauces.
There are many different brands and flavors of liquid smoke available. My favorites to use are Colgin Mesquite Liquid Smoke or Colgin Natural Hickory Liquid Smoke. Of the two, I lean more towards the mesquite flavor.
Please do not skip adding this ingredient! It makes such a difference in the final out come of the dish.
For this slow cooker Kalua pork and cabbage, salt is also a critical ingredient! Specifically, rock salt, or coarse sea salt, is a must!
TIP: Do not substitute table salt equally for the rock salt. If you do, the Kalua pork will be way too salty. In a pinch, use about 1/2 tbsp (or 2 tsp) of table salt. After the pork has finished cooking, feel free to add table salt, to taste.
For more authentic seasoning, use red or black Hawaiian Sea Salt. However, if you can’t find this kind of salt, I recommend using Himalayan Crystal Pink Sea Salt Rocks or Redmond Real Salt Coarse Sea Salt.
Wrap it Up: Banana or Cabbage
If you have access to banana leaves, using them in this recipe will give the pork a slightly sweet and delicious flavor. Most Hawaiian-style Kalua pork recipes will use banana leaves.
However, if you’re like me and don’t have them nearby, use about 6-8 cabbage leaves (or about 1/2 a head of cabbage) instead. Wrapping the pork in cabbage leaves helps intensify the flavor of the pork. Obviously, I really love the flavor it provides. Although, if you don’t like cabbage, leave it out.
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork and Cabbage Preparation
The preparation for this slow cooker Kalua Pork and cabbage recipe couldn’t be easier! It’s the quintessential example of a slow cooker dump meal.
Next, rub the rock salt and liquid smoke all over the pork. I like to add the liquid smoke before the salt. This prevents the salt from washing off the pork, and it helps the salt stick to the pork.
Wrap the the pork with the leaves, and add the wrapped pork to the slow cooker. Alternatively, if your cabbage leaves are small, nestle the pork in bed of cabbage leaves, and add more leaves on top of the pork.
Then, cover the slow cooker with the lid. Cook on low for 8-10 hours until pork is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.
TIP: Just like baking in an oven, avoid opening the slow cooker lid too often. When the lid is removed from the slow cooker, much of the heat is released. Then, the slow cooker takes longer to come back up to temperature.
After cooking, remove pork onto a cutting board. With two forks, shred the pork into bite-sized chunks. As you shred, keep the chunks larger for better texture. After shredding the pork, add pork back to cooking liquid to rehydrate the pork.
When ready to eat, add additional table salt to taste! Serve with white sticky rice and/or Hawaiian-style macaroni salad. Or serve with your favorite barbecue sauce and make sliders with Hawaiian rolls.
Want More Slow Cooker Pork Recipes?
This Slow Cooker Kalua Pork and Cabbage is absolutely delicious, and I hope you give it a try! If you do, please leave me a comment with a rating, and let me know how it went.
If you want more budget friendly, slow cooker, pork roast recipes, try my Easy Pork Carnitas Tacos recipe, or my tried and true Slow Cooker Barbecue Pulled Pork recipe! Both are absolutely delicious and great for entertaining lots of people.
If you want to keep with the Hawaiian theme, try my recipe for SPAM Musubi Rolls. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss out on the next few weeks’ recipes to make a full Hawaiian Mixed Plate!
Slow Cooker Kalua Pork and Cabbage
- 4-6 lbs Pork Shoulder or Pork Butt
- 1 Tbsp Rock Salt*
- 2 Tbsp Liquid Smoke
- 6-8 Leaves Cabbage or Banana
- Spray the inside of a 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray, or line slow cooker with a protective liner.
- Rub the rock salt and liquid smoke all over the pork.
- Wrap the the pork with the leaves, and add the wrapped pork to the slow cooker.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours until pork is tender and can be easily shredded with a fork.
- Remove pork onto a cutting board, and with two forks, shred the pork into bite-sized chunks. After shredding pork, add pork back to cooking liquid.
- Add additional table salt to taste, and serve!