Kalua Pork (Instant Pot or Slow Cooker)

By Ann Fulton

This easy, melt-in-your-mouth Kalua Pork recipe comes with Instant Pot and slow cooker options PLUS everything you wanted to know about electric pressure cookers!
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Everything you wanted to know about electric pressure cookers PLUS an easy, melt-in-your-mouth pork recipe that you’ll want to make again and again…with a slow cooker option, too! 


Given its sustained high ranking spot on gift lists and mail-order sites far and wide, chances are good that you or someone you know is the proud owner of a shiny, new Instant Pot – or may be in the weeks ahead.

For those who may not be familiar, the Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that also functions as aslow cooker, rice cooker, steamer, egg boiler and more. As the brand has soared in popularity, other manufacturers have entered the game with their own electric pressure cookers, which are favored for transforming tough cuts of meat into fork-tender morsels in a fraction of their usual cooking time.

I long resisted the urge to purchase one of these raved-about machines for several reasons. Notably, my kitchen cabinets are at capacity, and I already store an overflow of pots and small appliances in the basement.

I also like to cook with items that most of my readers have. But since use of this multifunctional cooker has become widespread and is still growing (and many recipes can be adapted for use with a slow cooker — or even the oven or stovetop), I decided to take the plunge.

Modern electric models cook much like traditional stovetop pressure cookers but with the added benefit of preset options that allow for less guesswork and more consistent results. Moreover, those who harbor frightening memories of lids exploding off the pressure cookers of yore should be reassured that more recent editions offer built-in safety features that make mishaps unlikely.

Like Crock Pot is to slow cooker and Kleenex is to tissue, the brand name Instant Pot has become synonymous with this new generation pressure cooker. Other brands typically refer to their machines as “multi-cookers” in recognition of the extra features that are now the norm. (For those interested in canning, note that while boiling water canning may be done in these appliances, pressure canning may not be.)

Everything you needed to know about electric pressure cookers

Since there are so many options available, I did some research and followed advice from cookbook author Melissa Clark and The Sweethome, a product review site owned by The New York Times Company, that put six electric pressure cookers through their paces.

In terms of performance, two Instant Pot models and the Breville Fast Slow Pro were determined to be on equal footing. As I was writing this column, a new model, the Instant Pot Smart WiFi became available for preorder on Amazon, retailing for $150. The company is calling it the “first multi-use programmable pressure cooker that can now be controlled and monitored with your mobile devices.” It will work with an app that includes 750 pre-programmed recipes. (Critics of the higher-tech model have mentioned the risks involved in running a pressure cooker unattended.)

Deciding when to pressure cook:

As the popularity of electric pressure cookers has soared, so too have recipes specifically designed for them. Many of these recipes are touted for cooking times of mere minutes. It’s worth noting, however, that pressure cookers can take 20 minutes, give or take, to come to pressure, and the designated cook time doesn’t actually begin until this happens. Consequently, you won’t save much time on recipes that can be prepared somewhat quickly on the stovetop or via another method.

A pressure cooker truly shines when it comes to cooking tough cuts of meat to tender perfection in record time. Similar to a slow cooker, however, it won’t crisp the skin on a chicken and the high-pressure environment isn’t ideal for many vegetables. In terms of best use, consider dishes where extended cooking times are the norm and soft and succulent are preferred to crisp and crunchy.

Beyond the classic roast, fans praise a pressure cooker’s ability to hard boil eggs that peel effortlessly (the pressure inflates the air pocket between the white and the shell) and cook polenta and risotto with no stirring required. Reviews are mixed when it comes to cooking plain rice, but the yogurt-making feature has been widely acclaimed.

Also worth noting, many of the newer electric models have a 6-quart capacity, so recipes are often geared towards this size pot.

Now let’s cook some Kalua pork!

This easy, melt-in-your-mouth Kalua Pork recipe comes with Instant Pot and slow cooker options PLUS everything you wanted to know about electric pressure cookers!

The pictured salsa is an all pineapple variation of my recipe for Mango Pineapple Salsa. All kinds of tropical salsas pair well with Kalua pork.

This easy, melt-in-your-mouth Kalua Pork recipe comes with Instant Pot and slow cooker options PLUS everything you wanted to know about electric pressure cookers!

This plate includes the braised cabbage option included in the recipe card along with a roasted sweet potato salad. A wedge of cabbage can be enjoyed as an easy side or chopped and mixed throughout the shredded pork. Either way, the pan juices add exceptional flavor to the cabbage.


This easy, melt-in-your-mouth Kalua Pork recipe comes with Instant Pot and slow cooker options PLUS everything you wanted to know about electric pressure cookers!

Here I made hearty bowls with the pork, adding cooked rice, cumin lime coleslaw (which is an easy, incredibly versatile MUST if you haven’t tried!), and avocado. A family favorite for sure, guacamole can be used in place of the avocado.

As mentioned, some recipes work equally well in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, so the choice can be yours. Such is the case with the following Kalua pork recipe, which despite its short list of ingredients yields mouth-watering meat that can be used in a myriad of ways.

At first glance, this recipe might remind one of Kahlua, the liqueur often mixed with cream and served on the rocks. “Kalua,” however, has no “h” and is instead a traditional Hawaiian cooking method relying on hours of cooking over low heat in an underground oven.

The long process yields tasty dividends (which some may know as traditional luau fare), but it isn’t exactly practical to cook at home. Or maybe it is.

In this case, an Instant Pot or other pressure cooker can replicate eight to ten hours of cooking in less than two hours. For those who don’t own a pressure cooker, a slow cooker won’t complete the task as quickly, but it will produce equally juicy meat with similar hands-off appeal.

I’ve melded several recipes and instructions from my Instant Pot manual to produce the following recipe, which quickly rose to the ranks of family favorite. The dish has also become a top pick when preparing a meal for a friend or family member, as it can be prepared in advance, complements a wide range of side dishes and makes plenty to go around.


Other ways to enjoy the shredded Kalua pork:

  • In tacos or burritos
  • With a side of coleslaw
  • With roasted potatoes, regular or sweet
  • Topped with kimchi or fruity salsas like pineapple and mango
  • Alongside rice, macaroni salad and/or beans
  • As lettuce wraps
  • Like a barbecue sandwich or slider
  • As the protein in a salad

This easy, melt-in-your-mouth Kalua Pork recipe comes with Instant Pot and slow cooker options PLUS everything you wanted to know about electric pressure cookers!

Kalua Pig (Hawaiian-Style Pork) - Instant Pot, Slow Cooker & Oven options
Yield: approximately 8 servings 
The simply prepared but incredibly flavorful meat is traditionally served with braised cabbage, rice, grilled peppers and pineapple, but as you will see, the possibilities are endless.
  • 3 bacon slices*
  • 1 (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat**
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Alaea Red Hawaiian Coarse Sea Salt or other coarse salt (use ~1 tablespoon if substituting fine grain salt) and fresh black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup water
  • Optional: 1 cabbage, cored, and cut into 6 wedges

Drape the bacon in a single layer on the bottom of the Instant Pot. (Slow cooker and oven adjustments follow.) Press the “Sauté” button and in about a minute, the bacon will start to sizzle. Flip the slices as they start to brown, and then turn off the heat when the bacon is browned on both sides.

Meanwhile, cut the pork shoulder into 3 equal pieces. When the bacon is cooked, place the pork over the bacon slices, distributing the pieces of pork as evenly as possible. Add the garlic cloves and quartered onion. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the pork, and then grind the pepper mill liberally overtop. (I use about 1/2-3/4 teaspoon pepper). Pour in the water.

Next, cover and lock the lid. Select the “Manual” button and press the “+” button until you reach 90 minutes. (The cooker defaults to high pressure under the manual setting, so there’s no need to do anything else; but do make sure the vent is closed. Note that the digital readout will say “On” until the pot comes to pressure, at which point the timer will start counting down. Coming to pressure will take 20 minutes, give or take.)

When the pork is finished cooking, the Instant Pot will switch automatically to its “Keep Warm” mode. At this point you can select “Cancel” and allow the pressure to naturally release. This will take 15-20 minutes. Once the cooker is depressurized, check that the pork can be easily pulled apart with two forks. If the meat isn’t yet fall-apart tender (it likely will be), you can cook the pork under high pressure for another 5-10 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pork to a large bowl and shred it with two forks. Any fatty pieces will separate easily from the meat at this point and can be discarded. Taste the cooking liquid in the pot (careful – it’ll still be hot), and if needed adjust the seasoning with a little more salt or a bit of water. At this point, you can skim off the fat, if desired, and serve with the shredded meat.

Leftover pork can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and freezes well.

Easy side dish: Kalua pig is often served with braised cabbage. As an option, you can slice a head of green cabbage into 6 wedges and place them in the cooking liquid after the pork has been removed. Replace the lid of the Instant Pot, return it to pressure under the manual setting and cook the cabbage under high pressure for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on size of wedges and how tender you like your braised cabbage. (Four minutes doesn’t seem long but will yield very tender cabbage.) At the end of cooking time, activate the quick-release valve to release the pressure. Once the cabbage is cooked, mix it into the shredded pork or serve alongside.

Optional methods of preparation:
Slow cooker: Line the slow cooker with the raw bacon. If your slow cooker has a sauté option, you can brown it as in the pressure cooker recipe; otherwise it’s fine to skip this step. Prepare the pork as directed above and place in the slow cooker. Do not add any water. (You’ll still end up with a good amount of broth.) Cook on low heat for 8-10 hours, depending on the size and age of slow cooker. (Newer slow cookers are hotter than older ones and food will generally cook faster in larger models.) Remove the finished pork from the slow cooker. If wanting to serve with optional cabbage, coarsely chop the cabbage and add to the cooker, allowing it to cook while you cool and shred the pork.

Stovetop pressure cooker: Follow the Instant Pot directions, but cook on high heat until high pressure is reached. Then, reduce the heat to low to maintain high pressure for about 75 minutes.

Oven: I have not tried, but I have adapted other slow cooker recipes for the oven, using a Dutch oven or another heavy, tight-lidded pot and an oven temperature of 200°F for low heat and 300°F for high. (For this recipe, I’d add about 2 cups of water.) Another rule of thumb is to divide the amount of hours a recipe needs to cook on low in a slow cooker by 4 and cook for that many hours in an oven set to 325°F. For example, a dish that requires 8 hours on low in a slow cooker will take roughly 2 hours, covered, at 325°F. With any of the cooking methods, the goal is tender meat that can be pulled apart easily with two forks.


*Bacon adds a little extra flavor and a hint of smokiness, but you may omit it.

**A bone-in roast may be used, if preferred. In this case, cut out the piece with the bone first, and then cut the 2 other pieces to roughly match the first. Also, sometimes only smaller roasts are available, in which case I buy two, aiming for a total of about 5 pounds. Don’t fret if the weight is a little off; the cooking time should be reliable if you stay within a 4-6 pound range. Finally, I’m less concerned about trimming the extra fat from the roast when preparing in advance, as the fat that breaks down and cooks out of the meat will rise to the top of the brothy juices upon cooling.

Helpful Hints:
As a general rule of thumb, use ¾ to 1 teaspoon of coarse salt for every 1 pound of meat, choosing according to your preferred level of seasoning. (Using fine salt? For every 1 teaspoon coarse salt, I use ¾ teaspoon fine grain salt.)
This is a great meal to prep in advance. In this case, the fat in the liquid will rise to the top and solidify as it cools, making it easy to remove and discard before reheating.
If you’d like to crisp the meat, you can broil it as directed in my pork carnitas recipe. Leftover pork crisps well in an oiled skillet or can be gently warmed in the microwave with or without the flavorful juices.

How long does it take an Instant Pot to pressurize? It can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the quantity and temperature of the food in the pot you’ll see and hear steam coming out of the pressure release (steam release) handle and/or float valve.

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What is Alaea salt? Sometimes called Hawaiian salt, it’s an unrefined sea salt that has been mixed with the iron oxide-rich volcanic clay called ‘alaea’ that is responsible for the distinctive brick red color. Alaea is used in traditional Hawaiian dishes like kalua pig, poke and pipikaula (Hawaiian jerky). A friend of mine who grew up in Hawaii mentioned the salt was also traditionally used for blessings. Interestingly, a serving of alaea salt has approximately one-fifth less sodium chloride than an equivalent amount of table salt.

Though Alaea salt imparts good flavor, it can absolutely be replaced with a favorite smoked salt or good old kosher salt. For locals, coarse Alaea salt is available (and quite inexpensive) at Lancaster Central Market’s The Herb Shop.

Instant Pot Recipes that I want to try:

20 Minute Chicken Burrito Bowls from Damn Delicious

Chicken Cacciatore from SkinnyTaste

Instant Pot Tomato White Beans from Running to the Kitchen

Make-Ahead Detox Quinoa Breakfast Bowls from Detoxinista

Healthy Baked Beans from The Simple Veganista

Instant Pot tips: 

The Instant Pot Starter Guide for Me and You from 101 Cookbooks

Can you Make Slow Cooker Recipes in an Instant Pot? from Kitchen Stewardship



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  1. Terri Post author

    This explodes with flavor which was more than I bargained for given how simple it is. Leftovers can be enjoyed in tons of different ways. Will make again for sure.