My husband and I were both born and raised in Hawaii, and we grew up with so many unique foods and traditions. Hawaii is very rich in history and thrives to keep those traditions their Hawaiian ancestors used alive. A Hawaiian Imu is one of those traditions that have been passed down through Hawaiian families and is commonly seen at luau’s, barbecues, and almost any Hawaiian event. So what is an “Imu” (e-moo) you ask?
What is a Hawaiian Imu?
A Hawaiian Imu is an in-ground oven. Traditionally Hawaiian ancestors would cook their food in this underground steam cooker for group meals and festivities. Most commonly used to smoke an entire pig, what we call in Hawaii, “Kalua Pig”. So if you would like to better understand how this is done, or to learn how to do one yourself for your next BBQ! Just follow the steps below!
How to Cook Meat in a Hawaiian Imu
- Meat: Pig, Turkey, Fish, etc.
- Sea Salt or Rock Salt
- Shovel or Hole Digger
- Fire Starters
- Small & Medium Sticks
- Hard Fire Wood
- Rocks or Bricks
- Banana Leaves
- Banana Trunks or Corn Husks
- Burlap (enough to cover your entire slab of meat)
- Painter’s Canvas (enough to cover the entire hole you dig)
- Chicken Wire
- Wireless Thermometer
- Grill Gloves
Step 1-Dig your hole. This will need to be large enough to fit your meat, bricks, and coverings snuggly. Our hole was about 4ft x 4ft x 2ft deep, and we cooked 60lbs of pig, our hole was a little too big.
Step 2-Now add in your small sticks first then your medium sticks on top and start creating a nice pile to burn.
Step 3-Add your firewood on top and all around your stick pile. Reserve a few on the side to add later.
Step 4-Place some fire starters to the inside of the pile on all sides and light them. You will need this fire to burn for about 1-2 hours as a roaring bonfire. You can keep adding some firewood to maintain and keep it going strong.
Step 5-Now your firewood should be burned down to very hot coals with smaller flames still visible. Go ahead and add all of your rocks or bricks on top of the coals. This will heat your bricks until they are very hot, for about another hour.
Step 6-While your brick is heating, prep your meat. Lay out the chicken wire, cut to a size large enough to hold your meat. Place foil on top of that, then your meat. Scour the meat all over and press sea salt into the skin and inside the meat, on both sides. now insert your wireless thermometer probe. You can also get your burlap and wet it at this time so it is damp.
Step 7-By now your bricks should be extremely hot, go ahead and use a hole digger or shovel to spread them evenly on the bottom of your pit. Take out any large pieces of remaining firewood with a hold digger.
Step 8-Next add a layer of corn husks or cut up banana trunks over the hot bricks, you should see lots of steam and hear some sizzling. Then add a layer of banana leaves on top of that. This creates a barrier between the bricks and the meat so it does not burn, and also adds moisture so the meat doesn’t dry out when smoking.
Step 9-It’s time to place your chicken wire basket, with foil, and your meat on top of the banana leaves. Make sure your meat probe wire is accessible and not in the bricks, you will need to make sure not to bury it in the next few steps.
Step 10-Place a layer of banana leaves on top of your meat entirely.
Step 11-Place your damp burlap on top of the banana leaves and cover the entire thing. This keeps more moisture in the pit.
Step 12- Now cover the entire pit with your painter’s canvas. This serves as a barrier to keep dirt from getting into your meat. Make sure you still have that thermometer wire visible! It is also better if your Imu “mounds” and creates a little hill, our hole was a little big so ours looks flat here…
Step 13-Now bury the entire pit and cover any steam spots you see.
Step 14-Set your thermometer temperature goal, and wait for it to be done! Our half pig took about 5 1/2 hours.
Step 15-After your temperature has been reached. Start to unbury the meat layer by layer, and it will be hot so be careful!!! This is really fun to do in front of your guests, as they get to see the unveiling, so gather everyone around!
Step 16-Shred and enjoy! Many people we have found here in the states don’t understand how the meat was cooked without marinade or sauce, just tell them to try it, IT DOESNT NEED IT TRUST US!
Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of the meat after we shredded it because we all couldn’t wait to eat it!!!! But here is a cute baby who attended her first Hawaiian Party! Little Lizah <3
How to Cook Kalua Pig the Easy Way
I hope you enjoyed our little adventure into Hawaiian History, and feel a little more cultured today! Maybe you can now experience this some day at your next BBQ or lu’au. But if you find it too daunting, I have an easier way to recreate the taste of kalua pig below!
In Hawaii we often have kalua pork with steamed cabbage over white rice, OMG I am hungry now…This recipe is something my husband and I make when we want some Hawaiian food and don’t want the prep work you read above. You can apply this same principle to other meats, or omit the cabbage, and just do the meat, you can vary it how you see fit! But this kalua pork does come out pretty darn close to the kalua pork we cook in the Imu. And it is so easy and “ono” (delicious!).
Quick & Easy Kalua Pork & Cabbage
- Crock Pot
- Pork Butt
- 1 tbsp Sea Salt
- 1 tbsp Liquid Smoke
- Head of Cabbage
- White Rice
- Soy Sauce
Step 1-Take your pork butt and place it into the crock pot, rub with 1 tbsp sea salt on both sides then place fat side up.
Step 2-Take 1 tbsp of liquid smoke and rub on top of the butt. Turn on your crock pot on low for 7 hours.
Step 3-After it has reached the 7-hour mark, take out the butt and shred it, place it back into crock pot.
Step 4-Cut up your cabbage into bite size pieces and place on top of the shredded pork butt and cook on low for one more hour.
Step 5-Prepare your white rice as package requires.
Step 6-Mix your pork and cabbage in the crock pot. Place a scoop of rice on your plate and top with the kalua pork and cabbage! Season with soy sauce if desired! EAT!!
Super Easy Right? Please let me know in the comments if you end up trying either recipe and how you liked it! Or if you’re from or have visited Hawaii, I already know you love it, so just comment what your favorite Hawaiian recipe is so I can share that one sometime soon!!!
If you are new to our blog and want to know why we moved from Hawaii to South Carolina, you can read all about it here, Aloha Y’all.
Mahalo for reading!