At the heart of any Hawaiian luau is the cooking of the pig or ‘kalua pork’ and it is cooked underground in the traditional Hawaiian oven or ‘imu’. It requires a bit more work than throwing a side of pork in the oven you may have at home but the result is more scrumptious than preparing it in any other way. Here is how it is prepared:
First a large square pit is dug in the sand or soil which is perhaps four feet square and three or three and a half feet deep. In this empty hole is piled some wood (usually this is Kiawe which is similar to Mesquite found in the western United States) and it is set on fire. As it is burning large river stones are thrown into the pit and are super heated by the fire. At the point where there are just burning embers and hot rocks left in the bottom of the pit, juicy banana stalks are split and are spread to cover the cauldron of heat. Broad banana leaves are then placed over the stalks and are used to wrap the pig which is then placed upon the bed of stalks and leaves. In the old days many more leaves were placed upon the wrapped pig and then sand was used to cover the hole. Today it is more efficient to use a canvas tarp or similar to keep the sand from having contact with the fresh meat. The sand is then carefully used to cover any places where steam may be escaping and the pig is left to pressure cook in the imu for perhaps five or six hours. The juicy banana stalks turn to steam and fully steam cook the meat to the point where, when unearthed, the meat just falls from the bone.
This is a treat that should be enjoyed by all visitors to the islands and this traditional cooking method is used by all luaus in Hawaii.