kalua pork carnitas

Sarah Pacheco
April 22, 2021

Cultures communicate through food and the shared language of a good meal.

No place is this custom experienced more, perhaps, than Hawaii, where the mixed plate and fusion cuisine reign supreme.

Taking a page from that local-style cookbook is this recipe for kalua pork carnitas.

close-up of a plated kalua pork carnita topped with avocado purple cabbage and bright-yellow mango salsa

The preparation of the pork filling in traditional carnitas (literally “little meats” in Spanish) involves a low-and-slow roasting method similar to the cooking process used when making kalua pig.

Rather than using a blend of spices, this recipe calls for minimal seasoning of only salt and smoke, which allows the flavor of the meat to be the star.

If you have an Instant Pot, you can cook the pork by following the instructions in our instant pot kalua turkey recipe, with these adjustments:

  • Use a 4-pound boneless pork shoulder instead of a turkey.
  • Reduce amount of water to 1/2 cup.
  • Reduce amount of salt to 1 Tbsp.
  • Reduce amount of liquid smoke to 1 1/2 Tbsp.

Complement your carnitas with fresh avocado and cabbage. You can go for green cabbage, but the red variety adds a colorful contrast.

A homemade tropical and refreshing mango salsa (see recipe below) pulls in more island flavors while providing a bright sweetness to counter the salt and fat of the pork.

a plate of two freshly made kalua pork carnitas sits on a white marble counter surrounded by a big bowl of mango salsa, a platter of charred corn tortillas and tropical flowers



  • 4-5 lbs. boneless pork shoulder
  • 2 Tbsp. hickory-flavored natural liquid smoke
  • 2 Tbsp. red alaea salt or coarse sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp. avocado oil
  • Warmed corn tortillas
  • Mango salsa (see recipe below)
  • Sliced avocado (or try this recipe for power protein guacamole)
  • Thinly shredded red cabbage
  • Chopped green onion
  • Roughly chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. While oven comes to temp, heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Dab pork dry with paper towels then sear in the pot for about 3 minutes per side.

On a clean work surface, lay out a piece of foil large enough to wrap the pork shoulder. Place pork in the center of the foil. Use a knife to cut long, shallow slits about 1/4-inch deep all over the pork, then season with liquid smoke and salt. Make sure the pork is facing fat-side up, then wrap the pork tightly in the foil; place in a roasting pan with 2 cups of water.

Roast about 5 hours or until very tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

Unwrap foil and remove, so that only the pork and liquid remain in the pan. Shred meat with two forks while removing any excess fat. Toss pork with reserved liquid.

Serve in warmed tortillas and top with mango salsa, avocado, shredded cabbage, and green onion. Garnish with extra cilantro, if desired. Makes 8 servings (1 serving equals 3 carnitas).

For the mango salsa
While waiting for the pork to cook, assemble this quick and refreshing homemade mango salsa!

a bowl of mango salsa sits on a wooden cutting board surrounded by mangos cilantro and jalapenos



  • 3 medium mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1/3 cup diced shallots or red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 2 small garlic cloves, grated
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • Juice and zest of 1 large lime
  • 1/4 tsp. Hawaiian salt

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl, cover, and chill until ready to serve. Makes 8 servings.

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