A Year Of Barbecue: Hawaii

"Despite being co-opted for tourist pleasure at luaus and in stereotypical movie scenes, the Hawaiian pig roast does have a strong basis in their culture."

Once the rocks are sizzling hot, some are stuffed directly inside the pig's cavity to cook from the inside out. The rest of the carcass is then girdled in a wire mesh cage to hold the discrete parts together and then wrapped with either banana or ti leaves, a plant more commonly known as the cabbage palm. This swaddling in vegetation adds flavor to the pig and provides a natural medium to steam the pork over the indirect heat from the hardened magma.

Finally, the kalua pork is covered with even more leaves for insulation and buried under dirt or sand for 8-10 hours to steep in its own delicious porky juices. Because the wood fire smolders, there is some smoking effect from the cooking process, but primarily the flavor of the pork itself shines through in the finished product.

After the pig is disinterred, usually after many fruity umbrella drinks have been consumed (similar to the traditional "12 beer" Southern pig smoking), the cooked pig is dramatically presented to the diners. Less like a pig picking party where participants pull the pork shred by shred, this is more like a porcine explosion, as the incredibly tender meat literally falls off the bone once the cage has been removed.

Large chunks of pork are served with taro root, which are often steamed along with the pig until it forms a wallpaper paste-consistency Polyneisan staple known as poi. Most people would be hard-pressed to enjoy poi on it's own, but alongside this delicious pork, and perhaps under the influence of a Mai Tai or three and some Don Ho classics, it's actually quite palatable.

The time-honored hula dance at most luaus is meant to tell a story through the graceful gestures and shaking hips of the dancers, but some of the real history of the islands is buried in that imu. Just like other barbecue traditions that take advantage of indigenous meats and woods to cook tough old pigs to a sublime tenderness, the Hawaiian pig roast is a testament to the ingeniousness of chefs from a long ago era. The methods are easily replicable in your own back yard, so pull out those tiki torches from the garage and have yourself a Hawaiian hoe-down of a throw-down.

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