Adding "Aloha" To Gameday Grub

I had family over this weekend, and...with the Giants playing a big series against the Dodgers...the NFL season starting up again...I decided to have a BBQ! I'm trying to hold on to summer as long as possible here, and the Hawai'i withdrawals are already starting to kick in. (I know, I know. I just finished talking about my trip, but come on, can you really blame me??) I actually bought a small charcoal grill a few days ago with Kalua Pig in mind, so I knew that was going to be on my BBQ menu. Burgers sounded like a good idea too, so I put together a recipe for simple-yet-flavorful sliders on Hawaiian rolls. Throw in some beers and we've got a helluva gameday spread! I've got all the bases covered :)

Kalua Pig may sound familiar to you if you've ever been to a luau or ordered a plate lunch, or perhaps you've heard its other name, "Imu Pork". (Remember my sandwich in Honolulu?) It's the Hawaiians' own version of smoked, pulled pork. Essentially, an imu (underground pit/oven) is filled with wood and large rocks, a fire is lit that turns the wood into charcoal and heats the rocks, then a whole pig is roasted for hours in ti or banana leaves. Don't worry. I won't be telling you how to butcher a hog or to ruin your backyard by digging up a giant hole.

Instead, I used a couple pounds of pork butt, Hawaiian red sea salt, banana leaves, and an average charcoal grill.

I seasoned the pork butt (which is actually a cut from the shoulder, in case you were wondering), then wrapped the meat in a couple of banana leaves. It doesn't need to be a perfect package, but just make sure the leaves are snug.

Next, let's talk "imu". No shovels, sand, or burlap are required for this recipe. All you need to prepare is your charcoal grill. If the idea of not turning a switch and immediately having fire scares you, don't panic. Charcoal is not rocket science. Although, I will admit...I used the instant light variety. (All of you barbecue purists can go ahead and judge me, okay!) Pile the briquets on the bottom grate, light them on fire, and wait until the flame dies out & the briquets have ashed over. Done.

Now that we've established our source of heat, let's move on to our source of smoke: mesquite and beer. "Kiawe" wood is commonly used in Hawai'i, which is a mesquite wood. For this reason, I used mesquite chunks to smoke my kalua pig. Instructions on the bag will tell you to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes, but this is extremely basic and where's the fun in that? Instead, I used Kona Brewing Co.'s Longboard Island Lager and had soaked the mesquite for a couple of hours. I spread the chips evenly over the hot coals, put the cooking grate in place, then put my banana leaf-pork butt package in the center of the grill. Finally, I just covered everything, with the vents open, and let Mission: Kalua commence.

Every hour, I had to replenish the coals by just adding a few briquets. I also added more lager-soaked mesquite each time, too. After 3 hours, the pork was fall-apart tender, juicy, and oh-so-smoky! The salt is mellow, so the flavor of the pork gets to stand on its own. The banana leaf adds a unique earthy touch. And the smoky mesquite is definitely there, but not in an overbearing way. 

To serve, you can slice it up or shred the pork, the latter being the most common choice. I put everything in one big tray and let my guests go at it buffet-style. It wasn't just a hit, but a home run! ;)

I also experimented with a slider recipe this weekend! I grated frozen butter into the ground sirloin, and I added a splash of heavy cream. Why? The answer's easy, really...FAT = FLAVOR. Fat also adds moisture, so the tiny sliders don't dry out on the hot grill. To keep the beef as...well...beefy as possible, I seasoned the patties minimally with freshly-cracked pepper and a small sprinkling of sea salt. (Putting my bag of Alaea salt to good use finally!)

I used my finger to make a small indentation in the center of each patty. This keeps them from puffing up oddly while they cook and looking like a half-dome when they're done. 

Over medium-high heat, the sliders will grill up pretty quickly. Depending on how well-done you like your meat, 2-3 minutes on each side should be enough. (*I used my gas grill while the pork was cooking over the charcoal, but feel free to go down the charcoal-route with these as well!)

My favorite bread to use for sliders is, hands down, King's Hawaiian sweet rolls! They're soft, delicate, and similar to the Filipino-favorite pan de sal. I love the subtle sweetness that the rolls have, like Portuguese bread and brioche. I could slap a patty on a Hawaiian roll and eat it just like that. Actually, my young niece and nephew even prefer their "baby burgers" this way! (Now that I think about it, throw some shredded kalua pork on a roll, too!)

But, of course, I wanted to spruce my sliders up a little. I added sriracha mayo and slices of avocado. Both toppings accent the buttery richness of the beef, but the sriracha adds a spicy kick and the avocado brings a necessary freshness. You can top your miniature burgers with anything you want, though. Just remember: butter, cream, and Hawaiian sweet rolls. They really make a difference!

For your next tailgate or gameday get-together at the house, try these recipes for Kalua Pig and Hawaiian Roll Sliders. The Kalua Pig is a crowd-pleaser all on its own, but you can shred it up and add it to more traditional tailgate bites. Quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches...the possibilities are endless! These Hawaiian Roll Sliders are also a prime foundation for a burger "bar", by putting out your favorite toppings and letting guests do some custom-building. With September baseball taking off and fantasy football leagues in full swing, we have all the excuses in the world to have some friends over to enjoy a ball game, a few cold brews, and good food!

Kalua Pig

Print Recipe
2 bottles of Beer (*Kona Brewing Co. Longboard Island Lager)
3-4 cups of medium-sized Mesquite Wood Chunks
2 lbs Pork Butt
1 tbsp Alaea Red Hawaiian Sea Salt
Banana Leaves
1. Soak the mesquite wood chunks in the beer for at least 2 hours.
2. Prepare the pork butt by seasoning with Alaea salt and wrapping with enough banana leaf to completely cover the meat.
3. Next, prepare the charcoal grill. Pile the briquets into a pyramid on the bottom of the grill, follow the manufacturer's instructions for lighting the charcoal, and allow the fire to heat the briquets. The flame will extinguish by itself, and the briquets will be covered in a layer of gray ash. Spread the hot coals evenly on the bottom of the grill. Drain the mesquite wood chunks, then spread them in an even layer over the charcoal. Put the cooking grate in its place.
4. Center the wrapped pork butt on the grill, cover with the lid vents open, and cook for 3 hours. Every hour, replenish the barbecue with new briquets and lager-soaked mesquite as needed.
5. To serve, slice or shred the pork.

Hawaiian Roll Sliders (makes 10 - 12 sliders)

Print Recipe
1 lb Ground Sirloin
1 1/2 tbsp Frozen Butter, grated
2 tbsp Heavy Cream
Sea Salt & Pepper
Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
Srirach-Mayo (optional)
Avocado (optional)

1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the grated butter, heavy cream, and ground sirloin. Use a fork or spatula to blend the ingredients evenly, but do not overmix. The meat will become gummy.
2. Using an ice cream scoop or 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop out meat for individual sliders. Roll the portion into a ball between your hands, then flatten with your palms. Use your thumb & index/middle fingers to rotate and evenly shape the burger patties.
3. Season each side of the burger patties with salt and pepper. Grill over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes per side.
4. Serve the burgers on Hawaiian Sweet Rolls with toppings of your choice, such as sriracha-mayo and slices of avocado.