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An Arctic Luau

January 29th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Several months ago my soon-to-be six year old daughter announced that she wanted an Hawaiian-themed birthday party. I have no idea why – she’s never been to Hawaii, but that’s what she asked for.

My daughter was born in January. During the Blizzard of 2005 actually, which made for a fun three-day weekend in the hospital since I couldn’t drive home even for clean clothes until two days after the storm (when I had to shovel 24″ of snow out of my driveway). But my point is that my daughter’s birthday is in January, and we live in Massachusetts where it snows. And this January it snowed a lot. There’s 33″ on the ground in my yard right now.

So when I think Luau, I think this, don’t you (taken on the morning before the party):

Perfect Luau Weather!

And this was AFTER shoveling the first two feet of snow off of the patio.

Oh, by the way, this January we also had an arctic cold blast too. You may know that I have a weather station at my house (the live feed is there in the right sidebar). Here’s the report of the actual conditions on the day of the party (click the picture for the actual summary page):

Weather Summary

Yeah … the AVERAGE temperature was 14 degrees. But at least the wind gusted to only 26 m.p.h. So that was nice. And yes, the low was effectively zero. ZERO. The day of a Hawaiian Luau.

When I think Hawaiian Luau, I think 14 degrees and 2 feet of snow, don’t you? Nonetheless, I’ll use any excuse to break out my La Caja China and roast some pork. So a snowy Luau it would be.

The Prep

I figured that someone must have developed a recipe for Hawaiian style pork cooked in a La Caja China. It didn’t take me too long to find one titled “Gracie’s Kalua Pork” on the web. I found one from back in 2008 on a blog called Just Another Day in Cubeville. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was by none other than Perry P. Perkins, author of the Burnin’ Love BBQ blog. His original post can be found here … and it turns out that he had the same idea as I did, Hawaiian pork for a child’s birthday, only his daughter had the good sense to be born during a warm month [superemotions file=”icon_smile.gif” title=”Smile”], at least as far as I can tell from the pictures. (Perry has also just released a La Caja China cookbook, a copy of which is on its way to my house right now.)

So about a month ago I decided that this was the recipe for me and I set about finding the ingredients. Most of them are common enough in a modern supermarket, but a couple needed some Internet searching. The Alaea Hawaiian sea salt I ordered from Saltworks, one of my favorite online sources (I’m a salt freak). The other thing I needed in bulk was mesquite liquid smoke, which, believe it or not, isn’t easy to find. I finally ordered a gallon directly from Colgin, the manufacturer. (I read several online sources that claimed mesquite was the more authentic flavor compared to hickory liquid smoke.)

With the ingredients sourced, I waited until the day before the party to begin setting up the cooking area.

The Kitchen

I made 24 pounds of pork shoulder for this recipe, outside in my La Caja China. I had no idea if it was going to snow on me. Also, with 23 children in the house there wouldn’t be that much room for parents, so I wanted a warm area outside. My two 10′ x 10′ EZ-Up shelters would be perfect. The morning before the party I took the snow blower to the patio and then set up both shelters.

The Tents

My plan was to cook under one and use the other as a warming area for people hanging outside with me.

The Cook

The day before I seasoned the shoulders using Perry’s “Perk’s Mojo” recipe. I injected about 2 quarts total into the 24 pounds of shoulder. And in addition to the recipe, I sprinkled the outside of the shoulders with some Goya Adobo seasoning. Here’s a picture of the goodness before they went in the refrigerator for a good night’s rest.


The next day, I basted the roasts with liquid smoke and rubbed them all over with the sea salt.  I went outside and it was 8 degrees. You read that right … 8 degrees. Perfect. About 6 hours before my planned serving time I added the shoulder to the La Caja China and lit the charcoal. As Perry suggested in his comments I didn’t use pans, but put the shoulders right on the La Caja China racks.

Finally – Some Heat

Thankfully, there’s not much else to do while the roasting box does its thing so I didn’t need to stand out in the cold all day. Just come back and add charcoal every hour or so and things will move along smoothly. I made sure the coals were spread out over the whole box as soon as possible after lighting to try and keep the temperature even, based on Perry’s comment that the center roast in his recipe was a little more done than the others which he attributed to the long start of the charcoal in the center of the box.

The fire on top of the La Caja China throws off a surprising amount of heat. Even though the temperature was in the teens most of the day, standing around the box kept everyone nice and warm. In fact, I even managed to cook myself a little snack over the coals at one point.


For the next 4 hours or so I tended the fire, but there wasn’t much else to do for the meat. So the time was spent on the final party preparations. Like sticking my Heineken mini-keg in a snow bank to chill so the dads would have a little something to drink while we waited outside.

The Wait

I knew that with all the kids and moms in the house, a few dads would want to be outside around the fire. So I decided to use the second tent in the picture above as a warming tent.

Cooking More Than Just Pork!

Know what happens if you take a 100 square foot tent on a 15 degree day and add 50,000 BTUs of propane heat? The tent gets to be 102 degrees inside. No kidding. Just before the scheduled arrival time of the party guests I threw two of my propane heaters (my 35,000 BTU Reddy Heater forced hot air propane heater and a 15,000 BTU radiant propane heater). And I seriously got it to 102 degrees. Oops. But man that felt nice for a while!

The Finish

I continued to follow the recipe and after about 5 hours the temp inside the meat was 190 degrees. So I took it out and let it cool for a few minutes. Believe me, this part goes quickly when it’s in the teens outside. I shredded the pork and got ready to apply the glaze I had cooked down during the time I was waiting. But I decided to taste the meat and the glaze together first and I’m glad I did. You may like your pork really sweet … but I don’t. When I tasted the meat just with the glaze it was a bit sweet for me. And the citrus notes of the mojo were hidden.

Luckily, I had saved all that good juice from the bottom of the roasting pan. When I tasted that, it had the citrus note I was looking for, but it was really salty from all the salt that had melted off of the pork during cooking. But when I mixed a bit of the juice with the glaze I got the flavor I was looking for. I found that a 1:3 or a 1:4 cooking juice to glaze ratio was perfect. So I mixed that into the shredded meat (now in roasting pans) and put it all back in the La Caja China to crisp.

What came out 20 minutes later was a huge hit at the party. 37 people (including kids) finished about 20 of the 24 pounds I had made. It was so good. The salt crust on the outside really mellowed after shredding and mixing with the rest of the pork and the mixture of the glaze and cooking juices really highlighted the citrus notes in the marinade.

My main regret at this point is that I can’t find a picture of the finished product! I know there’s one somewhere on one of the cameras we had, but I sure can’t find it. I promise I will post it when I can though.

The Conclusion

I think Perry has done a great job adapting a traditional recipe to the La Caja China and I recommend that people try it. For my palate, the addition of the cooking liquid to the glaze was key, but other than that I like Perry’s recipe a lot. And even a bunch of 6 year olds liked it!

As I’ve shown, the weather shouldn’t be an excuse to not cook good bar-b-que. So get yourself outside and start cooking.

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Post Revisions:

  1. January 30th, 2011 at 12:57 | #1

    RT @mass_bbq: Kalua pork post is up: http://robsrants.havasy.net/2011/01/an-arctic-luau/. Can’t find picture of finished product tho!

  1. January 30th, 2011 at 00:35 | #1
  2. July 31st, 2011 at 21:18 | #2