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So you're thinking about doing a Luau? Let me tell you that it is lots of
fun and lots of work, however it can be easy with good planning and
preparation. Success is extremely rewarding, people will be coming to you
and asking you do one for them. It is not that hard if you have a couple
of friends that you can count on that would like to help you, it can be a
lot of fun.

If you plan to do this at your house you need to notify your nearest Fire
Department of your intention so they dont come over needlessly because
someone called them just because they’ve seen some smoke. No need to get
them upset at you and have them ruin a beautiful party. While you're at
it you should notify the Police Department also. They don like it too much
if nobody notifies them either.

The Imu(under ground oven)

So what is it and how does it work? Imu (pronounced eemoo), is the
underground pit oven the Hawaiians cook in. Usually large amounts or large
joints such as pork, beef, turkey, etc. Well, you already know you have to
build a fire so you will need about 1/8 cord of fire wood (preferably
hardwood). The secret is in the rocks. The rocks , 8 - 10 in diameter
should be volcanic, porous type, known to hold heat for a long period of
time. Also minimizes the chance of rocks exploding while cooking your pig.
You will need enough to cover a 7x5 area at least one and a half times or
two layers.

I have not used any other type of rock. I have talked to people from
Texas who swear by river rocks. I believe it can be done, because once the
pig is covered, the rocks are not getting any hotter. Any explosion will
most likely occur during the 2 hours prior to putting the poaa (pig) into
the imu.

I once did a kalua (baked) pig in San Diego, for my brothers wedding
reception, I made a couple of (surf) trips to Rosarito, Mexico to get the
rocks for my imu. I was told that my choices were to go either to the
state of Washington or Mexico for volcanic rocks.

The Banana trees and leaves are what gives the smoky flavor to the kalua
poaa. You will notice when you start to line the imu with the trunks and
leaves, the smoke will be billowy white and very clean. You could walk
through it and your eyes wont even water. Thats right, its not just an
oven, its a smoker!

Good thing Banana trees are easier to locate. You could look in the yellow
pages for a produce company that can get their hands on some or you can
drive around and look for anyone who might have some in their back yards
that wouldnt mind cutting down two (thats all you need). You can remind
them that if the tree already fruited they need to be cut down so that
they can fruit again - and they grow back fast. If you absolutely cannot
talk anyone out of their banana trees, go back to your commercial produce
vendor and purchase banana leaves or some Ti Leaves. You don have to have
the trunk of the banana tree. you would just have to use more leaves.

Ti Leaves (pronounced tea), are not cheap, they cost approximately $4.00 a
dozen and you would need about 10-15 dozen. Believe me I would rather
drive around for banana trees.

When you line the imu with banana trunks and leaves don over do it. If
you use too much, you will not only see green on parts of the meat
(harmless), but you wont get any nice crispies when you pull the pig from
the imu. If you got some crispies (not burnt), then you know you did a
good job.

The preparing of the Imu should be done days in advance. The poaa can be
prepared the day before.

So lets get started, and have fun.

Pick an area that is level and open with enough room for a work table for
working the poaa (pig) when moving it to and from the imu. This place
should be free of debris also have access to water such as a garden hose.

You will need water for washing banana tree trunks, leaves, utensils,
soaking burlap sacks.

Tools and Items for the Job

Pick and Shovel

1-1/2 Pipe six foot length
Newspaper and kindling
1/4 cord firewood
1 qt. Charcoal lighter fluid
Machete or Sharp Knife
Sledge hammer
Post hole digger to pick up hot rocks (optional)
12 Burlap sacks soaking in a tub of water
12x12 Canvas Tarp
Garden Hose
Rock Salt (for seasoning)
3-1/2 x 5 Chicken wire
Large receiving tray for the kalua poaa
Large forks
Serving pans or trays

1. Dig a pit approximately 7x5 Keep the pile of
dirt on the opposite side of the pit you intend to work from.
Remember the cleaner your work the easier it is. The depth should be
2-1/2 to 3 ft.

2. Crumple newspaper and place on the bottom of imu. Add kindling on
to of newspaper.

3. Position pipe in the center of the imu standing up and build firewood
evenly in a 45 deg. angle around pipe as you would a bon fire.

4. Carefully place rocks neatly on top of fire wood and around pipe.

Poaa (the pig)

You can order through a butcher or if you prefer, a Hog farm. Just ask for
a whole dressed pig , which is butchered cleaned and ready to cook. Prices
will vary and also will vary by size, you should expect to be paying
around $250. A suckling pig will cost more, usually due to the fact the
farm doesnt really like to sell, or butcher the young ones. A 125 pound
dressed pig will feed approximately 150 guest. Of course that is counting
on the fact that you will probably be serving other entree dishes. I will
usually serve a chicken and a fish dish also, since you may have guest
that may not eat pork. Not to worry, I am including other luau recipes,
and sample luau menus.

Score the poaa with deep incisions in any of the thick parts such as the
hams (thighs). If you have a tight schedule and need it to cook in 6
hours, then remove the spine from the neck to the hip. Season generously
with rock salt.

You will need chicken wire to wrap your poaa in to be place in the imu.
The chicken wire should be large enough to go around the poaa once.
Remember, you will have to unwrap the kalua poaa and lose as little meat
as possible so don over wrap! What some people like to do is form a basket
out of the chicken wire that the poaa can fit into nicely and can be
easily handled when removing from the imu - while still extremely HOT. Be
sure to have the open side of the pigs cavity is on the same side of the
basket. You will be putting a couple of hot rocks into the cavity of the
pig just before you put the basket into the imu.

Here is where you can make other baskets for other items you would like to
add such as whole turkeys, steamship rounds of beef, sweet potatoes etc..


Your Imu is now ready to be fired up! 2 hours to preheat the imu plus
8 hours cooking time, total of 10 hours. Lets plan the timing...

7am - 9am - Start fire, prepare the poaa

9am - 10am - Place the poaa into the Imu
10am - 5pm - Prepare other entrees, salads, desserts, etc.
5pm - 6pm - Set up Buffet. Unearth Kalua Poaa
6pm - 6:30 - after showing, debone and pan the Kalua Poaa and
place in chaffing dishes on buffet.
6:30pm - Open buffet (if 150+ guest, Host to lead 2
tables to buffet at a
time to prevent the mad
rush. Make announcement before opening
buffet). Good time to have bar open and maybe some
music. Or if you will
be making any awards, announcements, or speeches, now
would be the best time.
7:00 or 7:30pm Start Hula show. The Show should last at least
1-1/2 hours. Be
to work it out ahead of time with the
entertainers. After that
let them do there thing! They know what to do!
Just relax and have a good time.

Into the Imu

Okay so the imu is ready to be fired up, get out the charcoal lighter
fluid and pour the 1 quart bottle down the pipe and remove the pipe.
Carefully drop a lit match into the hole where the pipe came from.
Charcoal lighter fluid lights easily and doesnt explode so it is pretty
safe, I wouldnt use anything else.

Now would be a good time to have all your tools and items ready sorted out
and organized close to the imu. Cut the banana tree trunks cut into 2
lengths. Cut those pieces in quarters lengthwise. Use your sledge hammer
to flatten them a bit. Neatly stack them near the imu. Wash off the banana
leaves with water and stack them near the flattened stumps. The burlap
sacks should be clean. Soak them in a tub and have them near the imu also.
The following tasks should be done fairly quickly so too much of the heat
from the imu is not lost. It should take about a half hour by time the imu
is sealed.

After 2 hours the rocks should have fallen lower in to the imu. Using a
post hole digger or a shovel, even out the hot rocks so to form a bed that
your poaa will eventually be situated on.

Put the poaa that is already in the chicken wire on your work table next
to the imu. Open up the cavity and season generously with rock salt.
Place about four hot rocks into the cavity of the pig. Close up the basket
with a couple of pieces of bailing wire.

Put a layer of the crushed banana tree trunks on the hot rocks followed by
a layer of banana leaves. Place the wrapped poaa on top of the banana
leaves. Cover the poaa with more banana leaves. Now lay out the soaking
burlap sacks on top of the banana leaves. Cover the whole imu with the
canvas tarp.

Starting around the edges of the tarp, cover with the dirt. Then cover the
rest of the tarp evenly. Try not to put too much dirt on the middle of the
tarp so you wont have a hard time taking it off.

The hose will be needed to spray the imu with water after it is covered to
create a good seal, and also to check for any smoke that could be escaping
from the imu. If any smoke is detected then you must cover it with more
dirt. If smoke is not covered, a fire may start in your imu and you will
lose your kalua pig (baked pig), and all your hard work will be for

Once you have covered any leaks, then shoot it down once again with water.

Now you have 8 hours to prepare the rest of your menu.

Out from the Imu

You should have a large tray to receive the basket of kalua poaa. There
will be alot of grease from the poaa so be prepared to drain it somewhere.
Have a bucket of water handy to dip your hands in occasionally to cool
your hands while handling the hot rocks, basket etc. You will also need
some large forks to shred the meat and remove the bones. Have your pans
that you will be serving the kalua poaa from handy so you can transfer it
into after the bones are removed and the meat is shredded.

The time has come to remove the kalua poaa from the imu. Remove the dirt
from the tarp, taking care not to puncture the tarp. Roll back the tarp
towards the back of the imu. Remove the burlap sacks. Remove the layer of
banana leaves. Carefully remove the basket and place it on your receiving
tray on top of your work table. Open the basket and remove the rocks that
are inside the basket. Turn out the kalua poaa from the basket into the

Using the forks, shred all the meat and remove all the bones. Season with
salt (I use Hawaiian rock salt).Transfer the meat into your serving pans.
It is ready to go to your buffet! Now go and enjoy the fruits of your
labor. As the Hawaiians say suck em up!

The buffet should be set up by this time, all there is left to do is to
bring the kalua poaa to the buffet. After setting up the buffet decorate
with leather ferns, palm froms etc.

The buffet line should be set far enough away from the stage so if the
buffet line should have to be broken down prior to the end of the show, no
one will be disturbed.

Wait a couple of days before you clean up the imu, to make sure the fire
is out. Save the rocks, you will agree that they are truly gold.

What else should I serve?

Here are some sample menu items:

Kalua Poaa
Broiled Marinated Beef
Mahi Mahi Tempura style
Sweet and Sour Chicken

Baked Sweet Potato
Steamed Rice

Cold Items:
Poi Lomi Lomi Salmon Assorted
Toss greens Ahi Poke
Pasta Salad Fruit Salad
Potato Salad Assorted Sushi

Coconut Cake Haupia (Hawaiian Coconut Pudding)
Coconut Cream Pie
Banana Cream Pie
Macadamia Nut Pie

You will notice that some of the menu items are not indigenous Hawaiian
foods, the luau, through the years have adopted regional dishes from the
Japanese, and Chinese. Not only have they been in Hawaiis rich history
but it was also added for the guests, items that they can relate to. If
you want serve poi, it is an item not easily found. You will have to
call around to specialty stores. It is usually packed in plastic bags
ready to serve. Try to keep the menu large, keep in mind that a Luau
should be a lavish feast.


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