Holy Smokes! This Meat Is Good
Seeing as we live in the most jaw-droppingly beautiful island paradise, surrounded by royal-blue waters filled with an abundance of fish, the emphasis in Hawaii, when it comes to dining, tends to be on seafood (and for good reason). Yet while scarfing down mountains of insanely delicious poke, sometimes we forget about other local culinary traditions that too often go unheralded — traditions such as succulent, savory smoked meats.
After all, for the carnivores out there, what can compare to the tender, juicy joy of kalua pig? Its earthy richness is unmatched, not only from the hot rocks, luau, steam and smoke that help to cook the meat in an underground imu, but also from the time and care that go into the ritual of preparing this Hawaiian specialty. Locals also take their smoldering pork in the form of sweet-and-savory smoke meat, which makes for the perfect hearty pupu for any get-together.
Rooted in generations of established practices, these marvelous pork creations ultimately are labors of love, but thankfully, you don’t have to wait days — or even hours — to gobble them up. Just head to these trusty Ono, You Know eateries:
UP IN SMOKE
Using charcoal or wood to cook and/or preserve meat and fish is an age-old flame that was sparked out of survival initially, but continues to fire up today for those woodsy and robust flavors that come from the smoking process. So many regions around the world have their own smoking traditions, and here in Hawaii, the custom has risen like clouds of smoke out of the hunting and paniolo culture of the Big Island.
If you want a classic taste of smoke meat here on Oahu, head to Kau Kau Grill, which started as a crowd-drawing food truck before opening a permanent takeout spot in Mapunapuna. (Kau Kau Grill still operates its truck can, which can be found at Hawaiian Foreign Trade Zone, Pier No. 2, near Kakaako.)
Plate lunch is the name of the game at Kau Kau, and you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, whether biting into Garlic Shrimp and Pulehu Beef Short Ribs or trying the dish that put the business on the map, Barbecue Baby Back Ribs.
As for the uber-flavorful Smoked Meat ($10), pork butt is marinated for a week in a teriyaki-style sauce with garlic and chili pepper, which gives the finished meat its hint of sweetness to balance out the smoky flavors. Then, according to manager Ryan Souza, “We put it into our smoker for about 12 hours,” with kiawe wood lending its magic touch to the smoking process. Once ordered at Kau Kau Grill, the meat is fired up with onions and finished with a delectable house-sauce that will make you want to lick the plate.
Order Smoked Meat in a plate lunch and devour it with rice and your choice of spaghetti mac salad or tossed greens. And, if you can handle even more flavor, upgrade to Krazy Rice to enjoy barbecue-inspired fried rice.
Souza also let me in on a little secret: “The Smoked Meat is really good with the Fried Saimin Combo because the glaze drips onto the fried saimin.”
Trust me, he’s right about that.
In addition to its popular menu of local-style fare, Kau Kau Grill also offers catering, so be sure to inquire about that for your next shindig.
Kau Kau Grill
852 Mapunapuna St., Honolulu
(and food truck at Hawaii Foreign Trade Zone)
READY TO ROAST
What started as a popular lunch stop in Haleiwa over 10 years ago has become an islandwide foodie obsession, as customers from Kapahulu to Kailua can’t get enough meaty sandwiches, wraps, plate lunches and more from Kono’s. What’s more is that while most eateries rely on a diverse menu to keep patrons satisfied, Kono’s has made a name for itself by building an entire menu around one high-quality, thoughtfully prepared ingredient: fall-off-the-bone tender pork.
Before the kalua-style pulled pork satiates hungry opus, it is roasted at a low temperature for over 12 hours daily in both Haleiwa and Kailua to supply Kono’s three locations. The restaurant uses classic pork-butt slabs, but leaves the bone in for even more flavor.
The result? Incredibly luscious meat. “Our process makes the meat so tender that we can pull the bone out of the roast without using a knife,” confirms owner Stan Glander, adding that a combination of the cooking technique and just the right secret seasonings also give the pork its signature smoky flavor.
Your mouth must be watering by now, so let me tell you the best ways to try Kono’s pork: Order it in best-sellers like the Chuns Breakfast Bomber ($8.35). This fresh-tortilla burrito offers a savory explosion of kalua pig, bacon, potatoes, cheese and eggs, all ready to be slathered in house-made salsa. And if you’re stopping by Kono’s throughout the day, go for Pork Plate ($10.55) featuring the hunky meat with rice and salad, as well as guava barbecue sauce and papaya seed dressing for dipping.
Diners who frequent Kono’s Kapahulu will be happy to know that the restaurant is gearing up to unveil “Da Room” in the space next door to offer an expanded dining space available on weekends and for private meetings/events during the week. In other Kono’s news, the Kailua branch will celebrate its grand opening all of next week, with raffles, giveaways and specials to look forward to. And as it continues to gain accolades and popularity, Kono’s strives to make a positive impact on its surrounding communities by partnering with other small businesses nearby.
131 Hekili St., No. 102, Kailua
(also in Haleiwa and Kapahulu)