* Cooking by underground oven, or “Imu” is a distinctly Polynesian practice, and boy is it delicious! (Picture courtesy of Mark Weims)

Last week I introduced how much turkey is loved here on the islands.  This week I would like to showcase how that plays out during Thanksgiving.

Roast turkey is very fine, indeed.  But a turkey baked in an Imu (an in-ground pit) is a delicacy not to be missed. 

Unfortunately, most of us do not have the means nor the expertise to dig a hole in the backyard to smoke our turkey in  for hours at a time. 

In my attempt to bring the islands to my Thanksgiving meal, I have personally experienced how “not” to smoke a turkey.  It’s quite the tale, but would take too long to share here. 

But as they say, a picture says a 1,000 words….. burnt_turkey

Surprisingly enough, it turned out that the meat inside this charcoled mess was amazing!  Being that we had 20 people coming for dinner, we consider it a true miracle.  Still, I wouldn’t recommend this particular approach.

Luckily, you can do better!  We found this nifty recipe from Linda Hayes at just-a-pinch.com that helps you to replicate that fine imu flavor without all the digging – and for a true Polynesian buffet, don’t forget to include steamed rice and roasted sweet potatoes.

Hawaiian Kalua Turkey

Developed and posted by Linda Hayes on just-a-pinch.com


1 16-20 lb turkey, cleaned
1 bottle Liquid Smoke, Mesquite
2 Hawaiian salt, handfuls (or sea salt)
3 Tbsp black pepper – to taste
8 medium Ti leaves (or banana leafs)
1 stick butter, melted
Remove neck and organs from turkey cavity. Rinse well and pat with paper towel. Melt 1 stick of butter and add liquid smoke. Pour some inside turkey cavities and the rest all over outside of turkey. Use 2 handfuls of Hawaiian Salt(or sea salt) and 3 T of black pepper and mix together. Season inside and outside of turkey well with mix.

In a large roasting pan, take a 3-4 ft section of aluminum foil and lay in pan lengthwise. Take another 3-4 section and lay in opposite direction (see pic).

Take 4-5 of Ti or Banana Leafs that have been washed and lay in bottom of roasting pan. Insert turkey into pan. Lay remaining Ti Leafs on top of turkey.

Where can you find banana leaves?  Try your local healthfood or ethnic markets (i.e., Hispanic or Asian)

Take lengthwise ends of tinfoil to meet together and roll downwards toward the turkey. Now take other two ends of tinfoil and do same.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. When heated, place turkey in oven. Cook for 2 hours at 350 degrees, then turn oven down to 250 degrees for the remaining 4 hours. Remove Turkey. Remove aluminum foil and allow steam to release. Remove Ti leafs.

Take 2 large bowls and start to shred meat from Turkey with Forks. Use one bowl for bones and other for shredded meat. Pour pan juices in a gravy bowl. Serve with white rice just as they do in Hawaii. Mahalo!


From our ohana to yours, special wishes for a blessed, safe and delicious Thanksgiving

Nina Jones

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Author Bio


My name is Nina Jones.  I have lived all across the west coast and traveled even farther, but never dreamed that I would end up in Hawaii.  I am the truest form of a foodie.  I may not be a highly trained chef, but I know whats good.

I am most particularly interested in ethnic foods, and Oahu is especially divergent in it’s offerings.  What a dream come true!