Huli-Huli Chicken

Chicken, Gluten-Free, Grilling, Main Courses, Originals / Monday, February 2nd, 2009


When Jeff and I were planning our wedding trip to Hawaii, the travel package included a rental car. The choices were a convertible versus something-that-wasn’t-a-convertible. We went with the convertible and drove off in search of adventure. What we found one evening was a roadside trailer loaded with grills full of Huli-Huli Chicken, barbecuing over mesquite coals.

Even if I’d just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, I would pull over for Huli-Huli Chicken. The smell! The smell of smoke and chicken marinated dark brown sugar, fresh ginger, soy sauce, pineapple, rice vinegar, garlic, ketchup and a little Worcestershire. A sort of Hawaiian take on teriyaki sauce that’ll make your taste buds wake up and say, “Aloha.” But the strange thing is that you don’t really find it in Hawaiian restaurants. You find it at roadside stands, temporary parking lot set-ups and fundraisers – all with very long lines.

The father of Huli-Huli Chicken was Ernest Morgado, president of Pacific Poultry. He made a batch for a group of local farmers in 1955. They loved it. But he didn’t have the name until he started making and selling his chicken at school fundraisers. When the chicken was ready to flip, people would yell, “Huli!,” Hawaiian for “turn.”

As soon as we got home, Jeff started working on this recipe to bring back that night in Hawaii. Now, if I can just get him to “bring back” the convertible …

Huli-Huli Chicken

From Jeff and Rebecca Crump (Ezra Pound Cake)

Serves 4

  • 1 (4 pound) chicken, quartered
  • 1/2 cup shoyu or soy sauce (regular or gluten-free)*
  • 1/2 cup pureed pineapple chunks (or frozen pineapple concentrate)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup (regular or gluten-free)*
  • 1/8 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 finger ginger, finely grated
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (regular or gluten-free)*
    Special Equipment:

  • Smoker grill
  • Mesquite coals
  • Mesquite chunks (soaked in water at least 1 hour)
  • Marinade mop
  1. Cut chicken into quarters, and place pieces in a large Ziploc bag.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, pineapple, brown sugar, ketchup, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic and Worcestershire. Pour half the mixture into a large resealable plastic bag with the chicken. Set aside remaining marinade for mopping chicken during cooking. Refrigerate chicken for 30 minutes.
  3. To Prepare the Smoker: Use a chimney to light your mesquite chunks or lump charcoal. When they’re flaming and charred on the outside, dump the coals into your smoker. When the temperature reaches 250°F, add a handful of soaked mesquite chips to your coals to get some smoke going.
  4. Remove chicken from the marinade, discarding the marinade that has come into contact with the raw chicken.
  5. Place the chicken on the grill, bone-side down, and mop the chicken with your reserved marinade. Flip and mop the chicken every 10-15 minutes until internal temp reaches 180°F, between 2 and 3 hours. Pull the chicken off the grill, and tent it under foil for at least 15 minutes before serving.

*Gluten-Free Tip: Choose GF soy sauce, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.

Alternate Cooking Methods

To Smoke/Grill: Smoke the chicken for around 90 minutes, and finish it on a traditional grill over medium heat. Turn and mop the chicken every 4-5 minutes to keep the brown sugar from burning. Remove from heat and tent with foil for at least 15 minutes.

To Broil: Line a broiler pan with foil. Keep chicken and marinade separate. Broil chicken, skin side up, on the broiler pan, for 10 minutes on each side. Then turn and baste with marinade every 5 minutes until browned, about 20 minutes total.

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36 thoughts on “Huli-Huli Chicken

  1. Oh, yum. Looks great. Important to save some marinade mixture out (NOT touching raw chicken) if you’re going to use it to mop toward the end of cooking. Just for safety’s sake.

  2. Wow-wow. That grilled chicken and the story of Hawaii makes me yearn for warmer weather. Might have to fire up the grill this evening.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful alternative to BBQ chicken. I’m giving my grill master,Earl, this recipe for sure! Hopefully, there will be “Huli-Huli” chicken this weekend!!

  4. We do not have a grill. Do you think I can bake this in the oven? And maybe put the broiler on it for a couple minutes? I’m sure it will lose some of the smokey flavor. :(

  5. I’ve been looking for a recipe to inaugurate my new smoker with… I think I’ve found it! This looks absolutely delicious.

  6. oh bec… this looks like yumminess on a plate. I will buy a smoker to make this. Or rather, I will buy a smoker and Husband will make this.

  7. OK, it may be winter where I live. But, I’m pulling the BBQ to make this. Wow, how delicious is that. I swear I can smell it myself.

  8. Oh, boy, does this stir up memories! We were stationed on Oahu in the 80’s, and attended a church that was built like most of the buildings there – the walls could open to let in the tradewind breezes. There was a parking lot across the street that was a popular place for the huli huli chicken trailer to set up, and we were forced to sit there and smell the smoke. You can bet that by the final “Amen”, that church was cleared out and we were lined up waiting to get our chicken!

    I can tell I’m going to have to try out your recipe!!

  9. Your description of the chicken has me drooling. Roadside stands always have amazing food. I read your post and I started making a list of things “I need” so that I can make it: charcoal grill, mesquite coals, mesquite chunks. Oh heck. I’m visiting my brother who’s a meat smoking fiend soon and I’m demanding that we make this. Thanks for sharing!!!

  10. I found your website through foodgawker. I am originally from Hawai`i and your post brought back a lot of memories. I remember having to rack the chicken and unrack the chicken for high school fundraisers. Quite a lot of work with the grease and smoke but well worth it in the end. If you’re ever back in Hawai`i, I would recommend finding the Koala Moa “huli huli” chicken. It is personally my favorite.

  11. I love this stuff! I brought back bottles of Huli Huli sauce when my parents moved away from there … I’m excited to see a from-scratch recipe! Thank you!

  12. maggie: Thanks for the reminder! Salmonella is not our friend.

    Brindi: We are so ready for spring. Can you tell?

    Auntie Pam: I’ve heard Earl is the Smoke Master. You’ll have to tell me if you guys do anything new and spectacular with this one.

    Dana: Our weather is swinging back and forth. A day of snow, a day of grilling, a month of sneezing.

    Maria: I love to say it. Huli-Huli. Huli-Huli.

    Jess: I’m sure it will be delicious. The important thing is to keep turning the chicken and mopping on the marinade so the sugar doesn’t burn.

    Cathy: This was worth buying the smoker for us. Seriously.

    Philip: A new smoker! Yesssss. Let me know how it works out for you.

    Jenn: You guys don’t have a smoker? Get thee to a Lowe’s.

    Karen: We made it to coax the warmer weather. Soooo ready for spring.

    kickpleat: We should ALL be in Hawaii right now.

    Tammy and Chuck: We braved the cold to make it. Grilling in the winter is like doing a rain dance in the middle of a dry spell. Truly optimistic.

    Susan Marie: I can imagine that last prayer being a quickie. How did you stand it?

    Jessica: Yesss, enlist your brother. Deliciously diabolical.

    Tracie: I’m so glad you found the site! Koala Moa … it’s on The List.

    jess: I think you can order the sauce online. I’m seriously considering ordering some coconut syrup. Eggbert’s spoiled me.

    Keetha: Let me know how it turns out. We got a stovetop smoker for Christmas, too, but we haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.

    [eating club] vancouver: Thanks! Let me know how it works out for you.

  13. Yum! This looks great. I think we’re going to try it out tonight. What do you typically serve on the side? Sadly, I have never been to Hawaii, so my knowledge on all things huli-huli is limited. : P

  14. It seems that almost every time I come across a pic of food that looks good, it comes from your site! This looks great! Can’t wait to try!

  15. kat: Awww. Plan a trip home!

    Amy: In Hawaii, they serve it with sticky rice and macaroni salad. But you could serve it with the same sides you would make for any barbecued meat.

    finsmom: Thanks! Let me know what you think.

  16. I’m tempted to try this as a braising sauce, for a sloppy joe style sandwich. Marinate the chicken, then braise it with chopped onion & bell pepper until it falls apart. Serve it on a bun or over rice.

  17. Was in Kauai in October, have not stopped thinking about Huli HUli chicken…had to do a search…I made this tonight, and I swear this is it-to a T!! I can't thank you enough for sharing this!!!

  18. Hey all! I lived in Hawaii far too briefly…about 7 months. We ate a LOT of Huli Huli! There's nothing like it! Of cof course, anything made from scratch is usually better, but you CAN buy a premade sauce if you want to take the short route. The only place I have found it on the mainland is on Ebay, (under Huli Huli Sauce) but I am sure there have to be a few stores out there somewhere that sell it here. Whether you grill it or smoke it, you wont be disappointed in this dish! You can do pork with it too. I don't recall if I ever tried it with beef but I suppose there's no reason why not.

  19. Thank you thank you! As a long-time fan of the original Huli Huli sauce (you can find it in stores here in Texas, believe it or not!), I was sad to give it up when a gluten allergy reared its ugly head. But now I can make my own, huzzah!

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