Grilled Huli Huli Chicken

Grilled Huli Huli Chicken is a moist and juicy Hawaiian chicken dish with a delicious marinade that gives a burst of flavor to the chicken and also serves as a basting sauce.

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Huli Huli Chicken on a rectangular platter with grilled pineapple and red onion and a yellow napkin.

What is Huli Huli Chicken

Huli Huli Chicken is not something I grew up eating, and that is a shame! This grilled marinated chicken dish that originated in Hawaii is absolutely delicious. It is the perfect combination of salty (from soy sauce) and sweet (from pineapple juice and brown sugar) and smoky (from the grill). Even the charred pieces of skin are delicious and will have you coming back for more. “Huli huli” means “turn turn” (or “rotate” or “flip over”) in Hawaiian, and that is exactly what you do when you cook Huli Huli Chicken. You flip the chicken more times than I would normally tell you to flip grilled chicken, and this simulates cooking on a rotisserie, helping to cook the chicken evenly and to not burn the sweet marinade.

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A raw chicken on a red cutting board with a boning knife next to it.

 

What kind of Chicken to Use

This recipe is a crowd pleaser and as such, I like to use both white and dark meat to suit everyone’s tastes. The easiest way to do that is to use a whole chicken. Yes, you can buy a whole chicken cut into pieces at the market, but it’s really easy to break a whole chicken down yourself at home too. I prefer to buy whole chickens and cut them into pieces or leave them whole depending on what I decide to cook. After all, you can cut up a whole chicken, but you can’t put a cut up chicken back together again! You can see a step-by-step lesson on how to cut up a chicken in this article in the cooking school. You could also spatchcock the chicken and flip the whole chicken over several times as you grill it. Here’s how to spatchcock a chicken. Then again, if you only like white meat, feel free to just use bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, or bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs if you prefer dark meat. You decide!

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Ingredients on a countertop - brown sugar, ketchup, rice wine vinegar, pineapple juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and scallions.

 

What Ingredients are in Huli Huli Chicken

The main or most important ingredient in Huli Huli chicken is pineapple juice. That makes sense since pineapples are in such abundance in Hawaii. Pineapple has a distinct and sweet flavor that permeates through this dish right to the end, so don’t substitute (unless you want to make a different chicken dish). You’ll also add soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup and rice wine vinegar, along with some grated ginger and garlic. All in all, this combination of flavors can’t lose. 

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A zipper sealable plastic bag with marinating chicken inside.

 

How Long to marinate?

The marinade for Huli Huli chicken is so flavorful that it can still flavor the chicken with just a few hours of marinating time. Four hours is your minimum and overnight would be your maximum time for keeping the chicken in the marinade. However, you can freeze the chicken in its marinade and save it for another night’s dinner. This is handy if you want to have the ability to pull a really quick meal together some summer night. Store the chicken in a freezer (not storage) zipper sealable bag or an airtight container. The more air you can get out of the storage vessel, the better. Freeze it for up to two months and let it thaw in your refrigerator before you grill. 

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A brush basting Huli Huli chicken on the grill with red onions grilling alongside.

 

When to baste?

It’s important to remember that there is a significant amount of sugar in the recipe and sugar burns easily. That’s why turning the chicken often is actually a good idea for this recipe. Try to grill the chicken over indirect heat (on a side away from the coals if using charcoal or over a turned off burner if using a gas BBQ). Let the skin side sit on the grill for 8 to 10 minutes to start and then baste and flip the chicken every 5 minutes or so, making sure to watch how dark the chicken is getting. Honestly, if it gets dark it’s not a disaster. A little char on the chicken is all part of the dish and tastes great. Baste the chicken with the warm sauce one more time as you serve it. Huli Huli chicken really is all about the sauce.

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Huli Huli Chicken on white plate with greens and rice.

 

What to serve with Huli Huli Chicken

If you’re outside and not planning on doing any indoor cooking, serve Huli Huli chicken with some cool salads like a classic potato salad or this cucumber salad. Otherwise, it’s perfect with some basmati rice or mashed potatoes with a side salad. A cool refreshing beer alongside is not a bad idea either!

Grilled Huli Huli Chicken 

  • Prep Time: 25 m
  • Cook Time: 30 m
  • Marinating Time: 4 h
  • Total Time: 4 h 55 m
  • Servings:
    6

Ingredients

  • 1 whole chicken cut into 8 pieces or 2 breast & 4 thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
  • ½ cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • cup ketchup
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1- inch fresh ginger grated
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 scallions finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade by combining the pineapple juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and black pepper in a small bowl.
  2. If the chicken breasts are large, cut them in half. Place the chicken pieces into a zipper sealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade into the bag, seal and massage the chicken to make sure it is covered in marinade. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to overnight.
  3. Remove the chicken pieces from the bag and pour the marinade into a small saucepan. Bring the marinade to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes until it has reduced in volume and thickened. Use this as a basting sauce.
  4. Heat the grill to medium-high heat (between 400-450°F). Place the chicken, skin side down on the grill for about 8 to 10 minutes until the skin is well-marked and crispy. Lower the grill heat to medium, baste the chicken with the basting sauce and flip the chicken over. Close the lid and grill for 15 to 20 minutes, turning and basting every 5 minutes, until the chicken is almost cooked through. Baste and flip the chicken over again and grill for 5 more minutes, or until chicken reaches 165°F on an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat.

  5. Remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.
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Comments (9)Post a Reply

  1. Unfortunately I live in a condo that only allows electric grills. I would love to make this but wonder if there are any adjustments for using an electric grill.

    1. Hi Annette. There are no specific adjustments for using an electric grill – you just need to be flexible with your timing. If your grill has a hot zone and a cool zone, try to cook the chicken in the medium cool area – you want to give the chicken time to cook through before the outside burns. Keep your eyes on it and flip it when it starts to get too brown.

  2. 5 stars
    I took the liberty of adding a tbs of dijon mustard to the marinade and had to substitute white wine vinegar for the rice wine vinegar because I was out of rwv and I balanced the ingredients to my taste, but the chicken came out moist, bursting with flavor and a wallapalooza of sweet and sour goodness. Love this recipe!

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