Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken

June 9, 2020

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Delicious Huli Huli Chicken! Tender chicken thighs are marinated in a sweet and tangy, ketchup and soy based sauce, then cooked on the grill for an added light char.

Pair it with jasmine rice and pineapple to build the perfect, simple summer meal!

8 pieces of Huli Huli Chicken on a white marble and wood platter with pieces of pineapple on the side.

What is Huli Huli Chicken?

Authentic huli huli chicken is usually made with a whole chicken or larger chicken portions and is cooked on a grill filled with mesquite wood, and it is cooked on splits.

It’s rotated while cooking and basted in a sweet, teriyaki-like, huli huli sauce. It was first created over 70 years ago and has been a popular Hawaiian favorite ever since!

Did you know the word “huli” means “turn” in Hawaiian?

An Easier Recipe

This version is simplified, skipping out on any special equipment and uses pre-cut and trimmed chicken thighs.

It’s marinated to infuse flavor and is basted with some of the reserved marinade for even more flavor.

It’s a delicious chicken recipe that’s set to impress! It doesn’t require much effort yet it has a fantastic flavor!

Plate with 1 huli huli chicken piece, pineapple, rice and a fresh flower. Shown overhead.

Huli Huli Chicken Ingredients

  • Ketchup: Preferably use one without corn syrup.
  • Soy sauce: I like to use low-sodium soy sauce but if you like things on the salty side you can use standard soy sauce.
  • Brown sugar: You could use a blend of half brown sugar and half honey if preferred.
  • Rice vinegar: I love the balance of sweet and tangy so I use vinegar in the marinade. You can sub another mild vinegar like apple cider vinegar.
  • Sriracha: Not an authentic ingredient but I love a light kick. You can omit if preferred.
  • Worcestershire sauce: Another ingredient that’s not so traditional in an authentic marinade, but it adds a nice background flavor.
  • Sesame oil: I start with a small amount because this is a pretty potent ingredient, but feel free to add more to taste.
  • Garlic: Stick with fresh garlic.
  • Ginger: Only use fresh ginger.
  • Chicken thighs: I like to use boneless skinless thighs here, they cook faster (and who wants the skin left on if it’s not going to be crispy anyway?).

Image of ingredients used to make hawaiian huli huli chicken. Includes chicken thighs, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sriracha, rice vinegar, ketchup, sesame oil, ginger and garlic.

How to Make Huli Huli Chicken and Marinade

  1. Mix marinade ingredients: In a medium mixing bowl whisk together ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, sriracha, Worcestershire, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Remove 1/4 cup of the marinade to a bowl and refrigerate.
  2. Pour marinade over chicken: Place chicken in a medium bowl or gallon size resealable bag. Pour remaining marinade over chicken then toss to coat then press down into marinade. Seal bag if using a bag.
  3. Rest in refrigerator: Transfer to refrigerator and let marinate at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
  4. Cook and garnish: Cook as noted below then serve warm garnished with green onions if desired.

Collage of four images showing steps to making huli huli chicken marinade, marinating chicken and grilling chicken.

What’s the best way to grease grill grates?

To grill grates it’s actually not safe to just grease with cooking spray or drizzle with oil, instead:

  • Soak a ball of paper towels with some vegetable oil (just enough to saturate lightly).
  • Hold the balled up paper towel using long tongs.
  • Rub over cleaned grill grates.

How to Cook on the Grill

  1. Prepare grill: Preheat a gas grill over medium heat. Clean and grease grill grates.
  2. Place chicken on grill: Place chicken pieces on grill leaving space around each. Cover with lid.
  3. Cook through, basting occasionally: Turning and basting with reserved 1/4 cup marinade occasionally, until it reaches 165 degrees in center, approximately 15 minutes.
  4. Note: If chicken isn’t browning enough you can increase heat near the end of grilling.

How to Cook in the Oven

  • Heat oven: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place chicken on rack on baking sheet: Place marinated chicken on an oven safe, greased cooling rack set over a foil lined 18 by 13-inch baking sheet.
  • Bake to cook through: Cook chicken thighs until they reach 165 degrees in center (about 30 – 35 minutes), basting with the reserved 1/4 cup marinade during last 10 minutes.
  • Note: If needed tent chicken with foil to reduce excess browning or prevent from drying out. If not browned to your liking you can broil briefly near the end of cook time.

Plate with 1 huli huli chicken piece, pineapple, rice and a fresh flower. Shown from the side.

Can I Use Chicken Breasts?

Yes. Smaller chicken breasts will work great here too. Just be sure to monitor the temp for doneness (they cook a bit faster). You want to cook just right to 165 degrees in center, otherwise they’ll start to dry out.

What to Serve with Grilled Huli Huli Chicken

Close up image of huli huli chicken thighs on a platter. Shown overhead.

More Hawaiian Style Recipes to Try

Huli Huli Chicken

5 from 9 votes

A Hawaiian favorite! Tender chicken thighs are marinated in a sweet and tangy, ketchup and soy based sauce, then finished on the grill for an added light char. The perfect summer recipe to pair with rice and fresh pineapple!

Servings: 9 servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Marinating Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar*
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp sriracha (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil, or more to taste
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of visible fat (use about 4 oz thighs, 9 pieces)
  • Vegetable oil (or olive oil) for brushing grill grates

Instructions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, sriracha, Worcestershire, sesame oil, garlic and ginger. Season with a little salt and pepper if preferred. Remove 1/4 cup of the marinade to a bowl and refrigerate.

  2. Place chicken in a medium bowl or gallon size resealable bag. Pour remaining marinade over chicken then toss to coat then press down into marinade. Seal bag while pressing out excess air (if using a bag).

  3. Transfer to refrigerator and let marinate at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.

  4. Preheat a gas grill over medium heat. Clean grill grates and brush with vegetable oil.

  5. Grill chicken on preheated grill, turning and basting with reserved 1/4 cup marinade occasionally, until it reaches 165 degrees in center, approximately 15 minutes. If chicken isn't browning enough you can increase heat near the end of grilling.

  6. Serve warm garnished with green onions if desired. Optionally serve with coconut rice, fresh pineapple and grilled mini peppers.

Recipe Notes

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp brown sugar and 2 1/2 Tbsp honey can be used if preferred.
  • This same recipe will work great for 2 lbs of chicken thighs (6 thighs) if you only need 6 servings.
  • Chicken breasts will work in place of chicken thighs. Use smaller ones (about 6 oz) and pound to an even thickness. Test temp in center to 165 for doneness.
Nutrition Facts
Huli Huli Chicken
Amount Per Serving
Calories 243 Calories from Fat 63
% Daily Value*
Fat 7g11%
Saturated Fat 2g13%
Cholesterol 144mg48%
Sodium 426mg19%
Potassium 441mg13%
Carbohydrates 8g3%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 5g6%
Protein 30g60%
Vitamin A 82IU2%
Vitamin C 2mg2%
Calcium 22mg2%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Hawaiian
Keyword: Huli Huli Chicken
Author: Jaclyn