Huli Huli Chicken

4.93 from 14 votes

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Sticky-sweet huli huli chicken is a phenomenal recipe with all the flavors you want for a summer BBQ! Sweet, spicy, salty, and savory sauces and seasonings are whisked into a quick marinade and grilled onto juicy chicken thighs in this delicious Hawaiian chicken dish.

Hawaiian BBQ chicken in a pineapple boat serving dish


This huli huli chicken recipe should be first on your list when you break out the grill this summer!

The word “huli” means “turn” in Hawaiian, so huli huli chicken is really “turn turn” chicken. Why is it called that? The story goes that Ernest Morgado, founder of Pacific Poultry, first made the dish on two separate grills that needed to be turned (or flipped) to grill and baste the meat.

closeup: grilled huli huli chicken in a pineapple

This process builds layers of flavor, both marinated into the meat itself and caramelized on the outside for a delightfully sticky exterior. And it’s all from the sauce: ketchup, pineapple juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, honey, and hot sauce coat each juicy bite!

It’s like a sweet and savory Hawaiian BBQ sauce. It’s great with pork too! And if you’re looking for more delicious Hawaiian recipes with pineapple, check out these stuffed peppers — it’s a reader favorite.

Tip From Kevin

Fresh or canned

It’s crucial to use CANNED, not fresh, pineapple juice. Fresh juice contains bromelain, a natural meat tenderizer that works a little too well… it turns the meat texture mushy over long marinating times! However, it is not present in canned juice.

I learned the hard with several chicken recipes when using fresh pineapple juice there are some difficulties. Once when making a pineapple dessert it wouldn’t set up using geltin. After 3 attempts I researched why. Fresh pineapple prevents gelatin from setting up because it contains a protease called bromelain that digests the links formed between collagen molecules that make the liquid turn into a gel. Canned pineapple doesn’t have the same effect because heat from canning inactivates bromelain. I make these mistakes so you don’t have to!

raw chicken marinating in clear plastic container

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Chicken – This huli huli chicken recipe makes enough marinade for 4 lbs of chicken. I use boneless, skinless thighs, but you could also use breasts — just adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • Canned Pineapple Juice It’s crucial to use CANNED, not fresh, pineapple juice. Fresh juice contains bromelain, a natural meat tenderizer that works a little too well… it turns the meat mushy! However, it is not present in canned juice.
  • Soy Sauce – Use any general, all-purpose soy sauce to flavor the marinade. 
  • Honey & Brown Sugar Honey is an amazing marinade sweetener! Not only is it effective, but it coats the meat thoroughly and builds a sticky coating on it that won’t fall off during cooking. Brown sugar adds more sweetness and can be substituted with regular granulated white sugar.
  • Ketchup – For acidity, tanginess, and light tomato flavor.  
  • Dry Sherry Substitutes include apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or even a dry white wine.
  • Ginger & Garlic These ingredients are most potent when prepared fresh — and we want a strong flavor in huli huli chicken marinade! 
  • Sesame Oil – This ingredient is for flavor, not moisture. Substitute with roasted peanut oil if necessary. 
  • Sriracha – Sambal Oelek chili paste is great too! Otherwise, use any hot sauce you have on hand.
hawaiian chicken grilled and covered with BBQ sauce in a pineapple

How to Make Huli Huli Chicken

  1. Make Marinade. Whisk all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside half for basting during grilling.
  2. Marinate. Place the chicken in a large plastic baggie and pour the remaining marinade over it. Squeeze out the air, seal, and refrigerate for 2 hours. 
  3. Preheat. Preheat grill or smoker to 350 degrees F. Oil before grilling the meat.
  4. Grill. Shake off the excess marinade and place the chicken on the grill. Baste with the reserved marinate. Cook for 3 minutes on each side, turning every 1 ½ minutes to get cross grill marks on the meat. Baste after flipping. Make sure each thigh reaches a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees F before removing from the heat.
  5. Serve. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving with quinoa, brown rice, or rice pilaf.
  • Grill – This sticky Hawaiian chicken is best grilled! You can also prepare this huli huli chicken recipe in the smoker.
  • Grater – To prepare freshly grated ginger, which releases so much more flavor than powdered or paste.
  • Garlic Press The quickest path to minced garlic is with a garlic press! It can also be used for ginger, shallots, and other small ingredients. 

Storing and Reheating

Leftovers from this huli huli chicken recipe can be transferred to an airtight container and stored for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Store along with any reserved sauce for reheating. 

To reheat, baste with the reserved sauce and warm in the oven, on the stovetop, or in the microwave. To prevent overcooking the chicken, reheat at a medium temperature.

overhead: my huli huli chicken recipe with pineapple served in pineapple boats

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is huli huli chicken similar to teriyaki?


While teriyaki is very simple, huli huli has many ingredients working together and balancing for a sweeter, more aromatic flavor. With honey in the mix, it’s also thicker and stickier — though a teriyaki glaze would get you closer to that consistency.

How long do you need to marinate huli huli chicken?


Hawaiian chicken should marinate for at least 2 hours before grilling for the meat fibers to really soak up the flavors and tenderize. 

You can marinate for up to 8 hours but no longer than 24 hours if desired Excessive marinating will break down the meat too much and leave it mushy.

How long does it take a grill to preheat to 350°F?


It takes about 15 minutes for a grill to reach 350°F, or a “medium-high” heat. Make sure the grill is covered to speed up the process!

Can you bake huli huli chicken?


Yes — you can easily enjoy this Hawaiian chicken even without a smoker or grill.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake for 35 minutes until the thickest point of each thigh reaches 163 degrees F (the temperature will continue to rise as it rests). Let the chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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Hawaiian BBQ chicken in a pineapple boat serving dish

Hawaii Chicken (Huli Huli) + Video

4.93 from 14 votes
Grilled huli huli chicken is marinated and coated with a sweet, savory pineapple and soy sauce glaze. It’s succulent, juicy, and tender!
Servings: 8
Prep: 2 hours 10 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Total: 2 hours 22 minutes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • In a bowl, add the pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup, sherry, honey, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, Sriracha, stirring to combine. Reserve half for basting.
  • Place chicken in a resealable bag or container. Pour the marinade over, squeeze air out and seal. Refrigerate 2 hours minimum, but no longer than 24 hours.
  • Preheat grill to medium-high (350°F) OR set up and light the smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat it to medium (350°F).
  • Place chicken on cleaned, oiled grill and baste with reserved marinade. Grill chicken for 3 minutes per side, covered. After 1 1/2 minutes turn each piece a quarter turn for cross grill marks. Flip over, baste again and continue cooking. You want to check and have an internal temperature of 165°F.

Bake Oven Method

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake for 35 minutes until the thickest point of each thigh reaches 165F (the temperature will continue to rise as it rests). Let the chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Video

Notes

  1. Canned Pineapple juice – I use canned pineapple juice when marinating. Fresh pineapple juice contains an enzyme bromelain, which is a natural meat tenderizer, but if marinated too long it makes the texture of the chicken mushy. That enzyme is destroyed in the canning process.

Nutrition

Calories: 418kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 45g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 215mg | Sodium: 875mg | Potassium: 787mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 30g | Vitamin A: 180IU | Vitamin C: 10.6mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 2.6mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: Dinners
Cuisine: American, Hawaiian
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): grilled hawaiian huli huli chicken

Kevin

Whether in the kitchen or on the grill, you’ll find me cooking American favorites with a love for BBQ, Mexican and Tex Mex. I’m passionate about making tasty food because life’s too short to be bland!

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38 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I love this type of dish! The sauce makes everything taste so good! It’s great with rice, and extra chunks of pineapple,e. One of my favorites!

  2. 5 stars
    This sounds delicious. I make a sauce very similar to yours but without the heat for Hawaiian meatballs, I never thought of converting and using it as a grill sauce and marinade on grilled chicken. Thank you so much.I will be making your recipe in a few nights maybe adjusting it a little, not a fan of sriracha. My family will love it, they have been missing the Hawaiian meatballs (I only make in the winter when its cold, heats up the house), and are finally eating more chicken. Thank you for a GREAT recipe.

  3. This is great but, in my opinion, would even better with skin on chicken. Lots more calories I know, but great additional flavor!

  4. Pleasing, complex, balanced flavor that the whole family enjoyed! Adds pizazz to the usual skinless, boneless chicken. I made the marinade a day ahead and then marinated the chicken the day it was grilled. Came out great! Marinated for two hours, no mushiness, excellent leftovers.

  5. 5 stars
    Excited to try this is an understatement. Can’t wait for it to be done and I know my taste buds will be completely satisfied. Stay tuned!!