Hawaii-Style Huli Huli Chicken

Mom Kaiura's Potato Salad served with Huli Huli Chicken

July 7, 2023

If you grew up in Hawaii, huli huli chicken evokes memories of big, billowing smoke and an unmistakable, delicious aroma wafting from huge grills.

Huli-huli chicken was a favorite fundraising vehicle for schools, churches, and social groups. People sold tickets to friends and family and on the designated day, you would head down, turn in your ticket, and receive a (literal) bag of grilled chicken. In those days, one ticket got you a perfectly grilled, delicious half chicken.

Mom Kaiura's Potato Salad on a dinner plate with Huli Huli chicken and grilled vegetables

Huli Huli Chicken origins

A lot has been written about the history of this Hawaii-specific food. Ernest Morgado of Pacific Poultry is the creator of Huli Huli Chicken. His original recipe is a closely guarded trade secret.

There are many different versions that have been offered over the years. One of the most surprising things about these recipes is that they start off sounding like a traditional American barbecue with the use of ketchup and vinegar. Soy sauce, along with ginger and garlic, brings it back to the Asian flavors we love in Hawaii.

This recipe is a blending of the many recipes I discovered online.

Huli huli chicken - closeup

Some key factors

Grilled not baked: It is important to cook the chicken on a grill and not in the oven. Remember the big, billowing smoke? The flavors of huli huli chicken really come out when you cook over a live flame. It is an important part of the overall flavor.

Smoke emanating from the grill when cooking huli huli chicken
Even a kettle grill emanates smoke when cooking huli huli chicken.

Don’t use boneless, skinless chicken: You will get much better flavor cooking bone-in chicken and the skin not only protects the chicken but keeps it moist and juicy. Half chickens were originally used, I like to use chicken leg quarters.

A glaze isn’t necessary: I found that some recipes liked to treat their huli huli chicken like a teriyaki chicken, creating a glaze for it. Traditionally, huli huli chicken was grilled and put into a plastic bag and handed over to hungry ticket holders. There was no additional glaze needed. Some of the marinade is reserved before adding the chicken and used as a mop during cooking but not cooked down to use as a glaze.

Remember to huli your chicken: In Hawaiian, huli means “to turn.” Originally the chickens were placed between two grill grates (or chicken wire) that had to be flipped over as the chickens cooked, hence the name, huli huli chicken. Throughout the cooking process, you should flip the chicken every 5 minutes.

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Mom Kaiura's Potato Salad served with Huli Huli Chicken

Hawaii-Style Huli Huli Chicken


  • Author: She’s Almost Always Hungry
  • Total Time: 8 hours, 40 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x

Description

This delicious, juicy chicken, cooked on a grill, is a home version of a local Hawaii fundraising staple. While it could be baked in the oven, it wouldn’t have the authentic Huli Huli Chicken flavor.


Ingredients

Scale

4 pounds chicken leg quarters (about 8 leg quarters)

For the marinade:

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon ginger, finely grated

3 cloves garlic, finely minced


Instructions

To marinate

In a large bowl (I use a liquid measuring cup), combine the marinade ingredients. Stir until the brown sugar is dissolved. Reserve ½ cup and set aside.

In a large zip-top bag (or several, as needed), place the chicken leg quarters. Add the marinade. Try to remove as much of the air from the bag before sealing. Massage the bag to coat the chicken.

Refrigerate the chicken for at least 4 hours or overnight, flipping the bag and lightly massaging the chicken a few times.

To cook

Prepare your grill by heating coals to medium (you should be able to hold your hand for 5-7 seconds, 5″ from the coals). Coat the grill with cooking spray and allow to heat for 5 minutes.

Place the chicken on the grill and cover. Cook for 25-30 minutes, flipping the chicken every 5 minutes. Lightly brush the chicken with the reserved marinade with each turn (do not use the marinade that held the raw chicken). Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees F. When you cut the legs at the joint, you shouldn’t see any blood and the juices should run clear.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Inactive Time: 8 hours
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Main Dishes
  • Cuisine: Hawaiian-American

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 leg quarter
  • Calories: 500.67
  • Sugar: 16.81 g.
  • Sodium: 1098.61 mg.
  • Fat: 32.07 g.
  • Saturated Fat: 8.63 g.
  • Carbohydrates: 19.42 g.
  • Fiber: 0.2 g.
  • Protein: 33.1 g.
  • Cholesterol: 188.92 mg.

Keywords: chicken

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