Huli Huli Chicken: The Hawaiian Grilled Delight

The first time I tasted huli huli chicken, I was transported straight to the beaches of Hawaii. The blend of sweet, savory, and tangy flavors ...

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Calvin Lamb

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Huli Huli Chicken

The first time I tasted huli huli chicken, I was transported straight to the beaches of Hawaii. The blend of sweet, savory, and tangy flavors dancing on my palate was nothing short of magical. In my opinion, this dish is the epitome of grilled chicken perfection. Its taste? A harmonious blend of sweet pineapple juice, salty soy sauce, and a hint of smoky ketchup, all rounded off with the richness of brown sugar. Whether you’re planning a family dinner, a summer cookout, or some meal prep for the week, huli huli chicken fits the bill perfectly.

Choosing the Right Chicken: Thighs or Breast?

When it comes to huli huli chicken, the choice of chicken is crucial. Do you go for chicken thighs or chicken breast? While both can work, chicken thighs, with their juiciness and flavor, are often the preferred choice. They absorb the huli huli marinade beautifully and remain tender even after grilling. However, if you’re watching your fat intake, chicken breasts can be a leaner option. Just ensure they’re marinated well to keep them moist.

Seasoning Secrets: What Goes into the Huli Huli Marinade?

What sets huli huli chicken apart from other grilled chicken recipes? The marinade! A blend of pineapple juice, soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic, this marinade is what gives the chicken its signature taste. But don’t stop there. For an added touch of Hawaiian flair, sprinkle some sesame seeds and chopped green onions before serving.

Recommended Cooking Equipment: Grilling the Hawaiian Way

The name “huli huli” translates to “turn turn” in Hawaiian, hinting at the cooking method. Traditionally, the chicken is turned on a grill, ensuring even cooking and a beautiful char.

  • The Grill: A good grill is paramount. Whether you’re using a charcoal or gas grill, ensure it’s clean and well-maintained. A clean grill prevents the chicken from sticking and ensures those perfect grill marks.
  • Instant Pot and Air Fryer: While traditional huli huli chicken is grilled, modern adaptations have seen it being made in Instant Pots and air fryers. Instant pot chicken enchiladas or air fryer baked potatoes can be great accompaniments.
  • Using the Equipment Effectively:
    • Grill: Preheat your grill to a medium-high heat. Ensure your chicken pieces are evenly marinated. Place them on the grill and let them sear without moving for a few minutes. Turn them over only once to ensure even cooking and a crispy skin. Remember, the “huli huli” or “turn turn” method is key!
    • Instant Pot: If you’re using an Instant Pot, you can first sear the chicken using the ‘Sauté’ function and then pressure cook it for a juicy finish.
    • Air Fryer: For those using an air fryer, ensure you don’t overcrowd the basket. Cook in batches if necessary. The hot circulating air will give the chicken a crispy exterior while keeping the inside tender.

The Ultimate Huli Huli Chicken Recipe

Yield: 4

Authentic Huli Huli Chicken with Pineapple Juice

Huli Huli Chicken

Authentic Huli Huli Chicken with Pineapple Juice is more than just a recipe; it's a ticket to a Hawaiian culinary adventure right in your home kitchen. The meticulous marination process, involving a rich blend of pineapple juice, soy sauce, and freshly grated ginger, promises to tenderize the chicken to perfection, infusing every fiber with tropical zest and savory notes. As you grill the chicken, the aroma transports you to a Hawaiian beach, setting a vibrant and joyful atmosphere for your meal. This dish not only tantalizes your taste buds but also nourishes your body with a balanced profile of proteins, carbs, and fats. It's a celebration of flavor and culture, promising a delightful dining experience with every bite.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Marination Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 45 minutes


  • 4 chicken thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped


Prepare the Marinade:

  • In a mixing bowl, pour in the pineapple juice.
  • Add soy sauce to the bowl, ensuring it blends well with the pineapple juice.
  • Introduce the ketchup to the mix, stirring continuously to maintain a smooth consistency.
  • Sprinkle in the brown sugar. Using a whisk, stir the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Grate fresh ginger directly into the bowl. If you're using pre-grated ginger, measure out the required amount and add it.
  • Mince the garlic cloves. For a more intense garlic flavor, you can add an extra clove. Incorporate the minced garlic into the marinade.
  • Mix all the ingredients thoroughly until you achieve a uniform marinade.

Marinating the Chicken:

  • Lay out the chicken thighs in a deep dish or a large zip-lock bag.
  • Pour the prepared marinade over the chicken, ensuring each piece is well-coated.
  • If using a zip-lock bag, press out as much air as possible before sealing. This ensures the marinade is in close contact with the chicken.
  • Place the chicken in the refrigerator. For best results, let it marinate for at least 2 hours. If you have the time, leaving it overnight will intensify the flavors.

Grilling the Chicken:

  • About 30 minutes before grilling, remove the chicken from the refrigerator to bring it closer to room temperature. This ensures even cooking.
  • Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. If using a charcoal grill, ensure the coals are white-hot and spread evenly.
  • Once the grill is ready, remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off any excess liquid.
  • Place the chicken thighs skin-side down on the grill. This will give them a nice sear and crispy skin.
  • Grill the chicken without moving for about 12-15 minutes. This allows the chicken to develop those beautiful grill marks.
  • Using tongs, carefully turn each chicken thigh over. Grill the other side for another 10 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked through. The internal temperature should reach 165°F (74°C).

Finishing Touches:

  • Once grilled to perfection, transfer the chicken to a serving plate.
  • While the chicken is still hot, sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over each piece.
  • Finely chop the green onions and scatter them over the chicken for a burst of color and flavor.
  • Let the chicken rest for about 5 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, ensuring a moist and flavorful bite.


  • Serve the Huli Huli chicken hot, alongside your chosen side dishes. Enjoy the tropical flavors of Hawaii in the comfort of your home!

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving:Calories: 320Total Fat: 12gSodium: 850mgCarbohydrates: 20gProtein: 28g

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Serving Suggestions and Suitable Side Dishes:

Huli huli chicken pairs beautifully with a variety of sides. Consider serving it with:

  • Fried Rice: A classic choice, especially when sprinkled with some green onions.
  • Easy Biscuits: These can soak up that delicious huli huli sauce.
  • Instant Pot Potato Salad: A creamy accompaniment that contrasts the chicken’s char.
  • Instant Pot Corn on the Cobb: A sweet and crunchy side that complements the savory chicken.

Cooking Tips and Common Mistakes to Avoid:

  1. Marination Time: Don’t rush this. The longer the chicken marinates, the more flavorful it will be.
  2. Grill Temperature: Ensure your grill is at the right temperature. Too hot, and the chicken might burn. Too low, and you’ll miss out on that crispy skin.
  3. Avoid Overcrowding: Whether on the grill or in an air fryer, give each chicken piece its space. This ensures even cooking.

Conclusion: A Taste of Hawaii at Home

Huli huli chicken isn’t just a dish; it’s an experience. Every bite takes you on a journey to the Hawaiian beaches, with the waves crashing and the sun setting. It’s a testament to the magic of simple ingredients coming together in perfect harmony. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a cooking novice, this dish is sure to impress. So, the next time you’re craving a tropical escape, remember the huli huli chicken. It’s a ticket to paradise, no flight required.


Who invented Huli Huli chicken?

Huli Huli chicken was invented by Ernest Morgado of Pacific Poultry in the 1950s. He popularized this dish during a fundraising event in Hawaii, and it quickly became a local sensation.

How long should you marinate chicken?

Ideally, chicken should be marinated for at least 2 hours. However, for deeper flavor penetration, marinating overnight in the refrigerator is recommended.

How many carbs are in Huli Huli chicken?

The carb content can vary based on the recipe, but on average, a serving of Huli Huli chicken contains about 20g of carbohydrates, primarily from the marinade ingredients.

How long should you grill chicken?

Grilling time depends on the chicken’s thickness and cut. For chicken thighs, grill for about 12-15 minutes on one side, then 10 minutes on the other, ensuring an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Can I use chicken breasts instead of thighs for Huli Huli chicken?

Yes, chicken breasts can be used, but they might be leaner. Ensure they’re marinated well to retain moisture during grilling.

What’s the significance of the name “Huli Huli”?

“Huli” means “turn” in Hawaiian. The name signifies the turning of the chicken while grilling to ensure even cooking.

Can I make Huli Huli chicken without a grill?

Absolutely! While grilling gives a smoky flavor, you can use an oven, broiler, or even an air fryer to achieve a similar result.

What can I use as a substitute for pineapple juice in the marinade?

If you don’t have pineapple juice, orange juice or apple cider can be used as a substitute, though it will slightly alter the flavor profile.

Is Huli Huli chicken spicy?

Traditional Huli Huli chicken is more sweet and tangy than spicy. However, you can add some heat by incorporating chili flakes or hot sauce into the marinade.

How do I store leftover Huli Huli chicken?

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They should be consumed within 3-4 days for the best quality.

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