Huli Huli Chicken

This is the Hawaiian version of the Oil Drum Chicken that I love so much. The original recipe was developed in the ’50s by Ernest Morgado in Honolulu, and it became a big hit at local fundraisers where they grill up tons of this sweet/spicy chicken.

Huli means “turn” in Hawaiian. Since there’s a good bit of sugar in the marinade and the chicken is traditionally cooked hot and fast over open charcoal grills, huli huli is a reminder to keep turning the chicken so it doesn’t burn.

8 bone-in, skin-on thighs
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Sriracha Rooster sauce

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple (for the baste)

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until the garlic is minced. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken and the pineapple, and give them a whirl until they are well-combined.

Put the chicken in a zip-top bag and coat with the marinade. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, overnight is better.

Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium-high (400°F) heat.

Drain chicken and reserve marinade. Pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and add the crushed pineapple. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook until the sauce has reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat. Pour half the sauce off to baste the chicken with. Refrigerate the other half to serve with the finished chicken.

Put the chicken on the grill skin side down. close the lid and let cook for 20 minutes. Flip and cook for another 20 minutes. Baste both sides with the pineapple mixture, and cook for 10 minutes. Baste both sides one last time and cook for another 10 minutes.

Check chicken for doneness. While chicken is technically done when the internal temperature hits 160°F, the thighs will still be chewy at this point. I like to let them go to at least 180 to 200°F, depending on how crispy the skin is getting.

When the thighs are done, remove to a plate and let them rest for 10 minutes. Serve with the other half of the reserved  pineapple mixture.

The Verdict: ★★★★½
I had some reservation about this dish, as the ingredient list reminded me a little too much of the one for that nasty sweet and sour chicken I grew up with. Thankfully – this was not that dish.  The chicken was sweet and sticky, but nicely balanced with the salty tang of the soy and vinegar. The ginger and hot sauce gave it a spicy kick as well.

My only complaints were that the skin wasn’t as crispy as I like and that it could have used even more heat. Another 10 minutes on the grill and an additional squirt of Sriracha should fix both of those issues. Also, I might do this with a raised direct setup next time. Cooking it with indirect heat saved me from smoky flareups and charring, but I think this dish could stand a bit of that.

One thought on “Huli Huli Chicken”

  1. It seems like everyone is doing huli huli chicken this summer and I have it on my “to try soon” but just haven’t done it soon enough.

    I like your version and your thoughts on revising it. I’ll take all of that into consideration when I FINALLY get around to doing it, ha ha.

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