Hawaiian Huli-huli Chicken

Bursting with island flavors!

Aloha! This recipe is as fun and easy to make as the name sounds. It’s also a staple-quality dish you can put in the rotation and never get sick of! It’s sweet, savory and of course with my personal twist of spiciness added. It’s not very spicy though – just enough to offset the sweetness.

Huli-huli is a grilled chicken dish in Hawaiian cuisine, prepared by barbecuing a chicken over mesquite wood, turning it often and basting it with a sweet sauce. Huli is the Hawaiian word for “turn.”

The charcoal method is so important to the flavor of this chicken and you can get it even closer to authentic by adding some dampened mesquite chunks to the edge of the coals so they smolder.

And be sure to use canned, processed pineapple juice for the marinade because the enzymes that would normally break down the meat are pretty much gone. But for the pineapple slices, you must use fresh as canned will just disintegrate on the grill grates. And yes, you gotta char those pineapples!

In Hawaii you might see Huli-huli chicken served alongside macaroni salad – the creamy kind. It’s sort of the national side dish!

If you want to elevate it a bit, go with this Coconut Cilantro rice recipe for a great balanced dish.

Thanks to my friend Madame Donut from Masterchef for the inspiration behind this dish. She’s been working tirelessly on Maui to assist her people in the aftermath of the devastating wild fires in Lahaina. If you can, please lend some support to the relief efforts there.

Huli-huli Chicken

Hawaiian classic
Prep Time: 1 day
Cook Time: 1 hour
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Asian
Servings: 4


  • 1 Charcoal grill


  • 3-4 lbs Chicken thighs - bone-in or on, skinless
  • 3 stalks Green onion - thin sliced (garnish)
  • 4-6 whole fresh pineapple slices - not canned!


  • 6 oz Pineapple juice - Canned!
  • 6-8 cloves Garlic - microplaned
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger - microplaned
  • 3/4 cup Ketchup
  • 3/4 cup Soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup Shaoxing cooking wine - or Sherry
  • 1 Tbsp Sambal Oelek - chili paste
  • 3 Tbsp Rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp Hot honey
  • 1 Tbsp Black pepper - coarse
  • 2/3 cup Brown sugar



  • Combine all marinade ingredients into a bowl and whisk until combined fully.
  • Reserve 1.5C of sauce in mason jar, refrigerate. 
  • Place rest of marinade in Gallon ziplock with chicken thighs. Marinate in refrigerator overnight, 24 hours is best!


  • Strongly recommend cooking over a charcoal fire. The flavor on a gas grill isn't comparable! You definitely need a grill with a lid as you will cover the grill when chicken cooks on indirect heat side. If you have some mesquite wood chunks, soak them in water for 30 min. and place against coals on edge of cool zone. This will mimic how they cook this originally in Hawaii over mesquite fire.
  • Start a two-zone fire, one hot side, leaving another equal size space without direct heat. Remove chicken from fridge when you start this process. Remove reserved marinade and grab a basting brush.
  • When fire is ready, remove chicken from fridge and place in colander, rinsing marinade off. Paper towel dry the chicken.
  • Sear chicken over direct heat a few minutes on each side to get a nice slightly charred surface. Move chicken to non-heat side and baste with marinade. Cover the grill. Let cook 5-6 minutes and flip, basting the other side. Cover the grill! This is always done on the non-direct heat side as the marinade will burn if over direct heat!
  • Continue to turn and baste every 5 minutes until you reach 170F with probe thermometer in thickest piece of thigh. In final minutes of cooking, place fresh pineapple slices over direct heat and sear for a few minutes on each side.
  • Remove chicken and pineapple from heat, tent with foil and allow to rest 5 minutes. Garnish with sliced green onion and serve with Coconut Cilantro rice or in Hawaiian tradition with cold macaroni salad!
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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