This juicy Hawaiian grilled huli huli chicken is marinated in a sweet and savory huli huli sauce and grilled to perfection. Sticky, sweet, and smokey – it’s a perfect trifecta!
What is Grilled Huli Huli Chicken?
Grilled huli huli chicken is a Hawaiian dish marinated in a classic Huli Huli sauce. In Hawaiian, “huli” means to “turn, reverse, or curl over”. The chicken is turned or “huli-ed” often as it grills to achieve a crispy grilled chicken texture.
The huli huli marinade and basting sauce is a combination of pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, chicken broth, garlic, and ginger. The marinade permeates the meat as it marinates, but also caramelizes on the chicken as it grills. This leads to an irresistible flavor that is tangy, sweet, and savory.
How to Make Grilled Huli Huli Chicken
Grilled huli huli chicken is a quick and easy entree that takes a mere 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to grill. To make it even better, prepare everything ahead of time for a smooth and easy dinner.
- Remove fat: Remove extra fat from chicken thighs.
- Whisk sauce: Whisk all ingredients together until well combined into a sauce. Reserve ¼ cup of sauce for basting.
- Marinate: Place chicken into marinade and marinate for at least 5 hours or overnight.
- Preheat grill: Preheat grill, place chicken on grill. Optionally, save raw marinade to make into a dipping sauce.
- Grill: Grill chicken, basting with the saved marinade. Serve right away when fully cooked.
Hot Tip: If you don’t have a grill, bake huli huli chicken in the oven at 425°F for about 20 minutes or until the internal temp reaches 165°F. The chicken will still be tangy, sweet, and savory, but without the smokey, grilled flavor.
Choosing the Right Huli Huli Chicken Ingredients
The ingredients for huli huli chicken are likely already in your pantry or easily found at your favorite grocery store. Here are a few tips to make the most of them.
- Chicken thighs: Boneless skinless chicken thighs work best as they stay moist and juicy while grilling. Chicken breast can also be used, but the chicken will likely be drier. If using chicken breast, it is best to marinate longer (overnight is best!).
- Pineapple juice – Use unsweetened pineapple juice for best results. If using canned pineapples, use the juice for the marinade and save the pineapples to grill and serve as a side dish.
- Ketchup: Your favorite ketchup will add flavor and richness to the sauce.
- Low sodium soy sauce: Use low sodium soy sauce as regular soy sauce increases the saltiness of the marinade.
- Brown sugar: The sugar will caramelize as it grills and give the chicken a sweet flavor.
- Chicken broth: Chicken broth will add more moisture and flavor to the marinade. Use our homemade chicken broth, or if using store-bought, opt for low sodium to avoid it being overly salty.
- Garlic – Freshly minced garlic will give you the best flavor.
- Ginger: Fresh ginger is best, but ginger paste is a good alternative.
Want it spicy? If you like the chicken spicy, add red chili flakes to the marinade for that extra kick of heat.
Tips 102: Make Your Grilled Huli Huli Chicken Even Better
Sometimes “good” isn’t enough. Elevate the recipe to the next level by following these simple tricks.
- Remove extra fat: Trim off any extra fat from chicken thighs to make the chicken healthier. Extra fat that is hanging from the edges of the chicken can burn easily on the grill or turn chewy.
- Reserve the marinade: Set aside ¼ cup of the marinade before mixing the rest of it with raw chicken. Use this to baste the chicken as it grills to add more flavor and moisture. Here is our favorite brush for basting.
- Don’t rush the marinating process: Marinate the chicken for at least five hours. It’s important not to skip this part. The longer the chicken marinates, the more flavorful and juicy it will be.
On a time crunch? Cut the chicken into bite-sized kabobs to reduce the time it needs to marinate. Continue to marinate for only 30 minutes to 2 hours. Bite sized pieces of chicken have more surface area to absorb the marinade, resulting in a quick marinate.
Additional Uses for Huli Huli Marinade
Do you love the huli huli marinade as much as we do? Here’s some other ideas to get your fix of huli huli.
- Make it into a dipping sauce. To make a dipping sauce with the raw marinade, simmer it in a saucepan. If the sauce is too thin, add two tablespoons of sauce into a small bowl and combine with one teaspoon of cornstarch. Mix until smooth, then add back to simmering sauce and combine well. Bring to a rolling boil to ensure the sauce is fully cooked and at a safe temperature (165°F). Remove from heat and serve!
- Use it in other recipes. Try using the same marinade as an alternative for the marinade in our Yakisoba Noodles. You can even add grilled huli huli chicken to the yakisoba noodles!
What to Serve with Grilled Huli Huli Chicken
To serve huli huli chicken, serve it as a whole piece of chicken or cut up the chicken into strips like our teriyaki chicken. Garnish with green onions for a perfect pop of color!
Grilled huli huli chicken is a very flavorful dish, so it is best served with sides that are lighter in flavor. You won’t go wrong with a classic side dish of rice or cilantro lime rice. To add more vegetables, pair it with our cabbage salad, make a simple lettuce salad topped with our special China Coast salad dressing, or grill any of your favorite veggies! Don’t forget grilled pineapple, especially if you reserved pineapple from the canned juice used for the marinade.
How to Store and Reheat Huli Huli Leftovers
You will undoubtedly want to make extra grilled huli huli chicken to enjoy as leftovers! In that case, here are some ways you can store it for later.
- Refrigerator: To keep leftovers fresh for up to 3-4 days, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Freezer: For long-term storage, freeze the chicken in a freezer safe bag for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge when ready to eat again.
- Reheating: To preserve the best taste, reheat in the oven at 350°F for 15-20 minutes or until heated through. Optionally, reheat it in a microwave.
What does Huli Huli sauce taste like?
Huli huli sauce tastes tangy, sweet, and savory. It is a mixture of pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, chicken broth, garlic, and ginger that caramelizes together when grilled.
What is best to serve with grilled huli huli chicken?
Grilled huli huli chicken pairs well with a side dish of rice, grilled pineapple or other grilled vegetables, and/or a simple lettuce salad.
Where did huli huli chicken come from?
Huli huli chicken was created by Ernest Morgado in Hawaii. His huli huli chicken was a teriyaki-like chicken grilled between two grills. When one side of the chicken was done, someone would shout “huli”, the Hawaiian word for “turn”.
Other Chicken Recipes to Try
- Grilled Teriyaki Chicken – Grilled chicken basted in a teriyaki sauce
- Baked Chicken Tenders – Crispy tenders made with easy ingredients
- Pesto Chicken – Just 4 ingredients and a quick bake in the oven!
- Honey Chicken Skewers – Sweet and salty honey grilled chicken
- Grilled Chicken Kebabs – Grilled chicken marinated in a ranch and mayo marinade
- Grilled Chicken Wings – All you need is 3 ingredients and a grill
- Cut off any excess fat from the chicken. Place it in a large bowl. In a separate dish, combine all the remaining ingredients. Whisk to combine.
- Reserve 1/4 cup of the marinade to use for basting later. Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken, let it marinate for at least 5 hours or leave it overnight.
- Once the chicken is fully marinated, preheat the grill to medium high heat. Place chicken on to the grill. Optionally, save the raw marinade to make into a dipping sauce.
- Grill chicken on each side for about 8 minutes, baste occasionally with the reserved 1/4 cup of marinade. Chicken is fully cooked when internal temperature reaches 165F. Serve right away.