Huli Huli Chicken

4.97 from 32 votes
↓ Jump to Recipe 8

This post may contain affiliate links | disclosure policy

Are you craving a Hawaiian-inspired barbecue or luau? This huli huli chicken is marinated in a sweet and savory sauce, which turns into an incredibly flavorful glaze during grilling.

Huli huli chicken served on a white plater with grilled pineapple.

Recipe Science

  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs have a higher fat content, which helps keep the meat moist and tender during grilling.
  • The meat is soaked in the huli huli marinade for up to 24 hours to prevent a dry, jery-like texture.
  • “Huli” means “turn” in Hawaiian, frequently turning the chicken to evenly caramelize the sticky sauce and prevent burning.

Why It Works

For this Hawaiian huli huli chicken recipe, I use a tomato-based chicken marinade that combines savory soy sauce, dark brown sugar, and rice vinegar to balance the bold flavors. The flavor pop comes from finely grated fresh garlic cloves and ginger that add a spicy, aromatic taste.

The chicken thighs marinate in the huli huli sauce for at least 3 hours to get a strong coating. You can even prepare it a day ahead, so you can just fire up the grill when you’re ready. Huli means turn, so the the trick is to “huli” the grilled chicken a few times to let the sticky sauce caramelize on the surface.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Labeled ingredients to make Hawaiian inspired grilled chicken.
  • Chicken: For this recipe, I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The meat is fatter, which helps it stay moist and tender while being grilled, turned over, and basted several times.
  • Seasoning: I use equal amounts of ketchup, soy sauce, and dark brown sugar for rich molasses notes. The tomato concentrate and soy naturally contain umami flavors, which enhance the marinade’s savory taste. I add salt to ensure the meat is well seasoned and pepper for spice.
  • Vinegar: Unseasoned rice vinegar adds a bright and tangy taste.
  • Aromatics: To infuse a stronger spicy, pungent, and sulfurous taste, finely grate fresh ginger and garlic into a paste. A fine kitchen grater like a microplane makes the job easy! 

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

This huli huli chicken recipe is easy to customize! Try these delicious options:

  • Chicken Choices: If you prefer lean meat, use chicken breast. Adjust the cooking time to ensure that the texture does not dry out. Skin-on, bone-in light, or dark meat can be used, although you’ll need more time to cook since the bones act as an insulator.
  • Sweetener: Use granulated sugar, honey, or maple syrup.
  • Oil: If you like the taste of sesame oil, add 1 to 2 teaspoons to the marinade mixture.
  • Vinegar: Use mild apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar.
  • Juice: Pineapple juice, orange juice, or guava juice adds a fruit taste to the marinade.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos.

How to Make Huli Huli Chicken

Bowl of unmixed marinade ingredients.

Step 1: Make the Marinade

In a large bowl, whisk together the ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt, and black pepper.

Bowl of marinade that has been whisked together.

Save a ½ cup of the sauce to baste the chicken.

Pieces of chicken thighs marinating in a baking dish.

Step 2: Marinate the Chicken

Marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours. Any longer, and it will get too dried out and become like jerky.

Step 3: Preheat the Grill

Grill the chicken over medium-high heat, between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). This temperature helps develop the initial light char marks on both sides. 

Brushing marinade on a piece of chicken while grilling.

Step 4: Grill the Chicken

I cook the meat for 5 minutes to get a nice sear, then flip and baste with the reserved marinade. Repeat the flipping and basting at least two more times to get a beautifully caramelized surface and fully cooked pieces. The sauce contains sugar, so it will burn if not monitored.

Move the chicken to the indirect heat side if you see the surface charring too quickly. For boneless chicken thighs, target between 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77), about 15 minutes, longer for bone-in pieces.

Tips for Perfect Execution: What makes this technique different from your typical grilled chicken is the frequent turning and brushing with the sauce. The meat cooks for a few minutes on each side for even cooking. This prevents the sauce from burning. I do a similar method for making chicken yakitori.

Close up of a plate of grilled huli huli chicken.
Huli huli chicken served with macaroni salad and white rice.

Step 4: Garnish and Serve

Cover the chicken with foil to keep warm. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with green onions for a delicate herb flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is huli huli chicken?

This popular dish was created on the shores of Oahu by Ernest Morgado. In 1955, the Honolulu-based businessman would grill up delicious pieces of teriyaki-style chicken for local patrons. The traditional Hawaiian preparation is between two racks and turned, or “hulied” for even cooking, hence the name, huli huli. The sauce can be customized, but the base is ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, ginger, and garlic. Use pieces of light or dark meat, bone-in chicken, or boneless for quicker cooking.

Can you use chicken breast or bone-in pieces?

Yes! If you prefer light meat, you can substitute chicken breast for chicken thighs. The chicken will cook faster and be leaner, so keep an eye out for doneness a few minutes earlier. Bone-in pieces will take longer to cook.

How do you substitute the ketchup in the huli huli sauce?

Mix ¼ cup of tomato paste with ½ cup of water or pineapple juice. Measure out ½ cup of the mixture and add it to the sauce. If you’d like, add ½ teaspoon of onion powder. Ketchup is simply tomato paste diluted to a pourable consistency and flavored with sugar, distilled vinegar, salt, onion powder, and other proprietary seasonings.

Can I use the huli huli marinade just as a sauce?

I recommend simmering the ingredients on the stovetop over medium-low heat for about 5 to 10 minutes before using it as just a sauce. This process will help evaporate some moisture, making a thicker, stickier consistency. Cooking also helps to mellow the spice from the grated ginger and garlic, which is a little harsh eaten raw.

Can you make huli huli chicken spicy?

Add red pepper flakes, chili oil, sriracha, or other types of chili sauce to the marinade. Start with ⅛ teaspoon, increasing the amount to the desired heat level.

How long does it take to grill huli huli chicken breasts?

For boneless chicken breast, target between 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºF) for breasts so that it doesn’t dry out. It will take about 3 to 8 minutes per side, depending on if it’s cut into thinner cutlets or longer with the bone.

Serve This With

If you tried this grilled Huli Huli Chicken recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Huli Huli Chicken

Hawaiian huli huli chicken marinated in a sweet and savory sauce, which turns to an incredibly flavorful glaze during grilling.
4.97 from 32 votes
Prep Time3 hours 15 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time3 hours 30 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Asian

Ingredients 
 

  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated garlic
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 pounds boneless chicken thighs, fat trimmed
  • vegetable oil, for greasing the grill
  • 1 tablespoon sliced green onions

Instructions 

  • Make the marinade – In a bowl, whisk together the ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt, and pepper. Reserve ½ cup for basting, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Marinate the Chicken – Add the chicken to a baking dish or resealable plastic bag. Pour in the marinade and turn the pieces to coat evenly. Tightly cover or reseal and transfer to the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.
  • Preheat the Grill – Preheat the grill over medium-high heat between 375 to 400ºF (191 to 204ºC). Clean and carefully grease the cooking grates with the oil.
  • Grill the Chicken – Place the meat on the grill and close the lid. Cook for 5 minutes, then flip and baste with the reserved sauce. Cook covered for about 5 minutes, then flip and baste. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and baste, then cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
    Cook until the internal temperature reaches about 165 to 170ºF (74 to 77ºC) on a meat thermometer. If the chicken is browning too quickly, move it to the indirect heat side of the grill to finish.
  • To Serve – Cover the chicken with foil to keep warm. Rest for 5 minutes before slicing or serving. Garnish with green onions.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Servings: About 12 smaller pieces, varies by brand
  • Marinade: Makes 1 ½ cups
  • Storing: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Store marinade for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
  • Reheating: Cover and microwave the chicken on high heat in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
  • Ketchup Substitute: Combine ¼ cup tomato paste and ½ cup water or pineapple juice. Add ½ cup of the mixture to the sauce. If desired, add ½ teaspoon onion powder.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute soy sauce with gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 12 servings
Calories 302kcal (15%)Carbohydrates 13g (4%)Protein 20g (40%)Fat 19g (29%)Saturated Fat 5g (25%)Polyunsaturated Fat 4gMonounsaturated Fat 8gTrans Fat 1gCholesterol 111mg (37%)Sodium 818mg (34%)Potassium 300mg (9%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 11g (12%)Vitamin A 145IU (3%)Vitamin C 1mg (1%)Calcium 22mg (2%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

Tried this recipe?

Tag me on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!

Tag @jessica_gavin

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Quick & Easy Meals in Under 30 Minutes!
Get 25 simple meals your whole family will love.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




8 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Jen says

    Excellent recipe – super easy and appreciated the exact timing for the grill! We used boneless chicken breasts, and they were great. Made the Hawaiian Macaroni Salad as a side, and it was the perfect complement.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you for your feedback! I love that you paired the chicken with the mac salad. A Hawaiian feast!

  2. John Rains says

    I made it last weekend. Absolutely Awesome. I used the Boneless Thighs. Going to try it again with the Boneless Skinless Breast. That Huli-Huli Marinade is the best I’ve had.

  3. Gail Noren says

    This was one of the best chicken recipes I’ve ever made. The chicken stays juicy and the marinade is not overwhelmingly sweet. Super easy and it’s a dish that my whole family enjoyed! It’s a keeper!

  4. Alison Bravenec says

    New favorite! So delicious. Next time I need to double the amount of chicken — it’s that good!