A classic grilled chicken recipe the whole family will love, this Huli Huli Chicken is sweet, tangy and smoky with lovely charred pieces. It smells divine while cooking on the grill and tastes even better!
Huli Huli Chicken Recipe
Huli Huli Chicken originated in Hawaii in 1955. Ernest Morgado, a Hawaiian businessman, used his mother’s recipe to baste a whole chicken grilled over wood chips on a makeshift split that had to be rotated manually. The cooking method allowed for the glaze to thicken and caramelize on the chicken, while imparting juicy flavor and a generous char.
Originally, Ernest would call out “huli,” which means turn in Hawaiian, to his assistant to signal that it was time to flip the chicken. The assistant would indicate his readiness by shouting “huli” back and they would both grab the giant metal contraption and turn it together.
The innovative way of cooking the chicken, in addition to the amazing smell it gives off while cooking would always draw an enthusiastic crowd. Eventually, onlookers joined in on these cries of “huli” and it became part of the whole spectacle.
Ernest’s family recipe was trademarked and bottled briefly for sale, but never shared. Many roadside stands and restaurants across Hawaii have come up with their own version, but only the Morgado family can lay claim to the original, authentic Huli Huli sauce recipe, which was a twist on a teriyaki glaze.
The flavor of this huli huli chicken is sweet with just the right amount of acidic tang. The brown sugar in the marinade helps the chicken fat char beautifully to impart a slightly smoky flavor to the cooked chicken.
Huli Huli sauce is incredibly versatile and is delicious slathered on grilled chicken, ribs or pork. I often make a double or triple batch so I can use it on another recipe within a couple of weeks. It will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks. You can also change up the flavor profile a bit by first rubbing the meat with a favorite spice blend before marinading in the huli huli sauce or adding a dash of your favorite hot sauce.
This recipe can also be made on a traditional BBG grill. I’ve also included baking directions in the recipe card below.
What is Huli Huli sauce made of? While every recipe differs, the main aspects are soy sauce, garlic, ginger, brown sugar and ketchup. Some versions call for pineapple juice, though many ascertain that the original would have never contained it – and pineapple juice is a tricky marinade ingredient as the enzymes can make chicken mushy as it breaks down the meat.
Sherry or sherry vinegar also appears in many versions, imparting a nutty and acidic flavor. Personally, I don’t ever have sherry or sherry vinegar and I doubt most families have it in their pantry, so I don’t include it in my recipe and instead substitute with chicken stock. One optional ingredient that I enjoy adding is sesame oil, which adds nutty, umami flavor, but it completely optional, so just use it if you have it.
How do you pronounce Huli? Huli has the same origin as hula hoop and is pronounced “hoo-li.”
What to Serve with Huli Huli Chicken
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Green Salad
- Roasted Vegetables
- Rice or Cauliflower Rice
- Grilled Pineapple from Dinner, then Dessert
- Grilled Peaches
- Pineapple Watermelon Salsa from The Soccer Mom Blog
- Cilantro Lime Rice from Kylee Cooks
You can also serve this huli huli chicken as kebabs. Our favorite huli huli chicken kebab combination is with pineapple and sweet bell peppers.
Huli Huli Chicken Ingredients
- Chicken Legs
- Brown Sugar
- Soy Sauce
- Chicken Stock, as needed
- Fresh Ginger, minced or crushed
- Garlic, minced or crushed
Scroll down to the printable recipe card for full measurements.
Tip: huli huli sauce is incredibly versatile and is delicious slathered on grilled chicken, ribs or pork. I sometimes like to add a bit of sesame oil to my marinade for added nutty-umami flavor.
Kitchen Tools You May Find Helpful
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Container with Lid
- Basting brush <– I like these because they are one solid piece and don’t have removable heads for bacteria to get trapped underneath. Plus they are heat-resistant and have a lifetime warranty.
- Grill Pan or Indoor Grill
- Meat Tongs
- Meat Thermometer <– This is the meat thermometer I have been using for the past 6 years – I’ve never had to change a battery and it’s super sturdy and reliable. It was a bit pricey, but unlike the $15 models that you can buy, this one isn’t going to need replacement. It is waterproof and comes with a two-year warranty.
How to Make Huli Huli Chicken
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Add enough chicken stock to make the sauce easy to spread.
Reserve 1/2 of the sauce to use for basting.
Place the chicken legs in a casserole dish or tupperware container and pour half of the Huli Huli sauce overtop.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes or overnight.
Set your indoor grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.
Rub or spray cooking oil over the pan and wait until it gets hot.
Using tongs, place the chicken legs on the grill, being sure not to have the chicken legs touching.
Throughout the cooking process, use a pastry brush or BBQ mop to apply the reserved sauce to the chicken.
Sear the chicken legs on each side, approximately 4-6 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF.
Remove from grill and allow to rest for about 10 minutes, covered with foil, before enjoying.
Pin this Delicious Grilled Chicken recipe for your next grill night:
Grab your free printable recipe card for our huli huli chicken recipe:
- 6-8 Chicken Legs
- 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
- 3 Tablespoons Ketchup
- 3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
- 2 Tablespoons Chicken Stock, as needed
- 1/2 teaspoon Fresh Ginger, minced or crushed
- 1 teaspoons Garlic, minced or crushed
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, ginger and garlic. Add enough chicken stock to make the sauce easy to spread.
- Reserve 1/2 of the sauce to use for basting.
- Place the chicken legs in a casserole dish or tupperware container and pour half of the Huli Huli sauce overtop.
- Refrigerate for 15 minutes or overnight.
- Set your indoor grill or grill pan over medium-high heat.
- Rub or spray cooking oil over the pan and wait until it gets hot.
- Using tongs, place the chicken legs on the grill, being sure not to have the chicken legs touching.
- Throughout the cooking process, use a pastry brush or BBQ mop to apply the reserved sauce to the chicken.
- Sear the chicken legs on each side, approximately 4-6 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165ºF.
- Remove from grill and allow to rest for about 10 minutes, covered with foil, before enjoying.
To bake your huli huli chicken, preheat oven to 350F.
Place chicken on an oven-safe rack over a foil-lined cookie sheet. Cook for 30-35 minutes, turning at least once during the baking process.
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Lodge 10.5 Inch Square Cast Iron Grill Pan. Pre-seasoned Grill Pan with Easy Grease Draining for Grilling Bacon, Steak, and Meats.
Hotec 5 pieces Set Basting Brushes Silicone Heat Resistant Pastry Brushes Spread Oil Butter Sauce Marinades for BBQ Grill Barbecue Baking Kitchen Cooking, Turkey Baster Baste Pastries Cakes Meat Desse
Organic Ginger, 8 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 406Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 262mgSodium: 514mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 0gSugar: 6gProtein: 50g
Sugar, Spice and Glitter uses an auto-generate nutrition calculator. Nutrition information isn’t always accurate unless analyzed in a scientific lab, so these should be considered more of a guideline than medical information.
I hope your family loves this huli huli chicken recipe as much as mine does! We love that huli huli sauce on ribs, too!
For more ways to enjoy chicken, check out our full chicken recipe collection here: