Have you ever tried Huli Huli chicken? It’s a super delicious, sweet and savory chicken dish with a Hawaiian tropical flavor profile.
The unique marinade is what gives it so much great flavor. The chicken is marinated for hours and it’s then grilled until charred and beautifully caramelized. So so good!
This Huli Huli chicken is also prep-ahead friendly. You’ll love how easy it is to make!
Whenever I want to grill something flavor-packed, I always go for this Huli Huli chicken. It’s absolutely delicious and a true family favorite.
The marinade for the Huli Huli chicken is made with a pineapple juice and soy sauce base, plus lots of other amazing ingredients that make chicken taste like heaven! It’s also a great prep-ahead recipe since it needs to marinate for hours, preferably overnight.
Why I absolutely love this Hawaiian Huli Huli chicken:
- Absolutely delicious and flavor-packed! You’ll love the sweet and savory marinade flavors.
- It’s tender thanks to that delicious marinade.
- Prep-ahead friendly. Because the chicken needs to marinate for several hours, it’s a great prep-ahead dinner option. When ready to eat, simply throw it on the grill!
A little bit of background history to honor its creator, Huli Huli chicken has its origins in Hawaii. Ernest Morgado’s family created this recipe in the 1950s. It was served in fundraisers and events, and eventually word got out and became very popular in the region. The word “huli” means “turn” in Hawaiian, which is in reference to the cooking method: the chicken is turned several times on the grill as it’s being basted with that delicious marinade.
The Huli Huli Marinade
The star of this huli huli chicken recipe is the marinade. No doubt. The main ingredients in the original marinade are soy sauce, ketchup, brown sugar, pineapple juice, ginger, and garlic. In addition to that, my recipe also calls for Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar, which add extra flavor and help tenderize the chicken even more.
Not only will we use it to marinate the chicken, but also baste the exterior of the chicken as it’s cooking. This adds exceptional flavors and creates a beautiful caramelized layer.
Here are a few kitchen notes on the ingredients I used. As always, you can find the full ingredient quantities, details, and instructions in the recipe card down below.
- Chicken thighs: Preferably skinless and boneless
- Soy sauce: For savory, umami flavors.
- Brown sugar: For sweet, caramelized flavors that balance out savory soy sauce.
- Ketchup: For flavor.
- Pineapple juice: Adds subtle tropical flavors.
- Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar: Helps tenderize the chicken
- Garlic and ginger: Aromatics add flavor.
- Ground black pepper and smoked paprika for seasoning.
- Fresh pineapple rings to grill and serve on the side
- Vegetable oil for the grill grates
Huli Huli chicken is very easy to make. It needs to marinate for a few hours, and the grilling process is really fast!
Step 1 | Marinate the chicken
In a large resealable bag, evenly combine all the marinade ingredients (see recipe card down below). Reserve about ½ cup of the marinade and set aside. Then, add the chicken into the marinade to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or preferably overnight.
Tip: Make sure to reserve some of the marinade BEFORE adding the chicken into it in order to prevent cross-contamination.
Step 2 | Grill the chicken and baste
Get your grill pre-heated. Grill chicken for 6 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for about 3 minutes. Baste the chicken with the reserved marinade, then flip again and cook for another 1-2 minutes on each side at a time. Repeat until fully cooked through in the center. They should cook for about 15-16 minutes total. Remove from grill and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Step 3 | Grill the pineapple rings and serve
Grill pineapple rings for both sides until you get nice grill marks. Serve the grilled Huli Huli chicken with grilled pineapple rings, and garnish with sliced scallions if desired.
How Long to Marinate the Chicken
The longer the chicken sits in the marinade, the better! That’s when all the flavors penetrate the chicken, making it super flavorful throughout.
My recommendation: Marinate for at least 4 to 6 hours, but preferably overnight or up to 48 hours (refrigerated). During the last 30 minutes, remove from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature before cooking.
Prefer to Bake the Chicken Instead?
If you prefer, you can bake Huli Huli chicken instead. It’s super easy and clean-up is definitely much simpler. Here’s how:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Arrange the marinated chicken on a baking pan in one single layer (try to space them out about 1 inch apart).
- Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
- Brush with some of the reserved marinade and arrange a few pineapple slices on top.
- Broil on high for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly caramelized.
Variations and Serving Ideas
To switch it up, try making chicken kabobs! Use chicken breasts instead of thighs for best results. You can also skewer pineapple chunks and bell peppers. Or try making Huli Huli chicken wings on the grill!
Great side dishes that go well with Huli Huli chicken:
For best flavors and results, at least 4-6 hours, but preferably overnight (refrigerate). No more than 48 hours.
No. Fresh pineapple juice contains an enzyme that will excessively tenderize the chicken, causing it to be mushy. Use canned or bottled pineapple juice instead.
Absolutely, although you may need to cook it a bit longer, depending on how thick the chicken breasts are.
Yes! Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Then, brush with the reserved marinade and arrange pineapple slices on top, and broil for 2-3 minutes until slightly caramelized.
This recipe was published in 2020 and updated in August 2022 to include new photos and information, plus a few recipe modifications.
Tips for Success
- Reserve ½ cup of the marinade BEFORE adding the chicken into the marinade to prevent cross-contamination.
- Do not use fresh pineapple juice, as it contains an enzyme that will cause the chicken to get too mushy. Instead, use canned or bottled pineapple juice.
- Marinate chicken for at least 4-6 hours or preferably overnight in order to maximize flavors and tenderize the thicken.
Hawaiian Huli Huli Chicken
- ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup ketchup
- 1 cup canned pineapple juice - do NOT use fresh pineapple juice
- ½ cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon grated or minced fresh ginger
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 pounds boneless chicken thighs - skin removed
- Fresh pineapple slices - to serve as a side
- Olive or vegetable oil - for the grill
- Sliced green onions, for garnish - optional
- In a large resealable bag, mix brown sugar, ketchup, canned pineapple juice, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, ginger, garlic, paprika, and ground black pepper until evenly combined.
- Reserve ½ cup of the marinade and store in the fridge for later (you will use this to brush the chicken).
- Add the chicken to the marinade in the resealable bag, making sure it’s all coated evenly. Seal the bag and marinate in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours or preferably overnight.
- Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge and let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes prior to grilling. Meanwhile, get a grill preheated and brush the grill grates with oil.
- Cook the chicken: Grill chicken for 6 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for about 3 minutes. Baste the chicken with the reserved ½ cup of the marinade, then flip again and cook for another 1-2 minutes on each side at a time. Repeat until fully cooked through in the center. They should cook for about 15-16 minutes total. Remove from grill and let it rest for 10 minutes. Note: In order to avoid cross-contamination, only use the reserved marinade to brush the chicken.
- Grill the pineapple sliced on both sides until you get grill marks.
- Serve the chicken with the grilled pineapple and garnish with green onions. Enjoy!
- For best flavors, marinate chicken for at least 4-6 hours or preferably overnight. You can marinate it for up to 48 hours.
- Do NOT use fresh pineapple juice, as it contains an enzyme that will break down the chicken. Use canned or bottled pineapple juice.
- Prefer to bake instead of grilling? Bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F. Then, brush with the reserved marinade and arrange pineapple slices on top, and broil for 2-3 minutes until caramelized.
- Chicken thighs: chicken breasts, bone-in chicken thighs, drumsticks, etc. Note: cooking times may vary.