Sunday, June 1, 2014

Hawaiian Style Huli Huli Chicken

Last year, Craig and I spent a glorious week on the Hawaiian island of Maui. During the flight, I flipped through the pages of the free magazine that the airline tucks into the back of each seat. There was an article about Huli Huli Chicken whick looked and sounded so delicious, that I hoped to find some during our vacation.

Huli-Huli Chicken is one of those great "only-in-Hawaii" foods. In 1955, Ernest Morgado of Pacific Poultry barbecued his version of teriyaki chicken for a farmers gathering. The chicken was such a hit, it became a favorite Hawaii fundraiser, raising perhaps millions over the ensuing years for schools, softball teams and hula halau (hula groups). The chicken was cooked between two grills. The grills had to be flipped over. And since huli is the Hawaiian word for turn, thus was born the name Huli-Huli Chicken. Huli-Huli chicken all but disappeared after Morgado asserted his rights to the trademark, and started marketing a bottled sauce under that name. Of course, you can still buy Huli-Huli-style chicken in the Islands, practically anywhere you see billows of great-smelling smoke emanating from a large roadside grill. It won’t be called Huli-Huli Chicken. But that's pretty much what it is. 

Alas, we never did find Huli Huli chicken, while visiting on Maui though we ate some fabulous food I was reminiscing about our Hawaiian vacation, and got to thinking about this Hawaiian chicken dish.  As always, I found a few recipes for Huli Huli chicken. I chose one of my most trusted sources, "Cook's Illustrated" and found a video and recipe on their sister website "Cook's Country". 

Cook's Country's twist on making Huli Huli chicken is to marinate the chicken with many of the flavors found in Huli Huli sauce. Here's Cook's Country's explanation of why they adapted their recipe this way: To mimic a Hawaiian rotisserie, we used a moderate number of coals spread in a single layer over the entire grill. The direct heat rendered the fat and crisped the skin, but the chicken was far enough from the coals to avoid burning. Most Huli Huli Chicken recipes instruct cooks to marinate the chicken in the sauce, but with so much sugar, it burned every time we grilled the chicken. Our solution was to use only soy sauce, water, and sautéed garlic and ginger as a brine. We grilled the chicken skin-side up to render the fat, and then turned it skin-side down to finish cooking and to crisp the skin (just one turn sufficed). Makes sense to me!
Cook's Country adapted this recipe for using either charcoal (our Weber) or a gas grill.  The marinade doesn't take a lot of work to mix. We start with 2 quarts of water and 2 cups of soy sauce.

Next, fresh minced ginger and garlic is quickly sauteed in a little oil, until fragrant, and then added, and stirred...

Since I was grilling for the two of us, I bought only one whole chicken (rather than two). I asked my butcher to cut out the back, and split the chicken in half. The chicken can marinate for at least one hour, but no more than eight hours (otherwise it will become too salty).

Let me preface that this Cook's Country's Huli Huli sauce is sticky, sweet and spicy-- and I'm going to make this sauce again, and again-- and not necessarily just for chicken. In fact, I think the sauce would be awesome on ribs!

To make the sauce, we use 16 ounces of pineapple juice, brown sugar...

...ketchup, rice vinegar...

...chili garlic paste

Last, but not least, we add plenty more fresh ginger and garlic.

The sauce is brought to a boil, then turned down just enough to simmer... just below a boil.  It took about 30 minutes for the sauce to reduce to about one cup, and it turned thick and syrupy.  (You can easily make this a few days ahead of time, if you'd like.)

I'll also include directions on how to adapt this to cooking with a gas grill, in the printable recipe card (and the end of this post). Craig has soaked wood chips for about 15 minutes and then drained them. He's started the coals, until they turned to a grey ash.  Then he spreads them evenly....

The soaked chips are folded into a foil packet with a few slit cuts with a knife. He cleans the grill (good boy) and brushes the grill with some vegetable oil.  Using the foil packet, instead of placing them wet chips directly on the coal is so that we don't have too much smoky flavor. The foil packet emits just enough smoke to give a great flavor to the chicken.  He covers the Weber grill for about five minutes.

While he's doing that, I've removed the chicken-- that has brined for a couple of hours.


 ...I pat the chicken dry and bring it out to my Grill Master.

It's important to place the chicken, skin side up, on top of the coals. The reason we don't start with the skin side down is that we don't want flare-ups, as the fat renders.  We also don't add the Huli Huli sauce, because there is so much sugar content, we are guaranteed to have Chicken FlambĂ©!  We let this chicken grill for 20-25 minutes, or until it reaches 120F.  There's a nice light golden color!

When Craig flipped over the chicken, my mouth began to water.  Still, we don't glaze the chicken. Instead we allow it to grill for about 20-25 more minutes, or until it reaches 170-175F.

At last, the Huli Huli sauce is slathered on the chicken!  See? No burnt chicken.

The sauce is outstanding-- but I'm not gonna lie. It's got a spicy kick from the chili-garlic sauce (and I noted that, so next time I'll decrease that by half).

 To keep things on the Hawaiian side, I served this with sticky rice and Hawaiian Macaroni Salad.

TASTING NOTES: Since the chicken was brined, it was really moist. It didn't taste super salty, at all, despite all that soy sauce. (There's enough water to dilute so this served to add more flavor to the chicken.)

The sauce... oh, the sauce! It was sticky, and sweet, and spicy and really rocked my world. We ended up spooning more sauce, as we ate our chicken. Craig ate the leg and thigh, and I ate the chicken breast. That means there's another half chicken, which has already been divided and packed for our lunches tomorrow.

How much work is involved?  Craig thought I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I made the Hawaiian Macaroni Salad in the morning, which took about an hour.  Making the sauce took about an hour, with chopping and mixing and keeping a sharp eye that the sauce didn't boil over or burn.  I don't think that's a lot of work-- and besides, I was so looking forward to trying this recipe! I'm sure glad that I did.

Since I never had authentic Huli Huli chicken, while in Hawaii, I can't vouch for the authenticity of the flavor. After reading many recipes, I think that Cook's Country capture the Aloha spirit and flavor of the islands. The Hawaiian macaroni salad was a big hit, and I'll be sharing that recipe next.  

While in Maui, we did a lot of Mai Tai tastings, and I was able to recreate a Mai Tai at home that was just as good as the ones we enjoyed in Hawaii. I'll be working on a post to share that, too.

Craig and I are both so thankful that the weather is so glorious that we can enjoy outdoor grilling and dining al fresco.  Last week, we enjoyed America's Test Kitchen's Asian Style Grilled Pork Tenderloin. This weekend, we enjoyed our dinner Hawaiian style. I am looking forward to trying many more new grilling recipes-- and our tomatoes look like they'll be ripe for the picking in just a few more weeks!

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

Hello Summer! Welcome back!

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Sherri@The Well Floured Kitchen said...

My husband and I spent our honeymoon eating our way through Hawaii! Such memories. But we never had this dish either. Looks and sounds amazing! Also had no idea about the sister website to Cooking Illustrated- going to check that out now.

judy jursch said...

Hi..I don't see a printable recipe card. Am I looking in the wrong place? I looked at the end of your post..didn't see anything.

Kate said...

Aloha! Looks as though you transported yourself to a great place! I have never heard of Huli Huli Chicken...that sauce sounds amazing. We will have to give it a try.

Debby Foodiewife said...

Judi, try refreshing the page. I can see the recipe card. If you still can't please email me at
Sorry about that!

Big Dude said...

This looks outstanding Debby and sounds like it was well worth the effort. Chris Grove made Huli Huli Chicken sliders for our luau blogger party last year and they were a big hit.

Joanne said...

What an awesome full-on hawaii inspired meal! Who needs to spend money on a plane ticket when you can make this at home.

Pam said...

Your chicken looks delicious and definitely makes me want to return to Hawaii!!! This is a must try, thanks for the recipe!