When Jeff and I were planning our wedding trip to Hawaii, the travel package included a rental car. The choices were a convertible versus something-that-wasn’t-a-convertible. We went with the convertible and drove off in search of adventure. What we found one evening was a roadside trailer loaded with grills full of Huli-Huli Chicken, barbecuing over mesquite coals.

Even if I’d just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, I would pull over for Huli-Huli Chicken. The smell! The smell of smoke and chicken marinated dark brown sugar, fresh ginger, soy sauce, pineapple, rice vinegar, garlic, ketchup and a little Worcestershire. A sort of Hawaiian take on teriyaki sauce that’ll make your taste buds wake up and say, “Aloha.” But the strange thing is that you don’t really find it in Hawaiian restaurants. You find it at roadside stands, temporary parking lot set-ups and fundraisers – all with very long lines.

The father of Huli-Huli Chicken was Ernest Morgado, president of Pacific Poultry. He made a batch for a group of local farmers in 1955. They loved it. But he didn’t have the name until he started making and selling his chicken at school fundraisers. When the chicken was ready to flip, people would yell, “Huli!,” Hawaiian for “turn.”

As soon as we got home, Jeff started working on this recipe to bring back that night in Hawaii. Now, if I can just get him to “bring back” the convertible …

Huli-Huli Chicken

From Jeff and Rebecca Crump (Ezra Pound Cake)

Serves 4

  • 1 (4 pound) chicken, quartered
  • 1/2 cup shoyu or soy sauce (regular or gluten-free)*
  • 1/2 cup pureed pineapple chunks (or frozen pineapple concentrate)
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup (regular or gluten-free)*
  • 1/8 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 finger ginger, finely grated
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (regular or gluten-free)*
    Special Equipment:

  • Smoker grill
  • Mesquite coals
  • Mesquite chunks (soaked in water at least 1 hour)
  • Marinade mop
  1. Cut chicken into quarters, and place pieces in a large Ziploc bag.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine soy sauce, pineapple, brown sugar, ketchup, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic and Worcestershire. Pour half the mixture into a large resealable plastic bag with the chicken. Set aside remaining marinade for mopping chicken during cooking. Refrigerate chicken for 30 minutes.
  3. To Prepare the Smoker: Use a chimney to light your mesquite chunks or lump charcoal. When they’re flaming and charred on the outside, dump the coals into your smoker. When the temperature reaches 250°F, add a handful of soaked mesquite chips to your coals to get some smoke going.
  4. Remove chicken from the marinade, discarding the marinade that has come into contact with the raw chicken.
  5. Place the chicken on the grill, bone-side down, and mop the chicken with your reserved marinade. Flip and mop the chicken every 10-15 minutes until internal temp reaches 180°F, between 2 and 3 hours. Pull the chicken off the grill, and tent it under foil for at least 15 minutes before serving.

*Gluten-Free Tip: Choose GF soy sauce, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.

Alternate Cooking Methods

To Smoke/Grill: Smoke the chicken for around 90 minutes, and finish it on a traditional grill over medium heat. Turn and mop the chicken every 4-5 minutes to keep the brown sugar from burning. Remove from heat and tent with foil for at least 15 minutes.

To Broil: Line a broiler pan with foil. Keep chicken and marinade separate. Broil chicken, skin side up, on the broiler pan, for 10 minutes on each side. Then turn and baste with marinade every 5 minutes until browned, about 20 minutes total.