This is my easy and savory take on Hawaii-style huli-huli chicken thighs. It’s really all about the sauce, a Hawaii version of teriyaki with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. Just in time for July 4 picnics or any potluck or home dinner, and perfect with my Hawaii style potato salad and whatever else you like on your plate.
My son, who was born and raised in Hawaii but lives now in Denver (and whose own son is the reason I’m in Denver) said a couple weeks ago that he had the onos for Huli-Huli chicken. (Hint: ono is a Hawaiian word meaning delicious but also meaning cravings). And could I make him some Hawaii-style huli-huli chicken?
It brought back memories of enormous rotisserie grills set up in large parking lots in Honolulu. The grilling would start at dawn and go for hours, roasting whole chickens between two sets of flames. In Hawaiian, Huli-huli literally means “turn-turn”.
We’d buy fundraising tickets from someone (school group, sports team, hula group, you name it). On the appointed day, we’d go stop by to pick up our bird or birds, usually in paper lunch sacks.
Once you were headed in the general direction, you only needed to follow the billowing smoke and steam rising above the streets. The chicken is always fall-off-the-bone tender and worth the trip.
Don’t have a grill? I don’t either, and here I’ve described how to roast the Hawaii-style huli-huli chicken thighs instead. Of course, if your potluck host is offering a grill, take the thighs marinated but uncooked and grill them there.
A “Huli-huli” style sauce
There is a specific, trademarked Huli-Huli sauce, thus the quotation marks around this recipe. I used the recipe I’ve had since some time in the mid-80’s, consulted several other recipes when I was testing substitute ingredients, mixed and tasted. I think the fresh ginger and garlic are key to the flavors but you could use dried in a pinch.
I saw several recipes that called for pineapple juice. Though I’m sure that could be very tasty, I never used that in my recipe. It would be like putting pineapple on pizza, though, probably lots of people associate that with Hawaii. The tartness comes instead from a little ketchup and a little Sriracha in mine.
This is also much less sweet than many of the recipes I saw, so if you already know you prefer your teriyaki sweet, I give you permission to increase the sugar!
I did make some substitutions based on how we’re eating now!
- No honey so that the baby (now 9 months) can eat some; maple syrup instead
- Tamari (gluten-free) and/or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce
- Mirin instead of sherry
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Roasting vs. Grilling the Hawaii-style huli-huli chicken thighs
Since I have no grill, I replicated the huli-huli process by turning the pieces as they roasted. I started by turning them every 10 minutes during their hour of roasting. That seemed to heat up the kitchen wayyy more than needed, so I got lazy. Lazy method: as long as you end with the skin-side up to crisp the skin, you could just turn the pieces once or twice, and it’s pretty close to our memories!
I hope you will enjoy this recipe as much as we did, and let me know in the comments if you had a chance to try it.
Other Hawaii-inspired recipes on A Meal In Mind
Shop Hawaii Style Huli-Huli Chicken
Most of the items in this batch of recommendations are ingredients, in case you don’t have a good Asian grocery nearby or have grade B maple syrup in your store. But these silicon-tipped tongs are great for turning large items such as chicken thighs.
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This is my easy and savory take on huli-huli chicken. It’s really all about the sauce, a Hawaii version of teriyaki with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce, but gluten-free. Just in time for July 4 picnics or any potluck.
- 6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, about 2½ pounds
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce or coconut aminos
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon mirin (or sherry)
- 2 teaspoons roasted (dark) sesame oil
- 1-2 teaspoons ginger root, grated
- 1-2 cloves garlic, pressed
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce or to taste
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
- Mix all ingredients except for chicken in a small bowl.
- Drizzle sauce over both sides of thighs and marinate for at least ½ hour, preferably 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Bake skin-side down for 25 minutes, then flip and bake skin-side up 30 minutes more. Check using an oven thermometer that the internal temperature of your chicken has reached 165 degrees F, especially if thighs are quite thick.
- Skin should be reddish-golden and slightly crisp, with tender meat.
- Serve with hawaii-style potato salad, roasted sweet potatoes, some greens and white rice according to your preferences.
We prefer using skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs for this dish because the skin keeps the meat moist and the bones give so much flavor. However, you can easily make this recipe using boneless, skinless thighs. Simply cook for a much shorter time; 20 minutes should be enough. Turn the thighs once during cooking to be sure they are coated with sauce and not drying out.
Keywords: chicken like huli huli, soy sauce, marinated chicken, roast chicken, Hawaii potluck dish, asian chicken main dish, similar to teriyaki
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