Huli-Huli Chicken Wings

Having used up my vacation days writing a book earlier this year, I wasn’t able to join my wife and son during their summer trip to visit family in Hawaii. While there, they lovingly (teasingly?) texted me photos of all the delicious meals they were enjoying. So for my own little slice of revenge, I developed this recipe for one of Hawaii’s best-known dishes, Huli-Huli Chicken, while they were gone.

“Huli-Huli” translates to “turn, turn” in the Hawaiian language, but this chicken is not a traditional Hawaiian dish. In the 1950s, the head of a Hawaii chicken breeders association, Ernest Morgado, broiled up some teriyaki chicken for a farmers’ meeting. The chicken was a hit, and so he started selling the cooked chickens for local fundraisers. The name “Huli-Huli” comes from the fact that the chickens are cooked between two grills, and are turned as each side finishes cooking. Today, Huli-Huli Chicken is still a staple fundraising tool in Hawaii. Morgado, who passed away in 2002, holds the Guinness world record for the single largest chicken barbecue, cooking 46,386 chicken halves at a school fundraiser in 1981.

Morgado trademarked the name “Huli-Huli” in 1958 and the sauce is still sold today. For a bit of excitement, I decided to make my recipe using wings, to fully capture the sticky-sweet fun of eating this dish. My take on the sauce uses pineapple juice, honey, and apple cider vinegar to lend the chicken its sweet flavor (as opposed to gobs of brown sugar), and a bit of red palm oil will give the dish its signature red color (usually achieved with ketchup).

By the way, Ernest Morgado and I share more than just a love for chicken: he served as a Navy Chief Petty Officer during WWII (I’ve been serving in the Navy since 2000, and was recently promoted to the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer).

One of my favorite aspects of this dish is the fact that it’s so easy to prepare – throw the chicken together with the marinade, give it time, then pop it on the grill.

Huli Huli Chicken Wings (Gluten-free, Paleo, Primal, Perfect Health Diet friendly)

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30-50 minutes plus time to marinate
  • Difficulty: Easy
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3-4 lbs chicken wings, drummettes, drumsticks, or thighs

For the marinade:
1 can (8oz) pineapple slices in juice, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp tamari (or 2.5 tbsp coconut aminos)
1 tbsp red palm oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp white pepper

1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Remove the pineapple slices from the can, then add the juice (about 1/4 cup) to a mixing bowl with the remaining marinade ingredients. Set the slices aside and store until you’re ready to cook the chicken. Add the chicken and toss until combined; transfer to a resealable plastic bag and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours but up to overnight.

2. Prepare your grill for indirect grilling by igniting the burners on only one side (gas grill) or by banking the coals to one side (charcoal grill). Place the chicken pieces on the cool side of the grill, reserving the marinade. Cover and grill over indirect medium-high heat (375F) until just cooked through, 25-45 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces (25 mins for wings, 45 mins for thighs).

3. Transfer the chicken to the hot side of the grill, then brush with the reserve marinade. Grill over direct heat for a couple minutes, then rotate the chicken and brush again with the marinade. Remove from the heat when started to brown, about 2 more minutes; rest for 5 minutes. While the chicken rests, place the pineapple slices on the hot side of the grill until roasted and slightly charred, about 2 minutes per side.

4. Serve the chicken with the pineapple, the latter drizzled with a bit of honey.

** When buying a can of pineapple slices, be sure to buy some that are in 100% pineapple juice. Alternatively, you can use fresh pineapple slices and 1/4 cup pineapple juice.

** To determine medium-high heat on a charcoal grill, place your hand about six inches over the hot part of the grill; you should be able to hold it there for about five seconds before having to take your hand away.

** Oven instructions: complete the recipe up through step #1, then place the wings on a rimmed baking sheet (or two) lined with a cooling rack. Bake at 400F until crispy, about 50 minutes, rotating the baking sheets about halfway through cooking.

27 thoughts on “Huli-Huli Chicken Wings

  1. Just in time for this holiday weekend! I haven’t found a good source of free-range chicken that just offers wings so I’ll have to do this with whole cut-up chicken. Looks really good ~Thanks.

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  2. This recipe looks amazing — I was just thinking that I needed to find something different to do with chicken. And congratulations on your promotion! My brother was a Navy nuke for 8 years, and I know how competitive the Master Chief promotion process is.

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  3. This is perfect, as I was just looking for a way to use up a can of pineapple juice I opened for a party! I’m planning on using chicken breasts, maybe cut up into bite-sized pieces and skewered. Would the same technique of cooking over indirect heat and then direct apply?

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