When dining out in Hawaii during a vacation, you might notice huli huli chicken on the menu, which is a staple of the regional cuisine. The dish features BBQ chicken slathered in a sweet and savory sauce. It is among the most popular comfort foods that locals and tourists enjoy on the islands. Below, you'll learn more about huli huli and its origins. 

History of Huli Huli Chicken

Huli huli chicken dates back to the mid-1950s. In 1954, Honolulu-based businessman and former naval intelligence officer Ernest Morgado founded the Pacific Poultry Company with chicken farmer Mike Asagi. The following year, the men barbecued chicken during a meeting with other Hawaii farmers. They slathered it in a teriyaki-like marinade based on Morgado's grandmother's recipe.

The other farmers thought the dish was delicious, which prompted the two men to serve it at local schools and church fundraisers. Since they cooked the chicken on a grill with a makeshift spit and frequently turned the meat, onlookers started calling it huli, the Hawaiian word for "turn." The dish quickly rose to popularity, inspiring restaurants, diners, and food trucks throughout the islands to create their version and add it to their menus.

Preparation and Serving

huli huli chicken

Restaurants and food trucks prepare huli huli chicken by grilling over mesquite wood. Chefs place the meat between two racks before putting it over the flames, turning it part-way through the cooking process, and applying BBQ sauce to all sides of the chicken. 

Professionals might also use a rotisserie to keep the chicken turning and ensure even cooking. Though chefs commonly use thighs, they can prepare the dish with other parts of the chicken, including breasts, wings, and leg quarters. 

The original recipe for Morgado's grandmother's BBQ sauce remains a secret. However, versions of this sweet and aromatic marinade often include soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil combined with brown sugar, fresh ginger, and garlic. When the flames reach the sauce, they leave a slight char. The result is sweet and smoky chicken that you can enjoy with quintessential local sides, like coconut sticky rice, pohole fern salad, and cornbread with guava butter. 


If you're visiting Maui and in the mood for huli huli chicken, head to Aloha 'Aina BBQ in Haiku, HI. This food truck offers local food and plate lunches, including BBQ chicken, pork belly, and fresh-caught fish, to hungry patrons on the island. Call (808) 437-7754 to ask about daily specials or set up catering services. Visit the website to learn more about their delicious dishes.