Alana Kysar

It’s dead simple to whip up and makes the meat sweet, tangy, and succulent, with just the right amount of bitterness

Hugh Garvey  – May 23, 2019

Recipes you can commit to heart are the ones you tend to cook forever. And this super-easy Hawaiian barbecue chicken is going to be on heavy rotation on my grill this summer. You can count the steps on one hand: Mix 1/2 cup each soy sauce, brown sugar, ketchup. Stir in a 1/4 cup rice vinegar. Add some garlic and ginger. Mix and marinate some chicken with it. Grill it.

And right there is the shortcut version of the local-style BBQ chicken recipe that appears in the new cookbook Aloha Kitchen: Recipes from Hawaii by Alana Kysar, a food writer who was born in Hawaii and now lives in L.A. The book compiles all the Hawaiian dishes you want to make at home: from pit-free kalua pig to a dead-simple shoyu ahi poke that predated the mainland’s current (waning?) obsession with the stuff. There’s lot of good grilled stuff in the book, but this chicken is by far the easiest and pays off maximum flavor with minimal effort.

After a nice long bath in the marinade and a few turns on a hot grill, the chicken comes out sweet and tangy and succulent, but with just the right amount of bitterness, like a piece of toast taken a bit too far. In Hawaii it’s also called huli huli chicken, a sing-song name that means “turn turn,” which references a spit and definitely describes what I did to keep this sugary but ultimately balanced marinade from burning on the grill.

I was going to test it on my gas grill, to really maximize the convenience, but I left it on from the night before, burning the tank to empty (silver lining: my grill is now clean as a whistle!). Instead, I lit a charcoal chimney and set up a two-zone fire (it’s always good to have a cool spot to park proteins if flare-ups occur). Then I got all yakitori on it with my basting brush, brushing the sauce and, yes, turning and turning the huli huli chicken. It nicely rounded out a homemade combo plate with steamed rice and steamed broccoli. Now I can’t wait to try this marinade with pork, fish, or shrimp. Seriously, it’s so good, someone needs to bottle it and sell it.

“This is one of those recipes you can play with and make your own,” Kayser told me by phone. “I’ve seen people add pineapple juice for that tang, but I used rice vinegar because that’s what people usually have on hand.” I improvised a bit, marinating the chicken for only four hours, while the recipe recommends eight, and it still came out crazy delicious. I’m guessing it would still be delicious if you only gave it a 30-minute bath should you have the ingredients on hand and a hankering for huli huli chicken—which I’m certainly hoping you do by now.

Get the Recipe: Hawaiian-Style Grilled Chicken