Hawaiian Huli Huli Sauce Is The Barbecue Sauce Swap You Need To Try ASAP

Barbecue season is the best time of year. Not only does it mean you get to cook outside, but it also means perfectly grilled meats, flavorful marinades, and plenty of ways to experiment and make this year's chicken and burgers taste better than last year's. If you're looking for something new to pair well with that char-grilled chicken or those shrimp skewers, skip the barbecue sauce and replace it with Huli Huli sauce instead.


Huli Huli chicken is a popular Hawaiian dish that dates back to 1955, when it was invented by a man named Ernest Morgado. "Huli" is Hawaiian for "turn," because the chicken is meant to be turned halfway through the cooking process. Huli Huli sauce is essentially a marinade-type sauce made with pineapple juice, soy sauce, and brown sugar. There are variations of it (some people swap pineapple juice for lime juice or the brown sugar for honey, for example), but at its core, it's a sweet-yet-savory marinade that takes chicken to the next level — and it can be a great swap for barbecue sauce.

How Huli Huli sauce differs from barbecue sauce

Though a region or state's barbecue sauce recipe can differ around the U.S., barbecue sauces often have a vinegar or acidic element that makes them tangy — sometimes with a hint of sweet, like the addition of brown sugar. And while it's great for chicken, it's missing that sweet and savory balance that Huli Huli sauce brings thanks to its emphasis on pineapple juice. In addition to its three main ingredients, some Huli Huli sauce recipes also call for ingredients like Worcestershire or apple cider vinegar, as well as ketchup. Seasonings vary, but anything like garlic powder or paprika can be used to build flavor in the sauce, too.


There is no perfect ratio for the pineapple juice, soy sauce, or brown sugar, so if you want to make it at home, you can experiment — start with an even amount of all three, then build on the flavors you want to highlight more. Once you have that nailed down, then you can add other ingredients for a little acid or depth with vinegar, ketchup, or Worcestershire, plus your desired seasonings.

Huli Huli sauce tenderizes better than barbecue sauce

Huli Huli sauce is traditionally used as a marinade, but you can also pair it with the finished product. Pineapple actually acts as a meat tenderizer, so soaking the chicken in the Huli Huli marinade before cooking it is essential to getting the most fall-of-the-bone flavor possible. Pineapple juice contains bromelain, which is an enzyme that acts to break down muscle fibers by reacting with the meat's protein. You should give the chicken plenty of time to soak in the marinade, so prepare it at least 12 hours before you cook it; you can soak it for up to 48 hours prior.


For traditional Huli Huli chicken, you should cook it rotisserie style, but the sauce works just as well if you need to grill the chicken. Sugar helps build caramelization, so the natural sugars in pineapple juice will give chicken a crispy exterior even if it's cooked right on the grill. This sweet and tangy sauce is perfect on other foods, too, in addition to chicken — you can lather it on grilled shrimp or even pork.