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Huli-Huli Chicken — A unique Hawaiian fast food (sort of )
In 1955, a Hawaiian chicken farmer named Ernie Morgado served barbequed chicken glazed with his mother’s homemade teriyaki sauce at a local farmers’ gathering. This chicken soon became one of those great “only-in-Hawaii” popular foods. The chicken was such a hit that Ernie soon found himself in great demand at fundraisers and other events. He hired crews and launched a catering business using specially designed barbeque grills mounted on trucks called “huli wagons” that held the chicken between two grates. This system allowed the chickens to be turned frequently so they would cook evenly. When the chickens were ready to turn, the workers would yell, “Huli” (“turn” in Hawaiian).
In 1958, Morgado registered his sauce with The Territory of Hawaii and named it Huli-Huli. Street vendors selling BBQ chicken by that name all but disappeared after Morgado asserted his rights to the trademark, and started marketing bottled sauce under that name. When my daughter, Sarah, was vacationing in Hawaii a few years ago, she and her traveling companion, Heather, caught the scent of some great-smelling smoke while walking along a beach. They followed the smoke to a large roadside grill selling barbequed chicken. It wasn’t called Huli-Huli chicken, but the vendor assured her that it was the same chicken using his customized recipe.
When Sarah came home she brought a bottle of Huli-Huli sauce that she bought from Amazon, handed it to me and said, “You have to make this chicken; it’s great.” During the months that followed, I experimented with the concept, using the bottled sauce and several recipes that I found online. Unfortunately, brushing any sauce on chicken while it’s cooking adds little flavor and increases the possibility of burning. It isn’t practical to repeatedly turn a chicken being cooked on a charcoal grill. Even the high-end gas grills with electric rotisseries don’t work when you try cooking a chicken using a recipe like this one. However, if you make the cooking surface modifications that I suggest here, you can prepare this recipe using whole or split chicken or chicken pieces. I have cooked the three cuts several times each with predictable results.
Conversion from Huli wagon to Weber grill
After suffering several unpleasant chicken grilling events and graduating from grilling hamburgers, hotdogs and steaks over charcoal to barbequing larger meat cuts like spare ribs, whole chickens, pork, beef and lamb roasts, I knew that changes to the grill and to my cooking methods would be necessary, especially with this recipe.
Cooking chicken directly over burning charcoal, even turning it frequently, results in severely burned and charred flesh. After cooking this chicken a couple of times this way, I decided to switch to a method using indirect heat. The photo below shows a modified two-level charcoal setup that I now use when barbequing a whole or split chicken.
The high temperature generated by burning charcoal in a confined space like a kettle grill will (if not managed) dry out and burn most foods. In order to prevent drying and to infuse the chicken with more flavor, I decided to first soak the chicken in a flavored brine for several hours. To give my chicken a seasoned-to-the-bone-flavor, I added soaked mesquite wood chips to the fire just before placing the chicken on the grill. Mesquite is not a recommended wood for smoking foods for more than one hour. After an hour, the smoke turns food bitter. However, it works well with this quick-cooking recipe. Finally, for flavor consistency, I also duplicated some of the ingredients in the glaze that were used in the brine. The glaze is then reduced to about ½ cup and brushed on after the chicken has been transferred to a serving dish.
This sauce is not readily available in many parts of the country. I don’t think that buying it is necessary, because there are many interesting recipes for this sauce available.
Chili garlic sauce and mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine) can be purchased in most large supermarkets that have an ethnic grocery section. The warm heat of the chili sauce and the subtle sweetness of the mirin add complementing flavors to the glaze.
I have prepared this recipe using split chicken halves and whole split chicken. Also, chicken can be cooked skin side up or down depending on which presentation you prefer.
Skin side up
Skin side down imparts a classic grill mark.
RECIPE FOR HULI-HULI CHICKEN
Chicken and brine ingredients
1 whole split chicken
1 quart cold water
1½ cups soy sauce
4 medium cloves fresh garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
Glaze for ingredients
2 six-ounce cans pineapple juice
3 Tbsp. packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
3 Tbsp. ketchup
3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
4 medium cloves fresh garlic, pressed through a garlic press
2 Tbsp. peeled fresh ginger (grated)
1½ tsp. garlic chili sauce
1 Tbsp. mirin
For the grill
90 charcoal briquettes
1 large half-size (9-inch x 12-inch x 2-inch deep) disposable aluminum pan
2 cups mesquite wood chips (soaked for 1 hour)
pair of long handled tongs
small dish with a paper towel coated with vegetable oil
Combine the brine ingredients, add the split chickens and refrigerate for minimum of 4 to a maximum of 8 hours.
Wrap the wood chips in a suitable size piece of aluminum foil. Cut several vent holes in the top and bottom of the package and soak in warm water for one hour.
Prepare the glaze
Combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium low heat, stirring periodically, until the glaze is reduced to about ½ cup. This will take about 25 minutes. Cover the glaze and set it aside.
Remove the chicken from the brine and dry it with paper towels.
Set up the grill and start cooking
Open the bottom vent holes of the grill halfway.
Light the briquettes in a chimney starter and let them burn until they are lightly coated with a thin layer of ash. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Empty the contents of the starter onto half of the grill.
Place the aluminum pan to the now empty side of the grill.
Put the cooking grate in place, cover the grill with the lid, and heat the cooking grate for about 5 minutes.
Using a pot holder, carefully lift the grate just enough to place the soaked wood chips on the coals.
Using the tongs, coat the grate with the vegetable oil-soaked paper towel.
Arrange the chicken, skin side up or down, over the aluminum pan with the legs closest to the coals. Cover the grill with the vent holes open and over the chicken.
Cook the chicken for 30 minutes, and until the thigh meat registers 125° F. Remove the lid and turn the chicken. Replace the lid and continue cooking until the breast meat reaches 155° F and the thigh meat reaches 175° F.
Remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes. While the chicken is resting, heat the glaze.
Portion the chicken to your liking, brush each piece with the warmed glaze and serve.
I admit that this recipe is a busy one but if dry grilled chicken coated with charred BBQ sauce is getting old, give this recipe a try. You will be glad that you did.
Chicken parts — cooked and glazed
My mother loved barbequed pork ribs but, like many her favorite foods, they had to be prepared to her liking. When it came to ribs, she had no taste for what she called “sticky finger, dribbly-chin ribs that come off the grill or smoker with the meat falling off the bones, and smothered with that sticky sweet sauce.” Her favorite BBQ rib was the the dry rub variety coated with herbs and spices and slow cooked in a smoker until the meat was tender and juicy, while still retaining a delicate chew without the meat falling off the bones.
Every summer for several years we were invited down to the town of Mashpee, on Cape Cod, to stay with friends for a few days. One of the meals during our stay usually consisted of these ribs with side dishes of hardy greens like collards or kale (cooked southern style), and Hoppin’ John — a dish made with black- eyed peas and rice and served throughout New Orleans on New Years’ Day.
For the past several years I have experimented with various recipes and production methods for preparing dry rub ribs. The results, however, have been mixed. There are endless variations of the classic dry rub used to coat these ribs. The classic Memphis-style rubs proved to be consistently the best-tasting. So I made some minor adjustments in spice and herb quantities that suited my taste. That was the easy part of this process. Figuring out how to cook the ribs was a bit more problematic.
I don’t own a smoker, and I already own more limited-purpose cooking gadgets than I can store properly when not in use. So I decided to turn my Weber grill into a smoker. I called a chef I had worked with years ago in a popular restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He shared with me a method that teams my Weber grill with my electric oven to produce ribs that have all of the qualities of ribs cooked in a high-end smoker in half the time. I decided to give this method a try.
When you place any food on a hot charcoal grill to cook, you set into motion a series of chemical and physical events that will determine if that food will be edible after it is cooked. Fortunately, there are many reliable methods that you can use to help you monitor and control the cooking process and insure success.
The most popular method for cooking food over charcoal is grilling. Grilling usually involves cooking steaks, hamburgers, chicken, chops, or vegetables over an even layer of charcoal. Grilling is a simple and effective method for adding a distinctive flavor and texture to any food.
Barbequing is also a popular method for cooking meat, seafood, and vegetables using hot charcoal. The main difference between the two is that grilling incorporates high heat to quickly sear food to lock in the juice, which allows the food to continue cooking without drying out. Of course, overcooking is easy with this method, which will dry food regardless of searing. Barbequing usually involves cooking food at very low temperatures (200° to 300° F) for extended periods of time (8 to 12 hours and longer). This allows for wood smoke to be added to the preparation procedure.
But smoking food requires extended cooking times and often marinating or brining, depending on the type of food being cooked. The complexity of barbequing allows the cook to incorporate many variables that will infuse the food with a customized taste and/or texture.
In the weeks that follow I will discuss some of these variables and how to use them. The following recipe offers a fail-safe method for any cook with a 22-inch, Weber-style kettle grill to prepare and serve barbeque smoked pork ribs that are both tender and loaded with flavor. Also, this can be accomplished in 5 hours or less with a minimum of fuss.
I suggest that you follow my formula when you prepare these ribs for the first time to get an idea if it works for you. Then you can customize it to suit your personal taste and texture preferences.
The Rub (Read the rub formula before you mix the ingredients. Cayenne pepper contains a fair amount of chili-heat. You can increase or decrease the amount of cayenne pepper to suit your personal taste.)
Combine all of the rub ingredients in a small bowl and set it aside.
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon table salt
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons mild chili powder
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons garlic powder
1½ teaspoons onion powder
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dry mustard
22-inch Weber-style kettle grill
50 charcoal briquettes
Large half-size (9-inch x 12-inch x 2-inch deep) disposable aluminum pan
1 cup apple wood chips (soaked for one hour)
An electric or gas range with an oven capable of holding a reliable temperature of 300° F
1 rimmed cookie sheet with a minimum cooking surface of an 18×14-inch and a footed wire rack to fit the sheet
Wood chips for smoke
One hour before you plan to start cooking, add 1½ cups of warm water to the wood chips.
2 racks St. Louis-style pork ribs (2 to 3 pounds each)
Remove the ribs from the package and wipe them with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
Place the ribs in the rimmed cookie sheet and coat both sides of the ribs with the spice mixture. Press the rub firmly with the palm of your hand to insure that it sticks to the ribs. Set the ribs aside.
The Mop (This vinegar and cider mop is used to add additional flavor to the ribs and replace moisture lost from the ribs during the cooking process.)
2/3 cup apple cider
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Mix the ingredients for the mop and set it aside.
I have specified when and how much of this mixture to use during the cooking process. It is important that you do not exceed what I have specified. Excess moisture added to the ribs while cooking will result in what pit-masters call “stall.” In other words, the extra moisture added back to the ribs will stop (stall) the cooking process until it evaporates. This can add as much as an hour to the cooking process.
Prepare the grill by setting it up according to the photo below.
Open the bottom vents halfway.
Place 15 briquettes on one side of grill and the remaining briquettes in the chimney starter. The aluminum pan under the starter in the photo there to give you an idea of its exact size. Place it in that location with about an inch of water added when you are ready to cook.
Light the briquettes in the chimney starter and let them burn until they are lightly coated with a thin layer of ash. This usually takes about 10 minutes. Empty the contents in the starter onto the unlit briquettes.
Place the aluminum pan with one inch of water added to the now empty side of the grill.
Put the cooking grate in place, cover the grill with the lid, and heat the cooking gate for about 5 minutes.
Sprinkle half of the drained wood chips over the coals. Place the ribs, meat side down, on the cool side of the grill, cover the grill with the open top vents over the ribs, and cook for 45 minutes.
Flip the ribs to meat side up, and switch the positions of the slabs. The slab closest to the coals moves to the rear and the other slab moves to the side close to the coals. Distribute the remaining wood chips over the coals. Brush the meat side of the ribs with about two tablespoons of the vinegar/cider mix and continue cooking the ribs for another 45 minutes. After 30 minutes, set one of the oven racks to the middle position and preheat the oven to 300° F.
Transfer the ribs to the wire rack fitted in the rimmed cookie sheet, as shown in the photo below. Add two cups of water to the pan. Brush the meat side of the ribs with another 2 tablespoons of the vinegar/cider mix. Carefully set the pan on the middle rack and continue cooking the ribs for one hour.
Brush the ribs with another 2 tablespoons of vinegar/cider mix. This will be for final mop brushing. Continue cooking the ribs until the thickest meat reaches 190° F. Remove the pan from the oven and cover the ribs with loose tent of aluminum foil. After a 15-minute rest, cut the ribs between the bones and serve.
Note: St. Louis-style spareribs are the best ribs for this formula. These ribs are trimmed of the excess belly fat, cartilage, and skirt meat found on regular spare ribs. No additional trimming is necessary.
Baby back ribs are too lean and usually become very dry during the extended cooking procedure outlined in this formula.
The best rib cut for this formula
The photo below shows the most efficient grill set up for barbequing these ribs.
The most effective set up for transferring the ribs from the grill to the oven.
It is time to eat and enjoy first class barbecue.
Next post — A taste of Hawaii
Both of my parents were World War II Army veterans. My mother was especially proud of her military service. Her favorite symbol of our country’s victory in this costly struggle was the U.S Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. When I graduated from high school in 1961, she took me to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorial. She believed that the thousands of Americans who died during this war should never be forgotten. She kept a small framed black and white photo on a nightstand next to her bed. This photo was moved to the living room on Memorial Day.
The photos below are of the National Iwo Jima Memorial located on the New Britain/Newington town line in Connecticut. This memorial was dedicated on February 23, 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the original flag raising to salute the 6,821 Americans who died fighting on the last strategic stronghold before the planned invasion of Japan. I visit this park every year as Memorial Day approaches.
National Iwo Jima Memorial
An eternal flame provided by Connecticut Natural Gas
Two engraved tablets honoring the chaplains and medical corps that served on Iwo Jima
Walter James Duffy and Virginia Lee Blunt —two of my favorite heroes
Once a year I drive to the Massachusetts National Cemetery to visit the grave sites of Jim Duffy, brother of Dave Duffy, and my mother. Their sites are within walking distance of each other. I park at the administration building and walk to both grave sites; rich, well-maintained landscaping here makes a visit seem like a tour of a National Park. It is a fitting final resting place for Americans who served the country in the military. Both of these brave soldiers were volunteers, and never voiced any regret over their decision join the military. The war cost my mom her marriage and she was left to raise a son on her own. She considered succeeding at this difficult task to be her greatest achievement.
Remembering Fun Times
The photo below was taken in the late 60s in Washington, D.C. Dave and I were visiting Dave’s older brothers Hugh and Bill. On this particular day, Hugh, Dave, Jim and I decided to visit the Capitol Building. As we approached, I started to complain about the hot sun. Jim listened to my complaints, smiled, took off his hat and put it on my head and said, “Always happy to help a wimp.”
In 2005, Dave wrote a salute to his brother Jim, in which he describes the highs and lows in Jim’s life. However, as he described Jim’s classic interception at a football game against a rival football team, he failed to mention that I was the second string offensive center on the same team, and was standing on the sideline with them. At football practice Jim and I often contributed to mess up some of the best plays executed by the first string offense. From time to time, for no apparent reason, one of our many practice field antics comes to mind. This always brings a smile to my face, and thoughts of other fun times off the field. You can read Dave Duffy’s article in Issue 95, September/October 2005 — Sgt. Jim Duffy an Ordinary Hero, that is an inspiration for my comments.
Memphis Style Ribs
During the frequent hot summer days of the late 50s and 60s my mother was invited to spend time in the Cape Cod town of Mashpee at the summer cottage of an long-time army friend; my mother said this friend belonged to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
Because electricity had not yet reached this part of the cape, portable gas lamps were used for light at night, and most cooking was done on wood fired stoves or BBQ grills. One of my mom’s greatest pleasures was preparing meals for everyone using recipes that she developed. Over the years I have been able to reconstruct some of my mom’s favorite recipes from this period. Next week I will begin posting some of these recipes and cooking techniques she used during our summer visits. I will post the first one this month, and, if possible, I will post at least one or two recipes a month. My mother was great cook, and I am sure that you will agree after preparing and sampling her recipes.