Grill Hawaiian-style chicken thighs for a quick dinner

a sliced grilled chicken thigh and a scoop of rice

I lived for years over by Valley of the Moon Park in Anchorage, and there is no smell that says summertime to me more than smoke from chicken drifting in from a big church picnic grill under the park enclosure. Sometimes I try to recreate this on my backyard grill at dinnertime. I’m very partial to sweet and smoky chicken thighs made Hawaiian plate-lunch style, served with a simple island-style macaroni salad or steamed short-grain white rice.

The grilling method for this chicken is important, as it’s key to use a medium-hot grill so the sugar in the marinade caramelizes just right but doesn’t get too charred. Boneless thighs cook through quick enough to allow the outside to get done but not too done. I would not use bone-in. I keep a cheap bottle of sherry on hand specifically for this recipe. If you don’t have it, you can sub in chicken broth, but it isn’t totally the same.

One thing that’s cool about this recipe is that if you happen to buy chicken in bulk, you can throw it in the marinade and freeze it, and then thaw it out down the road for dinner. That makes dinner very quick. You can get the chicken grilled before the rice cooker pops! This chicken is an amazing topper for my favorite rainbow salad.

Hawaiian-style grilled chicken

Serves 4-6, generously


2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup low sodium tamari or soy sauce

1/4 cup sherry

2 large cloves of garlic, crushed and minced into a paste

2 teaspoons ginger, peeled and minced into a paste

Garnish: one green onion, green and white parts, thinly sliced on the bias, sesame seeds

Method: In a medium bowl, combine sugar, ketchup, tamari/soy, sherry, garlic and ginger, stir until the sugar is mostly dissolved. Reserve ⅓ cup of the marinade to brush on chicken later. Pour the rest into a gallon-sized ziploc bag. Add chicken and mix to make sure all the pieces are well covered. Place in the fridge, 8 hours to 2 days, turning periodically.

To grill: Oil grate and heat a grill to medium/high, around 350-400 degrees. Pull the chicken from the marinade, allowing excess to drip off, and lay it on the hot grate. Cook with grill closed, 5 to 6 minutes per side, until grill marks appear and there’s a good char on the edges. (Meat should be about 160 degrees.) Brush with reserved marinade. Serve sprinkled with chopped green onions and sesame, if desired.