Serves 2 to 4

* Big Islanders have a habit of reversing certain words and phrases, especially with food. We call it chicken barbecue; other islands call it barbecue chicken. Same for “ice shave” vs. “shave ice” and “broccoli beef” vs. “beef broccoli.”

Known to most mainlanders as teriyaki chicken, the flavors of this Japanese-rooted dish are deeply ingrained in the local palate. Stroll through any state park or beach on the weekends and you’ll be hit by the smell, an intoxicating smoky aroma wafting from the portable hibachis set up at picnics and family reunions.

As popular as this style of sweet-salty grilled chicken is, though, it’s also one of thosestraight forward-seeming dishes that often falls short of its delicious potential: the meat dry or overcooked, not marinated long enough, the skin burnt. You truly hate to see it.

cook real hawaii book cover Cook Real Hawai'i Sheldon Simeon

Done properly, the first step is to rub the chicken thighs (always chicken thighs) with salty seasonings first, which gives them a head start penetrating the meat (sugar can slow the absorption of salt in a marinade). When you’re ready to light the grill, pull the chicken from the fridge and let it come to room temperature, which, along with indirect heat, will ensure the thighs finish cooking before the outside burns. Finally, use thighs with the skin attached. Even if you’re not a skin fiend, the outer layer of fat insulates the dark meat, keeping it moist and forming a rendered crust that holds the teriyaki sauce.


  • 2 pounds boneless, skin-on chicken thighs

  • 2 teaspoons garlic salt

  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 scallions, white and green parts separated, greens roughly chopped

  • 1 cup shoyu (soy sauce)

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled

  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced and crushed

  • Oil, for the grill


Place the chicken in a large shallow bowl or heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag and rub evenly with the garlic salt, turmeric, and pepper. Marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour in the fridge.

Using the butt of a knife, crush the white parts of the scallions and add to a small saucepan along with the shoyu, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the sauce has slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

Measure out ½ cup of the sauce for basting on the grill. Pour the remainder over the chicken and marinate the chicken for another 2 to 3 hours in the fridge, or overnight, mixing once or twice.

One hour before you’re ready to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

Prepare a grill for high indirect heat (for a charcoal grill, push the coals to one side; for a gas grill, leave one or two burners off). Using tongs, oil the grates of the grill with an oiled rag or paper towels. When the grill is hot, set the chicken skin-side down on the direct heat side of the grill. Once the chicken has some grill marks and releases easily from the grates, 2 to 3 minutes, move over indirect heat, still skin-side down, and cook, turning often and basting with the reserved sauce, until the juices run clear or a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 160°F, another 8 to 10 minutes. The chicken should spend about three-quarters of its grilling time skin-side down, which will create a nice charred crust. If the skin is browning too quickly, move it farther away from the heat source. Transfer to a serving platter (or cutting board) and let rest 10 minutes. Garnish with the scallion greens and serve.

“Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai’i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright © 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House.” Photography copyright: Kevin J. Miyazaki © 2021

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