Cozy Chicken: Hawaiian-BBQ “Pulled” Chicken Sandwiches, Tasting The Unexpected Sweetness

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

What a marvelous thing the flavor of unexpected sweetness is; how it lingers ever-so beautifully on the tongue, like a memory that will not soon be forgotten. It is the kind of sweetness that comes after an initial bite of spicy smokiness, after an initial taste of something slightly sour or savory. Unexpected sweetness is a gift, a sort of precious mercy; a mercy that is found when least expected, where bitterness, for all intents and purposes, should be found in its place. I cannot resist the taste of the unexpected sweetness that is found in the “I’m sorry’s” that are uttered between two lovers after a passionate disagreement is had; I cannot resist the taste of that unexpected sweetness found in a kiss just after gut-wrenching, tear-soaked “goodbyes” are exchanged between two people who must part; I cannot resist the taste of that unexpected sweetness when one person becomes lifted up and carried by another during life’s battering road; and I cannot resist the taste of that unexpected sweetness when God, Himself, extends His mercy when I throw my voice loudly towards the heavens at Him and shake my fists, only to have Him catch my fists and kiss them, dissolving me into His bosom in a pool of child-like sobs and awe. What can I say about the taste of that sweetness that is experienced out of a place of sorrow; out of that place of spice; out of that place of being undeserving? The taste of unexpected sweetness is a taste unlike any other.

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Food is a glorious representative, an uncomplicated symbol, for various moments in life’s journey. It elicits in me the desire to draw comparisons, and to get a better understanding of these states that we go through, these various flavors that we encounter during our time in our fleshly cloaks. The pleasure found in the unexpected sweetness of a bite of a simple, Spicy Hawaiian-BBQ “Pulled” Chicken Sandwich after that initial taste of rich, spicy smokiness, causes me to appreciate those lines between the taste of good food that sustains my physical being, and those gem-like moments found in life that sustain my soul and lift my spirit. That unexpected hint of sweetness on my tongue awakens my palette to the reality that there are yet-unknown possibilities just waiting to be made known to me and experienced, and that food is not unlike life in its way of surprising the senses. That unexpected sweetness can be found not only in what is put on the tongue, but can also be experienced in the precious moments in our lives as a soothing salve called mercy.

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

The long-lasting effect of unexpected sweetness can transform a life; it can give hope and inspire the eyes to be open to finding kindness, mercy and connectivity in a place that one may not expect to find them. The lingering taste of unexpected sweetness on the tongue after a bite is taken from a morsel that you wouldn’t expect would contain that particular delicious finish, is just an arrow that points to the much bigger picture of “life”; that picture that when more closely examined, contains the possibilities within it to surprise us brilliantly and wonderfully so that we each, at some point, can taste that unexpected and uniquely sweet flavor of mercy.

Taste what’s good and pass it on.


Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Smoky Hawaiian-BBQ “Pulled” Chicken Sandwiches on Toasted Hawaiian Buns, with Grilled Pineapple and Maui Onions
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(Serves 4)


2 split chicken breasts (about 1 ½ -2 lbs), bone-in and skin on
• Olive oil
• Salt
• Black pepper
¼ teaspoon onion powder
2 Maui (or other sweet) onions, 1 finely diced and 1 thinly sliced, divided use
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup all-natural (100%) pineapple juice
1 teaspoon chicken base (I use “Better Than Bouillon” reduced sodium)
¼ cup ketchup
1 cup smoky BBQ sauce
1 tablespoon honey
4 ¼ – ½” thick slices of fresh pineapple, center core removed
4 Hawaiian sandwich buns, toasted
• Mayo to taste


-Season the split chicken breasts with a little drizzle of olive oil, a couple of pinches of salt and black pepper, and the onion powder; place a large, heavy bottom (preferably non-stick) pan or shallow braising pot over medium-high heat, and add a couple of drizzles of olive to it; once the oil is hot, place the chicken breasts skin-side down into the pot, and allow them to sear for about 3 minutes until golden; flip the chicken over onto the bone side, and allow them to sear for another 3 minutes; remove the chicken breasts from pan, and set aside on plate for a moment.

-Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add another small drizzle of oil into the pan, if needed; add in the finely diced onion, and stir to soften and caramelize in the oil for about 1-2 minutes; next, add in the garlic, stir, and once that becomes aromatic, add in the tomato paste, and stir to combine; after a moment or two of cooking the tomato paste, add in the pineapple juice and stir to scrape up any of the brown bits from the bottom, and allow the mixture to gently simmer for a moment or two, just until combined and slightly thickened; next, add in the chicken base, the ketchup, the BBQ sauce and the honey, then stir. Now add the two chicken breasts back into the pot, skin-side down; reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow the chicken to very gently simmer in the sauce for about 20-22 minutes; after that time, turn the chicken over onto the bone-side, and allow it to simmer for another 10 minutes; turn the heat off, and remove the chicken from the pan, and place it onto a plate to cool slightly, just enough for it to be handled; once slightly cooled, remove and discard the skin and the bones, and pull the chicken meat apart into chunky shreds (you can also use a fork); add the shredded meat back into the sauce in the pan and stir in the sauce to coat; cover to keep warm, and set aside.

-To grill your pineapple and onions, place a grill pan over medium-heat, and add in a drizzle or two of oil; once the pan is hot, add the slices of pineapple and grill each side for about 2 minutes, or until golden and lightly caramelized; remove the pineapple and set aside; next, add another drizzle of olive oil to the grill pan, and add in the sliced onion along with a pinch of salt and pepper, and allow it to grill/caramelize for about 8-10 minutes, or until softened and golden-brown; remove and set aside next to the pineapple; cover to keep warm, if necessary.

-To assemble the sandwiches, spread some of the mayo onto each half of the toasted Hawaiian sandwich bun; to the bottom bun, add a slice of the grilled pineapple, then top that with a layer of the caramelized onion, and finish with a helping of the pulled chicken with BBQ sauce, covering with the top bun; enjoy with Maui onion-flavored and kettle-cooked potato chips, slaw, salad or fresh fruit.

{ 12 comments… add one }

  • Gail June 2, 2013, 7:06 pm

    This was a powerful read; I have read it twice and will read it again. A brand new way for me to look at “unexpected sweetness”. Your last sentence resonated with me. I also love your example of God and His unexpected sweetness of mercy. It brought to mind Psalm 34:8 “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
    Now – on to the recipe! I have put this on my list for this week. Can’t wait to try it and experience the unexpected sweetness!
    Thank you!

    • The Cozy Apron June 2, 2013, 8:49 pm

      Hi Gail! I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me so much; I very much enjoy being able to share some of my own personal observations on life, those little discoveries that I make along the way about what it means to be human and how all of that can in some way relate to food, with anyone who may have an interest in reading my posts. Your quoting the scripture from Psalms touched me immensely, as you’ve completely understood the exact inspiration and my intention when I close my posts with “Taste what’s good and pass it on.” God asks us to “taste” and see He is good; that requires us to act in faith, to “taste”, and then we will know Him intimately through personal experience – not because someone else “told us so”. Thank you for your comments, and please enjoy this recipe!

      • Gail June 13, 2013, 4:48 pm

        I made this recipe – delicious! The taste is magical; unexpected sweetness, indeed!
        I must confess this was my first foray with split chicken breasts, and I will be using them again. (Did I miss the part about adding the honey? Entirely possible!)
        Thank you, too, for a new insight on the verse from Psalms – I had not thought of it as an act of faith, but it makes perfect sense now! So glad that you share your observations on life ~

        • The Cozy Apron June 14, 2013, 10:57 am

          Hi Gail! How wonderful that you made this recipe – aren’t split chicken breasts delicious? The bones add a lot in terms of flavor during the cooking process, which is always a good thing. And by the way, thanks for bringing my attention to the “honey” in the recipe – I forgot to mention to add it into the sauce when the cooked chicken is taken out to be “pulled”; thank you, I’ll correct that! So happy you enjoyed this, Gail! Thanks for coming back to share…

  • Paula Brown June 2, 2013, 7:06 pm

    You absolutely have to put all of these posts in a book! They are so good! When I read your post the hair on my arms stands up and I get goose bumps and that’s a good thing.

    • The Cozy Apron June 2, 2013, 8:35 pm

      Paula, how precious are you! Please just let me tell you that your encouraging comments, each and every one that you choose to share with me, touches my heart with warmth and puts a smile on my face; and I thank you for that.

  • Sarah June 4, 2013, 12:47 am

    Beautiful blog, delicious-looking recipe :)

  • Melissa July 31, 2014, 7:55 am

    This looks unbelievably delicious and I must try it ASAP! How would you alter this recipe for the crockpot? Does this freeze well? And can I double or triple this recipe?

    • The Cozy Apron July 31, 2014, 11:32 am

      Hi Melissa, you could certainly double this recipe fairly easily. As far as freezing, I think it would be fine; I haven’t tried that myself, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work when cooked through and allowed to completely cool beforehand. As far as the crockpot, just allow it to cook gently; it doesn’t take long on the stove (roughly 30 minutes), so take care not to overcook so the chicken doesn’t become dry.

  • Kellie November 24, 2014, 11:49 am

    I am sure that the bones do add flavor to this recipe. I am wondering if you have ever done this with boneless, skinless chicken breasts and how it would compare.

    • The Cozy Apron November 24, 2014, 5:51 pm

      Hi Kellie, I have not; I prefer the meatier quality to the bone-in breasts, and the fact that they can be easily shredded. And you really can’t beat the flavor, as it cooks a little longer and infuses the sauce!

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