Chicken yakitori is an easy Japanese grilled recipe served on skewers. The meat is basted with a savory-sweet sauce as it cooks over a hot barbecue grill. A quick appetizer for a crowd or dinner served with a few extra sides.
How to make chicken yakitori
This chicken yakitori will add some Asian-inspired flair to your weekday dinner plans. To make this recipe fast and flavorful, the technique for the sauce and basting the chicken on the grill helps to elevate taste while reducing cooking time.
I’m always looking for ways to change up the types of cuisines we eat at home each week that aren’t too complicated. And no one likes a big mess of dishes. This Japanese-style chicken is a family favorite because layers of sweet and savory flavors are generously added to each skewer as it cooks on the barbecue grill.
Chicken thighs are used in this recipe because the dark meat and additional fat keep the chicken moist and tender as it cooks on the grill.
Cornstarch is a thickening agent and needs to be mixed with non-hot liquid so it can disperse in the sauce before being cooked. Make sure to whisk until no white powder is left. The cornstarch will absorb the water and swell once it hits about the boiling point of water. Make sure to constantly whisk as the sauce cooks so that the starch granules stay separate and fully expand for maximum thickening power.
Basting the chicken
Use the basting method to infuse the sauce on the surface of the chicken skewers. No need to marinate for a long time. The chicken is first cooked on the grill for a few minutes to initiate the Maillard browning reaction on the grill to develop flavor and color.
Then the yakitori sauce is brushed on both sides of the chicken multiple times and allowed to cook a few minutes so that the sauce sticks to the surface. Caramelizing will occur as it cooks from the sugar in the sauce.
The yakitori sauce tends to be the star of this chicken dish. It’s a combination of umami and sweet flavors, soy sauce, mirin sweet cooking wine, brown sugar for sweetness, rice vinegar for acidity, fresh ginger and garlic.
The recipe makes a large batch of sauce, so you can use it for basting and save the rest for dipping. Trust me. You’re going to want to drizzle extra flavor on each bite! You can also use the sauce for beef, pork and seafood to baste or serve on the side. To make this a complete meal, some orange miso-glazed green beans or cauliflower rice would be a nice compliment to the chicken.
More Japanese recipes you might like
What are the best skewers to use for grilling?
After lots of testing various recipes on the grill, I’m a big fan of reusable metal skewers or thick bamboo skewers. I’ve found that the thin bamboo burns and falls apart if cooking longer than 10 minutes on the grill. Make sure you always soak the bamboo skewers (no matter what size) at least 30 minutes so that the wood absorbs water a prevents them from burning too quickly. You could also wrap the exposed ends of the skewers with foil if you don’t have time to soak or for thin wooden skewers.
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- ⅔ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup water
- 2 tablespoons mirin rice wine
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- ⅔ cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 5 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, cut into 1” by 1 ¼” pieces
- 8 bamboo skewers, or metal skewers
- kosher salt, as needed for seasoing
- black pepper, as needed for seasoning
- 2 tablspoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- In a medium-size pot whisk together soy sauce, water, mirin, rice vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, and cornstarch.
- Bring mixture to a boil, constantly whisk until sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
- Transfer 1 cup of the sauce to a bowl to use for basting the chicken.
- Thread cut pieces of chicken on wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Drizzle both sides of skewers with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking when cooking.
- Preheat grill over medium-high heat. Use a paper towel dipped in oil to clean and grease the grill grates.
- Once the grill is hot add the skewers and cook for 4 minutes. Flip over and baste the cooked side with the sauce. Cook 4 minutes.
- Flip skewer over, baste with sauce, cook 2 minutes covered.
- Flip skewer over again, baste, cook 2 minutes covered.
- Repeat flipping, basting and covered cooking 2 additional times, 16 minutes total cooking time.
- Sprinkle chicken yakitori skewers with sesame seeds. Serve immediately with additional sauce.
- Wooden Skewers
- Honey may be substituted for brown sugar.
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