Chicken Yakitori

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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.

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.

A sheet pan with several grilled chicken skewers with yakitori sauce and sesame seeds

Chicken selection

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.

Yakitori sauce

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.

Dipping a grilled chicken skewer into a wooden bowl of Japanese yakitori 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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Chicken Yakitori

Chicken yakitori recipe is an easy Japanese grilled dish served on skewers. The chicken is basted with a savory sweet Asian sauce as it cooks on the hot barbecue.
Pin Print Review
4.18 from 40 votes
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time17 mins
Total Time27 mins
Servings 8 skewers
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Japanese

Ingredients

  • cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons mirin rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 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

Instructions 

  • 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.

Equipment

Notes

  • Honey may be substituted for brown sugar.

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Nutrition Facts
Chicken Yakitori
Amount Per Serving
Calories 309 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Fat 8g12%
Saturated Fat 2g10%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.03g
Monounsaturated Fat 0.01g
Cholesterol 85mg28%
Sodium 1248mg52%
Potassium 96mg3%
Carbohydrates 30g10%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 18g20%
Protein 21g42%
Vitamin C 3.3mg4%
Calcium 10mg1%
Iron 1.4mg8%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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Reader Interactions

34 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Lourdes Kent says

    Thank you ever so much for this recipe! I’ve tried many but this is the easiest and closest to the yakitories I’ve longed to perfect. I substituted some ingredients but still perfect!! 😊❤

  2. Shira says

    Hi! Can i make this recipe a few days in advance? And will marinating work instead of basting every 2 minutes?

  3. Alex says

    Good golly Miss Molly this is delicious! Cooked it a few times now and for those of you wondering, although the consistency is super weird if you happen to use 5 tablespoons in of cornstarch instead of 5 teaspoons, you can still use it 😅

  4. Matt Jones says

    This was amazing! I served in the Navy and was stationed in Japan. This tasted exactly like the yakitori I had from food vendors on the streets. My kids loved and devoured it with no left overs. I wouldn’t change a thing. If you use a lower sodium soy sauce you will sacrifice the authentic flavor. I did have sauce left over and I do believe some cooks off. I wouldn’t worry about the sodium intake unless you had very strict dietary restrictions regarding salt intake. DELICIOUS!!!

  5. Mike Jeung says

    Some of the commenters are picky, picky, picky. The recipe was good as-is. I didn’t need the extra sauce for dipping, and my son and I ate it “as-is.

    Good job Jessica!!

  6. Maria Terry says

    My husband loves kebabs. I’m always disappointed by the taste so I decided to find a good sauce recipe and use chicken thighs instead of beef. I used your sauce recipe to baste chicken thigh kebabs while grilling. I didn’t have mirin on hand so I subbed dry sherry as suggested by a Google search. We also used mushrooms, red onion, red bell pepper and pineapple. They were really wonderful! It was the first time I really enjoyed kebabs at home.

  7. Michelle Bellemare says

    I just made this recipe tonight and it was fabulous. Because the weather was horrible I put the skewers under the broiler instead. I added snap peas and served all over rice. My 88 yr old mom is a picky eater and she cleaned her plate. I will be making this one of my regular recipes. Thanks so much. Love it!

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