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.
4.81 from 86 votes
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time17 minutes
Total Time27 minutes
Servings 8 skewers
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Japanese


  • 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


  • 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.


  • Honey may be substituted for brown sugar.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 skewers
Calories 309kcal (15%)Carbohydrates 30g (10%)Protein 21g (42%)Fat 8g (12%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Polyunsaturated Fat 0.03gMonounsaturated Fat 0.01gCholesterol 85mg (28%)Sodium 1248mg (52%)Potassium 96mg (3%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 18g (20%)Vitamin C 3.3mg (4%)Calcium 10mg (1%)Iron 1.4mg (8%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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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

49 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Linda says

    The recipe sounds great, but 1324 grams of sodium per serving is well over half the recommended sodium limit per day. What could be done to reduce that amount and still retain good flavor? Also your estimate of 6 minutes prep time is extremely low. The time to measure ingredients, cut and skewer the chicken adds a lot more time.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great question Linda! I realized that I included the entire basting marinade in the nutrition information. Since you only marinate the chicken in the sauce, you aren’t actually eating all of the sodium. Without the sauce it’s about 200 mg, so you would infuse some of the salt in the chicken but not 1300 mg. I hope that helps!

      • B says

        I don’t see any need to season the chicken with salt , plenty of salt in the soy. Haven’t made this yet but will just miss out the extra salt when I do.

    • Bryan Tamberino says

      Great recipe. LOVED the sauce, my 4-year-old couldn’t get enough. We always use low sodium soy sauce to balance it out
      Grilled onions, peppers and tomatoes skewers and grilled rice balls for a starch.

  2. Joanna says

    Similar question — is the carbohydrate amount for the total amount of the sauce, or per serving? Have you made this with less sugar?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Joanna! The carbs are per serving (1 skewer with side of sauce). However it’s a generous about of extra sauce very flavorful without it if you are tryong to cut back. I haven’t tried a reduced sugar option, but worth a try! You may need to start with less soy sauce as well and acids to rebalance the sauce. Sometimes with soy based recipes they can taste really salty without a balance of sweetness and sourness. Let me know how it goes!

  3. Alyson says

    I really loved this! I also made shrimp tempura rolls and drizzled the sauce over them like you would with eel sauce. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Christine says

    Thanks for this yummy recipe! We loved it and was easy to do. It was very tasty and tender by using the chicken thighs. My husband loved the sauce and actually saved the rest for another meal. 😉 He thought the sauce was like restaurant quality.

  5. Gordon says

    Hi.. Cooking it in our cafe.. Very popular.. But could you give me an idea of how long sauce can be kept.. Thanks

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Gordon- That’s awesome! Since the sauce has cornstarch it’s best to make the sauce fresh every day. The cornstarch will lose it’s thickness when reheated.

      • Susan Tait Charman says

        What about making the recipe (or even a larger batch) and leave the cornstarch to be added in portions when reheating? I just learned that one from a recipe for water-bathing a pie filling that had cornstarch in it. They suggested canning without the cornstarch at all and adding when time to make each pie. What do you think Jessica?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Barbara- Great question! Typically chicken is marinated for this type of recipe, however, I talk about a basting method so you can skip marinating. This is especially great if you are short on time 🙂

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi There! You could combine 2 tablespoons of sugar to 1/2 cup of white wine, and then use what you need for the recipe.

  6. 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!! ?❤

  7. Shira says

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

  8. 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 ?

  9. 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!!!

  10. 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!!

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. Nana says

    I purchased a ready made sauce and made this recipe halved, basting half the chicken with each. Yours was by far the best! It was really no trouble to make and oven broiling cut my time down cooking to four minutes each side. No changes needed and I really didn’t even need to add sesame seeds. Awesome!!!!

  14. Kerry says

    How long will thesauce stay good if cooked and placed in the refrigerator? I made a batch and then forgot. It’s been a couple of weeks. It smells good still. By the way, I did this because after the first time making it my husband requests it every time I ask him what he wants for dinner in the coming week.

  15. Goergia says

    thank you so much for this recipe! i had to make this in the oven on grill setting because my skewers were too long, and it still turned out wonderful. My sauce was a tad too salty however, but i managed to save it with a bit more sugar. It still tasted absolutely gorgeous!! I added black sesame seed since i like it’s nuttier taste and it was a nice addition!

  16. Julie Brock says

    I’m a little bit confused with the ingredients. I have Obento Mirin Seasoning, Obento rice wine vinegar and cooking sake.
    Is rice vinegar the same as rice wine vinegar?
    Is mirin seasoning the same as mirin rice wine?


    • Jessica Gavin says

      Rice vinegar is the same as rice wine vinegar. Mirin seasoning is the same as mirin rice wine, as long as they are both sweetened, salted, and have low alcohol content. It is confusing!

  17. Melisende says

    Made this tonight for a birthday party and broiled it in the oven because I don’t have an outside grill. Very good sauce and the dish was popular,

  18. Kerry says

    Absolutely love this recipe! We’re in the UK and have been buying this from M&S. Yours is a lot tastier! Can you freeze the sauce? There are only 2 of us so would be good to batch cooking some! It’s ‘fun’ converting US measurements and scaling down! ? Thanks

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thanks for making the recipe, kerry! You could freeze the sauce. However, it won’t be as thick because the starches in the cornstarch will burst when reheated.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Yes! You can bake the chicken skewers on a foiled lined sheet pan at 425ºF (218ºC), brushing the sauce on as directed in the recipe, and cooking until fully cooked.

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