Chicken Yakitori

4.87 from 115 votes
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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.

Recipe Science

  • Due to their dark meat and higher fat content, opt for chicken thighs in this recipe for moist, tender results on the grill.
  • Grilling the chicken skewers enhances taste and color with the Maillard reaction.
  • Brushing sauce on the chicken while grilling boosts yakitori flavor. The sugar in the sauce caramelizes for a tasty glaze.

Why It Works

This chicken yakitori recipe 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 elevates taste while reducing cooking time.

I’m always looking for ways to change the types of cuisines we eat at home each week without making things too complicated. 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.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Chicken: This recipe uses chicken thighs because the dark meat and additional fat keep the chicken moist and tender as it cooks on the grill.
  • Yakitori Sauce: A sweet and savory combination of soy sauce, water, mirin rice wine, rice wine vinegar, sugar, minced ginger, and garlic. When cooked, cornstarch thickens the sauce.
  • Seasoning: Salt and pepper enhances the savory taste of the pieces of chicken.
  • Garnish: Sesame seeds add texture to the grilled chicken.
  • Oil: Grill the chicken skewers using a high-smoke-point oil with a neutral taste, such as vegetable oil.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

This yakitori chicken recipe is easy to prepare and customize! Try these tasty options:

  • Chicken Options: If you prefer white meat, use chicken breast. However, the cooking time will be shorter for the lean protein. Keep an eye on doneness to prevent overcooking. This yakitori sauce is also great to apply on chicken wings and legs.
  • Add Alliums: Sprinkle on freshly sliced green onion for a delicate onion flavor. Add pieces of onion between the chicken pieces to caramelize the vegetables.
  • Sweetener Swaps: Add dark brown sugar for a stronger molasses flavor. Granulated sugar adds a clean sweetness. Alternatively, add honey or maple syrup.
  • Wine: Instead of mirin rice wine, try sake, Reisling, or dry white wine.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos.
  • Vinegar: Try apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar.
  • Oil Options: Use olive oil, peanut oil, or avocado oil.
  • Make it Grain-Free: Use 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder for 4 teaspoons of cornstarch.

How to Make Chicken Yakitori

Step 1: Make the Yakitori Sauce

The yakitori sauce tends to be the star of this chicken dish. It combines umami and sweet flavors: soy sauce, mirin sweet cooking wine, brown sugar for sweetness, rice vinegar for acidity, fresh ginger, and garlic. Whisk together, then bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cooking until the sauce slightly thickens, approximately 1 minute.

Ingredient Chemistry: When using cornstarch as a thickener, mix it with a non-hot liquid to disperse in the sauce before cooking. Ensure thorough whisking until no white powder remains. Cornstarch absorbs water and swells when boiling, so whisk constantly to maximize its thickening power.

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

Step 2: Prepare the Chicken Skewers

If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes to prevent them from burning quickly on the grill. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, just over 1 inch in size. Thread them on the skewers and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle some oil on top to prevent sticking.

Step 3: Grill the Chicken 

The chicken is first cooked on the grill over medium-high heat for a few minutes to initiate the Maillard browning reaction and develop flavor and color. Then, using the basting method, the sauce is infused on the surface of the chicken skewers. The process takes about 15 minutes.

Tips for Perfect Execution: The yakitori sauce is brushed on both sides of the chicken multiple times. This allows it to cook for a few minutes so the sauce sticks to the surface. The sugar in the sauce will caramelize as it cooks.

Dipping a grilled chicken skewer into a wooden bowl of Japanese yakitori sauce.

Step 4: Ready to Serve

Right before serving, garnish the chicken skewers with sesame seeds. I also like adding green onions for a pop of color and allium flavor. The recipe makes a large batch of yakitori sauce, so you can use it for basting and save the rest for dipping. Trust me—you’ll want to drizzle extra flavor on each bite and on any steamed rice.

Experimentation Encouraged: You can also use the sauce to baste beef, pork, and seafood or serve it on the side.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does yakitori mean in Japanese?

Yakitori means “grilled chicken” in Japanese. It derives from the words yaki (grill) and tori (chicken). It features small, skewered pieces of chicken cooked over a grill.

What is yakitori chicken made of?

Chicken thighs or breasts are cut into skewered pieces and seasoned. They’re then grilled and basted with a sweet, savory glaze similar to teriyaki sauce.

Does yakitori taste like teriyaki?

Both yakitori and teriyaki sauces share a foundation of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch for thickening. The difference is that yakitori sauce is more concentrated in flavor, as it is used for basting during cooking. Teriyaki sauce is used to glaze right before serving, so it’s not as strong in flavor.

What are the best skewers to use for grilling chicken?

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. Always soak the bamboo skewers (no matter what size) for at least 30 minutes so that the wood absorbs water and prevents it from burning too quickly. You could also wrap the exposed ends of the skewers with foil if you don’t have time to soak them or for thin wooden skewers.

More Japanese Recipes

If you tried this Chicken Yakitori, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

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.
4.87 from 115 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 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut into about 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


  • Make the Sauce – In a medium saucepan, whisk together soy sauce, water, mirin, rice vinegar, sugar, ginger, garlic, and cornstarch. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Constantly whisk until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
    Transfer 1 cup of the sauce to a bowl to use for basting the chicken. Reserve the remaining sauce to serve with the chicken.
  • Prepare the Chicken Skewers – If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes. Thread cut pieces of chicken on the skewers. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Drizzle both sides of skewers with a small amount of oil to prevent sticking when cooking.
  • Grill the Chicken – Preheat the 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 and baste the cooked side with the sauce. Cook for 4 minutes. Flip and baste with sauce, then cover and cook for 2 minutes. Flip again, baste, and cook for 2 minutes covered. Repeat flipping, basting, and covered cooking 2 additional times for a total of 16 minutes of cooking time.
  • To Serve – Sprinkle the chicken yakitori skewers with sesame seeds and serve immediately with additional sauce.


  • Storing: Store chicken and sauce in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
  • Sweetener Options: Dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, honey, or maple syrup can be used.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos.
  • Make it Grain-Free: Substitute cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder.

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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    • 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.

  1. 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.

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