Yakitori seems to be the absolute favorite of Japan, especially in Tokyo. During my time there, I couldn’t escape the allure of this dish—it was everywhere, from bustling street vendors to cozy restaurants tucked away in narrow alleys. According to my local friend, Tokyo boasts over 7,000 yakitori restaurants. That’s a huge number for a dish. I love this dish too, it reminds me of the skewered chicken I usually have at a BBQ.
Yakitori is a Japanese skewered chicken. It is traditionally grilled over charcoal, imparting a distinct smokiness to the skewers. Its name is a combination of “yaki,” which means grilled or cooked, and “tori,” which means bird or chicken.
The skewers are often brushed with yakitori sauce – a.k.a tare (a combination of soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin) during the grilling process to build layers of flavor. This creates a perfect balance of char, sweetness, and umami.
You can find the flavorful dish everywhere in Japan, from street food vendors to small shops to izakayas (Japanese pubs) to restaurants. Japanese also use the dish as main toppings for donburi dishes (yakitori don).
What made me surprised is that they use almost every part of the chicken to make yakitori. The skewered chicken I ate before are often made of chicken thigh or breast. Now, coming to Japan and enjoying skewers made of other parts of chicken was a whole new world to me.
I must admit, I quickly developed a fondness for yakitori as I did for takoyaki. Those skewered chicken are perfectly seasoned and grilled over charcoal. I have enough thigh and breast skewers for my whole life, so I ordered something completely different – wings, organs, and meatballs. That night, I ate about 7 skewers. Who can blame me, they were too delicious!
Back to my own kitchen, I decide to make yakitori skewered chicken for the BBQ today. They’ll be chicken wing (tebasaki) and meatball (tsukune) skewers.
When I use a electric grill to make yakitori, it just doesn’t capture that same aroma and texture as charcoal-cooked yakitori I had in Japan. There’s something about the smokiness and char that you can only get from cooking it over charcoal. However, my skewered chicken is still good.
Here is how to make DIY yakitori grill indoor:
Tebasaki Yakitori – Chicken wing skewers
- 2 lbs chicken wings
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup sake
- 1/4 cup mirin
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Skewers wooden or metal
- Preheat your grill or oven to medium-high heat.
- In a bowl, mix soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar to create the yakitori sauce or tare.
- Cut the chicken wings into drumettes and flats, then thread them onto skewers.
- Brush the wings with the marinade and grill for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally and basting with more marinade.
- Continue cooking until the wings are cooked through and have a nice char.
Tsukune Yakitori – Japanese Chicken Meatballs
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sake Japanese rice wine
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bamboo skewers soaked in water
- In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, green onions, panko breadcrumbs, egg, soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, salt, and pepper. Mix the ingredients thoroughly.
- Wet your hands to prevent sticking and shape the mixture into small, oval-shaped meatballs.
- Preheat your grill
- Thread the meatballs onto the soaked bamboo skewers.
- Grill or broil the skewers, turning occasionally and basting with extra sauce if desired, until the meatballs are fully cooked and have a nice char on the outside. This usually takes about 10-15 minutes.
- You can garnish with additional chopped green onions or sesame seeds if you like.
You can enjoy yakitori with a cold glass of sake. If you prefer beer, I would recommend a light and crisp lager or a Japanese rice beer can complement the flavors of the grilled skewers nicely. If you don’t like alcoholic option, try green tea or even a refreshing iced tea.
types of yakitori
Here are some types of yakitori:
- Negima is a classic yakitori chicken skewer. It alternates between pieces of chicken and negi (Japanese green onions).
- Tsukune is a chicken meatball skewer.
- Momo: This straightforward yakitori features skewered chicken thighs, offering juicy and flavorful bites. Momo is a favorite due to its tender texture.
- Nankotsu is a skewer with chicken cartilage. I love this, the crunchy texture and the flavors.
- Torikawa or kawa: For those who enjoy a crispy texture, this chicken skewer made of chicken skin is a perfect choice.
- Seseri is chicken neck skewers. Although it is strange to me, it boasts a rich, flavorful taste.
- Bonjiri refers to a skewered chicken tail. It’s appreciated for its unique flavor and texture. But could not taste it, the flavor and texture were too weird for me.
- Tebasaki features chicken wings, offering a mix of crispy skin and tender meat. It’s one of my favorite yakitori.
- Hasami is chicken skewer with gizzard and spring onion.
- Shiro is skewered chicken intestines. It offers a chewy and rich flavor. It’s one of the popular yakitories. However, I didn’t dare to try it.
- Rebā consists of skewered chicken liver.
- Hāto / Hatsu or Kokoro is a skewered chicken heart. It boasts a unique taste and a slightly firmer texture compared to other cuts.
- Sunagimo or zuri involves skewered chicken with gizzards. The skewer can be grilled to a crispy texture, providing a delightful chewiness.
- Mune is a chicken breast meat skewer. It’s known for its lean and slightly firmer texture compared to other cuts.
- Yotsumi is a skewer with a mix of pieces of chicken breast.
- Sasami consists of skewered chicken fillet or tenderloin. It has a mild, clean flavor.
- Toriniku generally is a skewer with all white meat.