Yakitori (Grilled Chicken Skewers)

Japan is one of my favorite countries I’ve ever traveled to. I’ve always been interested in the food and culture, and finally went for a month in January 2020. I fell in love with the quality and attention to food with even the simplest ingredients and preparations. One specialty I returned to again and again was yakitori, snagging them from street vendors or enjoying them alongside a beer at a bar or Izakaya. Though in Japan these chicken skewers are so ubiquitous almost no one makes them at home, I’ve re-created the recipe to the best of my ability so I can enjoy them in between now and my next trip across the world.

What is yakitori?
Yakitori (Japanese for “grilled chicken”) is one of the oldest and most popular traditional Japanese dishes. Though I often found it served from flat tops by street vendors, yakitori is grilled skewers made from all parts of the chicken, including chicken breast, chicken thighs, hearts, and gizzards. Some Japanese chefs will go as far as to source from regions specially known for their texture and flavors. The takeaway is that yakitori is all about the quality of the meat rather than the seasonings that go on it.

What seasonings go well with yakitori?
Most yakitori places will offer two options: salt (shio) or yakitori sauce (tare). Tare is made of just four ingredients, soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. It slightly resembles teriyaki sauce with both sweet and salty elements. You can add ginger and other ingredients, but in this case, minimalism is a great approach. If you’re serving a larger crowd, you can double the sauce and store any leftovers in the fridge for up to 7 days. Other topping options include shichimi togarashi, a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients. Most yakitori places in Japan make their own blend. Although sesame seeds aren’t normally used, we added some for the extra crunch—feel free to get creative with your own toppings.

What goes well with yakitori?
Yakitori make for a great appetizer or snack all on their own, or you could pair with dishes like sesame noodles, sautéed bok choy, simple rice, or a chili oil smashed cucumber salad to make a complete meal. Even if the sides aren’t traditional Japanese foods, as long as the flavors work well together, anything goes.

Do I have to use a grill?
Nope—you can use your broiler instead if it’s too cold to grill or you don’t have one. To broil, preheat broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil, then set a wire rack inside sheet. Brush wire rack with oil or spray with cooking spray. Transfer skewers to rack and broil 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, brush meat on both sides with reserved sauce. Continue to broil until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of chicken registers 165°, 3 to 4 minutes more.

Made this? Let us know how it went in the comments below!