Tsukune つくね

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Japanese Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.comTsukune (つくね) is Japanese chicken meatballs that are skewered and typically grilled over charcoal served in yakitori restaurants. Since I had received great feedback from readers on my oven-broiled yakitori recipe, I couldn’t wait to share this tsukune recipe! As summer is just around the corner, I highly recommend to bring these skewers out to outdoor grill and enjoy!

Japanese Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

Tsukune is usually seasoned with salt or sweet soy sauce – yakitori “tare”. Ingredients for “tare” are similar to teriyaki sauce, but “tare” is much thicker and saltier. When the yakitori “tare” gets caramelized under the broiler (or over the grill), the tsukune becomes incredibly delicious. Slightly charred soft ground chicken with bits of shiso leaves and scallions and drizzled with tare…it’s hard to stop eating just one.

Usually tsukune recipes require eggs or panko to bind the ground meat together so that the meat won’t easily fall apart. However, I learned this trick from my mom to knead the chicken mixture until it becomes pale and sticky. The meat never falls off from the skewers and this method really works!

Japanese Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune) | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

When you make chicken meatballs, you want to make sure they are fluffy, springy, and juicy. I learned this great technique from The Japanese Grill, one of Mr. JOC’s favorite grill cookbooks, and I’ve been following this method ever since.

With this method, you precook some of the ground chicken first, let it cool, and mix it in with the raw ground chicken instead of making meatballs from all raw ground chicken. This prevents the meat from shrinking too much. Sometimes when you grill meat you end up with much smaller pieces because the meat shrank after cooking. Also, this prevents the meat from losing a lots of juice. Although it an extra step, I find it’s totally worth it! Also, if you can’t find shiso leaves, it’s fine to omit but definitely tastes better with it.

Here’s the video tutorial on how to make Tsukune in the oven!

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Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 14-16 skewers
  • 1 lb. ground chicken
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil and more for coating your hands
  • 1 Tbsp. miso (I use awase miso, which is a combination of red and white miso)
  • 10 shiso leaves (Perilla)
  • 4 scallions (green onion)
  • Salt
  • ½ cup Yakitori Tare (Homemade recipe here)
  • You will also need:
  • 16 5-inch bamboo skewers
  • Toppings
  • Shichimi Togarashi for spicy taste (optional)
    Tsukune Ingredients
  1. Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
    Tsukune 1
  2. Pile and roll up the shiso leaves, then cut into thin julienne slices. Cut the scallion into thin slices.
    Tsukune 2
  3. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When it’s hot, add ⅓ of chicken and break up the ground chicken into small pieces using a wooden spatula. Cook until no longer pink and transfer to a plate to let it cool.
    Tsukune 3
  4. Combine the cooked chicken and uncooked chicken in a large bowl and mix well with rubber spatula.
    Tsukune 4
  5. Add sesame oil and miso and mix well.
    Tsukune 5
  6. Add the scallions and shiso leaves and combine well with rubber spatula.
    Tsukune 6
  7. Now with your hand, knead 30 times clockwise. Then knead counterclockwise 30 times. The meat will become more pale in color and sticky. This part is very important for the meat to stay on stick so please do not skip this step.
    Tsukune 7
  8. Grease the grill rack with brush. I use a roasting pan and rack as it can support the skewers very well while the excess oil drops to the bottom of roasting pan when cooking.
    Tsukune 8
  9. Lightly coat your hands with sesame oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Scoop a handful of the chicken mixture (1 ½ scoop for my hand using an OXO cookie scoop) and form into a round patty.
    Tsukune 9
  10. Toss the meat to left and right to release the air pockets and gently squeeze to form the meat into a long oval patty, about 3-4 inches in length. Insert the skewer on the prepared wire rack.
    Tsukune 10
  11. Lightly sprinkle salt over the chicken skewers.
    Tsukune 11
  12. Put aluminum foil around the skewers to prevent them from burning.
    Tsukune 12
  13. Set the broiler to high and wait until the heating elements are hot. Boil in the middle rack, for 6 minutes. Then flip the skewers over and broil more for 4 minutes.
    Tsukune 13
  14. When both sides are cooked, brush the yakitori sauce on the meat and broil for another 30 seconds. Transfer the skewers to a serving plate and brush the extra sauce on the meat. Serve with Shichimi Togarashi.
    Tsukune 14
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.



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  1. In France, tsukune might be one of the most loved dish at Japanese restaurant, I was surprised not to find it here in Japanese restaurant (but well… they also serve beef and cheese skewers in France, so…). Are they always made in this shape ?

  2. These do look very summery, Nami, and I like your tips on how to stop the meat from falling off the stick! I think serving food like this is great for casual summer barbecues with lots of family and friends xx

  3. I love how you wrapped the wooden skewers in foil! These remind me of Persian kabobs, but of course much different flavors. Interesting that you mix cooked chicken with uncooked. I’ve never seen that done before.

  4. Really interesting technique to cook some of the meat, then mix it with the uncooked. I’ll have to try that! Great recipe — so much flavor. And I can never resist a meat ball. Or anything on a skewer. 😉 Thanks.

  5. Hi Nami,
    Thank you for this great recipe!
    We are fond of Yakitori and tsukune in France! I usually cook them but without shiso leaves.
    I will try tsukune with them and taste your way.
    Those skewers look amazing!
    Have a great day

  6. SandyN

    Yummy – can’t wait to make this! As usual, take a bow, simple and a delight to look at!!! Do I sense a Bento lunch after this? 😉

    • Hi SandyN! Hahaha well I’m writing a bento post right now… Good guess! It’ll be similar recipe, not this tsukune though. :)

  7. Nami, your recent posts have just been so mouthwatering! I’m still dreaming about the Ebi Chili Shrimp. I was actually describing it in great detail to my husband so I think it has to be made very soon! Haha. I love to do meatballs with ground turkey but haven’t done them yet with chicken. I LOVE the idea of putting them on skewers. People (especially kids) love food on sticks :)

  8. These sound just delicious! I’ve never had tsukune before, so I absolutely want to try it out soon. I bet this mixture would be great formed into meatballs too!

  9. Lyn

    This has my name written all over it…can’t wait to try. However, I know we don’t carry Shiso leaves in my area. Should I substitute basil? Thanks

    • Hi Lyn! I’d omit if you want to keep it Japanese style. Basil or mint are not very traditional Japanese herb. I know it’ll taste great with basil, but the taste won’t be Japanese (more like Thai/Vietnamese) style. Hope this helps. :)

  10. Love your mom’s kneading tip. Thank you for sharing. These look very delicious – another food I’ve seen often and I now know how to make!

  11. Thanks for sharing the trick of precooking some of the ground chicken first. It certainly makes sense, but something I would never have considered. I’ve seen meatballs cooked this way a few times but have never done it myself. Thanks for the recipe!

  12. Nami, all of these look so drool-worthy! Also, perfect for outdoor bbqs, since they`re on skewers! Thanks for the grilling tip, too! Now I`m going to ask my mom if she can try this. >_<

  13. Nami, do you believe in telepathy? I have been wondering all day what I should do with ground chicken…. Incredible isn’t it? All your tsukune look so succulent, I can almost smell the aroma of the shiso…. my beloved herb. You have made me decide to make tsukune this week too! I remember I cooked part of the chicken meat in a recipe taken from Shizuo Tsuji’s book too! So clever! Thank you for all the useful tips. I now feel ready to confront tsukune making process :-)
    Actually, tsukune is my favourite item on the menu when I go to Tokyo’s yakitori bars (together with the rare chicken breast, but it’s not available everywhere and I wouldn’t have it just anywhere). I remember I once went to a bar, where tsukune wasn’t on the – shortened – English menu; I wanted to taste it so much, I finally asked “do you have tsukune?” and it was the first question I dared asking in a bar in Japan :-) . Actually, they did have tsukune and it was extraordinary.

  14. Ayako L.

    Your photos are gorgeous as usual! Make me hungry every time :)
    I love your method of cooking Tsukune in the oven. Who would thought of that?
    I don’t have the outside grill at home right now, so this is great to know that I can cook this way.
    I do Steak the same way.

    By the way, do you grow your own Shiso in your garden?

    • Thank you Ayako! I use the broiler often to cook all kinds of meat instead of “bake”. :)

      No, I don’t. I would love to since it’s easy to grow…. however deer visit our yard often, and I need to know they eat shiso…. 😀 Also our house gets pretty windy, that can be another issue. :(

  15. このポストは諸注意ばかり!誠にどうもありがとうございます。あまり肉を作りませんのでなみさんのティップスが助かります。肉の練り方はお母様から学んだことは素敵ですね。

  16. Eha

    The use of both cooked and uncooked chicken at the same time is quite new to me and I would have thought the cooked part of the meat would add dryness to the finished dish – obviously not! Looks very much worth trying!! Personally I do not use foil at the end of the skewers – just place them in water for half an hour before placing the ‘sausages’ on them [yes, I make most Eastern minced meat dishes in that shape :) !

    • Hi Eha! I didn’t know the half cooked and half raw method before, but I really like this technique now! :) I do soak the skewers for quite some time, but they still get dark (they won’t burn)… so I use foil for guests and blog posts. 😀 For home use, I skip that extra step. =P

  17. Dear Nami, as some of the other commentators, I am also taken by the fact that you combine raw as well as cooked ground meat in this recipe – it does make sense if you want to have your final skewers keep their pretty shape after baking in the oven. Also, to wrap the wooden skewers with foil is a wonderful idea to keep them from turning too dark – these are all wonderful tips and and an outstanding recipe. And I like the third picture the best where you can marvel at the delicious, shiny sauce on your Japanese chicken meatballs.

  18. These look amazing and your pictures gorgeous. I have a ton of bamboo skewers that need to be used so looks like I’ll be making your chicken meatballs! Thx

  19. Nami-san, thanks for the great tip about placing aluminium foil around the wooden skewer to prevent burning. I have tried to make these before but it is very tricking turning them the first time as if they are not ready to turn the chicken meat sticks, even with non-stick cooking spray when you are making these on the grill. However, broiling them instead is a brilliant idea. Take care, BAM

  20. Frank Mosher

    Some hard to find ingredients in Canada, even in local Asian grocery stores. Shiso leaves-any substitute? Great blog still!

    • Hi Frank! I’m not sure where in Canada you live, but I heard there is a good Japanese supermarket in (or near) Vancouver (if you are in that area). If you can’t find shiso in Japanese or Korean grocery stores, you can omit. You can include other herbs or veggies if you like, but the best option is usually shiso or green onions. :)

  21. Janine

    delicious! i didn’t have any shiso but found out mint was a good substitute for it so i used that instead. it was amazing! i was too excited and didn’t realize i had to boil down the tare (oops), but it still tastes great. luckily i saved the tare mix so i can easily boil it down next time. ha ha.

    • Hi Janine! Thank you so much for your kind feedback! I’m so glad to hear yours came out well and you enjoyed this recipe! Thank you for trying this recipe! :)

  22. May

    I can’t wait to try this out this weekend! Do you think it will be ok to pre-make the skewers and refrigerate for overnight then cook just before serving? Also, how does the homemade tare sauce compare taste-wise to a store-bought terriyaki sauce? It sounds like it might be milder in flavor?

    • Hi May! Sure, you can prep the night before. You probably need to re-shape it once you pick up (raw) tsukune from the plate (it gets sticky, so use a parchment paper or plastic wrap on the bottom etc). Oh you must try this homemade tare! It’s not the same as teriyaki sauce. The store bought teriyaki sauce is very different from traditional teriyaki sauce in Japan, so I can’t imagine mixing these two… I would definitely suggest to make this tare to go with tsukune. If you say it’s “meaetballs”, I guess I can use store-bought teriyaki sauce… Tsukune needs the yakitori tare. :)

  23. Darlene

    Hi Nami,
    I really want to try this recipe but I always thought that I could not mix cooked meat with raw meat.

  24. Can you tell me why you cook 1/3 of the meat first. What happens to the meat when you toss it. The ground turkey and Chicken is very watery in Canada , do these two steps help

    • Hi Kennedy!

      This method prevents the meat from shrinking too much. Sometimes when you grill meat you end up with much smaller pieces because the meat shrank after cooking. Also, this prevents the meat from losing a lots of juice.

      If the meat is watery, make sure to drain well before mixing. :)