Ready for a summer cookout? I highly recommend giving this Tsukune recipe a try. Drizzled with sweet soy sauce, these Japanese chicken meatball skewers are absolutely delicious. They are best on the grill but you can bake them in the oven too.
Tsukune (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 bringing these skewers out to the outdoor grill and enjoy!
Watch How to Make Tsukune 鶏つくねの作り方
Tender ground chicken skewers with bits of shiso leaves and scallions, drizzled with sweet soy sauce. Make them in an oven or on the grill!
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!
The Technique for Springy & Juicy Chicken Meatballs
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 lot 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.
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil (roasted) (and more for coating your hands)
- 1 Tbsp miso (I use koji miso or awase miso, which is a combination of red and white miso)
- 10 shiso leaves (perilla/ooba)
- 4 green onions/scallions
- kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- ½ cup yakitori tare (sauce)
- shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) (for a spicy kick)
- Gather all the ingredients. Make the yakitori sauce first.
- Soak 14 5-inch flat bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
- Pile and roll up the shiso leaves, then cut into thin julienne slices. Cut the scallion into thin slices.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. When it’s hot, add ⅓ of ground chicken and break it up into small pieces using a wooden spatula. Cook until no longer pink and transfer to a plate to let it cool.
- Combine the cooked chicken and uncooked chicken in a large bowl and mix well with a rubber spatula.
- Add sesame oil and miso and mix well.
- Add the scallions and shiso leaves and combine well with a silicone spatula.
- Now with your hand, knead 30 times clockwise. Then knead counterclockwise 30 times. The meat will become paler in color and sticky. This part is very important for the meat to stay on a stick so please do not skip this step.
- Grease the grill rack with a brush. I use a roasting pan and rack as it can support the skewers very well while the excess oil drips down to the bottom of the roasting pan when cooking.
- Lightly coat your hands with sesame oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Scoop a handful of the chicken mixture (1 ½ scoop using a cookie scoop) and form into a round patty.
- Toss the meat to left and right hands 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.
- Lightly sprinkle salt over the tsukune.
- Put aluminum foil around the skewers to prevent them from burning.
To Cook in the Oven
- Set the oven broiler to high (550ºF/288 ºC) for 5 minutes before cooking. Place the baking sheet in the middle rack of the oven, about 8" (20 cm) away from the heating element. Cook for 6 minutes, and then flip to cook the other side for another 4 minutes, until the chicken's internal temperature is 165 ºF (74 ºC). Watch the chicken carefully not to burn; if your oven is small/strong, try broiling at medium (500ºF/260ºC) or lower the rack.
- 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.
To Cook on the Grill
- Make sure to clean and grease the grilling grate. Gently place the skewers on the grill and cook until the bottom side is nicely brown, 3-4 minutes. With both stainless steel spatula and tongs, gently rotate tsukune and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes. Continue with the remaining sides where you want to grill more, 1-2 minutes. To make sure it's fully cooked, you can insert a bamboo skewer and see if clear juice comes out or check to make sure the chicken's internal temperature is 165 ºF (74 ºC). If so, it's done cooking. Brush the yakitori sauce and cook until sizzling and remove from the heat.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and in the freezer for a month.