A favorite in Izakayas, yaki onigiri are grilled Japanese rice balls covered in savory soy sauce. With a crispy crust on the outside and soft sticky rice on the inside, these rice balls are simply irresistible. They are so easy to make that you want to grill them up at home!
Today I’m going to share Yaki Onigiri (焼きおにぎり) recipe. Yaki means “grilled” in Japanese (you probably heard enough from my blog – Teriyaki, Yakisoba, Yakiniku, Yakitori, etc), and onigiri means “rice ball.”
Onigiri (recipe here) is made of white rice formed into triangular or oval shapes. Inside these rice balls, you can find fillings such as pickled plum called umeboshi, salted salmon, katsuobushi (or okaka), kombu, or tarako. On the outside, they are often wrapped in nori (seaweed). But today’s onigiri is grilled, typically on a frying pan or over a barbecue grill.
Making Yaki Onigiri at Home
Traditionally, yaki onigiri is grilled over charcoal, which lends the rice balls a hint of woodsy, smoky flavor that is truly hard to resist. To make yaki onigiri at home, I use a cast iron pan to grill the rice balls instead. This helps to create similar crispiness to how it would taste when cooked over BBQ grill. But if you don’t mind setting up a charcoal grill, go ahead!
These grilled rice balls can be made with or without fillings, but it is more often prepared with plain rice. Because it’s all about simplicity, you want to start with quality Japanese short grain rice. Forming the onigiri is not something too challenging. I’ve shared step-by-step pictures and tips on how to form the rice balls in the recipe section below, so you will master it in no time. Once your onigiri are formed and placed on the grill, brushed with the sauce and left to crisp up.
Sauce for Yaki Onigiri
Although most yaki onigiri is commonly glazed with soy sauce or miso, I actually love using leftover homemade Unagi Sauce for yaki onigiri. The unagi sauce is a sweet caramelized soy sauce and the savory aroma of the sauce blends perfectly with white rice.
When onigiri are grilled until crisp up with a toasty delicious crust, and the rice in the center is still tender and sticky, you know it’s time to savor these perfect treats. They are such a wonderful snack for children and adults.
If you live near a Japanese supermarket, you can probably find conveniently packaged pre-made yaki onigiri in the freezer section. But, really, yaki onigiri is so easy to make from scratch that I hope you will give it a try. Especially it’s barbecue season now, this can be an unique addition to your Asian-style barbecue menus. Enjoy!
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- cooked Japanese short grain rice (I used 2 rice cooker cups (360ml) of uncooked premium short grain rice, see Notes)
- Sea Salt
- neutral flavor oil (vegetable, canola, etc)
- Soy sauce (I used homemade Unagi Sauce, see Notes for recipe)
Gather all the ingredients.
- Let the cooked rice cool a little bit until you can hold rice without burning your hands. Do not let the rice completely cool down.
- Make Onigiri into triangle shapes. First wet both of your hands with water so rice won't stick.
- Then put some salt in your hands and rub to spread all around.
- Scoop about a half cup of rice onto your palm.
- Cover the rice with the other hand and gently form the rice into a triangle.
- Make sure covering hand (my right hand) should be forming a triangle shape. When forming the onigiri shape, your hands should be just firm enough so the onigiri doesn't fall apart. You don't want to squeeze the rice too tight.
- I use three fingers (thumb, index finger, middle finger) to cover the area to make a nice triangle shape. Then rotate onigiri to make a perfect triangle.
- While you squeeze onigiri firmly with both hands, one of your hand (my left hand) has to press onigiri to keep a nice form. Left photo is before squeezing and right photo is after.
- Gently squeeze the center of triangle on both sides so there is a slight indentation (for grilling onigiri). Now onigiri is ready! You can tell I’m not a good onigiri maker – no matter how many years I have been practicing.
- Lightly oil a cast iron skillet and put it on medium heat.
- Grill onigiri until all sides are crispy and lightly browned. Don't turn it around. Just work on one side at a time and avoid turning over frequently.
- Lower heat to medium low and brush all sides with soy sauce (unagi sauce). Rotate to make sure all sides become crispy. Be careful not to burn onigiri after you brush it with the sauce.
Prep + Cook Time depends on how many onigiri you make.
Rice: 1 rice cooker measuring cup (180ml) of uncooked rice will make 2 to 3 onigiri.
Unagi Sauce: Homemade recipe, click here.
Equipment you will need:
- Wet towel to wipe your hands
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 in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.