Glazed in a savory-sweet sauce, these Japanese chicken and scallion skewers are hard to resist! You’d love this simple yakitori recipe. It’s great for grilling outdoor or under the broiler.
When comes to chicken on a stick, the Japanese have our own best version known as Yakitori (焼き鳥). The name translates directly to grilled chicken, but Yakitori also exemplifies good times and happy hours in Japan.
These chicken skewers are a classic food served at izakaya, Japanese-tapas style pubs, where frosty beer, tasty bites, and jolly chatters are all part of the deal. They are also the kind of iconic food you can find at specialty restaurants that serve nothing else but Yakitori.
The good news is anyone can easily make some really great-tasting yakitori at home. Let me show you how!
Yakitori in Japan
Just like sushi and tempura, Yakitori in Japan is a serious business. At specialty restaurants, the chefs would go as far as sourcing special breeds of chicken from specific regions known for their unique texture and flavors. Various methods of butchering, skewering, and grilling are applied. And the patrons get to choose from an astonishing selection – from breasts, thighs, cartilage, wings, skins, tenderloin, livers to gizzards.
Here are the examples you’d get on the menu:
- Chicken Thigh (momo, もも)
- Chicken Breast (mune, むね)
- Chicken Thigh & Scallion (negima, ねぎま)
- Chicken Tender (sasami, ささみ)
- Chicken Skin (kawa, 皮)
- Chicken Wings (tebasaki, 手羽先)
- Chicken Tail (bonjiri, ぼんじり)
- Chicken Cartilage (nankotsu, 軟骨)
- Chicken Heart (hatsu, ハツ)
- Chicken Liver (rebā, レバー)
- Chicken Gizzard (sunagimo, 砂肝)
Here, I’m sharing one of the most popular yakitori dishes called Negima Yakitori – chicken thigh and scallion skewer. This is a super easy recipe you’ll love!
Watch How to Make Yakitori
3 Quick Tips for Making Delicious Yakitori
- Use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. They stay juicy and more flavorful compared to breasts.
- Soak the bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes before threading the ingredients.
- Alternate the chicken with big pieces of scallion on skewers, and make sure they are tightly snugged to each other.
The Seasonings (Shio or Tare)
Most yakitori joints will only offer two simple flavorings: salt (shio) or with yakitori sauce (“tare” – pronounced “tareh”).
Tare is made of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. I tested several sauces over the years and we like this version best. It has a good balance between sweet and salty. You can add ginger and other ingredients for the sauce, but for this case, minimalist is a great approach.
For the purest taste of grilled chicken, you can go without the sauce and simply sprinkle salt before grilling. It’s really amazing how the meat can transform into something so delicious with simple treatments.
Bamboo Skewers for Yakitori
For yakitori, the skewers are usually made from bamboo. The typical skewers are called “teppogushi” (literally means “gun skewer” from its shape). The tapered skewers have a flat tab on one end which makes them easier to turn or hold. They also won’t roll on the grill and allow the chef to grill one side at a time.
You can buy them at Japanese supermarkets or Amazon (regular bamboo skewers will also work).
Easy Oven Broil Method
While you may not be able to create the atmosphere of yakitori joints, you won’t go wrong with this easy oven broil method that I share here.
Start by making the tare sauce, then thread the chicken and scallions into skewers. When ready to grill, set the broiler on high at 500ºF, and let the oven does the job. Within 15 minutes, you’d be rewarded some nicely char-grilled results for the chicken. The recipe works great for the outdoor grill too.
I love that we can easily recreate this izakaya favorite without any fuss. They are great as a main dish or as an appetizer or as a snack for movie night. There is really nothing not to love about these delicious chicken on the sticks.
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (at room temperature)
- 9 green onions/scallions
- neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Soak about 10 to 12 (5-inch) bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
To Make Yakitori Sauce (Tare)
- In a small saucepan, add mirin, soy sauce, sake, water, brown sugar, and the green part of 1 scallion, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half. It will take about 30 minutes. The sauce will thicken with a glossy shine. Let it cool to room temperature before using. Reserve ⅓ of the sauce in a small bowl for final coating (Use this sauce after the chicken is cooked). Note: You can make the sauce ahead of time. Put only the sauce (no green onion) in a mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 months in the refrigerator.
To Prepare Yakitori
- Cut the white and light green part of scallions into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces.
- Cut chicken into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes.
- On a flat work surface, fold each slice of chicken in half, insert into the chicken at 45 degrees angle, and press down on the skewer to pierce through the center.
- Alternate each chicken slice with a piece of scallion lined up perpendicular to the skewer. Each skewer will hold about 4 chicken slices and 3 scallion pieces.
To Grill (Broil) Yakitori
- Grease the grate of the broiler/wire rack (or oven-safe cooling rack) to avoid the chicken sticking on the grate. Place the skewers on top.
- Set the broiler to high and wait until the heating elements are hot. Broil for 6 minutes.
- Take out 2 Tbsp of the Yakitori Sauce in a small bowl for brushing (you do not want to cross contaminate). After 6 minutes, brush the sauce on the meat on both sides and continue to broil for 3-4 minutes to caramelize the sauce.
- Transfer the skewers to a serving plate. Using a clean brush, brush the chicken on top with the reserved sauce. Tip: If you accidentally cross-contaminate (Dip the brush you used for coating the raw chicken in the sauce), you have to boil the sauce again. Serve and enjoy!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Apr 13, 2014. The post has been updated and republished in July 2020.