Asian Recipes/ Dinner/ Japanese/ Recipes

Yakitori Chicken Skewers

04/02/2021

An easy recipe for Japanese Yakitori Chicken featuring bite sized chicken pieces cooked on bamboo skewers. Smothered in a sticky, sweet and salty soy sauce, they’re deliciously juicy, with quick prep and no marinating required!

Pile of yakitori chicken skewers on plate with rice and cabbage in background.

Why We Love This

This is one of the most popular Japanese recipes, both in Japan and around the world. It’s not hard to see why, when it tastes so good and is actually very simple to prepare.  In fact, this was the first Japanese recipe Sarah cooked in primary school when she was only 6!

Top view of chicken skewers scattered on a blue plate with dark background.

What is Yakitori Chicken? 

Yaki essentially means “grilled or fried” – you’ll find this work popping up in some of our favourite Japanese dishes like okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) and yakisoba (stir fried noodles). 

Tori means bird (usually chicken when in the context of food). 

Together, yaki + tori means grilled or fried chicken, but most often refers to chicken cooked on bamboo skewers. 

In Japan you’ll usually find yakitori at specialty restaurants known as yakitori-ya, or izakaya (tapas-style bars) that serve alcohol and snacks. It’s great fun to watch the yakitori being cooked by the chefs right in front of you. Each region or restaurant is known for using different breeds of chicken, ingredients or cooking techniques for preparing and cooking them.  

Sometimes you’ll find them at street stalls, festivals (matsuri) or at convenience stores and supermarkets – pre-prepared ready to heat-and-eat!

Just like Indonesian satays, they’re traditionally cooked on a charcoal grill (shichirin) using a special kind of charcoal called binchotan. This gives them a deliciously smoky flavour. At home though, it’s easier to cook them on a regular frying pan.

Fun Facts about Yakitori

Japanese yakitori can be made with (almost) any cut of chicken. You can even make a version of yakitori with chicken mince meatballs (known as tsukune). At home we’ll use thigh (momo) or breast (sasami / muneniku), however in Japan you can also find them made from:

  • Wings (tebasaki)
  • Cartilage (nankotsu)
  • Gizzard (sunagimo)
  • Skin (kawa)

In addition to chicken, they’re also made from: 

  • Meatballs (tsukune)
  • Mushroom
  • Tofu
  • Asparagus
  • Beef 
  • Pork

Yakitori Sauce & Seasonings

Yakitori restaurants will usually offer two main seasonings:

  • Tare – a housemade sweet and salty blend of soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. It’s similar in profile to teriyaki sauce, which is what we’re using today. 
  • Shio – a simple sprinkling of salt. This enhances the flavour of the chicken and spring onion without overpowering. Why not cook some of your skewers separately and try it for yourself?

Todays’ recipe is for a popular version called Negima Yakitori, consisting of spring onion slices (negi) between (ma) the chicken thigh pieces.

What You’ll Need

  • Chicken – Thighs are best because they’re extra juicy and soak up all the flavour. You can use chicken breast if you prefer, they just won’t be quite as tender and juicy. Slice into even strips about 4 cm / 1.5 inch in width.
  • Teriyaki Sauce – Make your own or use a store bought brand such as Kikkoman. If making your own, feel free to experiment with the quantity of each ingredient until the flavour is just how you like it.
  • Spring Onion – Also known as green onion, scallions or negi. Trim to the width of the chicken pieces to make it easier to cook and turn the skewers.
Ingredients laid out to make yakitori chicken skewers.

How to make yakitori chicken at home:

  1. On each skewer, add the following: chicken, spring onion, chicken, spring onion, chicken. Make sure they’re all pressed tight together.
  2. Pop a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. Add the chicken skewers and cook for 3 minutes on each side, then cover and steam for another 5 minutes until almost cooked.
  3. Remove the chicken skewers and pour in the teriyaki sauce. Turn the heat up and bring it to a boil – it should be bubbling quite a bit. Add the chicken skewers back into the pan and cook for another couple of minutes on each side, basting the sauce over it as you go.
  4. Once the sauce starts to reduce and thicken, turn the heat off. Serve the chicken skewers immediately, and baste one last time with the thickened sauce in the pan for an extra shiny coat.

Wandercook’s Tips

  • Soak the Skewers – Soak in water for at least 20 mins, this helps prevent the skewers from burning. Regular skewers are fine, but if you have flat cocktail skewers these will make it easier to cook one side at a time. 
  • Thread Tightly – Thread the bite-sized pieces tightly onto the skewer, as they will shrink when they cook. 
  • Baste As You Cook – After pouring the sauce into the pan and re-adding the skewers, continue basting with sauce to make sure each skewer is evenly coated.
  • Soak Up Oil – Juices and oil can splatter when cooking these skewers in a frying pan, so use a piece of paper towel to soak up excess oil as you go. 
  • Don’t Serve Used Sauce at the Table – It will be contaminated from brushing onto the uncooked chicken. Of course, feel free to serve fresh unused teriyaki sauce in clean bowls if you want.

FAQs

What should I serve with yakitori chicken?

Condiments – Add a sprinkling of salt or shichimi togarashi chilli powder. Small dabs of wasabi add a delicious kick. We recommend trying the chicken as it is first to see what you think, then feel free to season to taste. 

Popular Side Dishes – Our favourite yakitori restaurant chain in Japan is called Torikizoku. We’ll usually order a few side plates like steamed edamame, gyoza dumplings, Japanese potato salad, tori karaage (fried chicken), and takuan pickles. For a simple meal, serve with steamed rice. Of course, they go amazingly with a cold beer!

How do I eat yakitori?

It’s fine to eat the chicken and spring onion straight off the skewer. If you prefer, you can use chopsticks or a knife and fork to slide the pieces off the skewer onto your plate first. When eating yakitori in Japan, it’s polite to place your used skewer in a designated cup placed on the table for that purpose, rather than leaving used skewers on your plate. When eating at home though, it’s up to you!

Is yakitori sauce the same as teriyaki sauce?

It is essentially the same sauce. The biggest difference is in the way the chicken is cooked. Yakitori is grilled in pieces, usually on skewers then coated in the sauce. Teriyaki chicken on the other hand, is cooked as a whole thigh piece, which is marinated beforehand then has the sauce added after being fried in the pan.

Variations

  • Skip the Skewers – Simply cook the chicken and spring onion directly in the frying pan without threading onto skewers. 
  • Serve as a Rice Bowl – Serve over rice with chopped vegetables (such as cucumber, lettuce, tomato, carrot), and top with goma dare sesame sauce and/or kewpie mayonnaise. 
  • Cook in the Oven – Set the oven to ‘broil’ (in Australia we also call this ‘grilling’) and cook on high (around 200˚C / 400˚F) for around 20 minutes, basting and flipping halfway through so they’re cooked evenly. 
Close up of glistening yakitori sauce on chicken skewers.

More Japanese favourites are never too far away:

★ Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and a star rating below!

Blue plate with a stack of yakitori chicken skewers.

Yakitori Chicken Skewers

An easy recipe for Japanese Yakitori Chicken featuring bite sized chicken pieces cooked on bamboo skewers. Smothered in a sticky, sweet and salty soy sauce, they’re deliciously juicy, with quick prep and no marinating required!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Japanese
Servings: 6 skewers
Calories: 102kcal
Author: Wandercooks
Cost: $10

Equipment

Ingredients

Instructions

  • On each skewer, add the following: chicken, spring onion, chicken, spring onion, chicken. Make sure they're all pressed tight together.
  • Pop a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. Add the vegetable oil and chicken skewers and cook for 3 minutes on each side, then cover and steam for another 5 minutes until almost cooked.
  • Remove the chicken skewers and pour in the teriyaki sauce. Turn the heat up and bring it to a boil – it should be bubbling quite a bit. Add the chicken skewers back into the pan and cook for another couple of minutes on each side, basting the sauce over it as you go.
  • Once the sauce starts to reduce and thicken, turn the heat off.
  • Serve the chicken skewers immediately, and baste one last time with the thickened sauce in the pan for an extra shiny coat.

Video

Recipe Notes

  • Skip the Skewers – Simply cook the chicken and spring onion directly in the frying pan without threading onto skewers. 
  • Serve as a Rice Bowl – Serve over sushi rice with chopped vegetables (such as cucumber, lettuce, tomato, carrot), and top with goma dare sesame sauce and/or kewpie mayonnaise. 
  • Cook in the Oven – Set the oven to ‘broil’ (in Australia we also call this ‘grilling’) and cook on high (around 200˚C / 400˚F) for around 20 minutes, basting and flipping halfway through so they’re cooked evenly. 
  • Soak the Skewers – Soak in water for at least 20 mins, this helps prevent the skewers from burning. Regular skewers are fine, but if you have flat cocktail skewers these will make it easier to cook one side at a time. 
  • Thread Tightly – Thread the bite-sized pieces tightly onto the skewer, as they will shrink when they cook. 
  • Baste As You Cook – After pouring the sauce into the pan and re-adding the skewers, continue basting with sauce to make sure each skewer is evenly coated.
  • Soak Up Oil – Juices and oil can splatter when cooking these skewers in a frying pan, so use a piece of paper towel to soak up excess oil as you go. 
  • Don’t Serve Used Sauce at the Table – It will be contaminated from brushing onto the uncooked chicken. Of course, feel free to serve fresh unused teriyaki sauce in clean bowls if you want.
  • Ingredients:
    • Chicken – Sub with chicken breast, they just won’t be quite as tender and juicy. Slice into even strips about 4 cm / 1.5 inch in width.
    • Teriyaki Sauce – Make your own or use a store bought brand such as Kikkoman

Nutrition

Calories: 102kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 37mg | Sodium: 721mg | Potassium: 151mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 149IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 16mg | Iron: 1mg
Hey hey – Did you make this recipe?We’d love it if you could give a star rating below ★★★★★ and show us your creations on Instagram! Snap a pic and tag @wandercooks / #Wandercooks
Yakitori Chicken Skewers

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