Skewers of grilled yakitori chicken are a popular food at izakaya restaurants and specialty yakitori restaurants. In Japan, there are many different types of yakitori, depending on which cut of chiken is used:
- momo (もも), chicken thigh
- negima (ねぎま), chicken and scallion
- tsukune (つくね), chicken meatballs
- (tori)kawa ((とり)かわ), chicken skin, grilled until crispy
- tebasaki (手羽先), chicken wing
- bonjiri (ぼんじり), chicken tail
- shiro (シロ), chicken small intestines
- nankotsu (なんこつ), chicken cartilage
- hāto / hatsu (ハート / ハツ) or kokoro (こころ), chicken heart
- rebā (レバー), liver
- sunagimo (砂肝) or zuri (ずり), chicken gizzard
- toriniku (鶏肉), all white meat on skewer
- yotsumi (四つ身), pieces of chicken breast
This recipe is for negima yakitori and uses chicken thighs and scallion, and is adapted to be easily broiled at home in your oven. If you want to though, you can grill the chicken instead. In Japan, yakitori is grilled over a special fixed cooking grate, and there is no wire grid so that the chicken will not stick the grate and the skewers are easy to baste and turn. They are grilled over a special type of charcoal called binchōtan (備 長炭), which burns at an extremely high temperature (over 1800F/1000C) and last for a very long time. If you are interested in grilling with binchōtan, keep in mind it is more difficult to start and you’ll likely need a fire starter pan to heat them over open fire. Otherwise I recommend using a hardwood lump charcoal and heating your grill to a high temperature to try to replicate the same level of heat.
The type of bamboo skewers typically used for yakitori are called “teppo gushi” (鉄砲串, literally “rifle skewer” or “gun skewer” because of their shape). They have a flat tab on one end which makes them easier to turn or hold, and keeps them from rolling on the grill and allows you to grill one side at a time. You can buy teppo gushi online and in some Asian markets and cooking stores. If you can’t find flat skewers, you can use regular round bamboo skewers, but be careful when turning the yakitori.
- 10-12 5-inch bamboo skewers
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, at room temperature
- 9 scallions
- Vegetable oil
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup mirin
- ¼ cup sake
- ¼ cup water
- 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar
- Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, add the 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, decrease the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by half. It will take about 30 minutes. The sauce will be thicker and glossy. Let it cool to room temperature before using. Reserve ⅓ of the sauce in a small bowl for final coating.
- Cut the white and light green part of scallions into 1 inch pieces.
- Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes.
- On a flat work surface, fold each slice of chicken in half, insert into chicken at 45 degrees angle, and press down on the skewer to pierce thorough 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.
- 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.
- 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 and brush the chicken on top with the reserved sauce (with a clean brush).
Note: If the sauce for the final coating came in contact with the raw chicken, boil the sauce again to avoid contamination.
last updated August 17, 2023