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Sara Hansen

Top Tips for Making Homemade Yakitori Perfectly

Everyone loves perfectly grilled chicken. And if you are looking for something different to try on your grill today and want to try a different variation of grilled chicken, Yakitori makes a great option. This delicious street food is so popular in Japan that there is even a whole area in Tokyo called Yakitori Alley. There’s not much that can compare to these charcoal-smoked meats with delicious Asian seasoning.

If you’ve cooked kebabs before, this Japanese grilling style is very similar. Yakitori is relatively easy to do but there are definitely some things to keep in mind to ensure you end up with perfectly grilled meat and the traditional flavors you are going for.

That’s why we’ve put together this article that covers exactly what yakitori is, the top tips on making homemade yakitori, and the most popular seasonings to finish it off.


What is Yakitori Exactly?

The Japanese word Yakitori literally translates to “grilled chicken”, which exactly describes what this food item is–small pieces of chicken grilled on skewers. Yakitori first started during the middle of the Meiji Era (1868 to 1912). During this time, most meat was still scarce and expensive.

So, the original street stalls that offered yakitori used the offcuts that came from the restaurants and used tare sauce (more on this below) to help improve the flavor. In the 1960s yakitori became much more widespread with the public at large, largely due to the development of nationally protected chicken breeds that were more readily available. Today, it is available at traditional street food stalls or in yakitori restaurants, referred to as yakitori-ya, like, for example, the Michelin Star-winning Toriki in Tokyo.

Yakitori, which flavors happen to pair very well with ice-cold beer, is also a popular menu item at izakayas (Japanese gastropubs).

To make traditional yakitori, the chef will cook the skewered meat over a narrow charcoal grill, continuously turning the skewers over red-hot binchōtan (activated white charcoal designed primarily for culinary uses). The meat is grilled until every piece is flavorful, juicy, and has just the right amount of char.

Compared to “regular” charcoal briquettes, binchōtan is longer-burning, cleaner (it does not smoke at all), and a more natural alternative. Many people argue that binchōtan is a critical part of the delicious taste of true yakitori. Though, it is usually significantly more expensive than traditional charcoal. (You don’t absolutely have to use this type of charcoal to cook good yakitori!)


binchotan for yakitori | how to make yakitori | yakitori tips
Japanese Binchōtan charcoal


Grilled chicken thigh (momo) by itself is the most popular form of yakitori, but yakitori restaurants now offer a wide variety of options, including:

  • Chicken thigh and scallion (negima)
  • Chicken breast (mune)
  • Chicken wings (tebasaki)
  • Chicken meatballs (tsukune)
  • Crispy chicken skin (kawa)
  • Chicken cartilage (nankotsu)
  • Chicken gizzard (sunagimo)
  • Chicken hearts (hatsu)
  • Chicken liver (reba)

Other common non-chicken items include wagyu beef, pork belly (buta bura), bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, shishito peppers, and mushrooms (king trumpet or shiitake). When the grilled item is not chicken, it can still sometimes be referred to as “yakitori”, which seems to serve as a catch-all term. But, it is sometimes referred to in Japanese as “kushiyaki”, which is the general term for food on skewers.


Specialized Yakitori Grill Setups

Though you don’t absolutely have to have one to cook yakitori, there are special grills designed just for yakitori and kushiyaki. These rectangular grills are often more portable and smaller than traditional American grills and are designed for accommodating a row of 6 to 8” skewers.

Yakitori grills are often made of diatomite insulating brick, to better handle the higher-than-normal heat of binchōtan, although there are also a wide variety of stainless steel yakitori grills. 


10 Tips for Making Yakitori Properly

There are a few tips to keep in mind when making yakitori at home to help ensure you end up with a final result that you’ll be happy with. These include:

#1 - Make Sure to Use the Proper Skewers 

It’s not essential, but if you want to follow tradition, use wooden yakitori skewers (teppo gushi). You can find these in most Asian grocery stores. These thin skewers taper to a flat end, making it easier to pick up and rotate the skewers over the grill grate while they cook. Technically you could use regular wooden skewers, but just make sure that they are long enough to have plenty of skewer to grab and maneuver them on the grill.


yakitori skewers | how to make yakitori | yakitori tips


#2 - Soak Wood Skewers First

Soaking the skewers in a shallow bowl or pan of water will not only prevent them from burning on the grill but will also make them easier to thread the meat onto. Soak the skewers for one hour before you start cooking.


#3 - Start with an Easy-to-Cook Cut of Chicken 

For your first time making yakitori at home, boneless, skinless chicken thighs are going to be your best bet. They’re more flavorful than breasts, easy to cut into the proper smaller pieces, and relatively forgiving while you’re getting the hang of the cooking timing.

Make sure to also check out our article on what to look for when buying chicken to ensure you get good-quality meat to start with.


#4 - Cut the Chicken Into the Proper-Sized Pieces

You want to cut the chicken into approximately 1-inch cubes. Remember, you’re aiming for easy-to-eat, bite-sized pieces. Plus, if you cut pieces too thick, it will be hard to season them all the way through.


#5 - Crowd the Pieces on the Skewer 

Don’t be afraid to push the meat close together on the skewers. The tighter the pieces of chicken are, the less moisture will be lost as they cook. Leaving too much room between the pieces on the skewers can quickly dry the meat out over the high heat.


#6 - Let the Grill Come to the Proper Temperature

It’s important to let your grill reach the proper cooking temperature before you start grilling. You want to let the charcoal get to a medium-high temperature, roughly 400 degrees Fahrenheit and then you are good to go. It’s always good to have a digital thermometer on hand to monitor your grill temperature.


#7 - Keep an Eye on the Heat 

You will be cooking the yakitori over fairly high heat and you don’t want it to burn. So, make sure to keep an eye on the charcoal, monitor the cooking temperature, and watch out for any flare-ups.


#8 - Season the Meat As You Cook 

The traditional seasonings that are used and the way it is done is a large part of what takes yakitori to the next level. The meat is seasoned throughout the cooking process, instead of just at the beginning, making for a more deliciously-complex flavor profile and juicy bite. If you are using tare sauce (see more on this below), make sure you have a small basting brush on hand, as this is the easiest way to put it on the meat.


seasoning for yakitori | how to make yakitori | yakitori tips


#9 - Keep the Skewers Moving Periodically

Since you are grilling over high heat, it is important to rotate your skewers frequently to promote even cooking. This also allows you to easily control the level of exterior charring on the meat. 


#10 - Don’t Leave the Grill Unattended

Your yakitori will cook pretty quickly. So it’s important to keep a close eye on the grill. Move skewers as needed to ensure even cooking and remove them once you have a good char on all sides and the chicken is cooked through (internal temp of 165 degrees F.) Have a digital meat thermometer on hand also to monitor the chicken’s internal temperature.


3 Most Common Seasonings for Yakitori

The simplicity of its seasonings is one of the things that makes yakitori so good. The three most commonly used seasonings are:

Shio (Salt) and White Pepper 

With “shio-style”, it’s the chicken’s natural flavor that is the star of the show. This minimalistic seasoning simply uses a generous coating of salt (shio) and white pepper.



The most common type of sauce for yakitori is known as tare. This is a glaze made of a combination of soy sauce, sweet mirin (Japanese rice wine), sake, and dark brown sugar. Some variations of the sauce also include garlic and ginger. If you don’t feel like making homemade tare or don’t have bottled tare sauce in your pantry, teriyaki sauce can serve as a good substitute.

For a good recipe for homemade tare sauce, check out this recipe from TastingTable. (Keep in mind, if you can’t find mirin, you can use a sweet white wine as a substitute.)


Togarashi with Lemon 

For those that want to add a little spice, the finished chicken can be seasoned with a little bit of Shichimi Togarashi. This dry seasoning blend is typically made of a mixture of red chili peppers, ground ginger, sanshō pepper or Sichuan peppercorns, dried orange peel, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and nori (seaweed). Then, the chicken is spritzed with a lemon wedge and served.

You can also serve Togarashi on the side so people can add some to their chicken if they wish.


togarashi for yakitori | how to make yakitori | yakitori tips
Togarashi Ingredients
Source: The Daring Gourmet


Try Out Some Delicious Yakitori Today!

With the information and tips we’ve covered above, you can easily cook delicious and tender homemade yakitori today. Whether you use a traditional yakitori grill or your normal stand-up grill, you can enjoy mouth-watering Japanese-style grilled chicken skewers in no time. Plus, it can be a fun way to get your friends and family together to try a new-to-you style of outdoor cooking.

Have you ever tried yakitori before and know of some additional tips? Plan on trying yakitori for the first time? Leave a comment below! We want to hear all about it.


If you really want to take your backyard cooking skills to a whole other level, check out the BBQ Pro-led Championship Backyard Cooking Classes from us here at BBQ Champs Academy! In these online classes taught by pro Pitmasters and Grillmasters, you’ll learn exactly, step-by-step how to cook 20 delicious recipes on your grill.

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Sara Hansen

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One comment on “Top Tips for Making Homemade Yakitori Perfectly”

  1. Love learning something new. I had never heard of this. I'm excited for warmer weather and healing, I had two hip surgeries same hip. Was non weight bearing for months. The only thing that helped me keep my sanity was teaching myself to oven smoke, after injection, marinading, mixing spices. I can't wait to be able to afford these awesome looking classes.
    As soon as I pay off some more hospital bills.

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