Yakitori – Charcoal Grilled Japanese Skewers

If you’ve never tried Japanese yakitori, you’re missing out on a delicious piece of Asian culture. This practice of skewering small bits of food and grilling them over ultra hot charcoal is more than four centuries old. The term “yakitori” traditionally refers to pieces of bite-sized chicken that have been marinated, skewered and grilled over a very hot charcoal fire. Yakitori was first noted in history in 1643 as skewered bird meat that was grilled and flavored with soy sauce and sake. After WWII, yakitori bars sprung up all over Japan as drinking and eating establishments for middle-class workers. The food was both delicious and cheap.



This Japanese chef prepares yakitori for his restaurant customers. Image credit: leighblackall

Today, yakitori restaurants have expanded their menus to include a wide variety of options in addition to chicken parts. In traditional yakitori bars, you will be offered a choice of two sauces – “Sho,” which is simply salt, and “Tare,” a sweet and salty blend made of soy sauce, sugar and sweet Japanese rice wine. The cornerstone of a good yakitori restaurant is the quality of their tare. Some restaurants never empty and clean their tare pots, rather they just keep adding to them over the years, much like the development of a good sour dough starter.


Today yakitori restaurants have expanded their menus to include a variety of yakitori options. Image credit: Douglas Paul Perkins

Yakitori Examples More Common for the Western Palate

• Aspara Bacon (bacon-wrapped asparagus)
• Hotate Bacon (bacon wrapped scallops)
• Kamo Negima (duck & scallion)
• Harami (skirt steak)

More Exotic Varieties of Yakitori

• Yaki Onigiri (grilled rice ball)
• Gyutan (beef tongue)
• Kawa (chicken skin)
• Hiza Nankotsu (soft knee bone)
• Ozura (quail egg)


Yakitori is a common street food in Japan. Image credit: Chiyako92

Recipe: Chicken Thigh with Scallion Yakitori


• 1-1/2 cups sweet rice wine
• 1/2 cup soy sauce
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 clove garlic, smashed and finely minced
• 1 lb boneless, skin-on chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
• 2 scallions cut into 1” pieces
• Bamboo skewers


1. Prepare charcoal grill with very hot coals.
2. Mix rice wine, soy sauce, sugar and garlic directly in a sauce pan. Cook over medium heat until reduced by half. Remove from heat and let cool.
3. Thread chicken onto skewers, alternating with scallions.
4. When coals are ready, grill the chicken skewers on both sides without the sauce. When the meat starts firming up, brush on the sauce and continue grilling. Continue brushing on sauce and turning often until done.