Although widely used to refer to all manner of Japanese-style grilled skewers (and the restaurants that serve them), the term yakitori refers specifically to skewers made with various cuts of chicken (30 distinct parts, to be exact). They’re traditionally seasoned one of two ways: dusted with with salt and white pepper, or brushed with tare, a sauce made from mirin, sugar, and soy sauce, more commonly known in the U.S. as teriyaki.
Like all things Japanese, the technique for cooking yakitori is full of nuance and details, but we’ll skip to the most-important parts: cook the chicken over a medium-hot fire, turn the skewers frequently throughout the cooking process, and don’t apply the glaze until the very end. Your goal is to end up with juicy meat that’s evenly browned without becoming charred all over.
While you can make this recipe using any style of grill, you’ll get the best results when cooking it on a konro (perhaps one you’ve made yourself!) over binchotan or ogatan-style charcoal. To round out the meal, we recommend cooking some miso-glazed mushroom skewers alongside the chicken.
Recipe: Chicken Yakitori
For the tare:
1 cup soy sauce (preferably shoyu)
1 cup mirin
½ cup sake
½ cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 scallions, roughly chopped
One 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly sliced
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
For the skewers:
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and sinew, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup tare
Make the tare: Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half (it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon), about 15 minutes. Let cool, then strain into a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare a medium-hot grill (if using a homemade konro, fill 1 chimney with binchotan, ogatan, or charcoal briquettes). Place the chicken in a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper, and toss. Thread the chicken and scallions onto skewers, alternating pieces of chicken with pieces of scallion. Push the ingredients together so they fit snugly on the skewers.
Place the skewers over the grill and cook, turning frequently, until the chicken is well browned all over and cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Brush the skewers with the tare and cook for 30 seconds, then turn the skewers over, brush with more tare, and cook for 30 seconds longer.
Transfer the skewers to a serving platter and brush one more time with the tare. Serve immediately.