Yakitori Barbecue Chicken
By Top Barbecue Chef Stephen Raichlen

Yakitori Barbecue Chicken (literally ‘grilled chicken’) is Japan’s most popular snack – enjoyed daily at innumerable yakitori parlors, where office workers gather after work for drinks, eats, and camaraderie. Traditionally, the chicken is skewered with negi, a member of the green onion family that’s thicker than an scallion but thinner than a leek, If you can find slender young leeks, use them for the following recipe; otherwise, use chicken thighs, which the Japanese believe to be more flavourful than breast meat. For speed and convenience, use boneless breasts, my first choice here. Serve with Grilled Rice Cakes, Spicy Japanese Bean Sprout Salad, or Sesame Spinach. (All recipes that are included in The Barbecue Bible)

Special Equipment 16 short bamboo skewers, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained, or more as needed.


  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2 pounds slender young leeks (8 or 9 in all, see Notes)
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine) or cream sherry
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 slices fresh ginger (each ½ inch thick)
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and coarsely chopped

  • 1. Rinse the chicken breasts or thighs under cold running water, then drain and blot dry with paper towels. Cut crosswise into pieces 2 inches long and ½ inch wide and thick. Set aside while you prepare the leeks.
  • 2. Cut off and discard the green parts of the leeks. Cut the white parts that remain in half lengthways as far as the roots. Rinse the leeks carefully under cold running water, then drain, cut of the roots, and cut each leek half crosswise into 2-inch pieces.
  • 3. Thread the chicken pieces crosswise on the skewers, alternating with pieces of leek; you should be able to get 4 pieces of chicken on each skewer. Arrange the skewers on a platter and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to grill, up to 6 hours.
  • 4. Preheat the grill to high,
  • 5. Prepare the yakitori sauce. Combine the soy sauce, saki. Mirin, sugar, ginger, garlic and scallions in a small heavy saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring until blended and the sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is glossy and syrupy and reduced to ¾ cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain into a bowl (see Notes).
  • 6. When ready to cook, oil the grill grate. Arrange the skewers on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until the chicken is nicely browned and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side (6 to 10 minutes in all). Brush the yakitori generously with the sauce at least once on each side while cooking, but not during the last 3 minutes.
  • 7. Transfer the skewers to serving plates or a platter and serve immediately.

    Serves 4 to 6

    Notes: If young leeks are not available, this barbecue chicken recipe is just as good using 2 bunches of thick scallions. Trim off the roots and cut the white parts into 2-inch pieces; cut the scallion greens into 4-inch pieces and fold them in half.

    *The sauce can be made up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

    If you liked this Yakitori barbecue chicken recipe, I can thoroughly recommend The Barbecue Bible.


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