What is Yakitori?

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

The history

Yakitori, a term that means “grilled bird”, is a Japanese dish consisting of chicken or pork skewered with Kushi (a type of skewer typically made of bamboo or steel), grilled over a charcoal fire, and served with dipping sauces, sushi, nabemono and gyoza.

The history of yakitori is relatively new. During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), many edicts were implemented and one of them was against the consumption of meat, mainly for religious reasons based on Buddhist beliefs. Even though chicken was not entirely banned, which was the case with beef and pork, the smell of the grilling meat was considered distasteful. In addition to this, the chicken meat commonly available during the 18th and 19th centuries were from shamo, which were well-muscled roosters used in cockfights. This meant the meat tended to be hard and high on fibers, so the best way to eat it was to stew in a hotpot until it got tender. Yakitori as we know it today, appeared in Japan's urban areas during the middle of the Meiji Era (1868 to 1912) when chicken started to be bred in large amounts to use as food. During this period the street vendors began to offer charcoal-grilled chicken skewers as a quick snack for workers on their way home, and it became truly mainstream in the late 1950s when fast-growing broiler chickens were introduced from the United States and started to be raised on an industrial scale in Japan. Today, yakitori is a very popular dish with an excellent chance of becoming the next big Japanese culinary hit worldwide, after sushi and ramen. It is sold both in chain and gourmet restaurants, and we proudly serve it in both our East Izakaya locations.

The basics

Designed for convenience and portability, yakitori are typically cooked using step-by-step methods. Traditionally, this was accomplished using portable charcoal grills, which is the method most often employed by street vendors. However, at restaurants we use stationary grills, that allow the use of higher quality binchōtan charcoal. The steps

When preparing yakitori one of the key elements is the cooking process. To ensure even cooking, always cut the meat into small, roughly uniform shapes, then skewered it with Kushi, seasoned it and finally cook it. The seasonings for yakitori are mainly divided into two types: salty or salty-sweet. The salty type usually has plain salt as its main seasoning, and the salty-sweet seasoning is called tare, a special sauce consisting of mirin, sake, soy sauce and sugar. Some other spices also used for yakitori are powdered cayenne pepper, shichimi, Japanese pepper, black pepper, and wasabi. To cook the yakitori the best choice is charcoal, as it produces high heat and strong flames with little to no water vapor. This allows for the ingredients to cook quickly while giving a crunchy texture to the skin. While gas and electric heat sources can be used, they do not develop the same aromas or textures as charcoal-cooked yakitori. Yakitori is good at any time of the year, and they go especially well with an ice-cold beer. If you love to celebrate the summer with plenty of barbecues, yakitori is the way to go.

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