Yakitori (Japanese: 焼き鳥) (literally 'grilled bird') is a Japanese type of skewered chicken. Its preparation involves skewering the meat with kushi (串), a type of skewer typically made of steel, bamboo, or similar materials. Afterwards, they are grilled over a charcoal fire. During or after cooking, the meat is typically seasoned with tare sauce or salt. The term is sometimes used informally for kushiyaki (grilled and skewered foods) in general.
As they are designed for convenience and portability, yakitori are typically cooked using step-by-step methods. Traditionally, it was accomplished using portable charcoal grills. That is the method most often employed by yatai, however, restaurants may use stationary grills and, depending on the situation, higher quality binchōtan charcoal.
At home, appliances known as takujō konro (卓上コンロ, "mini griller") or yakitori-ki (焼き鳥器, "yakitori device") are used. Yakitori-ki are small electrical appliances that use a heating element similar to that of a broiler or toaster to cook the food placed on top.
To facilitate even cooking, the meat is cut into small, roughly uniform shapes and then skewered with kushi; after which the yakitori are seasoned and cooked. Charcoal is the preferred method of cooking as it produces high heat and strong flames while giving off little to no water vapor. This allows for the ingredients to cook quickly while imparting 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 seasonings are primarily divided into two types: salty or salty-sweet. The salty type usually uses plain salt as its main seasoning. For the salty-sweet variety, tare, a special sauce consisting of mirin, sake, soy sauce, and sugar is used. Other common spices include powdered cayenne pepper, shichimi, Japanese pepper, black pepper, and wasabi, according to one's tastes.
Yakitori-ya (焼き鳥屋) are small shops specializing in yakitori. They usually take the form of a compact shop offering take-out services only, but sit-down restaurants and restaurant chains are also popular.
Yakitori is not limited to speciality shops: It is readily found on the menus of izakaya all across Japan and is sold pre-cooked, as frozen vacuum packs, or even canned. The latter was made popular by Hotei Foods Corporation, the first company that started selling yakitori-in-can in 1970, with nine flavors as of 2016. Their TV commercial song has been iconic to their brand name.
Due to its ease of preparation and portability, yakitori is a very popular street food, often sold from small carts and stalls known as yatai. Yatai are found, among other places, dotting streets during festivals or on heavily trafficked routes during the evening commute where customers enjoy beer and sake with yakitori.
Due to a wide diversity in cuts and preparation methods, yakitori takes on many forms. Some popular examples include: