Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatballs) Recipe

Two skewers of Tsukune, Japanese chicken meatballs, resting on a cutting board and sprinkled with sliced green onions and sesame seeds

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Why It Works

  • Using chicken thighs results in juicier meatballs compared to leaner breast meat
  • Breadcrumbs and egg work as binders to allow the meatball to keep its shape and cling to the skewer
  • Not flipping the meatballs until well browned on the first side will prevent them from falling apart on the grill
  • A final brushing of tare sauce adds sweet and salty glaze to the lightly spiced meatball

These Japanese chicken meatballs are seasoned with fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil, while egg and panko breadcrumbs bind the meat to allow it to cling to a skewer and stay together on the grill. A brushing of a tare sauce at the end of cooking gives the meatballs a glistening sweet and salty glaze.

Type of fire: Direct
Grill heat: medium-high

Recipe Facts

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 90 mins
Active: 40 mins
Total: 110 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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For the Tare Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup mirin

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup sake

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

  • 3 scallions, roughly chopped

  • 1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, sliced

  • 1 tablespoon whole black or white peppercorns

For the Meatballs:

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken thighs

  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger

  • 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper


  1. For the Tare Sauce: Combine mirin, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, sherry vinegar, garlic, scallions, ginger slices, and peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer, whisk to combine, and cook until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 45 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Set aside or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

    Making sauce for Japanese chicken meatballs

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  2. For the Meatballs: Using hands, mix together chicken, bread crumbs, scallions, egg, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, salt, and white pepper until thoroughly combined. Form mixture into 1-inch meatballs and thread onto skewers.

    raw Japanese chicken meatballs on small skewers in a glass dish. There are three meatballs on each skewer.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  3. Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Careful transfer skewers to grill, if necessary supporting meatballs from bottom to prevent them from falling off skewers. Grill until first side is well browned, about 3-4 minutes. Using tongs, rotate meatballs and cook until well browned on second side, about 2-3 minutes. Repeat for remaining two sides.

    A skewer of Japanese chicken meatballs on the grill.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  4. Brush tare sauce all over meatballs and allow to cook for 15-30 seconds longer. Transfer skewers to a plate or serving dish, brush lightly with sauce again and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

    Brushing tare sauce over a skewer of Japanese chicken meatballs.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Grill, 8-10 wooden skewers (soaked in water for 30 minutes prior to use)

This Recipe Appears In

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
532 Calories
17g Fat
42g Carbs
48g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 532
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 21%
Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Cholesterol 254mg 85%
Sodium 2492mg 108%
Total Carbohydrate 42g 15%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 26g
Protein 48g
Vitamin C 5mg 24%
Calcium 99mg 8%
Iron 4mg 21%
Potassium 766mg 16%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)