Japanese grilled turkey skewers are a remake of the classic “yakitori”. These turkey skewers are healthy, packed full of flavour, and perfect for the summer grilling season. This recipe post is sponsored by Canadian Turkey.
I am always excited for the summer when I can turn on the BBQ and cook up some delicious meals on the grill. This summer, with Covid-19 lockdown in effect, my family has cancelled all travel plans due to the global pandemic. Instead of going out camping and taking road trips, we turned to enjoying our backyard even more. Do you find yourself using your BBQ more often too since being home? I can’t wait to share one of my favourite grilling recipes with you!
Japanese grilled turkey skewers are fun to make. If you have children, it is a great way to get them engaged in a cooking activity. I also want to introduce some Asian flavours and ingredients into your grilling, and inspire you to switch up the protein! Turkey is a healthy and wonderful alternative to chicken and pork. You will be surprised how flavourful it is, while being lean and economical at the same time! With all above in mind, I recreated the classic “yakitori” using turkey. Everyone who has tasted it loves it!
“Yakitori” Remake with Canadian Turkey
“Yakitori” literally means grilled chicken in Japanese. But instead of chicken, I am using 100% Canadian raised turkey in this recipe. Turkey meat has a hearty robust flavour and really works well with the classic “Tare” sauce. The step-to-step images illustrate how to make the “Tare” sauce and the grilled turkey skewers.
The following are some key points and recipe notes.
- Ingredients to make the “Tare” sauce: soy sauce, sugar (I use organic cane sugar), cooking sake, ginger, garlic, tapioca starch, water. Some of the ingredients can be substituted if you don’t have them on hand, or for special dietary needs. For a gluten-free “Tare” sauce, swap soy sauce for Tamari. You can also use equal amounts of natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. Tapioca starch is interchangeable with other starches such as corn starch or potato starch as a thickener.
- Mix all of the “Tare” sauce ingredients well in the saucepan before turning on the heat. Whisk continuously to prevent lumps when bringing the sauce to a boil. Once the sauce starts to boil, I only cook it for about 1 minute, which is enough time to allow the sauce to thicken. Let the sauce cool down to room temperature before using. I reserve half of the sauce for basting, and use half of the sauce to marinate the turkey.
- Turkey meat should be cut into evenly-sized pieces, about 3/4″ chunks, so that all pieces will take the same amount of grilling time. Traditionally, “yakitori” can be made with only a quick marination or without any marination at all, as it’s a fast and easy street food item. I like to marinate the meat for at least half an hour while soaking the bamboo skewers (image 4) or cooking other dishes for the meal. When I do meal prepping in advance, especially if I am hosting a BBQ party, I would marinate the turkey meat overnight in the fridge, which saves time the next day, and also enhances the flavour of the final products.
- If using wooden or bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes. You can also use metal skewers and no soaking is required.
- When threading the turkey meat onto the skewers, push them against each other closely without leaving any gap in between.
- Use the other half of the reserved “Tare” sauce to baste the turkey skewers on both side while grilling. It will create a delicious glaze full of flavours.
Turkey Cuts for Skewers: White vs. Dark
Canadian turkey comes in a variety of cuts. I have cooked with both the white meat (turkey breasts) and the dark meat (turkey legs) using this recipe. Both turkey white and dark cuts are lean, tender and juicy. They each have distinct flavour. It will come down to which one your taste buds prefer.
Whether you use white meat or dark meat, if your cuts come with turkey skin attached, by all means keep the skin on for the skewers. You can even make the skewers entirely using turkey skins – they are super delicious!
Additionally, white and dark cuts each have some pros and cons when it comes to cooking and handling.
Usually I am not a big fan of white meat, but turkey breasts when cooked properly can be quite tender and juicy. The key is to not overcook them. You should be fairly skilled with grilling and know when the meat is just cooked though if you are using turkey breasts. The advantage of using turkey breasts is that boneless turkey breast meats are very easy to source in grocery stores or from your butcher.
Turkey dark meats are my preferred cuts to use in this recipe because I like the stronger flavour of the turkey legs. They are also more tender and forgiving if you grilled them a bit longer. However, it’s nearly impossible to find boneless turkey dark meats in the stores. I debone the turkey legs myself, and save the bones to make broth. I highly recommend using turkey thighs instead of turkey drums if you are planning to debone the cuts on your own. Turkey drums contain many smaller bones and connective tissues; it is a lot of work to cut out the meat. Turkey thighs contain one single bone; it is very easy to remove by simply cutting around it.
More turkey recipes you may like:
- Year-round Whole Turkey How-to’s
- Turkey Grilling Recipes
- Leftover Turkey Carcass Broth
- Turkey Quinoa Pumpkin Soup (with a Bone Broth Base)
Tips for Grilling Turkey Skewers
To help you make the grilling of turkey skewers successful, I will share a few grilling tips I have learned from experience.
- If using wooden or bamboo skewers, it’s important to soak them beforehand. This will prevent them from catching on fire or being burnt on the grill.
- To prevent the turkey meat from sticking to the grill, I brush a thin layer of cooking oil on the outside of the turkey skewers right before throwing them onto the BBQ.
- Preheat the grill with the lid on to medium-high temperature. When the grill is really hot, it only takes about 3-5 minutes to cook the skewers on each side and achieve beautiful grill marks. The skewers will be tender and juicy when you don’t overcook them.
- Basting the skewers on the grill will keep them moist and infuse more flavour into the meat.
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Japanese Grilled Turkey Skewers
- 2 lb boneless turkey meat, white or dark (see recipe notes)
- 1/2 cup naturally-brewed tamari soy sauce
- 1/2 cup sake
- 3 tbsp organic cane sugar (substitute with honey or maple syrup if natural sweetener is preferred)
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp tapioca starch
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup avocado oil
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Making the Tare Sauce
- Add all of the soy sauce, sake, sugar, grated ginger (ginger skin removed, then grated using a cheese grater), minced garlic (I use this garlic press), tapioca starch, water in a small sauce pan. Whisk to combine.
- Bring the saucepan to a boil on the stove, while stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Simmer the sauce for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
- Let the sauce cool down to room temperature before use.
Making the Turkey Skewers
- Dice the turkey meat into 3/4" bite-size pieces.
- Coat the turkey pieces in half of the sauce, and allow for a short marination. Set aside the other half of the sauce for basting later.
- Meanwhile, soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
- Thread the turkey pieces onto the skewers, without leaving any gap in between.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
- Brush a thin layer of oil on the outside of the turkey skewers.
- Place the skewers on hot grill. Cook 3 to 5 minutes on one side, then turn to cook 3 to 5 minutes on the other side. Baste the skewers with reserved sauce on both side of the skewers while grilling.
- Check to see that the turkey pieces are cooked through inside. Remove from the grill immediately.
- Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds on the turkey skewers.
- It's easy to find boneless turkey breast (white meat), but turkey drumsticks and thighs (dark meat) are usually sold with bones in. I recommend deboning turkey thighs instead of drumsticks for boneless dark meat. Turkey drumsticks contain many small bones and connective tissues. Turkey thighs contain only 1 single bone and is easy to remove.
- This dish can be easily prepared in advance. Marinating the turkey chunks overnight in the fridge allows more flavour to be absorbed into the meat, and saves time on the cooking day.
- Cooked turkey skewers can be stored in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for 3 months.