Yakitori is a delicious staple of Japanese cuisine. Juicy chicken is served on bamboo skewers with a dipping sauce called tare, a combination of sweet mirin and soy sauce. In Japan, these chicken skewers are cooked over binchōtan, unique, clean-burning charcoal, to make some of the juiciest and delectable foods on the menu.
To make your DIY yakitori grill, you need sheet metal, some pans, and skewers. If you don’t have any binchōtan on hand, use what you usually burn in your grill. The use of this white charcoal is one way yakitori differs from other grilling methods. The other way is the temperature at which the chicken is cooked, which is high heat.
Equipment for a DIY Yakitori Grill
One of the most incredible things about a yakitori grill is that it doesn’t take up a lot of space. If you have a small patio or balcony, a yakitori grill is one of the most convenient options. The most basic type of DIY yakitori grill you can build yourself is one made of sheet metal.
Here’s what you’ll need to create a backyard yakitori grill so you can grill skewers of meat or veg over hot, clean-burning fuel:
- 2 cake or hotel pans, heavy-duty and 6” deep.
- 2 steel L-straps
- Sheet metal 12” x 24”
- Assorted rivets and washers
- Machine screws
- Bamboo skewers
These are the parts of your yakitori grill. You’ll also need some tools to assemble the grill and a basic understanding of metalworking. Here are the tools you’ll need:
- Measuring tape
- Bench grinder
- Center punch
- Pop rivet tool
- Piece of scrap wood at least as deep as the hotel pan
- Safety gloves and glasses
Once you have both parts and tools ready to go, you can put together your very own yakitori grill and fire it up.
How to Make a DIY Yakitori Grill
A great space-saver, a yakitori grill burns at a high temperature over clean or white charcoal called binchōtan. Although the literal translation is skewered bird, you can cook anything over a yakitori grill and use any combination of sauces you’d like.
Step 1: Prep the Sheet Metal
Across one long end of the sheet metal, drill a series of 5/32” holes through which you can put the skewers. This will keep them from rolling around too much. Along the shorter ends of the sheet metal, drill 5 holes, 1” down from the edge. Start by drilling a hole dead center with a 3/32” bit, and then measure to the right and left, 1” from the center hole. Repeat the last step one more time for 5 holes in total.
Step 2: Prepare and Fit the Pans
Flip over the 2 pans, find the center of each, punch holes through both, and draw a line from the center to the edge. Using this line, center the L-strap and mark where to punch holes on the pan.
Put the wood block under the pan for support and punch all 3 holes on each pan. Fasten the L-straps to the bottom of each pan with a pop rivet and a washer on the inside.
Step 3: Assemble and Paint
Take the sheet metal and roll it to have a 6” diameter curve to fit inside the pans. Once the sheet metal is fitted inside each pan, make sure the L-straps, which are the grill legs, are even so that the grill will stand well.
Line up the holes on the edge of the sheet metal with the pans and indicate them with a marker. You may have to flip the pans back and forth and, using a center punch, create holes that match those on the sheet metal.
Attach the metal to the pans using rivets and washers. With masking tape, cover any of the protruding bits and spray paint your grill a uniform color.
Step 4: Attach Feet and Handles
You can use cork material as pads for the feet by splitting the cork down the side and sliding the L-strap into the cork. If you would like to use the same protection for the handles, as a metal grill heats up a lot when at full temperature, you can also use corks. Drill a hole down the center of each cork. Affix them to each side using a bolt with a washer on the inside.
Step 5: Fire up Charcoal and Get Grilling
In Japan, they use binchōtan for grilling, white charcoal that exudes a high, clean heat. If you can find some binchōtan, that’s great, but your new DIY yakitori grill will work with any kind of charcoal.
Lay your prepared skewers across the top of your grill and keep rotating them. In Japan, yakitori chefs continually dip their chicken skewers in certain sauces. The high heat sears the sauce into the chicken, creating the juiciest meat you’ll ever taste.
What to Watch Out For
The main thing you want to beware of is to avoid galvanized steel as your sheet metal body as this metal gives off toxic fumes and can be hazardous to your health. When galvanized metal heats up, it emits harmful zinc fumes.
Also, use a sander to make sure the edges are smoothed over, as you don’t want to snag your clothing or skin on any sharp parts of the grill. Although this grill doesn’t take up too much space, it does get hot, so you may want to set it on pavers or concrete blocks instead of wooden decking.
The Final Word
A yakitori grill is a delicious way to mix up your summer grilling pattern. Straight from Japan’s streets, this grilling method uses skewers on chicken (and anything else you want) over high heat and is served with various dipping sauces.
This grill type is relatively easy to build with basic metalworking skills, the proper tools, and all necessary parts. A yakitori grill is perfect for smaller spaces as it doesn’t take up as much room as a traditional grill. The binchōtan is a high temp, clean-burning charcoal that makes the results from a yakitori grill session even more delectable.