Chicken teriyaki, like that found at mall food court stalwarts such as Sarku Japan or Panda Express is quite easy to reproduce at home, but better. If you’re looking for a copycat sauce of this Americanized version of teriyaki, you have to realize how much sugar goes into making that sweet sticky marinade that envelopes every tender bite of chicken thigh. Hint, it’s far more than a couple tablespoons.
With our chicken teriyaki sauce and marinade we were shooting for a hybrid of the sticky sweet Seattle style and traditional Japanese teriyaki. So what’s the difference?
Seattle vs Mall vs Traditional Japanese chicken teriyaki
Seattle Style teriyaki was actually popularized by Korean-American immigrants. It was designed to be grilled quickly for busy workers on their lunch break. It’s similar to what you’d find at the shopping mall. The main difference being that the chicken thigh is grilled whole, then chopped, and the sauce is layered on top. There’s also a beef version (pictured above) which is delicious.
Mall chicken teriyaki is typically chopped into chunks prior to grilling and then tossed in teriyaki sauce for even faster cooking and serving. While chicken thigh is harder to overcook than breast meat, this method may dry out the pieces faster if you’re not paying attention and it’s still not quite as tender.
Traditional teriyaki from Japan has a much thinner teri sauce and uses mirin and sake, plus a couple tablespoons of sugar or honey. If you’re looking to make this authentic kind, this recipe from Just Bento (a great resource for putting together Bento Box meals and rice bowls) is one of the first we tried, and it gets you good results.
Making homemade chicken teriyaki sauce and marinade
Our recipe is a heavily tweaked version of the New York Times Chicken Teriyaki. We ended up dialing down the sugar so we could taste the other elements but kept enough to keep the glaze thick. We switched to low sodium soy sauce, swapped out pineapple for orange juice, and added some sake.
If you simply want to use this as a marinade without creating a thickened glaze, just leave out the cornstarch. You can use this recipe with beef or pork as well.
A word about food safety and marinating
Some recipes instruct you to marinate the chicken in the entire sauce, then take the same sauce and boil it to create a basting sauce, not once, but twice.
This poses a couple of problems because to completely kill all the harmful bacteria, you would need to bring it to a rolling boil since bacteria is killed at 165º F. Be prepared to watch it like a hawk. With all that sugar you really need to pay attention so it doesn’t burn or bubble over onto the stove.
Let’s avoid that mess. Instead, we recommend reserving half the sauce so it doesn’t come in contact with the chicken. Then just discard the other half that contained the chicken. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty. Finally, you can apply the uncontaminated sauce to the fully cooked chicken.
Broiling is excellent for meal prep
We found that broiling the chicken is super easy, quicker and fool-proof compared to grilling on the stove. Just line all your chicken up on a sheet pan and stick it in the oven, flip once and you’re done.
What soy sauce should I use?
We used low-sodium soy sauce because lowering the sugar makes the saltiness of the soy come out even more. We like Lee Kum Kee and Kikkoman brands.
What kind of rice should I eat with chicken teriyaki?
In the USA it is easiest to find the Calrose cultivar of rice. This is a California grown medium-grain rice that’s very popular in the Pacific in places like Hawaii and Guam.
Since we’re not going for traditional teriyaki, we don’t need to hunt down Japanese short-grain rice. It’s more expensive. But if you get your hands on some it’s worth it.
Top brands of Calrose rice
- Nishiki rice: Not to be confused with Yamada Nishiki, which is specifically grown to brew premium sake.
- Kokuho Rose
Want to make this a more balanced meal?
This nori salad with mixed greens is a fast and delicious way to add some more vegetables into your diet!
We hope you’ve enjoyed this recipe. As always, comments are welcome and encouraged!Print
Chicken teriyaki sauce and marinade
This homemade chicken teriyaki sauce and marinade is a hybrid of Seattle style and traditional teriyaki with all the sweet sticky glaze you’d expect from your food court favorites.
- Prep Time: 10 min
- Cook Time: 10 min
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Broiled
- Cuisine: Japanese
For the marinade:
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch*
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 7 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons grated ginger
- 1/2 cup water
- 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- toasted sesame seeds to garnish
- In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients except cornstarch and chicken. Bring to low boil until sauce is barely bubbling over high heat. Reduce heat to low and stir until sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Discard cinnamon stick and mix in 1/4 cup water. Reserve half of soy sauce mixture and place in fridge.
- Place chicken in a freezer plastic storage bag. Add other half of soy sauce mixture, seal bag, turn to coat and lay the chicken flat in refrigerator for 1 to 8 hours.
- Line half baking sheet with aluminum foil and place baking rack insert on top. Remove chicken from bag with tongs and place on baking rack. Discard the marinade in the bag. Pour the reserved mixture from fridge into a small saucepan. Bring to a low boil over high heat, then immediately reduce heat to low. Mix cornstarch with 1 tablespoons water and add to pan. Stir until mixture begins to thicken, and add about 1/4 cup water until sauce is thick enough to coat back of a spoon. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Move oven rack to upper middle position. Preheat oven broiler to high. Spoon a bit of the sauce over the chicken, being careful not to touch it with the spoon. With a silicone brush, spread the sauce over each piece of chicken. Flip the chicken with tongs and repeat on opposite side.
- Broil until each side is a caramelized brown and has slightly charred edges, about 5-7 minutes per side . While chicken is cooking, bring sauce to boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer, adding enough water to keep mixture at a pourable consistency.
- Slice chicken cross-wise into strips and place on plate over rice. Spoon over the remaining teriyaki sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
*If you simply want to use this as a marinade for beef or pork or something else, just leave out the cornstarch.
Keywords: teriyaki, teriyaki chicken, mall food, marinade, homemade sauce