These wings are based on Japanese yakitori grilling – grilled, then dipped in tare sauce – but to do true yakitori wings, I should be skewering them, and grilling them over direct heat. But…direct heat and wings don’t work for me. No matter how careful I am, how often I flip, I burn the wings before they cook through.
I have better luck with chicken wings when I grill-roast them with indirect heat, rendering fat and browning the wings. I finish them with a dip in the sauce and a quick sear over direct heat. Even then I have to be quick – the wings still want to burn, so I sear them in small batches, turning them often, pulling them off the grill at the slightest hint of char.
I could take the easy way out and skip the direct grilling. The wings are crisp, and a dip in the sauce works pretty well. After all this, why do I risk burning the wings? A quick sear tightens up the sauce, turning it into a glaze, and adding an extra layer of flavor to the wings.
Grilled Japanese Chicken Wings
Adapted from: Ono and Salat, The Japanese Grill
- 4 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and wings, tips discarded (or 3 pounds of pre-cut chicken wings)
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- 1/2 cup mirin
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup honey
- Sesame seeds (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 scallions, trimmed and minced
- Dry brine the chicken wings: Toss the wings in a large bowl with the salt and baking powder. Spread the wings on a rack over a baking sheet, and refrigerate for at least an hour, up to eight hours, to dry brine the wings.
- Set the grill up for indirect high heat (450°F): Set the grill up for indirect high heat grilling, with a drip pan in the middle and heat on the sides of the grill. For my Weber kettle, I light a chimney starter full of charcoal, wait for it to be covered with ash, then pour it in two equal piles on the sides of the grill, and put the drip pan in the middle, between the piles.
- Prepare the Japanese sauce: Combine the Japanese glaze ingredients in a small pot, and set aside for later. My “grill safe pot” is an enameled steel camping mug. If you don’t have a grill safe pot, use a regular pot, and simmer the glaze on the stovetop.
- Grill-roast the chicken wings for 45 minutes: Put the wings on the grill in a single layer over indirect heat, close the lid, and cook for 30 minutes. Put the sauce pot over direct heat on the grill, close the lid, and cook the wings and simmer the sauce until the wings are browned and crisp, about 15 more minutes.
- Sauce and sear the wings: Working in small batches, dip the wings in the sauce, let the excess sauce drip back into the pot, then put the sauced wing over the direct heat, turning every thirty seconds or so, until the sauce browns. (Work quickly – the difference between browned and burnt is a matter of seconds.) Transfer the seared wings to a serving platter and repeat with the next batch of wings until all the wings are sauced and seared.
- Serve: Pour any remaining sauce over the platter of wings, sprinkle with sesame seeds and minced scallion, and serve.
- Sometimes I skip the sauce and sear step and just toss the wings with the sauce after they are grill roasted. When I do this, I simmer the sauce to reduce it by half, into a thicker glaze, to help it stick to the wings.
- I’m always trying to squeeze a few more wings onto the grill. As long as they’re in a single layer over indirect heat, no matter how tightly packed, the recipe works – the wings shrink as they cook, opening up space for the heat to get in. But…if the wings are packed together, it takes closer to an hour of grilling to get them properly browned. I check the wings after a half hour of cooking, and if any are still touching I rearrange them to get a little gap between the wings, and I rotate any pale wings on the inside of the bunch with crispy wings that are right along the edge of the heat.
- Why dry brine with baking powder? It increases the alkalinity of the wings, and that helps with browning. See my buffalo chicken wings post for more information.
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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