Tsukune: Japanese Meatballs

tsukune on skewers on a plate

 The Spruce / Leah Maroney

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 35 mins
Servings: 5 servings
Yields: 15 meatballs

Tsukune are delicious Japanese meatballs typically made with ground chicken or pork. They’re grilled with a sweet, sticky, tangy sauce that makes them totally irresistible. Packed with flavor and incredibly moist and tender, you will love serving these for a weeknight dinner or a party appetizer. The meatballs are actually boiled first, which helps them hold their shape on the grill and prevents them from drying out. Then they’re topped with a sticky soy sauce and grilled to perfection. 

Serve on top of rice or noodles with a side of broccoli or other veggies for a complete meal. Since they’re skewered meatballs, it’s easy to make them into a fun-to-eat appetizer.

Ingredients

  • For the Meatballs:
  • 1 pound ground chicken breast
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 tablespoons scallions (sliced)
  • 1 tablespoon onion (diced)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (grated)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • For the Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon garlic (grated)
  • 1 teaspoon ginger (grated)
  • Garnish: Scallions
  • Garnish: Lime wedges

Steps to Make It

Note: while there are multiple steps to this recipe, this dish is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Meatballs

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    ingredients for tsukune

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney 

  2. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Add the chicken, egg, scallions, onion, cornstarch, miso paste, ginger, soy sauce, and salt to the bowl of your food processor. Process until it forms a paste and all of the onions and scallions are chopped into small bits.

    blended meatball mixture in a food processor

      The Spruce / Leah Maroney

  3. Use a cookie scoop to scoop a portion of the meat mixture. Make sure the sides of the scoop are relatively clean so there isn’t an excess of meat deposited into the pot.

    meatball mixture scooped with a cookie scoop

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney 

  4. Release the scoop of meat mixture into the boiling water. Repeat until you are cooking 4 to 5 at a time. Cook for about 3 minutes. It’s okay if the inside is still a little raw as they will be cooked again on the grill.

    cooking meatballs in boiling water

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney 

  5. Remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate. Spear about three meatballs onto each skewer, depending on the size of your skewer and the size of your meatballs. 

    meatballs on skewers

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney

Make the Sauce and Grill the Meatballs

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    ingredients for sweet soy sauce

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney

  2. Add the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, cornstarch, garlic, and ginger to a small saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until thickened.

    sweet soy sauce cooking in a sauce pan

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney

  3. Heat up a grill pan over high heat. Grease the pan with cooking spray. Add the meatball skewers to the grill pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Brush with the sauce as it’s cooking. Then flip and cook on the other side for another minute, continuing to brush with the sauce.

    grilled Japanese meatballs

     The Spruce / Leah Maroney

  4. Remove from the grill and serve immediately with more of the sticky sauce, sliced scallions, and a squeeze of lime.

Recipe Variations

  • Spicy version: to make the meatballs spicy, add a teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce while it is cooking. 
  • You can substitute ground thigh meat, ground pork, or a combination. 
  • You can grill these in a grill pan, on a gas, grill, or on a charcoal grill.

Tips

  • Use the flat style toothpicks for the meatballs so the balls won’t move around on the toothpick when you flip them over. 
  • You can’t really form the meatballs as you traditionally would with your hands since the meat mixture is quite sticky and loose. If you don’t have a cookie scoop you can squeeze the mixture through a circle between your thumb and forefinger and then scrape it off into the pot with a spoon. Or form a loose ball by scraping two spoons together.