Forget takeout and make these easy baked teriyaki chicken thighs for dinner tonight. Whip up your own sweet and savory homemade teriyaki sauce in minutes, then marinate, bake and serve for an easy weeknight dinner. Add rice and veggies and you're set. After baking, brush with more teriyaki sauce for burnished color and delicious flavor. For gluten-free, use tamari instead of soy sauce.
In Japan, traditional teriyaki is a thin sauce with simple ingredients, often just soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Western palates are used to bottled teriyaki sauce that is thicker, almost syrupy with ginger, garlic, and other flavors. A thin sauce is fine as a teriyaki marinade, but the thicker style works for marinating, glazing, basting and as a dipping sauce, especially with these teriyaki chicken thighs.
Why You'll like This Recipe
- Homemade beats take-out
- A easy dinner that will be a hit with the whole family
- Get your veggies in as a side dish
- Homemade teriyaki sauce is gluten-free if desired.
For another Asian-inspired sauce recipe, try this homemade gluten-free Hoisin sauce.
This teriyaki chicken recipe takes:
- Chicken: For moist, rich flavor and tender chicken thighs, choose boneless chicken thighs (no-skin). If you think you only like chicken breast, this teriyaki chicken recipe will change your mind.
- Soy sauce: For gluten-free teriyaki sauce use low sodium tamari. It's wheat-free soy sauce. Be sure to buy low sodium for either. This recipe was made with a 25% less sodium bottle, but they make a 50% less sodium style tamari for further sodium reduction.
- Mirin: A low-alcohol, syrupy Japanese cooking wine made from fermented rice. It has a subtle sweet flavor that gives teriyaki chicken thighs their glossy appearance and delicious flavor. It's essential in Japanese cooking and for making the best teriyaki chicken thighs.
- Sugar: Use golden brown sugar (or white sugar) or monk fruit blend.
- Ginger: A mainstay spice in Japanese cooking. Use a knob of fresh ginger, peel and zest it, or chop finely. I find these little y-peelers make it easy to peel.
- Garlic: Use fresh and chop fine or zest with a microplane.
- Sake: Japanese rice wine. Find inexpensive small bottles at the market, and buy a dry sake. Here is what I buy for dry sake, it's inexpensive but tastes great.
- Green onions: Slice diagonally and use as a garnish (optional).
Please see the recipe card for measurements and full recipe.
Chef's Tip: Real mirin makes wonderful teriyaki sauce. What you find in many markets is this low quality brand that's not really mirin. It's label says "aji-mirin", meaning it tastes like mirin, but made with glucose syrup and corn syrup. It's like comparing real maple syrup to the brown fake maple-flavored corn syrup; really no comparison. I use this brand with high quality ingredients. Find it at better markets, Asian grocers and online.
Substitutions and Variations
If you can't get real mirin, here are several substitutions to try. Although the flavor will be a little different than using real mirin. I've made it many ways. For other possible swaps, read this well-done article on substitutions for mirin.
- Mirin substitute 1: sake (Japanese rice wine) plus sugar or honey. For a quarter cup of mirin try the same amount of sake plus 1 tablespoon of sugar, monk fruit blend, or honey.
- Mirin substitute 2: unseasoned rice vinegar. Rice vinegar is more acidic than mirin, so you'll need to compensate by adding sweetness with sugar, monk fruit or honey.
- For sesame teriyaki, add toasted sesame oil for a nice flavor boost and sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve.
- For honey teriyaki, either replace the brown sugar with a mild honey, or add honey for a sweeter teriyaki.
- If you prefer white meat, use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. For best results, gently pound them to a more even thickness before marinating and baking. They will cook more quickly than chicken thighs, so watch your cook time. The internal temperature should reach 160°F-165°F. Trust me. Try dark meat chicken. This recipe will change your mind.
Prefer grilled teriyaki chicken? Cut the thighs into large chunks, skewer and grill. They come out great. If you like to grill chicken, try these grilled chicken breasts with lemon mint marinade.
Make the teriyaki sauce first (and cool), then add the chicken thighs to a resealable plastic bag or flat baking dish and marinate for an hour or up to overnight.
Note - you can make your teriyaki sauce the day ahead to save time.
Step 1: Add the teriyaki sauce ingredients to a small saucepan (2 quart) on the stovetop, bring to a simmer. While its coming to a simmer, make the slurry in a small bowl with cold water(cornstarch or arrowroot starch mixed with water).
Step 2: Add the slurry to thicken the teriyaki, whisking until smooth. Cook 1-2 minutes to get rid of the raw starch taste.
Step 3: The thickened teriyaki sauce, then strained for a smooth sauce.
Step 4: Cool the finished sauce in an ice bath before using to marinate the raw chicken thighs, and what it looks like.
Step 5: Marinate the chicken thighs in a single layer in a casserole dish or in a ziploc bag, 1 hour on the counter top at room temperature, or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
Step 6: Lay out the marinated teriyaki chicken thighs on an aluminum foil lined flat rimmed baking sheet, top side up.
Step 7: Bake the chicken about 12 minutes, then broil at the end to finish baking and for more color.
Step 8: To serve teriyaki chicken thighs, slice the meat into thin strips and drizzle with more homemade teriyaki sauce for extra flavor and beautiful color.
Chef's Note: Why make homemade teriyaki sauce? Bottled sauces (and take out) is usually filled with unhealthy ingredients such as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, higher sodium and sugar, MSG, GMO ingredients and preservatives. This recipe is so fast and easy, you control the ingredients.
Serve teriyaki chicken thighs with white rice or brown rice and vegetables. Steamed broccoli, broccolini, snap peas, asparagus, zucchini, and carrots all work well. Serve extra teriyaki sauce on the side. Simple 2-minute broccolini is good too or these mixed summer veggies recipe.
How long does it last refrigerated? About 2 weeks with all of the sugar and salt. The good thing is you can easily make small fresh batches. Some say it freezes but I have not tried it.
Yes, dark meat chicken thighs get more tender with cooking, whereas leaner chicken breasts can dry out. Thighs stay juicy and moist. If you think you don't like dark meat, try them. You might change your mind.
Teriyaki sauce is thicker when cooked with a starch such as cornstarch or arrowroot starch. It takes a very small amount. Starch is mixed with water until smooth, called a slurry, then added to the simmering teriyaki sauce and briefly cooked to thicken. Another way to thicken is to reduce the sauce with cooking, but using a slurry is faster and preserve the volume.
Teriyaki marinade is usually a thinner sauce used only to marinate, for example, chicken or steak. Teriyaki sauce is thicker, usable for not only marinating, but basting, glazing as as a dipping sauce. Teriyaki sauce is thickened, either with use of a starch or through reduction, whereas marinade is generally not.
More Terrific Chicken Recipes
For another delicious chicken recipe using thighs try my Braised Italian Chicken Thighs.
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Teriyaki Chicken Thighs
Teriyaki Sauce Recipe (Yield 12 ounces)
- ¾ cup low sodium tamari or soy sauce
- ¾ cup Mirin See notes below
- 3 tablespoons dry sake optional, buy a small bottle
- 1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar or monk fruit
- 1 tablespoon cold water to make a slurry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch or arrowroot starch
- 2 teaspoon garlic cloves finely chopped or zested
- 1-2 teaspoons finely grated ginger or jar puree
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs trimmed of extra fat
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onions for garnsh optional
Make the Teriyaki Sauce
- Combine tamari (or soy sauce), mirin, brown sugar, sake, ginger, garlic in a small (2 quart) sauce pan and place on the stovetop. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. While its heating, make a slurry by adding the starch to the water in a small bowl, stirring until smooth. When the teriyaki is at a simmer, whisk in the slurry, turn the heat down if needed, and cook for 1-2 minutes to allow it to thicken and get rid of any raw starch taste.
- Pour the cooked teriyaki sauce through a fine strainer into a large glass jar or measuring cup. Discard the bits of garlic and ginger. Place the jar in an ice bath to cool the hot sauce for immediate use or refrigeration if making ahead of time.
Marinate the Chicken Thighs
- Add the chicken thighs to either a flat casserole dish or a ziploc bag and pour in ½ cup to ¾ cup of the cooled teriyaki sauce, turning the chicken over to coat it. Marinate for 1 hour on the counter at room temperature or for longer, up to overnight, marinate in the refrigerator.
Bake the Chicken Thighs
- Pre-heat the oven to 375°F and position an oven rack on the second level down from the top. Line a rimmed baking sheet (half sheet size) with aluminum foil. Remove the chicken thighs from the marinade and lay flat, in a single layer, on the foil (top side up). Discard teriyaki from marinating raw chicken.
- Lay the chicken thighs top side up on the baking tray and bake 12 minutes, then turn on the broiler to finish and brown the teriyaki chicken thighs. Brush or drizzle with a little extra sauce if desired. Watch the chicken as the sugar in the sauce can burn if left too long. They are relatively thin so they cook quickly. Thighs should reach internal temperature of 165°.
- To serve, slice the chicken on the longer side into about ½" pieces. Place on a platter, drizzle with more sauce and serve.