Yaki Onigiri

Yaki onigiri are Japanese grilled rice balls with a tasty savoury coating or filling. These little rice balls are full of flavour with a delightful crispy crust which adds an extra element of flavour and texture to regular onigiri.

Three grilled rice balls in a cast iron skillet

This creates a perfect balance and makes yaki onigiri the best portable savoury snack or as a substitute for a plain bowl of white rice at dinner or lunch. That first crunchy crisp bite followed by the warm and fluffy rice make yaki onigiri so irresistible.

two Miso grilled rice balls on a plate

What is Yaki Onigiri?

Yaki onigiri is a type of Japanese rice ball that has been grilled. The word “yaki” means grilled in Japanese and I think nowadays many people know what onigiri are. If not, they are basically little triangular-shaped balls of rice. Yaki onigiri is most commonly coated in soy sauce but the name itself just means grilled rice ball.

a rice ball on a cast iron skillet and being cooked and brushed miso sauce

They are crispy on the outside but still have the same soft and fluffy Japanese rice texture on the inside. This combination of the crispy crust with the warm and soft rice make yaki onigiri such simple but delicious food. It’s lucky that they’re healthy and little since it’s so hard to resist eating just one.

What Do I Need?

Rice: use Japanese short-grain rice Japonica ‘Koshihikari” to make these as close to perfect as you can. Using other types of rice will result in a completely different texture and flavour. If you can not access Japonica rice from Japan, you can get “sushi rice” from supermarkets. When Japanese say sushi rice they are referring to sweet vinegar seasoned rice. However, the rice marked “Sushi Rice” is not seasoned. It means the rice is for making sushi.

Japanese Koshihikari rice in a wooden tub with a lid

You also need Japanese condiments and seasonings and garnishes you like to flavour the grilled rice balls. My favourite is Miso Butter. Let your imagination run wild and find your favourite flavours. Common flavours in Japan are Soy sauce, Soy sauce and butter, sweet miso sauce similar to what is used to make Miso glazed salmon and Miso Eggplant.

mirin, butter, miso, sugar, sake and water

Yaki Onigiri Flavour Variations

The most common flavour of yaki onigiri is soy sauce. But there are many different other sauces and filling options to choose from to create delicious flavour varieties. My favourite flavour is miso butter. The miso and butter just pair so perfectly together and have a burst of umami flavour that is easily complimented by simple white rice. Nearly anything can go with fluffy and simple Japanese rice so here are some other options:

Soy sauce,  and butter
  • fill or mix the onigiri first with grilled salmon, canned tuna, chicken, sesame seeds, kanikama (imitation crab meat),
  • turn takikomi gohan into onigiri and grill them
  • coat the onigiri with a spicy gochujang paste instead of soy or miso
  • wrap the yaki onigiri in seaweed or shiso leaves
  • make yaki onigiri ochazuke (rice in hot tea or water)
Seasoned rice with Japanese flavour served in a rice bowl with a pair of chopsticks

Equipment Needed To Grill Rice Balls

You can make yaki onigiri using a frying pan, Cast Iron Skillet, or a bbq. I think making them on a bbq would be really fun and give them even more of a delicious chargrilled flavour. After that, the best option would be a cast iron pan because it creates the crispness better than a regular frying pan can. My recipe is based on using the cast iron pan.

two yaki onigiri on a small hibachi grill

How To Shape Onigiri

Japanese Onigiri rice balls are typically triangular in shape. If you are intimidated by that perfectly shaped triangle Onigiri and think you can’t make it, don’t despair because the shape is not that important. Though how firmly it is squashed is more important. This is because it will affect whether your onigiri falls apart or not while grilling. I explained shaping methods and different shapes in my Onigiri Rice Balls post. If you need further explanations have a look at this post.

three triangle onigiri rice balls on a bamboo tray

Where To Buy Yaki Onigiri?

Sometimes you can find frozen versions of yaki onigiri at Japanese supermarkets around the world. I have heard that Trader Joe’s used to sell them too but I think they have now been discontinued, which is very unfortunate. You may also be able to find them in Japanese restaurants if they have yaki onigiri on the menu. However, they’re easy to make and don’t really require any special tools or ingredients.

One soy sauce flavoured yaki onigiri on a plate

What To Serve With?

cooked miso soup in a saucepan and chopped scallions added
Three onigiri served on a bamboo tray

FAQ

Q: I used Sushi Rice but my onigiri keeps falling apart. What can I do?

A: Make sure you squish the rice balls, firmly. If it does not prevent the rice balls falling apart, You can add Katakuriko (potato starch) 1 tbsp after the rice is cooked. Stir it well into the rice, that will keep the rice sticking together. rice in a cling wrap lined rice bowlQ: Can I store Yaki Onigiri?

A: It is best to store the onigiri rice balls when it is shaped. Wrap with cling wrap tightly individually and place them in a zip lock bag to store in the freezer. Reheat and cook the frozen onigiri rice balls the same as in the recipe card and flavour too.

4 photo collage showing first 4 steps of making yaki onigiri

Ingredient Substitutions

If you can’t find or access any of the Japanese ingredients listed in the recipe card below, find what you can substitute them with in my Japanese Food Substitution post.

 4 photo collage showing how to grill rice ball in a cast iron skillet

Recipe Measurements

  • To alter the serving size click on the serving number and move the slider left or right to adjust the quantity. 
  • As you move the slider the quantities of the ingredients will adjust accordingly in both imperial and metric measurements.
4 photo collage showing how to brush sauce on grilled rice balls

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