Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり) or Japanese grilled rice balls are an easy and popular snack or lunch in Japan. Unlike onigiri, they're grilled, pan-fried, or roasted until the outside crust has a crispy texture while the rice inside is soft and fluffy. Yaki onigiri can be flavored with various seasonings including soy sauce, miso butter, or teriyaki sauce!
Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり) or Japanese grilled rice balls, are a delicious, convenient, and portable snack or lunch that's quick and easy to make! They taste savory, smokey from the grill, and salty with lots of umami flavor from soy sauce, miso, or teriyaki sauce.
These grilled rice balls are a great way to use up leftover rice. It requires just three ingredients and is ready in only five minutes. All you need is short or medium-grain rice, soy sauce (or other seasonings), and oil for creating a crispy crust.
What is Yaki Onigiri?
Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり) are delicious Japanese grilled rice balls that are made with sticky short or medium-grain rice that's formed into a triangular shape. Then they're grilled until a crispy exterior is formed and seasoned with soy sauce or miso. It's sold in convenience stores, grocery stores, and department stores all around Japan. Grilled rice balls are a popular snack, lunch, or picnic food and is commonly found in bento boxes.
Traditionally yaki onigiri is grilled over a charcoal grill to give it an amazing smokey flavor that's wonderful during the winter, but due to modern convenience, it can be 'grilled' in a pan or even roasted in the oven. What's important is that the exterior gets crispy and golden brown before any sauce is applied. Various fillings can be added, like salmon or tuna, but it's commonly sold with just plain rice.
Yaki (焼き) directly translates to 'grilled' and onigiri (おにぎり) directly translates to 'rice ball', hence yaki onigiri means grilled rice ball in Japanese.
How to Make Yaki Onigiri
- Shape by hand - Wet your hands with water and take about ½ cup of warm rice in your hands and firmly but gently mold the rice into a triangular shape.
- Shape with a mold - Add the appropriate amount of rice to fill the mold and press down to create a triangular shape.
- Add filling (Optional): If adding the filling, create an indentation into the rice before shaping and add about 1 tablespoon. Enclose the filling with rice and shape with your hands or with a mold.
- Grill: Heat a pan over medium heat and add the oil. Grill each side of the onigiri until the exterior forms a crispy crust and the color is golden-brown. Avoid flipping too often to keep the shape intact.
- Season with sauce: Lower the heat to low heat and brush one side of the rice ball with soy sauce or your sauce of choice. Quickly flip the rice ball and caramelize that side for 15 to 30 seconds. Watch for burning as the sauce can easily burn. Apply sauce to the other side and flip over to caramelize that side.
Serve immediately while the crust is crispy and hot and the interior rice is soft and fluffy. Sprinkle on furikake before serving for more flavor.
Yaki Onigiri Sauce
- Soy sauce - Soy sauce is most commonly used for yaki onigiri and goes great with plain rice.
- Miso butter - A richer, more umami-flavored sauce with a hint of sweetness.
- Teriyaki or unagi sauce - A perfect balance of sweet and savory.
- Gochujang - Great for spicy yaki onigiri!
- Salted salmon (shiozake)
- Umeboshi (pickled plum)
- Chicken teriyaki or karaage
- Fish roe - mentaiko or tarako
- Okaka (bonito flakes)
- Kombu - seasoned kelp
- Tuna mayo - Tuna mixed with mayo, salt, and pepper
- Kani (crab or imitation crab stick)
- Unagi (eel)
- Egg - hard-boiled and chopped
- Vegetables - spinach or mushrooms
Yaki Onigiri (Grilled Rice Balls) 焼きおにぎり
- 2 cups cooked rice - short or medium-grain; warm
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- soy sauce
Shape Rice Ball
- Shape by hand: Wet your hands with water and take about ⅓ to ½ cup of warm rice in your hands. Using both hands, firmly press the rice into a triangular shape. Shape with mold: Fill the mold with the appropriate amount of rice and firmly press to create your shape.2 cups cooked rice
- Heat a pan over medium heat and add the oil. Grill each side of the rice ball until a crispy, golden-brown crust forms. Avoid flipping often to keep the shape intact.1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
Season with sauce
- Lower to low heat and brush one side with soy sauce and flip to caramelize the sauce slightly. Check after 15 to 30 seconds as it can easily burn. Brush the other side with soy sauce and flip to caramelize that side. Serve and optionally sprinkle with furikake while still hot. Enjoy!soy sauce
✎ Recipe Notes
- Teriyaki sauce
- Miso butter - Mix 1 tablespoon of miso and butter together with a pinch of sugar. Thin with water until a smooth paste forms.
- Short or medium-grain rice is required as its sticky nature helps shape the yaki onigiri without falling apart. Long-grain rice such as Jasmine rice isn't sticky enough.
- Using warm rice helps it hold its shape as cold rice isn't very sticky.
- Wet your hands with water to prevent sticking.
- If adding any filling, create an indentation and then cover completely with rice.
- Use fillings that are low in moisture to prevent the rice from getting soggy.
*Nutritional information is an estimate, calculated using online tools.