Yaki Onigiri (Grilled Rice Balls)焼きおにぎり

By: takestwoeggsPosted: 12/08/2023 Updated: 28/11/2023
Prep 15 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Total 30 minutes
Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり), or Japanese grilled rice balls have crispy, charred outer layers and soft and steamy insides which makes them the most mouthwatering snack to make at home! These grilled onigiri are seasoned with a soy marinade which makes this yaki onigiri recipe a delicious balance of flavors, textures, and techniques.
Yaki Onigiri (Grilled Rice Balls)焼きおにぎり

Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり), or Japanese grilled rice balls, have crispy, charred outer layers and soft and steamy insides which makes them the most mouthwatering snack to make at home! These grilled onigiri are seasoned with a soy marinade which makes this yaki onigiri recipe a delicious balance of flavors, textures, and techniques.

Someone holding up a yaki onigiri with a piece of roasted nori wrapped around it.

Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり), or grilled rice balls, are a true culinary gem that has the most harmonious balance between a smokey, crispy outer layer and a soft, tender inside layer that is beautifully seasoned with a mouthwatering umami sauce. These grilled onigiri make the perfect snack for a picnic or when you are on the go.

Traditionally, these Japanese grilled rice balls are made with a small charcoal grill which adds a rich smokey flavor, but in this recipe, we’ll use a skillet or cast iron pan instead. These grilled onigiri can be made with or without fillings and I’ve listed some suggestions for you below.

These easy fried onigiri can be made in under 15 minutes and only require a few pantry staple ingredients. If you are looking for more snack inspiration, check out our tuna onigiri, Japanese egg sandwich, and Japanese fruit sandwich.

A plate with two japanese grilled rice balls with pieces of roasted nori on them.

What is Yaki Onigiri?

In Japanese, “yaki” means “grilled” and “onigiri” refers to a rice ball that is typically shaped into a triangular or oval shape. Yaki onigiri is typically made with sticky short-grain sushi rice that is formed into a triangular shape. These crispy rice balls are then grilled and seasoned with soy sauce for a crispy golden brown exterior.

Typically onigiri contains a variety of fillings such as salted salmon, plum (umeboshi), spicy tuna, spicy salmon, or spicy cod roe (mentaiko). They are normally wrapped in a dried crispy nori seaweed sheet. Crispy onigiri is popular in Japan as a snack, lunch, or commonly found in bento boxes.

Two yaki onigiris on a plate.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

This yaki onigiri recipe is so addicting because it highlights the contrast of textures with mouthwatering flavors in every bite. Here are a few reasons why you will love this fried onigiri.

  • Easy to make: Yaki onigiri is surprisingly simple to make with only a few Asian pantry staple ingredients.
  • Versatile canvas: Traditional yaki onigiri may be seasoned with soy sauce and wrapped in seaweed, this grilled onigiri recipe offers a more complex flavor profile and alternative options that you can personalize for your own preferences.
  • Ideal for sharing: these grilled rice balls are perfect for sharing amongst your family and friends and creating memories.

Kitchen Equipment

You will need the following kitchen equipment to make this yaki onigiri recipe.

  • Rice cooker: you will need to cook your rice in a rice cooker, or alternatively in a pot on the stove.
  • Mixing Bowls: you will need mixing bowls to season the rice and to make the soy glaze.
  • Skillet: you can use a medium non-stick skillet or a cast iron skillet to make these crispy rice balls.
  • Onigiri Mold: an onigiri mold makes shaping these grilled rice balls so much easier. Alternatively, you can use wet hands to shape them.
An onigiri rice mold.

Ingredients

You can find all of the ingredients to make this yaki onigiri recipe at your local Japanese or Asian grocery store or online.

  • Sushi rice: short grain or medium grain sushi rice is recommended since they are slightly sticky which allows the rice to stick together and not fall apart.
  • Black Toasted Sesame Seeds: toasted sesame seeds add texture and a nutty flavor.
  • Toasted Sesame Oil: toasted sesame oil gently seasons the rice with a rich nutty flavor.
  • Soy Sauce: soy sauce is the main flavor in these Japanese fried rice balls.
  • Mirin: mirin adds a sweet and tangy flavor to the soy sauce.
  • Sugar: a touch of sugar allows the soy sauce to caramelize and soften the flavor.
  • Nori Sheets: nori sheets add additional flavor and as a vehicle to hold the yaki onigiri to keep your hands clean.
  • Furikake seasoning (optional): you can season your fried onigiri with furikake for more flavor.
All the ingredients to make yaki onigiri organzied in different bowls.

Substitutions and Additions

This is your yaki onigiri recipe. That means you can customize your fried onigiri however you want! You can change the seasoning of the rice to personalize your fillings. I’ve listed some options for you below.

Rice Seasoning

You can season these Japanese fried rice balls with any of the following seasonings and sauces instead!

  • Furikake seasoning
  • Teriyaki Sauce
  • Unagi Sauce
  • Soy Sauce
  • Miso Butter

Fillings

For a complete meal, add a hearty protein filling to your crispy onigiri!

  • Spicy tuna
  • Spicy salmon
  • Imitation crab (kani)
  • Spicy cod roe (mentaiko)
  • Japanese pickled plum (umeboshi)
  • Unagi (eel)
  • Salted salmon (shiozake)
  • Teriyaki chicken
  • Karaage

How to Make Yaki Onigiri

Here are the steps on how to make yaki onigiri at home! I recommend reading through the steps once through before you begin. Keep in mind, the grilled onigiri may burn quickly once you brush the soy glaze onto the rice balls.

  1. Cook the rice. Wash the uncooked rice under running water until the water runs clear. Combine the rice and water in a rice cooker or on the stovetop and cook until done.
Fluffing cooked sushi rice inside of a rice cooker.
  1. Season the rice. Season the rice with toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil. Mix until combined. Let it cool until you can work the rice with your hands.
Mixing sushi rice with seasoning and black sesame seeds.
  1. Mold the rice. Wet your hands with water and take about a 1/2 cup of rice in your hands. Using both hands firmly press the rice into a triangle. If you have a mold, fill the mold and press firmly to create the shape.
  1. Make soy mixture. In a small mixing bowl, add the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Mix until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
  2. Grill. Lightly coat your skillet with oil and heat on medium heat. Grill the onigiri until all sides are crispy and lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Avoid flipping too many times to prevent the rice from falling apart.
  1. Season with soy sauce. Lower the heat to low, brush one side with soy sauce, and flip to caramelize. Cook for about 10-15 seconds. It can quickly burn at this point, so make sure to work quickly. Brush the other sides with soy sauce and flip to caramelize. Sprinkle with furikake sauce while warm, wrap with a nori strip, and enjoy!

Tips for the Best Yaki Onigiri

  • Use warm rice: sushi rice is much easier to mold and shape when it is freshly cooked and warm.
  • Pack the rice together! Make sure to pack the rice tightly together when you are shaping the onigiri either with the mold or with your hands. This will prevent them from falling apart.
  • If shaping with your hands, wet your hands: sushi rice is incredibly sticky and near impossible to shape without wetting your hands. The water acts as a barrier that prevents the rice from sticking to your hands.
  • Work quickly when brushing the sauce: make sure to turn the heat to your lowest setting, and brush and flip the Japanese fried rice balls quickly. This will prevent the outer layer from burning.

Storage Instructions

It is best to consume fried onigiri immediately when cooked for the ultimate crispy exterior. You can store these crispy rice balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Reheat: to reheat, drop a few drops of water onto the yaki onigiri and microwave covered until warm. They will not be as crispy when reheated.

Frequently Asked Q’s & A’s

What is yaki onigiri made of?

Yaki onigiri is grilled rice balls that are made with short or medium-grain sushi rice that is tightly shaped in a triangle shape, grilled, and then seasoned with a soy sauce glaze.

Can I use regular rice instead of sushi rice?

Short grain or medium grain is the recommended rice for crispy onigiri. Any other rice may not be sticky enough to hold its shape when grilled.

How do you make yaki onigiri not fall apart?

You need to use short or medium-grain rice since they are inherently sticky. Also, make sure that the rice is hot or warm when you are shaping them since cold rice is dry and not sticky. Lastly, when shaping the rice, you need to pack the rice tightly so the crispy onigiri will not fall apart when grilling.

Can yaki onigiri be made vegetarian or vegan?

Yes of course! You can make crispy onigiri with plant-based soy sauces such as tamari.

How do I serve yaki onigiri?

Yaki onigiri can be enjoyed on its own or as a delicious snack or side dish. It can also be served as a meal with other Japanese dishes such as miso soup, tempura, or fresh vegetables.

Additional Japanese recipes to try

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Someone holding up a yaki onigiri with a piece of roasted nori wrapped around it.

Yaki Onigiri (Grilled Rice Balls)焼きおにぎり

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Yaki onigiri (焼きおにぎり), or Japanese grilled rice balls have crispy, charred outer layers and soft and steamy insides which makes them the most mouthwatering snack to make at home! These grilled onigiri are seasoned with a soy marinade which makes this yaki onigiri recipe a delicious balance of flavors, textures, and techniques.
Servings: 6 pieces
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Cook the rice. Wash the uncooked rice under running water until the water runs clear. Combine the rice and water in a rice cooker or on the stovetop and cook until done.
  • Season the rice. Season the rice with toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil. Mix until combined. Let it cool until you can work the rice with your hands.
  • Mold the rice. Wet your hands with water and take about a 1/2 cup of rice in your hands. Using both hands firmly press the rice into a triangle. If you have a mold, fill the mold and press firmly to create the shape.
  • Make soy mixture. In a small mixing bowl, add the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. Mix until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
  • Grill. Lightly coat your skillet with oil and heat on medium heat. Grill the onigiri until all sides are crispy and lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Avoid flipping too many times to prevent the rice from falling apart.
  • Season with soy sauce mixture. Lower the heat to low, brush one side with soy sauce, and flip to caramelize. Cook for about 10-15 seconds. It can quickly burn at this point, so make sure to work quickly. Brush the other sides with soy sauce and flip to caramelize. Sprinkle with furikake sauce while warm, wrap with a nori strip, and enjoy!

Notes

  • Use warm rice: rice is much easier to mold and shape when it is freshly cooked and warm.
  • Pack the rice together! Make sure to pack the rice tightly together when you are shaping the onigiri either with the mold or with your hands. This will prevent them from falling apart.
  • If shaping with your hands, wet your hands: sushi rice is incredibly sticky and near impossible to shape without wetting your hands. The water acts as a barrier that prevents the rice from sticking to your hands.
  • Work quickly when brushing the sauce: make sure to turn the heat to your lowest setting, and brush and flip the Japanese fried rice balls quickly. This will prevent the outer layer from burning.
  • Storage Instructions: It is best to consume fried onigiri immediately when cooked for the ultimate crispy exterior. You can store these crispy rice balls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • To reheat: to reheat, drop a few drops of water onto the yaki onigiri and microwave covered until warm. They will not be as crispy when reheated.

Nutrition:

Calories: 214kcal | Carbohydrates: 44g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 2g | Saturated Fat: 0.3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 622mg | Potassium: 62mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 0.1IU | Calcium: 17mg | Iron: 1mg

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