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Japanese Barbecue Ground Chicken

They don’t call me the ground chicken king without good reason. This Japanese barbecue ground chicken is the latest and greatest 20-minute ground chicken recipe to come out of the Kinda Healthy Kitchen, and it’s a good one. The homemade sauce is sweet, salty, and umami with just the right amount of bold barbecue flavor we love here in the southern US.

The sauce cooks right in the pan with two pounds of ground chicken to make an easy protein option to pair with rice and low calorie yum yum sauce for meal prep bowls. Or if you prefer whole chicken breast, you can use the sauce as a marinade or glaze for grilled or roasted chicken, fish, or red meat. Don’t worry, I’ll cover all the ways to use it in the post below.

And by the way, nobody calls me the ground chicken king. But maybe they should. Try this recipe and let me know where I stand.

two Japanese barbecue chicken bowls next to serving bowls with chicken and yum yum sauce

The Japanese Barbecue Sauce

I’m a huge fan of Bachan’s Japanese barbecue sauce, and you may have seen me use it to make BBQ chicken fried rice or the jerky fried rice in my high protein Costco guide. For this ground chicken recipe, I decided to take a shot at replicating the magic with a homemade version. Using the simple ingredient list on Bachan’s, I was able to reverse engineer a really great tasting sauce.

Here’s everything you’ll need, along with some potential substitutes:

  • Dark Soy Sauce – For the dark color and an ultra umami flavor profile, you will want to use a dark soy sauce for this chicken. Dark soy sauce is fermented for longer periods and depending on its country of origin may have other ingredients added for more sweetness. Light soy sauce (or even coconut aminos) work fine as replacements, but you will have a much lighter color and slightly milder flavor.
  • Maple Syrup – Bachan’s lists granulated sugar on its label, so I opted for a healthier sweetener that works really well for barbecue flavor profiles in maple syrup. Go with dark over amber colored syrup. You could use a brown sugar substitute like the Swerve brown in my chicken breakfast sausage to reduce the carb count.
  • Tomato Paste – While I was tempted to use a spicier chili paste instead of tomato paste, I stuck to Bachan’s ingredient list. This adds acidity (and a bit of sweetness) to balance the salty and sweet flavors of the first two ingredients.
  • Mirin – A sweet cooking wine used in Japanese cooking. You can use another dry white cooking wine in a pinch or, worst case, add more rice vinegar. There are plenty of other sweet components in this sauce, so it’s not make or break.
  • Rice Vinegar and Toasted Sesame Oil – Standard ingredients you should always have in your pantry. Don’t substitute, just go buy them.
  • Aromatics (Garlic, Ginger, Scallions) – If you’re familiar with my recipes and cooking, you know I live for the shortcut ingredients like frozen crushed garlic and ginger (pictured below). Trader Joe’s is my go-to store for these major time savers. Oh, and a pro tip I learned in a Korean cooking class is to wash your scallions after slicing them.
Japanese barbecue sauce ingredients on a kitchen counter

Making the Sauce on Its Own for Other Dishes

While this recipe calls for reducing the sauce straight in the pan with cooked ground chicken, you could certainly use it as a marinade or cook the sauce down to pair with fried chicken, grilled or roasted vegetables, or other proteins.

To make it, start with a teaspoon or two of toasted sesame oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the aromatics and cook for 30-60 seconds until they’re fragrant before adding the tomato paste. Cook for another 30 seconds or so before adding the remaining ingredients. Reduce to a simmer for 6-8 minutes or so until the sauce reaches a thin barbecue sauce consistency.

cast iron braising pan with two pounds of cooked ground chicken seasoned with homemade Japanese barbecue sauce

How to Serve

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but my go-to strategy for protein bowls is “half calorie rice” or a blend of something like jasmine or basmati rice and cauliflower rice. In this case, I combined four cups of jasmine rice with two cups of an Asian stir fry cauliflower rice blend.

If you wanted to add vegetables to your Japanese barbecue ground chicken, you could start by cooking broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, and zucchini in a couple tablespoons of olive oil before transferring out of the pan and cooking the ground chicken. Check out my teriyaki turkey stir fry for an example. I would, however, make a bit more sauce if you plan to add a big batch of vegetables. Or I would at least season the vegetables on their own to serve on the side.

You could also roast the vegetables on their own in an oven or air fryer to serve alongside the chicken and rice like I did for my breakfast meal prep bowls.

Japanese bbq ground chicken and rice bowls with scallions, sesame seeds, and yum yum sauce garnishes


As for garnishes, toasted sesame seeds and the scallion greens are all you really need. But for something a little extra, I always love serving Japanese inspired recipes with a lower calorie yum yum sauce. First appearing in my ground beef and zucchini stir fry, you can make this with a bit of light mayo, sriracha, rice vinegar, garlic powder, and honey. I’ve included precise measurements in the recipe card below.

Or if you’d like a version without mayo, I have a healthy yum yum sauce recipe made with Greek yogurt.

For another sauce option that packs a bigger gut healthy punch and is inspired by Korean cooking, I’m a big fan of blended kimchi sauces. In my ground beef bulgogi recipe, I blended kimchi with gochujang, honey, light mayo, and water. To make either sauce without light mayo, you could try using Greek yogurt and adding a bit of dijon mustard, white pepper, and possibly another touch of vinegar.

Final Thoughts

Being a bit of a fitness bro myself, protein and rice bowls are always a go-to. But the possibilities are endless for using this Japanese BBQ chicken. You could serve it in ramen or udon, make seaweed wraps or gyoza, or if you’re feeling very inspired, use it as a taiyaki filling instead of red bean paste.

I’d love to hear how you end up serving your chicken and your thoughts about the barbecue sauce and recipe. Let me know in a recipe review or comment!

And whether you’re new to cooking with ground chicken or a seasoned veteran, I have a huge list of recipes to make with ground chicken for you to find more ideas like firecracker chicken or high protein spaghetti and meatballs.

rice and cauliflower rice bowl with Japanese barbecue chicken garnished with scallions, sesame seeds, and yum yum sauce

Japanese Barbecue Chicken

Yield: 8 Servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Extra lean ground chicken breast with a sweet and savory homemade Japanese barbecue sauce.


  • 1/2 Tablespoon (8g) Olive Oil
  • 2 pounds Ground Chicken Breast

For the Japanese Barbecue Sauce

  • 1/2 cup (120g) Maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup (60g) Dark Soy Sauce*
  • 1/3 cup (84g) Tomato Paste
  • 1/4 cup (60g) Mirin
  • 1/4 cup (60g) Rice Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons (32g) Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 4 teaspoons Ginger, crushed or minced
  • 4 cloves Garlic, crushed or minced
  • 3 Scallions, greens and whites separated and thinly sliced


  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the olive oil. Once hot, add the ground chicken and brown one side for 3-4 minutes until golden brown before breaking apart and fully cooking.
  2. While the chicken cooks, whisk all the sauce ingredients except the scallion greens together.
  3. Once the chicken is fully cooked, add the sauce and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in the sliced scallion greens at the end right before serving.
  4. Serve the chicken over rice and garnish with toasted sesame seeds, freshly sliced scallions, and optional yum yum sauce (see notes below).


*You can use any soy sauce or coconut aminos in place of dark soy sauce, but your chicken will have a lighter color. If you're unfamiliar with dark soy sauce, you may want to start with half dark soy sauce and half light soy sauce to ensure you like the more developed flavors of dark soy sauce. For shopping reference, Kikkoman's Naturally Brewed soy sauce is available in most stores, and it is a koikuchi shoyu (Japanese dark soy sauce). You can learn more about the different types of soy sauce here.

Serving Tips

To make a low calorie spin on Japanese yum yum sauce, you can mix together 2 tablespoons (42g) honey, 3 to 4 tablespoons (46-60g) sriracha, 1/2 cup (120g) light mayo, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 2 tablespoons (30g) rice vinegar. You can add 1-2 tablespoons of water to thin the sauce to your desired consistency.

For a lower calorie rice blend, I like mixing 4 cups of cooked jasmine rice with 2 cups of riced cauliflower (or an Asian stir fry blend in photos here). That leaves you with 3/4 cup or about 4 oz of the rice blend for each serving of ground chicken.

The nutrition information is for the ground chicken breast and sauce only.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 4.25 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 240Total Fat: 8gCarbohydrates: 18gProtein: 25g

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Wednesday 24th of January 2024

I made this for dinner tonight and holy cow... may be my new favorite recipe on your site. I was so impressed with the flavor! I served it with edamame beans and rice and topped it with the yum yum sauce. Cannot go without the yum yum!! Nice work, Mason!! :)

Mason Woodruff

Thursday 25th of January 2024

Thanks, Karly!

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