My Mom’s Chicken Teriyaki

published Sep 6, 2022
Kitchn Love Letters
My Mom's Chicken Teriyaki Recipe
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Credit: Michelle Lau

For as long as I can remember, my mom has been making chicken teriyaki for almost every special occasion. It’s been served at birthdays, graduations, New Year’s Day lunch, as a potluck dish at funerals and community gatherings, and sometimes “just because.”

And because I’ve grown up eating it for all these occasions, it’s my comfort food too. There’s nothing quite like the combo of sweet and salty chicken teriyaki, a bowl of short-grain Japanese rice, and a side of mom’s potato salad (which is a whole other story in itself).

When I tried to get the recipe to share, I was reminded that it’s the kind of dish my mom has always just whipped up. “It’s all by taste,” she says. “There’s really no recipe.” No measuring, no written instructions — everything just off the top of her head.

And while there are so many teriyaki recipes out there — some tangy, some spicy, some sticky and sweet — I always go back to my mom’s simple version because no other teriyaki has the deep connection to family and my memories of growing up.

Credit: Michelle Lau

Teriyaki sauce is a big deal in many Japanese American families — it turns tender chicken, strips of beef, cubes of tofu, and sliced veggies into tasty morsels. Despite popular opinion, teriyaki sauce wasn’t created in Japan, but was an invention that came from blending the flavors of Japan with Westernized tastes. Some say teriyaki came from Hawaii.

Nonetheless, along with food booths selling gyoza and

shaved ice

As a child, I thought that my mom learned this recipe from my grandma, but that’s not true at all. “My mom didn’t really make teriyaki,” explains my mom, who likes to slice up an orange and make her dish a showpiece.

The story goes that one day my mom decided to come up with her own recipe all on her own. She flavors her soy sauce base with a little bit of garlic, granulated sugar, orange juice, and honey, she says, “to give the chicken a nice, glossy sheen.” Through the years, I’ve always seen my mom add a little here and a little bit there, tasting her marinade as she goes along.

Credit: Michelle Lau

It all seemed like one big mystery, but it also made me realize that cooking isn’t just about precise measurements and methodically following a recipe step-by-step. It’s also about taste and texture and all of the hidden steps in between that aren’t written down. It’s about knowing as you make it that the ingredients are just right — and if they’re not, how to fix it.

In my own kitchen, I’ve realized I’ve followed in her footsteps. While I do have a number of recipes I follow exactly, I also have an assortment of my own easy weeknight creations where I’ve added a little bit of this and that as I went along. And even though the basic form is there, it never turns out quite the same. But that’s the joy and fun in cooking! It’s as much about the creating and the tasting as it is the final dish.

Lucky for me, I finally pinned my mom down when I asked her to write her recipe for this story, and we tried it out together for a family dinner. It’s the kind of dish that tastes good anytime — straight out of the oven or even as a cold leftover from the fridge. (Or, better yet, as the base for an Asian chicken salad.)

And as much as I love the convenience of a bottled jar of teriyaki sauce after a busy day, my mom’s simple version (which is likely to change each time she makes it) will always feel so special and comforting, knowing how much love she put into making it.

My Mom's Chicken Teriyaki Recipe

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 32 minutes

Serves 2 to 4

Nutritional Info


  • 2 cloves


  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    orange juice

  • 1 tablespoon


  • 1 1/2 pounds

    chicken wing drumettes or party wings (12 to 16)


  1. Mince 2 garlic cloves and place in a large bowl. Add 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon orange juice, and 1 tablespoon honey. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

  2. Add 1 1/2 pounds chicken wing drumettes and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight, tossing the chicken a few times if you’re able to as it marinates.

  3. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Transfer the chicken onto the baking sheet in a single layer and reserve the marinade in the bowl.

  4. Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken and brush with the reserved marinade. Return the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes more. Discard any remaining marinade.

  5. Turn the oven to broil and broil until the chicken is browned and charred in spots, about 2 minutes more.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.