Yaki Onigiri Recipe

yaki onigiri

Onigiri are handheld, portable rice balls that are Japan’s equivalent to the sandwich. Japanese sushi rice is compacted into all sorts of different shapes, but you probably see triangular onigiri the most. Onigiri come plain or filled but my favourite way to have them is grilled. Yaki onigiri has a crispy, almost burnt rice crust that gives way to fluffy white insides. Handheld rice is a truly a fantastic invention.

sushi rice, water, square cookie cutter, mini onigiri mold, chicken wing sauce

Yaki-onigiri is so popular you can find it in the frozen food section of Japanese grocery stores, just like pizza. Making it at home is super simple, all you need is cooked Japanese sushi rice, soy sauce, oil, and a pan.

You can use your hands, a cookie cutter, or onigiri mold to shape the rice. Traditionally you’re supposed to make onigiri with piping hot rice, but I let mine cool down a bit so I don’t end up with blistery red hands.

using the mini onigiri mold

Make sure you wet your hands and the molds because sushi rice is super sticky. Making onigiri is a personal thing, so if you like giant rice balls, go for it! If you prefer something tiny and petite, go for that!

I started out by making some cubed onigiri because Mike prefers eating rice in cubed form. Cubes are pretty easy to shape with a square cookie cutter: stuff some rice into the cutter, compact it down and push it out. Ta da! Cubed rice!

Onigiri molds work in pretty much the same way: pack the rice in, insert the top part of the mold, squish down and release your onigiri. You can buy a variety of onigiri molds at Daiso.


If cookie cutters and onigiri molds don’t appeal to you, just go the old-fashioned route and use your hands: scoop some rice into your hands and compact into a ball shape then gently pat the sides to form a triangle. If your rice ball falls apart, just stick with a ball shape, it works too!

pan-frying the onigiri

After you’ve shaped your onigiri it’s time to “grill.” I don’t have an indoor grill so I use my cast iron skillet, which works just as well. Heat your skillet or pan on medium heat with a tiny bit of oil. Fry each side of the onigiri until the rice forms a crisp skin. Turn the heat down if your onigiri is browning too fast.

brushing on soy sauce

When all the sides are grilled, brush on the soy sauce. Use a pastry brush to evenly coat the rice with soy sauce. When the onigiri is coated you need to grill all the sides again. The onigiri will be done when it’s been grilled twice.

I used some left over chicken wing sauce to brush my onigiri and the rice cubes and triangles were deliciously crisp, sweet, and spicy.

It’s hard not to love onigiri. You can stuff it with a million surprise fillings and its compact portability makes it perfect for snacks, picnics or just eating with your hands.

Yaki Onigiri Recipe


cooked Japanese rice
soy sauce


1. Shaped hot rice into desired onigiri shapes
2. Grill in a lightly oiled medium-low pan until all sides form a crispy crust
3. Brush all sides with soy sauce and re-fry all sides
4. Enjoy!

golden, toasty yaki onigiri

Mike's creation: quick-pickled topped yaki onigiri

65 Comments add yours

  1. Yum! This looks like such an easy and delicious snack! I’m definitely going to try this sometime.. :)

    Thanks, hope you get a chance to try them out!

    steph on January 31st, 2010 at 12:04 am
  2. Awsome I never new that.

    Jadwiga, it’s amazing what happens to rice when you grill it!

    That’s not a grill. It’s a frying pan.

    mingleflorp on April 29th, 2013 at 10:14 am
    steph on January 31st, 2010 at 1:32 pm
  3. My husband and I are huge fans of all things rice. We’ll definitely be trying this out soon!

    Sweetbird, nothing hits the spot like rice does!

    steph on January 31st, 2010 at 1:34 pm
  4. Hi,
    What type of rice is Japanese rice? I have some whole grain (not white) jasmine rice. Would that work? Thanks

    Hi Stella,
    Japanese rice is a short-grain sticky rice. It’s also called sushi rice. The rice needs to be sticky, if it isn’t when you try to form it into the onigiri, it will just fall apart. Jasmine rice (brown or white) isn’t sticky enough for onigiri

    steph on January 31st, 2010 at 1:39 pm
  5. Mmm, yaki onigiri. I love how you shaped the rice into cubes. Seems to make it easier to grill, plus they look so cute! I always make mine in the typical triangle shape, but next time I’m making cubes instead.

    Susan, I have to confess, eating cubed yaki-onigiri is so much better than triangular!

    steph on January 31st, 2010 at 11:01 pm
  6. I love how this is so simple, but so good and versatile! I can picture these working themselves into an hors d’euvre perfectly!

    If I were at a party with these as hors d’oeuvres, I don’t think anyone else would get to eat them!

    steph on February 1st, 2010 at 4:19 pm
  7. Oh my, these look delicious! Nothing beats crispy rice, especially cubed crispy rice.

    Yes, cubed crispy rice is the best!

    steph on February 7th, 2010 at 1:24 pm
  8. Stella – you need short grain rice (thicker).

  9. Thanks done it this afternoon , oishii

    Thanks, I love yaki onigiri! So simple and so delicious.

    steph on March 16th, 2010 at 12:02 pm
  10. Do you add salt to the rice before cooking or is it unsalted?

    The rice is unsalted; the saltiness in the dish is from the soy sauce brushed on while cooking.

    steph on April 15th, 2010 at 11:36 am
  11. This sounds tasty. Whats the best way to fill them with something?

    If you’re shaping them by hand, make the rice into a bowl shape and just pop the filling in the middle and squeeze the rice into a ball make sure the rice surrounds the filling. After it’s in a ball shape you can gently re-shape it into a triangle if you like.

    steph on May 3rd, 2010 at 11:38 am
  12. I loved the way you explained everything so simply and guided me through the process with beautiful photos. I’m bookmarking this.

    Hope you get a chance to try them soon!

    steph on May 27th, 2010 at 7:25 pm
  13. I can’t wait until my rice is cooked so I can try this wonderful recipe!

    Hope you liked the onigiri!

    steph on June 23rd, 2010 at 12:05 pm
  14. i love yaki onigiri! next time i will try the cube version. btw, your pictures are really nice!

  15. This look very tempting! It’s only 7 in the morning over here but I just have to root through my kitchen cabinet for some sushi rice and try this!

  16. Hi Steph, I just came across your blog searching for an onigiri tutorial. I’m attempting to make these for my food allergic daughter and I’m not sure she will go for the Soy Sauce. Are there alternatives to the soy sauce?

    If it’s a wheat issue, you use wheat-free tamari as alternative to soy sauce.

    Steph, she actually allergic to peanuts, tree nuts & shellfish. She has never liked anything with soy sauce which is why I was wondering if there was an alternative sauce that could be used. Thanks!

    You could just grill them without soy sauce. It will be a little plain tasting, but just season the rice with some salt before you make the onigiri.

    steph on August 27th, 2010 at 10:35 am
    Heldy on August 24th, 2010 at 5:19 pm
    steph on August 24th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    You can also use Umeboshi Plum paste which has a salty sour taste.

    Ivy on August 14th, 2012 at 6:34 pm
  17. I had never heard of these, but saw them in Trader Joe’s so I grabbed a package. They are SO delish, but theirs have bonito extract in them, and we are vegetarian (oops!). I’m so happy I found your recipe, I’m going to try to make these myself soon.

  18. Bonito extract is made from FISH.

  19. making this for breakfast now!..he…

  20. i’m going to make this for my class at school!

  21. Where did you get your square cookie cutter? Is it a one inch cube? I prefer the metal molds over the plastic ones. Thanks!

  22. What are your favorite stuffings for onigiri? I’ve had them but never made them…

  23. This recipe has made my day :D I didn’t have they shape press things so I had to just make little balls, but it was SO tasty all the same :D Thankyou!!! ^^

  24. Tuna is a great filling – I used to buy (tuna-filled) onigiri at the local quik-mart when I lived in Japan. Just plain tuna, although I guess you could use prepared tuna salad with mayo, etc., if you kept them refrigerated. Delicious!

  25. Tell us where you bought your cube at!

  26. For alternative to soy, try Bragg’s Amino acids. Salty tasting and great for you.

    Braggs liquid aminos are made from soy, so not much of an alternative.

    Try Coconut amino

    mj on December 29th, 2012 at 3:19 pm
    Ivy on August 14th, 2012 at 6:35 pm
    Ariellecurtin on April 2, 2012 at 5:45 am
  27. we made this in our Summer Class in our Waldorf inspired playhouse and the kids loved them. We reshaped them and made round ones. Kids loved making and eating it!

    Winnie Centenp on April 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm
  28. I think the concept of grilled onigiri is good, but do you get some hard crunchy bits of rice that are hard to eat? It always seems to be a hard balance of grilling and not scorching.

    emi reiner on May 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm
  29. I have what might be kind of a silly question, but since “sushi” means vinegared rice, when you cook the sushi rice do you make it with the vinegar and seasonings as it would be made for sushi, or is it just the rice? I’d like to try my hand at making these, but I’m a little hung-up on that part, lol.

    i was wondering the same thing. i could see it being really good with vinegared rice.

    shelly on August 14th, 2012 at 12:55 pm
    Stephanie on May 6, 2012 at 8:56 pm
  30. such great and simple idea… these are going into my lunch bento for sure

  31. These are one of my family’s favorites-we have to make them nearly every time we grill out. When we went to Kyoto a couple of years ago, we had some grilled rice like this but with a sweet, miso-based sauce. Terrific! I think I will try to make your sauce recipe for eggplant and brush that on just before removing from the grill.

  32. Your idea is pretty brilliant. Kind of trying this out this weekend for Father’s day. Thanks for sharing.

  33. Looks tasty. But I did not find the recipe for the chicken wing sauce on the link above. Thanks.

  34. these remind me of Arancini, a Sicilian snack that uses risotto rice instead of sushi rice. the only difference is those are always big balls- i really like the idea of the smaller cubes

  35. For steaming hot rice. you can always use gloves, not winter gloves but gloves for cooking.

  36. We’re having a o-tsukimi party this weekend and your yaki onigiri will be part of our menu!

  37. hi, just a tip: in japanese culture it is considered to be bad luck to eat round musubi’s, customarily they should only be eaten at funerals.

  38. At my local sushi bar, they make crispy rice but its thin and broken up into pieces. I was
    Looking for this and found your site. I love this recipe. I often make rice balls wrapped in nori and stuffed with umeboshi. Or alternatively, rolled in gamashio. Yummo

  39. Wow! They look amazing. Your blog looks amazing as well. Thank you!

  40. I was told by Japanese folks in Hawaii that the triangle shape is the traditional form of musubi or onigiri. The round shape is served at funerals. When it is formed by pressing into a mold, it is oshizushi. I suppose this recipe is yaki-oshizushi. Spam musbi is one of may favorite ways to remember the food of Hawaii, but tonight I will try yaki-oshizushi with ume and furikake filling. Ono-lushious!

    Carolina Local Boy on March 3, 2014 at 4:05 pm
  41. thanks i love you

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