Teriyaki sauce is arguably the best known Japanese condiment in the United States. It is versatile in that you can use it as a stir-fry sauce for vegetables or meat and its flavors are savory yet mild enough that it is usually popular with picky eaters. If you don’t have any in your kitchen, here are some useful teriyaki sauce substitutes:
Your best bet: Make your own teriyaki sauce
Because it has just a few ingredients that you either already have or that are fairly easy to find, teriyaki sauce is one of the easier Japanese condiments to whip up at home.
The essential ingredients are soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. The mirin can be substituted with white cooking wine or Shaoxing rice wine. In both cases, the difference in taste will be barely noticeable if you are making a traditional version and almost impossible to detect with the Hawaiian version, which often includes pineapple juice. The pineapple juice tends to dominate the flavor profile.
If you want to use teriyaki sauce for dipping, you will need a thicker consistency. Cornstarch is the most commonly used teriyaki sauce thickener.
A decent second choice: Ponzu sauce
Another classic Japanese condiment, ponzu sauce has a similar set of ingredients to teriyaki sauce and a flavor profile that can work in many of the same dishes. Ponzu sauce consists of juice from any of various Japanese citrus fruits including yuzu, kabosu, or lemon.
In some cases, a blend of multiple citrus juices is used. A mixture of soy sauce and mirin or sugar along with dashi (umami stock) or katsuobushi (tuna) flakes is added to the citrus. The sauce gets a significant amount of umami flavor from the soy sauce and dashi or katsuobushi flakes. Its sweetness comes from the mirin or sugar and the ponzu provides a tart fruitiness that balances the sweetness and helps to cut through the fattiness of certain types of meat or fish.
In a pinch: Bulgogi sauce
Bulgogi is Korean barbecue, which has a lot in common with teriyaki. The traditional forms of both cooking styles involve an open flame and a sauce that plays a major role in the flavor profile. The “bul” part of the name means fire and “gogi” means meat so the word’s literal meaning is “fire meat” in much the same way that teriyaki translates to shiny (teri) grill (yaki). Bulgogi sauce may be used as both a marinade and a finishing sauce.
The bulgogi sauce flavor profile is similar to that of teriyaki sauce in that it typically contains soy sauce and sugar. Other standard ingredients include garlic, which also shows up in some teriyaki sauce variants. Some versions will use other sweeteners in place of sugar. Common sweeteners include Asian pears and honey; in some cases, a bulgogi sauce will contain multiple sweeteners.
The major difference between bulgogi and teriyaki sauces includes the fact that traditional bulgogi sauce contains no alcohol, unlike teriyaki sauce which can contain both mirin and sake.
Hoisin sauce is a bit thicker than even the thickest teriyaki sauce variants, but it will work in many of the same roles. Its list of ingredients includes soybeans, sugar, and garlic along with chili peppers. Its flavor profile is largely sweet with an intense umami note just like teriyaki sauce.
While you can use it as a marinade or basting sauce, the traditional way to use hoisin sauce is as a dipping sauce.