What is Japanese BBQ? Learn the Basics to Get Started
The word "yakiniku" is a Japanese word meaning "grilled meat." It's a type of barbecue that is popular in Japan, with yakiniku restaurants found in just about every town and city across the country. Yakiniku is influenced by Korean BBQ, where it originated from and was first imported to Japan by Korean immigrants. Since then, it has evolved to suit Japanese tastebuds, but you can still find Korean side dishes often served in yakiniku restaurants.
Eating yakiniku is an enjoyable and social experience where families and friends sit around the grill together and cook the meat themselves. Read on to find out more details about the items you’ll need to create an authentic Japanese BBQ experience at home. Below is a checklist of items you’ll need followed by further details and tips:
- An indoor, portable grill – choose from electric, amiyaki (grill on net) or teppanyaki (grill on iron plate)
- Cooking tools and utensils – invest in high-quality BBQ tongs that can be used over and over and some Japanese tableware
- A variety of meat and vegetables– beef is the most popular meat to serve at yakiniku although you can also cook pork and chicken alongside vegetables
- Sauces and marinades – recommended dipping sauces include tare-based sauces, salt-based sauces, and miso-based sauces
- Side dishes – pair your yakiniku with side dishes like steamed rice, salads, and kimchi
- Top tips for cooking yakiniku like a pro – cook lean and unseasoned meat before fatty or marinated meats
- Alcohol and drinks – enjoy Japanese beer or other alcoholic drinks like highballs, chuhais, and umeshu.
Equipment you need for Japanese BBQ
To make yakiniku at home you’ll need a portable grill that can ideally be used indoors, such as an indoor electric grill. In Japan, yakiniku is usually cooked on one of two kinds of grills over charcoal –amiyaki orteppanyaki. Amiyaki is a grill over a wire net, whilst teppanyaki is grilled over an iron plate.
If you’re using charcoal to cook your yakiniku, then we recommend cooking your yakiniku outside and purchasingbinchotan charcoalif possible, which is a type of charcoal traditionally used in Japanese cooking. It burns longer than ordinary charcoal, has minimal smoke, and does not taint the taste of the food it’s cooking.
Cooking utensils and tableware you need for Japanese BBQ
When cooking yakiniku, you’ll need a good set of tongs for grilling the meat that makes it easy to turn the food without getting your hand too close to the heat. We recommend investing in a high-quality set like these Todai Stainless Steel Yakiniku BBQ Clever Tongs which are designed for cooking yakiniku, are extra durable, and can be left on the table without the tip touching it, making them more hygienic too.
If you buy Japanese beef, it will come pre-prepared in thin strips or slices that are easy to grill so you won’t need to cut up the meat into smaller pieces prior to cooking. However, if you are not able to buy Japanese beef then you will also need a good pair of kitchen scissors or carving knife to cut the meat into individual sized portions prior to cooking.
For serving you’ll also need some small side plates for each person to place the cooked meat onto and for any other side dishes, individual sauce dishes for each person to dip the meat into, rice bowls if you are serving rice alongside the meat, chopsticks, and chopstick rests.
Meat and vegetables you need for Japanese BBQ
Although any kind of meat can be cooked at yakiniku such as chicken or pork, beef is usually the most popular choice. As wagyu (Japanese beef) is usually quite expensive to buy in supermarkets, yakiniku is a good opportunity to eat a lot of meat at a reasonable price with many yakiniku restaurants offering ‘all you can eat’ menus. Here are five of the most popular beef cuts used in yakiniku BBQ:
Short Ribs – known askarubiin Japanese, boneless short ribs are one of the most popular yakiniku cuts. These marbled cuts are full of flavor and are very tender. These slices of marbled beef cook very quickly and taste best cooked to medium rare or medium.
Beef Tongue – known astan in Japanese, beef tongue is a popular delicacy and is served at yakiniku restaurants in very thin slices that tastes best cooked rare and served with a salt-based sauce. Tongue should be cooked first at yakiniku so that its unique flavor is not affected by the fats from the other meat cuts.
Roast and Rib Roast– these are lean cuts from the shoulder, whilst rib roast refers to the meat at the back of the ribs, closer to the sirloin cuts and which has a little more marbling. It is one of the top cuts of beef alongside sirloin. These cuts are usually served in thicker slices, so they take a bit longer to cook.
Skirt Steak –known as harami in Japanese, this cut of beef comes from the diaphragm area, has a strong umami flavor, and is often marinated in miso or soy sauce. As harami is leaner than other cuts, it will need cooking a little longer to bring out its full flavor.
Sirloin –one of the most expensive cuts, good quality sirloin is tender, juicy, and full of flavor, which is why it’s also one of the most popular cuts for steaks. Marbled wagyu sirloin is particularly delicious when cooked in yakiniku as the fat gives the beef extra umami flavor.
Other meats and vegetables you can use for Japanese BBQ besides beef
In addition to beef, other popular meats you can find at yakiniku include pork belly, chicken breast and chicken thighs, shrimp, and sausages. For vegetables, there is usually a large selection to choose from including cabbage, onion, mushrooms, corn on the cob, and carrots.
Sauces and marinades you need for Japanese BBQ
Yakiniku meat is usually served with a selection of dipping sauces: ataresauce, a salt-based sauce, and a miso-based sauce. Tare sauce has a sweetened thickened soy sauce flavor and includes ingredients such as soy sauce, sake, mirin, and sugar. If you want to make your own yakiniku sauce, you can find a great recipe online here or alternatively you can buy a readymade sauce from the Japanese Taste website here.
Other seasonings and accompaniments that you can serve with yakiniku include rock salt which helps to bring out the beef’s umami flavor, soy sauce with wasabi, yuzu pepper, mustard, gochujang, and lemon – which pairs especially well with beef tongue.
How to cook yakiniku – 5 top tips for becoming a Japanese BBQ ninja!
Although you can just throw the meat on the grill in any order you like – here are a few pro cooking tips that will help to bring out the best flavors in the meat:
- Eat the meat immediately after serving.
- Try to cook the cuts with lighter flavors first or cuts that have not been seasoned with sauce and save the stronger flavors for later so the meat is not contaminated by the taste of other cuts.
- Try to cook leaner cuts before fatty cuts so the leaner cuts aren’t contaminated by burnt fat on the grill.
- Grill lean meat for a shorter amount of time to avoid toughness
- Cook fattier meats for a little longer than other cuts to bring out the tenderness when the fat melts.
Side dishes to go with Japanese BBQ
In addition to the meat and vegetables that you are grilling, here are some popular side dishes that go well with yakiniku: steamed rice, salad, miso soup, Japanese-style potato salad, edamame, kimchi, and namul.
As cooking yakiniku is often quite a hot experience thanks to the heat from the grill, a dish such as ice-cream or chilled fruits to finish make for a welcome dessert.
Alcohol and drinks to have with Japanese BBQ
A frosted glass of beer is a popular drink to consume with yakiniku along with other Japanese alcoholic beverages like chuhai – a fruit flavored drink mixed with shochu and soda, umeshu (plum wine), and highballs (whisky and soda). For non-alcoholic options you could serve soft drinks like soda or fruit juice, or even some Japanese soft drinks like Calpis – a milky sweet drink, and ramune – a popular citrus-flavored soda drink.
Where to buy Japanese BBQ ingredients and supplies online
You can buy many of the items you need for yakiniku like sauces, seasonings, tongs, and ingredients for side dishes from the Japanese Taste website who will ship authentic Japanese products directly from Japan to your door.