Asian Grilling – Japanese Style

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The Importance of History

The art of Japanese grilling comes from centuries ago when the fishermen of northern Japan went out to sea. The fishermen would take hot coal and bento boxes.

The bento boxes would be packed with rice, fruit and meat(mostly fish). The boxes would keep all of the ingredients separated until it was time to cook.

The Binchotan Charcoal

Binchotan charcoal reaches back to around 12,000 BC. It is one the most popular charcoals developed and in great demand in Asia. When the drippings from the meat drop onto the charcoal and the steam arises from it the resultant smoke envelops the meat and instead of causing a bitter flavor as it does in the United States.

Most manufacturers use a dry distillation process that literally forces all fluids out of the wood. The wood comes from the Kishu province in the Wakayama Prefecture.

What to say about this amazing charcoal, most American grills cannot handle this type of charcoal. The binchotan is made from the umabe white oak. The wood is processed using a dry distillation process that literally forces all fluids out of the wood.

The remaining charcoal will reach temperatures well above 1000 C. In Japanese grilling the charcoal is the most important part of the grilling process. The Japanese consumer wants to know where the binchotan is from so that they will know what the quality of the charcoal is.

Binchotan is used in virtually every style of Japanese grilling. There are a couple of features that are outstanding. One is that even though it burns so hot, with proper attention you can get some of the most flavorful food.

The other thing is after you have finished using the binchotan you can put it in cold water and let it dry out for one to two days and reuse the unburned portion.

Yakitori Grilling

Yakitori literally means grilled meat.
In Japanese society, western style barbeque was influenced by writer Kanagaki Robun in 1872.

The emperor Meiji became a part of a campaign to re-introduce beef into the Japanese diet and was seen eating beef publicly. This happened after the prohibition on eating beef was lifted.

It is one of the more refined styles of grilling. It allows a group of people to come together while elevating the flavor of the food by using simple preparation to form a more intimate setting for the participants.

This style of grilling calls for simplicity. Here are some of the finer points for Yakitori Grilling:

  1. healthy
  2. simple to prepare
  3. not fast food but is fast
  4. can grill bite-sized pieces of fish
  5. goes with a variety of sauces
  6. needs good charcoal.

Teppanyaki Style Grilling/Cooking

Teppanyaki Style grilling is a more modern form of cooking. It became popular after World War II. It commonly uses an iron plate and is also called a flattop. This style of cooking became famous by the restaurant chain Benihama.

The teppanyaki style cooking chefs undergo years of vigorous training for the use of knives, fork and spatula. They also learn the art form associated with each of these as well as which foods need to be pared together.

While they do their cooking on the flattop, they use a minimal amount of seasonings during the cooking process. They prepare numerous sauces that are designed to go with that particular meal.

The menu varies from restaurant to restaurant but is basically the same in order of presentation. You start with an appetizer course followed by soup/salad followed by seafood course followed by meat(typically beef) followed by dessert.

Teppanyaki is the Japanese version of an American Steak House. They feature their domestic beef such as the way beef, Matsutaka, Omi, and Kobe beef all of these have magnificent marbling, low fat, and exquisite flavor.

Robata-style Grilling

Robata-style grilling is said the have its origins from the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Most of the older homes in Japan have a pit that has been dug in the center of the living space. The pit would have in it binchotan charcoal and suspended over the pit would be a chain where you hooked your tea kettle to heat. Now the chain also would play host to a variety of other pots that were used in the preparation of the meal.

After you have learned how to cook with binchotan, you know that the only flame you will ever see on the binchotan will be from the grease that cooked out of the meat.

This will only be there for a second as the cloud of smoke envelops the meat and gives it that woody flavor associated with binchotan.

The only way to adjust the temperature while using binchotan is to adjust the distance from the heat. This is totally different than using a stove where you can set the temperature and leave it. There is a saying in Japan “Never leave the binchotan”.

Hibachi Grilling

Hibachi is the Western name for shichirin or konro which translated means fire bowl. The hibachi was originally used for indoor heating and warming water. It was originally carved from cypress and inlaid with clay. It transformed from that to ornamental ceramic or porcelain.

It has since undergone another change to being made out of steel and cast iron which is prevalent today.

Shichirin or konro are the preferred Japanese terms to this type of cooking and cooking utensil. The best are made from diatomaceous earth. They were best known for how well they retained heat and how evenly it was distributed throughout the vessel.

Most of these vessels whether they are called hibachi or shichirin have a long metal rod running the length of the firebox instead of grates.

The unused ends of the skewers are allowed to rest on the sides of the box over the charcoal to allow the food to cook evenly until it is time to be consumed.

Hibachis are regaining their popularity from the 1980s mainly because most households have 2 to 4 people living there. Also, space is becoming smaller in the apartments and duplexes that are being built today.

9 thoughts on “Asian Grilling – Japanese Style”

  1. Left to me I rather grill in a compactment I have in my oven, which has been stressful and sometimes gets burnt. The grilling machine is good, at least it could help for all the outdoor even and save the stress. the question is hope it does not have any malfunction that will give it a short life span?

    • Grilling can be stressful at times. Sorry to hear that you are having problems with you machine. I would be glad to help you find a solution for it if you would like. PM me @JerryMcCoy and I will search for a solution for you. Thanks for the comments.


  2. Wow, I really had no idea there were so many types of Japanese grilling and to be perfectly honest, I had no idea they used a special kind of charcoal with such an old tradition associated with its use! It sounds like all the coal comes from the same tree (and of course where it comes from determines the quality of the coal like you said), but can binchotan coals be made from other trees? Or just from the umabe white oak. I also didn’t know about beef being reintroduced into Japan from American grilling influence. Very great and to the point article. Thanks for sharing.

    • I did not even begin to cover all of the different types of grilling there are in Japan. The charcoal they use is so good that it can be reused several times. The charcoal in Japan is much sought after. If you were to get the same charcoal here in the United States you would pay $150 or more for it for a 20 pound bag. There are  over 50 types of grilling in Japan. I will be posting some recipes from around the world shortly. Thanks for reading.


  3. Absolutely loved this read. I am not into grilling so never knew there were different types. Binchotan charcoal I see gives more flavor and reusable. Yakitori grilling is very healthy. This I could get to like. Hibachi is well known in the states, I learned a bit about that too. Great info. Thx

    • Even though you are not into grilling, you have probably had grilled food of some sort in the past. I was amazed at the different types of grilling there were in Japan. The binchotan charcoal is probably the finest in the world and you don’t have to burn it done completely like other versions. It gives the food  a remarkable flavor that can not be duplicated any other way. I will be posting some recipes soon that can be converted to stovetop or oven. Thanks for the read and comments. Have a wonderful week.


    • If I have not replied to your comments before now I do apologize. I try to answer everyone in a timely fashion. I am glad that you found my article interesting. If you have any comments on how I could make my articles more interesting then I would certainly appreciate your input.
      Thanks again for reading.
      Jerry McCoy

  4. This article was interesting and well informed on the different types of Japanese styled grilling there is.
    Yakitori grilling sounded interesting and when I read more about it, in which Beef was introduced in Japan.
    I don’t know much about the different types of grilling styles and it was great to know more about binchotan charcoal, which gives the meat its flavor.

    • Thanks for the read and comments. I was surprised when I was doing my research to find that the binchotan charcoal was one of the most important aspects on grilling in Japan. People will ask where the charcoal comes for more than anything they grill. They are so many types of grilling that I could not list them all at this time and will do an update at a later time to more fully explore the others. Again, thanks for the comment and check back to see if I have added any new information that will be useful to you.



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