Japan is perhaps best known for its cold plates – lean tuna sashimi, crisp cucumber sushi, and sweet seaweed salads – but the country’s hot dishes are as diverse as they are tasty. Consider bubbling bowls of udon, tempura-battered vegetables, and the simple miso soup, all of which share a common cultural heritage. However, to stand out from the crowd, now’s the perfect time to revisit an often-overlooked culinary tradition: Yakiniku the Japanese BBQ.
The Gridiron is crucial.
The term “Yakiniku” was popularised in the late 19th century by author Kanagaki Robun who used it to describe foods cooked on a barbecue. Nowadays, it tends to describe a specific grilling technique, where bite-sized pieces of beef, pork and other meats are cooked on gridirons over a charcoal flame, then dipped into tare, a versatile sauce made from sake, mirin, soy sauce and various seasonings.
It's all about enjoyment.
It’s a culinary tradition that is also interactive in nature: restaurants across Japan will often plate the raw ingredients and bring them to a table-mounted grill so that diners can cook the meats themselves. Now, Yakiniku is becoming more popular with home grillers too, thanks to accessories like the Weber Griddle.
The secret to the rich, juicy flavours which are key to a great Yakiniku is the paper-thin cuts of meat. They are seldom marinated and usually garnished simply with salt and pepper, but each portion is delicately sliced into translucent sheets. Once placed on the grill, they cook quickly – often in around a minute – which means the succulent moisture remains in every bite rather than on the grill.
"The meat is cut thin, the cooking is lightning-fast."
Don't forget the sauce.
The sauce plays an important role, too. Japanese cuisine is known for its umami-rich palette and Yakiniku is no different. Experiment with drippings of miso paste, roasted sesame seeds or dried bonito flakes for a bold and savory finishing glaze. Be sure to get your griddle to a high heat to rustle up a marbled cut of Kobe beef.
DID YOU KNOW?
THE TECHNIQUE HAS ITS ROOTS IN KOREAN COOKING
While the term Yakiniku is a direct Japanese translation of “grilled meat”, the meal shares its cultural history with Korean Bulgogi, a traditional style of grilling in which thin sheets of meat are also cooked above a coal flame. Yakiniku was actually popularised by Korean chefs in Osaka and Tokyo, and many Japanese barbecue restaurants still serve kimchi as a tangy, spicy side.