Like every red-blooded patriotic American, I covet three things in life: barbeque, backyards and root beer (I don’t drink).
Unless you move out to the inaka (countryside), owning a large private garden for cookouts and the occasional Slip ‘N Slide party in Japan isn’t happening. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on authentic American-style barbecue, though. There are more than a few great BBQ restaurants around Japan.
Is it real American BBQ, though?
I’m talking about real American BBQ. It feels like every time someone invites me to a “BBQ” in this country, I’m actually going to a grill out (i.e., yakiniku outdoors). Don’t hand me a shishkabob and call it BBQ, Kenji!
Call it semantics, but American BBQ has a distinct smoky taste. All good chefs have a particular method of cooking their meat, and you can’t forget the sauce. While not a necessity, it’s hard for me to imagine a BBQ place without having its own special homemade BBQ sauce.
Probably my favorite on this list, visiting Midtown BBQ feels like I’m back home with delicious teeth-killing sweet tea, friendly hospitality, and enormous plates of food. The owner actually grew up in Canada, but they tell me their familial roots lie in the South.
Midtown BBQ started as a small steak and smokehouse in Nagoya but has built a loyal following of BBQ lovers in Japan. Everything from their rubs to homemade BBQ is locally sourced. They don’t adhere to any particular regional recipe but use various influences.
If you can’t make the trip out to Nagoya, Midtown BBQ has another location in Yokohama.
Chop Hits BBQ
Chop Hits is Osaka’s own little piece of Texas. The story is that the owner visited the South and was instantly smitten with BBQ and southern hospitality. When they came back to Japan, they noticed there were too few places to get their fix. After a few more visits to Austin, Texas to become a pitmaster, they opened their own restaurant in Shinmachi, Osaka.
The menu is short and sweet—beef brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, and smoked chicken. Their BBQ is Texas-style, which means it cooked “low and slow.” It gives the meat a tender, juicy, deep smokey flavor. Order up some ribs, coleslaw, cornbread, and a cold glass of lemonade, and call it a day because I’m done.
Baird Taproom Bashamichi
Established by Americans living in Japan that yearned for southern meals on the regular, Bashamichi Taproom was the country’s first American-style smoked BBQ joint. This one is another low and slow Texas-style joint, which is also where their pitmasters learned their craft.
Bashamichi Taproom is also part of a broader concept—craft brewing. The Baird Brewing Company has been in business for more than twenty years and opened the Bashamichi Taproom in part to pair their beer and BBQ together.
Soul Food House
During my first couple of years in Japan, adjusting to food was rough. I missed southern cuisine. Over time, I learned to cook a lot of southern comforts, but it would never be the same as a home-style country kitchen. That all changed when I watched Ugly Delicious on Netflix, which featured Soul Food House, Tokyo’s own southern-style restaurant.
Soul Food House has everything a southern heart could want—cornbread, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish, chicken and waffles, and, of course, BBQ. They don’t have the most extensive BBQ menu( mostly sliders and ribs) but it’s more than enough to get your fix.
Smokehouse opened in Tokyo around 2011 when microbrews were growing in popularity. At the time, the owners had the only microbrewery in Tokyo and realized the capital was missing the perfect pairing for microbrews and craft liquors—BBQ. Thus, Tokyo’s first and arguably best American-style BBQ restaurant was born.
The menu includes everything you would expect for great BBQ: Angus sausage, pulled pork, Kansas-city style ribs, and sides such as cornbread and smoked pickles. Smokehouse is particularly recommended if you’re a fan of craft beers and American spirits. They even offer a beer pairing chart.
If you miss wearing cowboy hats and listen to music about your ex-wife who took your truck and dog, Little Texas is for you. If I’m honest, the menu itself is nothing to write home about. It’s a hodgepodge of simple BBQ, Tex-Mex, and food I can only shrug for such as meatball spaghetti and “cowboy pizza” (whatever that even means).
Nevertheless, Little Texas is one of just a few country dance halls in Japan. Everyone is dressed up like a cowboy from their head to their snakeskin boots. They even have weekly live country music and bluegrass shows. Chow down on steak, tip your 10-gallon hat, spin your belt buckle and dance your achy breaky heart away.