From sushi to ramen, tempura to gyoza, Japanese restaurant dishes can be difficult to duplicate at home. However, there is one fun meal that can be made in your own kitchen: yakiniku! It’s easy, oishii, and is a great party meal where your guests can enjoy cooking their own food at the table. All you need is the right tools and ingredients and you’re ready for a night of food and fun.
1 – Electric Griddle
These can be found at any hardware or home store, I bought mine at Home’s in the kitchen appliances aisle, near the rice cookers. It costs about ¥10,000 for a good one, and usually comes with a couple different removable plates to cook a variety of foods on.
And if your kanji isn’t perfect, don’t be intimidated by using this appliance. Most have a simple dial, with temperatures in Celsius, and a “切” symbol representing the “cut,” or “off” setting. And the great thing about the Japanese griddles is that they get almost twice as hot as a typical western-style one. Here is a conversion list for the temperatures for Celsius to Fahrenheit:
160 C = 320 F
200 C = 392 F
250 C = 482 F
2 – Utensils
Chopsticks are a must for eating, of course, but for cooking yakiniku it’s best to use a set of metal tongs. You can find these at anywhere from the ¥100 to a higher-end department store. They mostly serve a purpose of flipping the meat and vegetables with ease, as well as not charring like wooden chopsticks could do.
If you’re concerned about cross-contaminating the meant and vegetable tongs, it’s a good idea to have a couple different pairs for yourself and your guests who will be joining you.
3 – The Ingredients
This is the fun part. When cooking yakiniku, you are free to make it your own, and let your guests do the same.
First, decide on your meats. Since most Japanese beef and pork are sliced thinly, it’s easy to find in the meats section of the supermarket. You want to find a cut with plenty of white (fat), as the purpose of grilling yakiniku style is to cook quickly at a high heat, which renders the fat from the meat instantly. If your meat is too lean, it will be left tougher and a little dry. Japanese style chicken cuts are great for grilling as well, as they have plenty of fat left on them.
Next, pick out your sauce. Most supermarkets sell Gyuu-Kaku (牛角) brand sauces, in flavors ranging from original to spicy. Off-brands are a great option as well, and they’re all found in the sauce section of your local grocery store near the other meat sauces.
Japanese-style grilling is unique in that typically the meat is marinated little or none before cooking. Then, after the meat is grilled at a high heat, it is dipped in a special sauce for added flavor. This makes for a meal with minimal prep and effort, and more time spent eating.
Lemon juice is also commonly paired with the yakiniku sauce, and compliments it well. Both liquids go best in a small sauce-plate with separators for dipping.
Finally, don’t forget your veggies! As with the meat, this is up to your personal preference. Common vegetables chosen to grill are mushrooms, onions (green and white), carrots, and cabbage. These also go well with the same sauces, so no need to buy others unless you’re feeling adventurous.
4 – Get cooking!
Half of the fun of making yakiniku at home is the cooking! Whether it’s just you or a house party, it’s fun that anyone can enjoy (even those whose cooking experience is just boiling water).
First, prep your ingredients. Make sure everything is cut to your liking before cooking, as it will cook fast and need your attention. This includes pouring sauces in plates if you have them.
Next, preheat your griddle. Most heat very quickly, so give it just a couple minutes and enjoy a drink while you wait. Ideally 200 C or higher is a good temperature for grilling, but just adjust to your grill’s temperature and taste. Remember, yakiniku is best at a high heat, cooked only a few minutes on each side, but you don’t want to burn it all at once.
Then, simply place the meat on the griddle! It’s good sanitary practice to place the meat and veggies on opposite ends, but the high heat is said to kill bacteria regardless. You can tell it’s time to flip the meat when the blood begans cooking out (gross, I know, but it will turn out delicious). Some prefer their meat a little less done, I prefer mine blackened a bit. As for the veggies, cook until soft or to your liking. Remember, there are no rules, make it your own!
Finally, use your chopsticks to dip in some of those delicious sauces you prepared, and enjoy! Your friends will love this Japanese dish; but be careful, you might just be the new favorite house to visit for dinner.