Hibachi - the Ultimate Japanese BBQ
cooking on the hibachi

Australians believe they are the masters of the Barbeque and that incinerating a piece of rump and rolling around a few sausages is still haute cuisine.

The Americans, God-Bless-Their-Little-Souls, think the've got it covered with two kilograms of hamburger and a rack of dinosaur ribs per person, and plenty of Ketchup please.

The Afrikaners make an interesting coriander based rub and braai their meat over an open grid-covered fire which is an interesting and flavoursome touch.

But it's those sneaky Japanese and Koreans who really understand barbecue and quietly whittle away over tiny hibachi and konro serving up delectable Yakitori. They've been doing it for thousands of years and they leave the rest of the world for dead.

Hibachi and konro are square or round charcoal fired barbecues, small enough to sit on a table, where interesting morsels are served on skewers. In Japan it's common for the chef to cook only one skewer per person at a time, alternating between meats and vegetables and cooking for individual patrons in round robin style.

It's fast, it's fun and it tastes sensational. 'Tare' sauce is basted over meats prior and during cooking and drizzled onto a plate before the chef leans over and places the next skewer in front of you. You tend not to eat as much as normal but leave, usually with plenty of sake and beer under your belt, feeling very satisfied.

Skewers should be soaked in water (1 hour) and drained to avoid burning. The standard skewers purchased in Australia are about double the length of those used in Japan and can be cut in half. Yakitori usually refers to chicken skewers but anything goes. The Japanese usually only place a couple of bites on each skewer and use a variety of meats and vegetables including mushrooms, sweet potato, bacon-wrapped baby asparagus, eggplant and onions. Meats are usually quite fatty delivering up that charred, smoky taste common of flame grilling. We've used pork belly here, any Japanese heart surgeon would be proud of us.

A traditional hibachi is lined with clay or diatomaceous earth and holds a lot of heat. Bintochan is the white charcoal used by good yakitori bars but black charcoal or heat beads will suffice. Avoid synthetic fire starters that can taint the food with a chemical flavour.

Any open grid placed over a wood fire can replace a hibachi. It's great camp food.

Japanese Style Basting and Serving Sauce

1 inch square piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped

2 whole garlic cloves, roughly chopped

2 spring onions, roughly chopped

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon brown sugar

¼ cup mirin (Japanese rice wine)

¼ cup light soy sauce

½ cup chicken stock


Place all the sauce ingredients in a small pan and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce on a moderate simmer until sauce is about half the original amount. Strain and cool.

Thread meat and vegetables onto the soaked skewers and brush with the sauce. Refrigerate for 4 hours. The longer the better.

Heat the charcoal in the hibachi. The secret is to get the fire hot enough to sear the food and cook out the fat from the meat. The sugar in the sauce and meat fat will tend to create some natural charring. You don't want the fire so hot that everything burns quickly and must be removed from the heat too early. Use enough charcoal to create radiant heat lower than you would barbecue a steak over.

Baste the food with the sauce during the cooking process.

Try to cook a single skewer for each diner and place a teaspoon of the cooking sauce on the plate. Lay the cooked skewer onto the sauce and begin cooking the next round of yakitori. Alternate between meats and different vegetables for contrast.

Another great food that can be cooked on the Hibachi are the chicken pieces in Moroccan Chicken with Toasted Couscous

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