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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogYakiniku Mastery: Dive into the Art of Japanese Grilled Meat

Yakiniku Mastery: Dive into the Art of Japanese Grilled Meat

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
July 21, 2023
A grill with beef tongue yakiniku on top.

Get ready to embark on a mouthwatering journey through the world of yakiniku! Explore the fascinating history, delicious meats, and some unusual offerings! Join us as we uncover the secrets of this famous Japanese cuisine and find out why it has become a sensation worldwide!

What is yakiniku?

Yakiniku is a popular Japanese cooking style where bite-sized pieces of meat, usually beef, are grilled over an open flame or on a tabletop. The term “yakiniku” translates to “grilled meat” in Japanese, referring to both the cooking method and the social experience accompanying it.

At the heart of yakiniku is the idea of interactive dining. Diners gather around a grill embedded in the table, cooking various cuts of meat to their preferred doneness. This interactive cooking style quickly became a hit as it allowed people to engage with their food and customize the grilling process to their liking.

Yakiniku on a steel grill with vegetables.
It’s affordable and everyone can enjoy eating it. Image via Shutterstock

While traditional charcoal grills were the norm, modern yakiniku establishments have introduced gas and electric grills for convenience and to create different dining environments. This flexibility has made yakiniku accessible to a broader audience and has contributed to its growing popularity.

Where does yakiniku come from?

In the early 20th century, Korean immigrants brought their culinary traditions, including barbecue, to Japan. The concept of grilling meat at the table was a new and exciting experience for the Japanese. However, it wasn’t until after World War II that yakiniku took off.

During the post-war period, Japan was rebuilding its society. Yakiniku became a popular dining option for many Japanese citizens, offering an affordable and enjoyable way to eat delicious grilled meat. Specialty restaurants started to appear across the country, especially in urban areas.

Japanese beef barbecue with vegetables.
Yakiniku is a type of barbecue. Image via Shutterstock

Today, yakiniku has evolved past its roots and become a global hit! Yakiniku restaurants are popular worldwide, offering sizzling meats and tempting aromas. The interactive dining experience captivates food enthusiasts. The flavors and techniques of yakiniku fascinate people from different backgrounds, showcasing culinary fusion and cultural exchange.

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Want kind of meat can I have?

Generally, yakiniku is all about the meat; choosing the right cuts is essential for a delicious and satisfying dining experience. To emphasize, each meat selection brings unique flavors to the grill, from marbling to texture.

Beef

Beef is the star of the show in yakiniku, and several cuts are popular among meat enthusiasts. Popular beef cuts include ribeye, sirloin, and skirt steak, each offering its distinct flavor. Overall, each slice is individually cut for optimal cooking, with cuts ranging in thickness.

Beef yakiniku on a grill.
Most beef is rich and delicious! Image via Shutterstock

Some restaurants may also offer marinated beef, further enhancing the flavor of the meat. If one wants to be adventurous, one could even try beef tongue and enjoy the fatty and soft texture of the meat!

Pork

Pork is another staple in yakiniku. Most pork offerings are very fatty, offering an overload of flavor for everyone. The thinly sliced pork belly, butabara, is a favorite among many diners.

Pork strips on a grill.
Pork is juicy and easy to cook. Image via Shutterstock

Its rich and juicy nature pairs well with the seasonings and sauces in yakiniku. Additionally, other pork cuts like loin and shoulder are common choices, offering a balance of tenderness and flavor.

Chicken

Chicken adds variety to the yakiniku experience. People often prefer thigh meat for its juicy and tender texture over other parts when it comes to chicken. However, restaurants typically offer chicken options such as bonjiri, seseri, or cartilage. It commonly comes in smaller pieces, which makes it easier to grill. The mild flavor of chicken allows it to absorb the flavors of marinades and sauces, creating a delightful combination of tastes.

Chicken yakitori on a grill.
They eat every part of the chicken here! Image via Shutterstock

Yakiniku is often accompanied by an assortment of dipping sauces and condiments, enhancing the flavors of the grilled meat. Famous sauces include savory soy-based options like yakiniku sauce, ponzu sauce (a citrus-based sauce), and gochujang (a Korean chili paste). These sauces add depth and complexity to the meat, providing flavor with each dip. Other condiments such as sesame oil, garlic, and chili flakes can be added to customize the taste according to personal preferences.

Yakiniku is also served with various side dishes and accompaniments, complementing the grilled meat. Standard sides include rice, kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage), namul (seasoned vegetables), and miso soup. These side dishes balance flavors and textures, offering a complete and satisfying meal.

Chicken yakitori on a skewer with a lemon slice.
Chicken also makes for some good grilling! Image via Shutterstock

After enjoying a delicious yakiniku meal, it’s common for diners to spray themselves with a refreshing mist. This practice has become popular in yakiniku restaurants to cool down and cleanse skin after the grill’s heat and aroma exposure. All in all, the mist can be refreshing, especially during the hot summer months.

What is horumon?

Horumon, also known as horumonyaki, is a unique and popular style of grilled meat in Japan that focuses on the offal or organ meats of animals. The term specifically horumon comes from the word “hormone” in English, but it has a different meaning in Japanese cuisine.

Offal yakiniku on a gril.
Horumon is also an acquired taste. Image via Shutterstock

In yakiniku restaurants, horumon is often featured as a specialty item on the menu alongside the more common cuts of meat. While it may sound unusual, horumon has gained a dedicated following due to its distinct flavors and textures.

The types of offal used in horumon can vary, but some popular choices include beef liver, tongue, heart, intestines (such as tripe), and stomach lining. Each type of offal has its unique taste and texture, ranging from rich and creamy to chewy and tender.

Horumon is typically marinated in a special sauce before grilling to enhance its flavor. The sauce can vary by region or restaurant, but it often contains a combination of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and various spices. The marinade helps to tenderize the offal and infuse it with savory and umami flavors.

Offal, or horumon on a grill.
“Horumon” stands for “hormone,” which means offal. Image via Shutterstock

What can we say about yakiniku?

Yakiniku is an exciting and mouthwatering adventure that brings people together through the joy of grilling and enjoying delicious meats. Whether you’re a fan of juicy beef cuts, flavorful pork slices, or even adventurous enough to try horumon, yakiniku offers something for everyone.

So, prepare to fire up the grill, gather your loved ones, and embark on a journey of sizzling meats, delightful aromas, and unforgettable moments. Let the magic of yakiniku ignite your taste buds and bring joy to your dining experience! Have you ever had yakiniku before? What cuts of meat did you like? Let us know in the comments below!

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