Japanese barbecue is best explained in contrasts to the classic American affair. You’ll find no whole hogs or pitmasters. There are no monster sized grills and no advance commitment for long, slow smokes or simmering sauces. While diminutive as compared to the more carnivorous American standards, Japanese barbecue is a highly nimble, interactive and omnivorous experience.
Most Japanese households are not equipped with American sized backyards and built-in barbecues. Instead, portable, often collapsible, charcoal grills accompany camping trips or excursions to parks, beaches or mountains. In place of a pitmaster, guests gather around the grill, searing their own bites as they drink and chat.
In lieu of massive cuts of brisket or ribs, Japanese barbecues highlight an array of fresh, seasonal ingredients seasoned most prominently by the char and smoke of charcoal. Clams, scallops, prawns and whole fish are grilled with simple dashes of saké or soy sauce. Bite-sized morsels of chicken, beef or pork often require no marination and sear in a flash. Fresh vegetables are usually as copious as proteins, and no outdoor meal would be complete without onigiri, the quintessentially Japanese rice balls.
Beer is a universal accompaniment to barbecue, and there are plenty of Japanese craft brews to try. But a Japanese barbecue is also a fantastic platform to pair with saké, shochu and uniquely Japanese variations of the highball— no-fuss cocktails made from whisky or shochu mixed with soft drinks, juices and iced teas.
Here are four Japanese barbecue recipes and drink pairings to try this summer!
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!