The Delightful Goodness of Japanese Yakiniku

All about the Yakiniku

Yakiniku may be one of the most delectable and savory delicacies in all of Japan. It will surely make anyone crave for more. This kind of dish literally means “grilled meat” in Japanese and is available in many restaurants all over the country. Although typical yakiniku dishes have very savory sauces, it is closely comparable to BBQs of the west.

The Japanese diet is well-known to be a good balance of greens, meat, and grains. Also, the rise of Buddhism in ancient Japan has significantly affected the locals’ tastes for meat. Usually, meat served in Japanese homes are that of fish and chicken. However, a number of families do sometimes splurge on savory meals like the yakiniku.

The yakiniku is best served with beer or sake. There are restaurants all over Japan that have built-in grills on the table. Usually, the meat with raw ingredients are served to the table, and these will be cooked to perfection and to the taste of the diner. What makes the yakiniku extra special are the oriental sauces that bring out the flavors and juices to the meat. Each restaurant usually has their own house specialty, but there are more commonly known sauces that are available as well.

Origin of the Yakiniku

A lot of tourists may closely link this to Korean grilled meat such as the sam gyeop sal and the kalbi – the interesting thing is that they are absolutely correct! Although the actual origin of the Yakiniku is still unclear, a lot of sources have indicated that it is highly influenced by Korean cooking which has reached the shores of Japan during the Showa period. According to historians, the yakiniku is actually derived from bulgogi and kalbi. It has reached popularity all over the country after the Second World War.

Based on some reports, the Yakiniku started out in Osaka when Korean immigrants introduced grilling restaurants to the locals. During this time, the Koreans have introduced a delicacy for parts of the meat that the Japanese usually throw away such as tripe and large intestine. During this time it was called horumon-yaki.

Later on, more meat cuts have been used with the same recipe and the Japanese surely loved it. Through the decades, this Korean-styled grilled meat has turned into a delicious Japanese specialty and is now one of the most iconic must-tries in Japan. Everybody enjoys the char-grilled meat from different cuts of pork and beef added with savory sauces.

The different types of Yakiniku beef and other meats


Beef is the common type of meat that is served in Yakiniku grills, with the most popular being the wagyu. This is a type of high-quality beef that came from Japanese-bred cattle. What makes them so special is the fact that it produces a very high percentage of oleaginous unsaturated fat, giving it an intense flavor and marbling. Although this kind of beef is quite pricey, it is still worth a try.

The beef tongue or the tan is also a popular cut which is served with lemon juice, salt, and crushed onions. Other popular beef cuts include the kalbi which is short ribs served without the bones. They also serve tenderloins and shoulder meat.  


Beef is more commonly ordered off the menu and is more often served in restaurants. However, there is still some pork on the menu. For instance, a popular meat cut is the pork belly served in thin slabs that can sizzle and crisp from the charcoal. Another popular pork cut would be the fatty meats around the neck and cheeks.


For many, chicken is best served as yakitori or skewered BBQ chicken but still chicken is still on the menu of many yakiniku grills. Grilled chicken is a great alternative for those who are trying to lose weight. There are cuts being served such as the chicken breasts.


The most common yakiniku ingredients that are from the sea includes all kinds of shell-fishes. Also included in the list are delicious prawns and squid. Seafood is a great alternative when going to yakiniku restaurants near the ports and the sea. An order of fresh seafood is always a great way to enjoy a meal.


The Horumon-yaki is the mother of all yakiniku. It is what started the craze for charcoal-grilled meats with delicious sauces. However, everyone is surprised to find out what it is made out of. In Japanese, the word Horumon literally means ‘discarded items’, or parts of pork and beef that the Japanese do not include in their regular dishes.

These parts usually include esophagus, heart, and intestines. Sometimes there are some restaurants that sell mammary glands, pancreas, and uterus. One of the most popular Horumon-yaki cut would be the ox tongue. These are known to be “grilled energy” or food which is grilled to bring stamina to its eater. Although it is not a favorite because of its origin, the Horumon is an exotic dish that must be tried at least once in any traveler’s life.

The Best Yakiniku Ingredients

A yakiniku meal is pretty much “anything goes”. There are no specific recipes, no special meat cuts, nothing. Anyone is free to create their own yakiniku style. However, for the meat, it would always be best to buy those that have plenty of fat. This is what will make the grill aromatic and very flavorful. A lot of experts say that if the meat is too lean, it will become very dry and tough. The addition of fat will make it very juicy and soft.

Also, the simplicity of the yakiniku lies in its no marinate aspect. This is because the addition of sauces to the meat will make it burn much faster, especially since the meat is grilled at very high heat. However, the addition of sauces and marinades are still a great alternative, only with a little extra care in cooking.

Sometimes the best way to complete a yakiniku grill is to add vegetables like carrots, mushrooms, and bell peppers. A lot of people like adding garlic and onions to the grill, to add some spices and flavor to the meat. Sometimes people even add corn in a cob, grilled corn is very great to wash off the tastiness from the sauces. These vegetables will not only give a healthier balance to the meal, it will also add in special essences and tastes to the meat. However, any yakiniku meal will not be complete without the addition of rice on the side.

What is so special about Yakiniku sauce?

A yakiniku meal will not be complete without the addition of sauce, it is what gives it most of its flavor. Just imagine the sweet and very delicious Japanese BBQ sauce slathered onto the crisp char-grilled meat. Every Yakiniku grill restaurant has their own special in-house yakiniku sauce known as the Yakiniku no Tare.

There are two sauces being considered every time the yakiniku is involved. The first sauce is the sauce that must be slathered to the meat before grilling and the second sauce is the dipping sauce. Both are very tasty and delicious.

The first sauce is not always present in all meals. A lot of people prefer cooking the meat with just a little bit of salt and that’s it. However, some people like their meat a bit tastier by marinating it overnight with sweetened soy sauce. Some prefer the meat marinated in teriyaki sauce. It all depends on the taste that the family is going after.

The dipping sauce, known as the tare, is commonly made from a mixture of very light and interesting ingredients. First, sake is mixed with soy sauce. Then, mirin is added to give it just enough sourness. To give that tangy twist, crushed garlic is also mixed in. To make it sweet, a little bit of sugar and fruit juice. Lastly, to make it all authentic and oriental, a dash of roasted sesame seeds will do the trick.

Sometimes, shichimi togarashi is also added. This is a type of assorted dried chili that is placed onto the sauce to add more flavor. However, of course, this is quite optional. Also optional will be the addition of lemon juice to the tare, it will give in a special sweet, sour tang to the sauce.

Where and how to grill: Tips to Remember

The special thing about the Yakiniku is that traditional means of cooking this is usually through a charcoal grill. This grill, in Japanese, is known as the sichirin. These are small, BBQ stoves traditionally made from clay or concrete. These are more common in authentic yakiniku restaurants. On the other hand, this kind of device is not really too practical to have as it can be quite expensive and difficult to find, for the fact that it will not be used too often.

Other people who do not wish to purchase their own sichirin can use an electric griddle or an electric stove. These kinds of grills have removable plates that can be replaced with BBQ grills, they are small and can fit inside the house or on top of the dining table.

Grilling the meat is not too difficult as it is just like having a simple, normal BBQ at home. The only difference is that the Yakiniku meat is usually cut too thinly or small, that cooking time is significantly much faster. Make sure to stay alert while cooking as the yakiniku meat usually cooks fast and can easily be dried and overcooked.

One important health tip, on the other hand, that everyone must remember is the fact that cross-contamination is an important concern. Since meat is raw with blood and possibly bacteria, its uncooked juices can easily mix in with vegetables that are on the same plate or grill. The best thing to do is to keep the two separate to avoid possible cross-contamination. It is also best to keep the tongs being used for raw meat separate from the tongs being used for cooked meat due to the same issues.

Furthermore, anyone afraid of cooking should not stop craving for delicious yakiniku because most restaurants have chefs to provide special cooking services, especially for all prime meats. Just imagine an authentic, skilled Japanese chef cooking delectable meat within reach – this is an experience to always remember.

Where to find the best Yakiniku Grills in Japan?

One famous place for Yakiniku would be the Yakiniku Jambo which is located in Tokyo. It is quite a hidden gem because it is located in a small and quiet residential area. Despite that, during after-work hours the lines can be quite long. It will take quite some time to get a table, but it will all be surely worth it.

Another popular restaurant is the Sutamina-en found in Tokyo. This particular restaurant has been ranked number one in a number of surveys. The lines are so long that they are photo-worthy – an additional wow factor to the restaurant. The best on their menu would be the harami and the karubi which are diaphragm meat and short ribs respectively.

Another very popular, but also very expensive restaurant would be the Nakahara. All the meat they serve is all photo-worthy. An average meal can cost up to 12,000 yen. Compared to Sutima-en and Yakiniku Jambo which can cost only about 6,000 to 8,000 yen. The best on their menu would be the best quality kuroge-wagyu beef. They also sell beef tongue and more.

For those budget eaters who do not wish to spend about 12,000 yen on a meal can go to Nikunchi. This restaurant offers up great tasting meat for only about 4,000 yen. Their best sellers include tenderloin. However, a favorite of the tourists includes the cartilaginous throat, ear, and uterus.

When going to these restaurants for dinner time, it might be best to have a reservation. The lines are definitely very long, especially for the small restaurants with limited space for visitors.