Whenever my husband and I visit our friends Micah and Ayumi in their charming yellow house in Cincinnati, Micah greets us with a kitchen towel slung across his shoulder and a pair of tongs in hand. His eyes shine with determined excitement, driven by his quest for delicious cuisine and the ever-growing scent of spices in the air.
Micah’s wife, Ayumi, is the easy-going salve to Micah’s zeal. She grew up in Tokushima, Japan, and her Japanese heritage inspires the tastes and scents that waft from their leafy back-porch grill. Together, they whip up incredible flavors, but there is one recipe that stands out in my memory.
I recently asked Micah, “Remember that time we put the little grill on the table, and we all cooked the meat right there as we ate?”
“It’s called yakiniku,” he says, “which directly translates to burned meat. It’s a simple and delicious way to gather friends and family around the table.”
Delicious, indeed. And, it’s surprisingly easy to throw your own Japanese-style tabletop barbecue, too.
The simple secret of yakiniku
Yakiniku is a simple crowd pleaser, which makes it perfect for dinner parties. All you need is a choice of meat (or four), rice, dipping sauces, and a fresh mess of vegetables.
Beef is a party favorite for yakiniku, but chicken, pork, and fish are also popular. Just slice the meat in thin strips, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle some sesame seeds and diced scallions, and then it’s ready to be thrown on the grill.
Next, chop up your veggies! You can use any mix of vegetables for yakiniku, so don’t be afraid to get creative. Think bell pepper, onion, chili peppers, eggplant, broccoli, asparagus, corn, and even cantaloupe. If it’s good for stir fry, it’ll be great for yakiniku.
When your rice is cooking, it’s time to make the sauce! Yakiniku sauce can be made a variety of ways: some with soy sauce, sake, garlic, and vinegar, and others with sesame oil, miso paste, garlic, and onion. You can also find yakiniku dipping sauces at your local Asian market.
When everyone is ready to eat
Place your dishes full of meats and vegetables on the table, and gather your friends and family around. The tabletop grill should be front and center and turned up high. (You want that meat sizzling!) Each guest should have their own place setting, their own small bowl of dipping sauce, and their own bowls of cooked rice. Offer chopsticks but have forks on hand.
With a pair of tongs, guests can grill their vegetables and meats at their own pace. It’s not unlike fondue—as everyone cooks their meat and veggies right then and there, enjoying the pop and sizzle of the meat, and each guest grilling to their own liking.
This style of table cooking is a fun, laid-back way to eat with your dinner guests and also makes for fresh-off-the-grill flavors. It’s easy, delicious, and something your guests will not soon forget.