The differences between Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ explained

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  June 7, 2022

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Have you ever tasted Korean BBQ? There’s something very satisfying about sitting around the table with your friends and cooking your own marinated cuts of meat just the way you like.

But if you love the strong flavor of beef, you might like Japanese BBQ more because it focuses on the pure meaty flavor and gives you tasty dipping sauces to dip into if you want.

Today, I want to talk about all the differences between Japanese and Korean BBQ!

grilled meat in the middle surrounded by many korean dishes

Korean and Japanese barbecue are similar because they’re both distinct indoor grilling methods using specialty grills.

What’s the difference between Japanese and Korean BBQ?

Korean BBQ refers to a dining experience in which various meats are marinated and cooked on a built-in table grill.

The Japanese BBQ that’s most similar is also cooked on a table grill and called “yakiniku”. It’s derived from Korean BBQ, but uses mostly non-marinated bite-sized cuts dipped in sauces afterward. 

In Japan, BBQ isn’t just about yakiniku, and meat can also be cooked on a teppanyaki or hibachi grill. I’ll get into the details about the different types of grills, cooking methods, and popular foods.

But how do they differ? Aren’t they both just grilling stuff?

Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

There’s no doubt that Korean and Japanese BBQ is similar.

In many instances, the food (mostly meat) is cooked on a grill built into the table. But in Japan, portable teppanyaki cast iron grills are also popular.

And teppanyaki isn’t grilling on charcoal like Korean BBQ is, but rather, it’s done on a flat grilling surface. It’s the grilling at the table in the middle that you’re probably most familiar with from a Benihana restaurant, although people mistakenly call that hibachi grilling.

It all comes down to 2 main differences between Korean and Japanese BBQ: method and flavor. 

Also read: the best tabletop yakitori grills for a Japanese style grill

Differences in cooking method

Korean BBQ is famous for its uniqueness. Diners sit around a table that has a gas or charcoal grill in the middle.

When the servers bring out the raw, marinated meats and vegetables, each diner grills their own food.

Japanese BBQ doesn’t have one specific grilling method; instead, there are 3:

  1. A popular grilling method is called yakiniku, and it’s similar to Korean BBQ. Yakiniku is a term for “grilled meat”. In most cases, just like with Korean BBQ, people grill their own meats and veggies on a built-in table grill.
  2. The second method is cooking on teppanyaki grills, which are small to medium-sized electric grills. They’re also often built into a table, where the chef cooks tableside.
  3. The third method is yakitori, where the chef prepares the meat themselves (mostly chicken skewers) on a small rectangular charcoal grill behind the bar where people sit at.

The main takeaway: in a lot of cases with Japanese and Korean grills, diners cook their own food on a small grill, whether it’s at home or at the restaurant.

One notable thing about the Korean version is that it’s served with a number of side dishes compared to Japanese BBQ.

A lot of things (from dried squid to kimchi and other exciting side dishes) can accompany Korean BBQ. The side dishes are known as banchan dishes.

On the other hand, Japanese BBQ has a selection of raw veggies, which are served together with grilled meats.

Differences in flavor

In Korean BBQ, the meat (which is usually beef or pork) is marinated in a savory and sweet sauce. This marinade gives most of the flavor to the meat.

Most Korean BBQ restaurants choose to specialize in 1 to 3 well-marinated and well-flavored meats.

In Japan, the meat (which is usually a high-quality beef cut) stands out with its pure flavor. Pork or chicken are also used, although beef is the standout meat in Japanese BBQ culture.

The meat is grilled raw without too many condiments or marinades. So it gets its flavor from a variety of dipping sauces, including soy sauce, mirin, garlic, and many others. 

In general, Korean BBQ relies on marinades for flavor, while Japanese BBQ relies on dipping sauces.

What is Korean BBQ?

Almost every major city in Korea has a BBQ restaurant, and exciting ingredients like gochujang and kimchi have found their way into these restaurants’ menus.

Even though this cooking and eating style isn’t new in Korea, it’s now becoming common in North America too! Korean BBQ is called gogi-gui, and it’s an indoor grilling experience, not outdoor like in the West.

How can you describe Korean bbq best?

Gogi-gui is a unique grilling experience that focuses on cooking and eating together. In a typical Korean BBQ restaurant, diners sit at a table that has a charcoal or gas grill in the middle. It’s usually an all-you-can-eat type of menu with varied meats and veggies.

You’ll get plates of raw meat together with a lot of side dishes (the banchan) that are already cooked or prepared in another way, like fermented kimchi.

Then everyone can start to cook and eat their own food! Many Koreans like to grill the meat, add cooked rice, and wrap it in lettuce because it makes the meal more nutritious and wholesome. 

That’s probably the thing people associate Korean BBQ most with: grilled meat wrapped in lettuce with rice and fermented kimchi together with a blazing hot sauce. That’s the way my girlfriend introduced it to me anyway!

This is very interesting since you get the opportunity to bring your family and friends around the table and have the chance to cook and eat as a group.

Plus, everybody gets the opportunity to participate in the grilling process. This means that no one will miss out on the grilling fun, and everyone can choose to grill the cut of meat they prefer.

You should check out these Japanese cookbooks. I’ve reviewed 23 of them that cover every cooking style you can think of!

Popular Korean BBQ foods

Let’s take a look at the most popular Korean BBQ dishes.

grilled skewers

Bulgogi 

Bulgogi is a popular beef recipe for Korean BBQ, which translates to “fire meat”. It’s tender cuts of beef marinated in a sauce made of soy sauce, ginger, Asian pear, pepper, sugar, and garlic.

Sometimes, bulgogi is made of pork or chicken, but true Korean BBQ fans prefer juicy beef sirloin or tenderloin. The trick to perfect bulgogi beef is to slice the meat into thin slices.

Then, the meat is marinated in the savory and slightly sweet bulgogi sauce. The meat takes on a smoky charcoal flavor that tastes fantastic combined with the fatty juices when grilled.

Samgyeopsal (pork belly) 

Pork belly is the most common pork cut in Korea. Samgyeopsal (which means layers of fat) is a slice of flavorful and fatty marbled pork.

Its other common name is liempo, which is a full lechon kawali cut, sliced to about ¼ inch thick pieces.

These sliced strips make sure every piece cooks fast, and also, the surface is heated high enough to burn the layers of fat. This leaves you with juicy and char-roasted meat, which makes it such a delicious dish!

Galbi (boneless beef/short ribs) 

This is common in any Korean restaurant, just like pork belly. In Japanese, it’s known as “karubi” and can be used for yakiniku.

However, the Korean marinade is the ingredient that makes this boneless beef or short ribs delicious and different.

Beef galbi is usually marinated in fruit juice, garlic, and classic soy sauce. However, the marinade contains fruits that give the meat sweetness and flavor, which assist in tenderizing it. 

Dak galbi (boneless chicken)

If you want, switch your meats and use the bulgogi or galbi sauces to marinate your filleted or boneless chicken pieces.

The best chicken parts to use should be either breast fillets (thinly sliced) or thighs (boneless). You should make sure that you marinate them in these sauces.

You can also opt to keep your meat un-marinated and allow your guests to dip their pieces in the sauce, which should be served on the side.

Deungsim (ribeye or sirloin steak)

You can also include steak cuts like ribeye or sirloin in your BBQ.

Ribeye can be the best choice since it’ll give you the best result: a chunk of beef with the fat that you need for perfect grilling!

Usamgyeop (beef belly slices) and chadolbaegi (beef brisket strips) 

These 2 pieces of meat resemble slices of rolled-up bacon. The most interesting thing about these slices is that they’re easy to cook and nd require minimum effort.

But the most important thing is how you get your cut from your butcher. Always make sure that the cuts are frozen, as this prevents the fat layers from melting.

Best Korean grill to buy: CookKing

Best Korean Grill to buy- CookKing

(view more images)

This is a smokeless indoor cast aluminum grill, perfect for parties at home.

You use it indoors on the stovetop, and since it has a non-stick surface, you can cook the types of meats you like, including beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and also vegetables.

It has a round shape, just like the built-in table grills you see at restaurants. It’s the type of portable grill you can take with you on the go and also cook outside if you need to on a camping stove.

The center of the pan keeps the meat hot so that you can cook on different sections of the grill.

I really enjoy this affordable grill pan because it has a fat-draining system, so you’re left with well-cooked, crispy BBQ meat that still retains juiciness, but not all that unhealthy fat!

Check the latest prices here

How do you choose a good Korean grill?

Here are some of the things that you should look out for:

  • The heat source – Some grills come with a built-in heat source, while others will need a portable stove as a source of heat. Some of the heat sources include gas or electricity.
  • Size – It’s important to note that grills come in different sizes, from portable, tabletops, to non-portable. Therefore, make sure that you choose a grill that suits all your needs but won’t consume too much of your space.
  • Grease management system – Grilling (especially Korean BBQ) tends to be messy, particularly when grilling pork belly. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that the grill you choose has grease collection trays to reduce the mess.
  • Material – Different grills are made of various materials. Some of these include Teflon, marble top, steel, and cast aluminum.

What is Japanese BBQ?

When you hear Korean BBQ, you have a certain image of that charcoal grill on the table. But Japanese BBQ is much more varied and isn’t just ONE specific grilling style.

In some cases, you’ll find the grill in the middle of the table, just like in Korea. The grill is also round and sunken into the middle of your table.

But other times, the food is cooked on a teppanyaki or hibachi charcoal grill, which is a separate grill that’s not in the middle of your table. 

But yakiniku isn’t really a Japanese invention; it’s borrowed from Korea. In yakiniku restaurants, you’ll find similar all-you-can-eat dining menus as with Korean BBQ.

All kinds of meat cuts are served alongside vegetables like cabbage, onions, and eggplants.

In Japan, the most popular type of grilled food is grilled beef. Some traditional yakiniku restaurants only serve beef.

You can expect to find wagyu beef, which is the most expensive and premium type of beef in Japan. However, most restaurants have a varied menu, which isn’t limited to slices of succulent beef.

You’ll encounter beef tongue (tan), intestines, tripe, liver, shoulder (rosu), short rib (karubi), pork, chicken, and even fish and seafood.

Popular Japanese BBQ foods

Yakiniku 

This is the Japanese equivalent of BBQ, which consists of bite-sized beef and pork slices that are grilled over charcoal. The meat is always cut into small pieces, so it’s easy to chew. 

These days, many people also like to eat chicken drumsticks with a yakiniku sauce

Yakiniku sauce is called tare, and it’s the main seasoning for the meat since yakiniku meat isn’t pre-seasoned.

Tare is like a sweet barbecue sauce, and there are many variations. Usually, it’s made with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic, some fruit juice, and sesame seeds. 

Yakitori

Yakitori is a common dish made of grilled chicken and is served on skewers. Different parts of the chicken are grilled using charcoal until they’re tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Some of the best and most flavorful yakitori are made from chicken thighs, liver, and of course, bite-sized pieces of breast.

Yakiton

Yakiton is the same style of skewer as yakitori, but the main ingredient is pork.

The pork is cut into smaller bits and grilled until it takes on a charred aspect, but still has that juicy texture. 

Grills for Japanese BBQ

There are many types of grills in Japan because indoor barbecuing is very popular. However, those grills that are built into the table are for restaurant dining.

To make Japanese BBQ recipes at home, people use hibachi and teppanyaki grills. But keep in mind that the teppan isn’t quite like western BBQ because it’s a hot plate; however, many Japanese still call it “BBQ”.

Hibachi

Hibachi is the most popular type of grill used for Japanese BBQ. It’s also called shichirin, and it’s a small type of portable grill that’s made out of cast iron.

You usually take it with you on the road or use it at home to cook for 1-3 people.

Think of it as a small charcoal-fueled grill oven. It has grates, whereas the teppanyaki is usually a hot plate. 

Usually, traditional hibachi grills are made of porcelain or cast iron, and they’re quite heavy, yet still portable.

Teppanyaki

Just as its name suggests, teppanyaki means teppan-style of cooking, which features vegetables and meat grilled on an iron plate.

Although hot plates are great for grilling meats and the Japanese love this method, it’s not what you’d think of when you say “barbecue” in the West.

But this is one of the common BBQ styles in Japan, and it’s spread to other parts of the world. Teppanyaki chefs usually mesmerize their guests with their skills as they manipulate their ingredients on the grill with pizazz and flair.

Teppanyaki is also referred to as hibachi in other parts of the world, but they are NOT the same thing.

Best hibachi grill for Japanese BBQ: Marsh Allen

Best multi-position cooking grids: Marsh Allen cast-iron hibachi

(view more images)

This is designed with a blast furnace concept and a chimney effect that allows you to grill in less than 15 minutes! Besides, this concept ensures that you get consistent heating under your grill.

The Marsh Allen portable vintage cast iron charcoal grill has a cooking surface of 170 square inches, which allows you to cook a different variety of foods.

One exciting thing about this grill is that it can fold into a self-cleaning oven, as well as a self-extinguishing BBQ!

In addition to that, the grill has the ability to save unused charcoal, which means you can use it on your next grilling occasion. This saves you valuable time and money.

The main material in this grill is carbon steel, with cooking grids of cast iron and convenient handles that allow you to carry the grill.

Check prices and availability here

infographic comparing differences between Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ

Korean vs. Japanese dining experience

Korean barbecue is ideal in situations when you want to enjoy numerous side dishes, as well as the mouthwatering flavor of seasoned meat.

It’s said that Korean BBQ is for adventurous people who want to arouse excitement in their taste buds. The fun part of the Korean dining experience is the fact that you cook your food on a grill placed in the middle of the table.

Usually, there’s a variety of meat cuts and veggies on a plate, and each person can choose what they want and cook them for as long as desired.

On the other hand, Japanese barbecue is usually reserved for high-quality beef, cooked using top-quality fuel (binchotan coal). Even though this BBQ type uses dipping sauce, beef is the main star of the meal.

Also, you need to understand that Japanese BBQ can be costly, especially when using binchotan charcoal and wagyu beef. But Japanese BBQ is ideal for small groups instead of larger gatherings. 

Is Japanese BBQ fancier?

However, it should be noted that not all Japanese BBQ is all about expensive cuts of meat, and foods like yakitori are proof of that.

As highlighted earlier, Korean BBQ relies heavily on marinades, and it’s not a must to use high-quality meat. 

The main focus of a Japanese barbecue is the taste of the beef. It’s important to understand that the Japanese are very serious with their beef, and this can be reflected in the various types of Japanese barbecue.

This means that the Japanese rarely use marinades, and also, the traditional side dishes aren’t as exciting. Therefore, a Japanese BBQ isn’t the right choice for you if you’re looking for a meal with lots of different flavors.

However, you need to note that both Japanese and Korean barbecue consist of grilled meat, as well as Asian flavors.

If you haven’t familiarized yourself with any, just know that both can offer you a memorable and enjoyable experience.

History of Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ has a fascinating history. It’s come a long way, from its primordial origins to where it’s now recognized globally.

So how did Korean BBQ get introduced to the world? Well, here’s how it happened.

It’s believed that Koreans came from the eastern barbarians of Maek, a group of nomadic people who moved from central Asia to the east.

The group finally reached northeast Asia, which is today’s Korea. The most interesting thing about this group is that it came with a unique meat dish, which helped them beat the harsh elements they faced during migration.

The name of this dish was known as maekjeok, and it consisted of meat cuttings that were already seasoned before being cooked.

Often, the meat was preserved in salt. The Maek’s cooking technique was different from the techniques used in traditional Chinese meat dishes, where the meat is seasoned after cooking.

This group pre-seasoned their food because of a simple reason: to save time when it became time to prepare the food since they were always on the move.

This style of eating seasoned meat before being grilled became popular across the Korean peninsula, and many locals adopted it.

Maekjeok is the inspiration behind bulgogi. Since bulgogi was marinated and soaked in water, the meat always tasted flavorful, so it’s no wonder why the dish became so popular!

History of Japanese BBQ

While the Japanese enjoy quite a lively BBQ scene, most Westerners are far more familiar with Korean BBQ.

One of the reasons is that Japanese BBQ is fairly new, as it originated sometime in the 1940s, during the Showa period. 

The Japanese only started eating red meat like beef in 1872 when Emperor Meiji ate the first piece of beef in public. Until that year, it was illegal to eat meat because of Buddhist religious philosophy.

Even as late as 1945, BBQ culture still wasn’t popular, and most people cooked meat in other ways. But thanks to Korean influence, many grill restaurants opened, and grilling gained popularity!

After that, teppanyaki was also invented to have something fun to watch and delicious to eat for the American soldiers who were stationed there. And teppanyaki became almost more of a show than just a dinner.

Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ are both tasty

As we’ve seen, for Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ, the difference comes down to the meat and cooking style. In terms of flavor, it’s a matter of the ingredients you use and the additional spices found in Korean BBQ.

However, these are 2 barbecue styles that you can choose to try out in your own home, whether with your family or guests.

Also, the grills can be easily found in different online stores, and choosing the best one will allow you to have an unforgettable grilling experience. However, when choosing a grill, it’s essential to make sure that you choose a grill that’ll serve your needs, as well as one that’ll fit into the place you intend to store it.

If you want to learn more about the differences between these 2 Asian cuisines, the next article for you to read is definitely this full guide on Japanese vs Korean food and the use of spices

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.