What is hibachi? Japanese hibachi vs teppanyaki

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 13, 2022

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Japan has blessed the world with a lot of innovations, no doubt. In the world of food, they’ve certainly earned their place. Two of the most recognized Japanese cuisines are teppanyaki and hibachi.

People often get confused between teppanyaki and hibachi, and that’s understandable. We’ve been lied to by big “hibachi” restaurant chains like Benihana, after all.

Ok, maybe “lied to” is a bit extreme. However, these establishments label themselves as hibachi restaurants when what they’re famous for, in fact, is teppanyaki-style cooking!

Difference between Teppanyaki & Hibachi grilling
Favorite Asian Recipes
Favorite Asian Recipes

Teppanyaki and hibachi are 2 completely different cuisines, each with its unique flavors and culinary history.

One of the first main differences is that teppanyaki requires a solid flat top griddle, whereas hibachi requires a barbecue-style grill with grates.

I currently have both types of grills since I love Japanese cuisine so much. They’re both very different in terms of their style and the kind of food they produce.

I’ll take you through all of the differences between these 2 cooking styles so you know which one’s which.

The main differences between teppanyaki and hibachi

Here are the most significant differences between teppanyaki and hibachi:

  • Teppanyaki is food grilled on a flat surface, while hibachi uses a round bowl or stove with a grate.
  • Teppanyaki is relatively young (1945), whereas hibachi has been around for hundreds of years.
  • Teppanyaki focuses on entertainment and knife skills, while hibachi has a more traditional style.

Also, read on for my top 4 hibachi chef’s knives you might want to consider.

What is teppanyaki?

Teppanyaki is all over the world nowadays, but what exactly is it?

Teppanyaki is a type of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food.

The word “teppan” means iron plate, whereas “yaki” means grilled food.

If you’re thinking this makes it a simple cuisine, then you’d be very wrong. Teppanyaki is one of the most complex forms of food out there, and it takes high levels of skill to master this form of cooking.

The history of teppanyaki

Teppanyaki originated in Tokyo, Japan, in 1945 at a restaurant chain called Misono. This makes teppanyaki a relatively recent addition to the culinary world.

Interestingly, many locals didn’t fancy teppanyaki at all when it was first introduced. Teppanyaki was criticized for being an inappropriate and unhygienic form of cooking.

However, American soldiers (and later, tourists) adored this cuisine due to the entertainment factor involved in teppanyaki. This includes all the classic tricks, like knife throwing and “playing” with fire.

Mind you, these types of tricks require incredible skills! I have a whole article here on the best teppanyaki tricks you’ve ever seen, including a great video of knife skills.

Misono took advantage of this and focused mainly on these entertainment factors. With chefs juggling knives and ingredients, and pulling off risky stunts with the intense hot flame, their rebranding certainly paid off.

Teppanyaki blows over to the West

Teppanyaki was a massive hit in western cultures. Soon, restaurant chains specifically serving teppanyaki were opening worldwide.

Although these types of restaurants technically specialize in teppanyaki cooking, many people mistakenly refer to this type of cooking (where the chef cooks in front of you on an iron grill) as hibachi-style cooking.

Teppanyaki is still very popular today, and chefs still include stunts for their guests’ entertainment.

You might be wondering if you can make teppanyaki at home, and you definitely can! Although teppanyaki may look highly sophisticated, you’ll see that it’s not all that hard if you take the entertainment factor out.

Can you cook teppanyaki yourself?

With a bit of practice, you can enjoy the sublime taste of teppanyaki at home.

You need to purchase a particular teppanyaki grill, but it’s not that expensive. I just bought the Presto Slimline from Amazon, which is easy to use.

There are tons of delicious teppanyaki recipes for you to try, with a wide range of ingredients from which you can choose. Try out meats like beef, shrimp, lobster, chicken, or scallops, alongside assorted vegetables. I have many teppanyaki recipes on my blog that you can check out to get you started.

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

If you’re a rookie chef, start with either regular beef or chicken. When choosing a side dish, it largely depends on the main ingredient and also your personal preference. If you’re unsure what to choose, then assorted veggies are always a safe option.

I also recommend that you use fireproof gloves and keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case any accidents occur.

You can find more info on cooking teppanyaki at home here.

Hibachi (actually, teppanyaki) restaurant experience

Hibachi isn’t just about grilling fish and meat. Actually, it’s a fun and exciting dining experience everyone has to try. I promise it’ll be educational, but also entertaining, and of course, delicious!

In the United States, hibachi is often associated with drop-in teppanyaki griddles that are frequently integrated into dining tables.

The “hibachi” (really teppanyaki) restaurant table is like a community table where friends, family, and strangers all gather around the table to eat together. All the diners gather around the tables to see a master chef cook on these griddles, almost like a performance. They offer interactive and unique dining experiences, as you can interact with your chef as they cook for you.

In Japan, you can expect fellow diners to share their meals, toast drinks, and cheer on the master chef as they perform. This type of atmosphere is great for socializing at restaurants and meeting new people. It’s also a great way to try new foods!

Hibachi restaurant meals usually start off in a similar manner. The chef first covers the griddle with oil using a squeeze bottle, then ignites the entire thing in one spectacular inferno.

Once you see the flame, you know the meal has started. People usually marvel and express their excitement vocally. 

The chef maintains this dramatic flair while cooking to keep diners interested.

The chef

Master chefs aren’t just skilled chefs. They also manage the teppanyaki griddles in hibachi restaurants. These chefs are skilled at cooking with flair and have enough charisma for a full day’s worth of entertainment. 

Chefs know that providing great food is only half their job. Hibachi restaurants are the perfect place for you if you enjoy catching food and sake in your mouth or watching others attempt it. You might even see some food flying around the griddle!

The drinks

Hibachi is almost always accompanied by sake.

Sake, also known as Japanese rice wine or sake, is Japan’s national drink. It’s more like beer than wine in the way it’s made. It’s usually served in sake bottles and cups made from white ceramic and with an Eastern flair.

Sake can be chilled, heated, or kept at room temperature. It all depends on what type of sake you’re drinking and how expensive it is.

Decor

Hibachi restaurants often have a strong Japanese heritage. The traditional ornaments and colors are paired with minimalist architecture that doesn’t really stand out.

You can expect very simple furniture and a dim lighting setup. The delicate lighting allows patrons to concentrate on the meal, their fellow diners, and the experience. In fact, the decor isn’t nearly as important as the food.

Many of these establishments offer hot towels that’ve been heated via towel steamers. Some restaurants provide Chinese soup spoons or sauce dishes with a variety of sauces for your table.

The food

There will be something to suit your tastes, whether you like soy sauce, duck, or hot and spicy sauce. Yakiniku sauce is quite common and you only should dunk once if you share it with others. 

Hibachi meals are usually prepared with white or fried rice. Instead of watching the rice being cooked in a commercial rice cooker, you can watch the chef prepare the rice on the teppanyaki grill.

Noodles and a protein-dense dish are next up in the dining experience. Common choices include chicken, beef, pork, and fish. A serving of vegetables can add some nutrition to the meal.

What is hibachi?

Unlike teppanyaki, hibachi isn’t a newcomer in the culinary world. On the contrary, hibachi is believed to have been around for hundreds of years, tracing its origin back to ancient Japan.

Hibachi is simple to make, mainly because the hibachi grill requires little to no skill to operate.

Who invented hibachi?

Hibachi first came to the scene when the Japanese began to use metal cookware.

There are also indications it was invented even earlier, around 79–1,185 AD in the Heian period, and that the first grills were made of cypress wood lined with clay.

Due to its simplicity, hibachi became one of Japan’s first contributions to the culinary world. Over time, hibachi was mixed with the rich Japanese culture to result in food that’s still popular to this day.

How to cook hibachi

Hibachi involves grilling meat, seafood, and vegetable dishes on a hot cooking surface that’s on top of a ceramic or wooden bowl filled with burning charcoal.

Though any type of charcoal will suffice, the Binchotan type is popular because it gives the food a unique flavor and smokiness.

One of the main appeals of hibachi is the intimate dining setting. All guests sit around the hot grill and join in for the same dining experience, whether you’re friends or strangers.

When you sit down for a hibachi dinner, you’re guaranteed to have a great time.

Also read our article on a built-in teppanyaki hibachi grill

Hibachi throughout history

Ancient hibachi grills are still available today, and their excellent craftsmanship and design still baffle people to this day.

Historically, hibachi was mainly used for heating up a house. As time progressed, the uses of hibachi grew and became very diverse. 

During the world war, hibachis were used by troops to cook their food on the battlefield.

In fact, before World War II, hibachi was the most common cooking tool used by the Japanese. It was typical to spot a hibachi grill in public places like train stations, bus stops, hospital waiting rooms, etc.

Hibachi grilling skills at home

Like teppanyaki, hibachi is also easy to make at home. The main reason for this is that hibachi doesn’t involve all the fancy maneuvers required in teppanyaki.

The main things you’ll need are the hibachi “fire bowl” and some charcoal. I’d love to try out this more traditional one in the near future just to get the whole feeling of Japanese cooking.

You can also use this tabletop version if you want something more portable for your at-home cooking.

For a beginner, I’d recommend simple veggies or steaks for your first dish.

Normally, people use a special sauce when making food on the hibachi, referred to as “hibachi sauce”. If you can nail this sauce, then your food will definitely be delicious!

Which is better: teppanyaki or hibachi?

Now the question stands: which one is better?

While both teppanyaki and hibachi have excelled in their own ways, it ultimately depends on your geographic location, preferred cooking method, and personal flavor preferences.

Although teppanyaki is popular in western culture, hibachi makes up for this by being a star in Japan! Considering that hibachi is one of the oldest creations of Japan, it lends itself to being the traditional winner between the 2 dishes.

On the other hand, teppanyaki has bloomed in western culture and become the epitome of Japanese food in many western countries. It also represents the splendid entertainment skills of skilled Japanese chefs.

It’s fair to say both teppanyaki and hibachi are fantastic in their very own ways. It’s difficult to argue which one is truly the best, as they both bring great flavors to the table.

Also read: Did you know these Japanese table manners?

Related hibachi questions

Many readers had questions related to the differences between teppanyaki and hibachi, so here’s a Q&A section to answer a few of them.

Is Benihana hibachi?

Although people call Benihana hibachi-style cooking, the cooking in front of you on the iron grill plate is actually considered teppanyaki.

Benihana does offer some hibachi-style dishes you can choose from, but the main attraction and the show you witness is teppanyaki.

What is the difference between teriyaki and teppanyaki?

Teppanyaki is a style of cooking where meat, seafood, and vegetables are cooked on a “teppan,” a flat surface cooking grill.

Teriyaki includes anything grilled with a shiny, sweet soy sauce glaze and refers more to the sauce itself rather than a particular cooking style.

I explain more about the differences between teriyaki and teppanyaki here.

Is hibachi actually Japanese?

Hibachi is certainly Japanese. Here in America, you’ll often see teppanyaki grills (or “teppan”) being used in hibachi restaurants and the 2 terms being used interchangeably. They are both, however, Japanese cooking styles.

Do they eat hibachi in Japan?

Yes, they eat hibachi in Japan, and it actually originates from there.

Here, we mostly eat grilled red meat when we go out for hibachi, but Japanese cuisine consists more of vegetables and fish rather than meat.

How hot is a hibachi grill?

A hibachi grill can get very hot, with heat varying from 450 F in the center of the grill to 250 F around the edges.

Part of hibachi cooking is playing with the temperature by moving ingredients around across the cooking surface.

Also read: how hot does a hibachi grill get, expert tips

What equipment do teppanyaki chefs need?

A skilled teppanyaki chef needs a full set of Japanese knives, spatulas, scrapers, chopsticks, sauce bottles, cooking and plating vessels, a knife sharpening whetstone, and cutting boards.

If you plan on making this at home, you should have some of the same utensils on hand.

Know the difference between hibachi and teppanyaki

Hibachi and teppanyaki grilling are 2 examples of wonderful Japanese grilling methods. But they’re not one and the same!

Teppanyaki uses a flat grill, while hibachi uses a “fire bowl”. This means that hibachi restaurants are actually teppanyaki ones!

Regardless, both are delicious types of cooking. I hope you give both a try, if you haven’t already, as both of them are great in their very own ways. Try to cook these various cuisines in the comfort of your own home!

Be sure to visit my buying guide for more grills and utensils you just have to have to get started in this area of cooking!

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

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.