Japanese With Ease: For a limited time free: Get cookbook

Hibachi: What Is It & Where Did It Come From?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 3, 2022

17 easy recipes anyone can make...

All the tips you'll need to get started in Japanese cooking with, FOR A LIMITED TIME, FREE as our first email: the complete Japanese with ease cookbook.

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

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

Hibachi cooking’s precise background is uncertain and debatable. Some argue that hibachi cooking started over 200 years earlier in Japan, while others argue that it’s only been around since the mid-20th century.

Hibachi cooking began on tiny, mobile grills. But over the years, it’s developed into a more complicated and interesting cooking method.

In 1945, Japan launched the first contemporary hibachi restaurant: Misono.

What is hibachi

Chefs combined meals with amusement and made quite a show out of it using tricks like egg tossing and flaming volcanos.

The Japanese restaurant was more popular with overseas tourists than Japanese citizens, considering it’s flashier and distinct from traditional Japanese cooking.

Hibachi launched in the United States about 20 years ago and has only risen in popularity since then.

While little is recorded before 1945 and the roots are definitely debatable, one thing is certain: hibachi restaurants are adored all over the globe. Today, you might even be familiar with the Japanese restaurant chain Benihana!

17 Easy Recipes Anyone Can Make

All the tips you'll need to get started in Japanese cooking with, FOR A LIMITED TIME, FREE as our first email: The Complete Japanese With Ease Cookbook.

We'll only use your email address for our newsletter and respect your privacy

8 Reasons why you should dine in a Hibachi restaurant

  1. Everything kind of tastes the same elsewhere – go to any Western restaurant and you’ll get the usual on the menu such as pasta, beef enchiladas, barbecued oysters with chipotle glaze, etc. In an authentic Japanese hibachi restaurant though, you’ll be in for the surprise of your life!
  2. There are no courses, it’s just freestyle cooking – ever heard of the okonomiyaki? Well, it literally means “whatever you want.” Does Western restaurant make a similar offer? No? Then here’s one more reason why you should try hibachi restaurants.
  3. The chef can play with you by literally throwing food into your mouth from a distance – it’s like being in a magic show and you get called from the crowd to assist the magician. It’s a wonderful feeling!
  4. Every meal is prepared and cooked right in front of your eyes – more and more people want transparency these days from politics to companies selling them products or services they want to know the process involved in making those things. Hibachi restaurants though did it before it became the trend.
  5. The chef’s knife skills are quite entertaining – hibachi chefs can do with the knife what magicians can do with their cards.
  6. Hibachi chefs are not snobs unlike those Western aristocratic entitled celebrity kitchen people – Western chefs are kind of obnoxious people who despite doing their very best to please their guests also dislikes mingling with them. It’s understandable as they covet the Michelin star on their name/restaurant, so they could care less about their guests. Hibachi chefs, on the other hand, are like your next-door neighbor, Bill, who greets you each time he sees you and will not mind sitting on the couch in your living room, drinking beer while watching football.
  7. Hibachi chefs will excite you putting you right next to a fiery grill – if you’ve ever been to a bonfire or a campfire, then you know that it can be somewhat dangerous and/or sometimes exciting to get close to it. Well, in hibachi restaurants the griddle is mostly on fire, so you’ll really feel the heat sitting 2 feet from it. In some cases, you might get small burns but chefs are quite cautious when handling the grill, knife, spatula, and other things while operating the grill.
  8. It’s like watching a circus show while enjoying very delicious meals – while it may not be as grand as magic or circus shows, it can make you drop your jaw sometimes and applaud the hibachi chef for the tricks he performs. Plus you will always enjoy the food no matter how many times you come back, so it’s going to be fun and you’re definitely coming back for more!

Check out this post as well: the best Japanese Sushi knives that’ll make your life easier

Brief Hibachi history

The word hibachi is a fusion of two Japanese words which are hi which means “fire” and Hachi which also means “pot” or “bowl.” If literally translated to English, then hibachi means “fire bowl” and there is some truth to this as once upon a time they were exactly used for that purpose – to heat ancient Japanese homes.

Soon some Japanese commoners tried to place a grill on top of the hibachi heater and started cooking BBQ foods, until later on in the Meiji era it became a tool used for cooking grilled foods. Their small size meant they could be carried to any convenient location within the household.

The rounded-shaped hibachis were probably made with cast iron or bronze, but the hibachis of square or rectangular shapes were made of ceramic porcelain materials.

Other construction methods included gouging out the lower portion of a large tree that has been cut down and filling the inside with a copper lining.

Box-shaped hibachis are typically made of wood and some of them exhibit an oblong shape also.

There were some instances where ornate wooden boxes with visible wood-grain have been used to hold the metal strips around the hibachi. The purpose of these metal strips is to reinforce the hibachi’s construction.

Some hibachis were built with cabinets, drawers, lids, and receptacles. These added features are for storing hibachi tools and for putting out the fires from the charcoal. Sometimes a tool that allows for the tea-kettles to stand on is also created as an accessory of the hibachi.

Yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) is a whole meal, but there are many tasty Japanese side dishes you can try as well.

Rice

When it comes to the classic Japanese side dish, rice is the first that comes to mind. You can keep it simple with plain steamed white rice to complement the meaty barbeque.

Or, you can opt for chahan, which is Japanese fried rice with egg, spring onion, leek, carrots, ginger, and some soy sauce.

Stir-fry

A vegetable stir-fry with onions, broccoli, carrots, peppers, and mushrooms is another top choice as a yakiniku side dish. It’s perfect for those looking for healthier options.

Stir-fried or sauteed zucchini is another popular side dish, especially alongside hibachi-grilled chicken.

Japanese salad

Kinpira gobo

While most Americans don’t know about this salad, I’m telling you it’s a must-try if you can get your hands on burdock root (gobo).

It’s a basic salad made with thinly sliced burdock root and carrot that’s lightly stir-fried in oil, then seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, and mirin.

Although it’s stir-fried, it’s still considered a healthy salad.

Namasu

Namasu is a type of raw Japanese salad that uses uncooked vegetables and sweetened vinegar.

It’s usually made with daikon radish and carrots. The vegetables are first julienned and then marinated for several hours in a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic.

This allows the vinegar and sharp flavors of the daikon radish to become milder and the texture to soften. It’s easy to make and there’s no cooking involved. 

Goma-ae

This refers to a blanched vegetable salad, usually made from spinach. It’s topped off with a tasty and nutty sesame dressing and you can serve it cool to offer freshness when having lots of hot BBQ foods.

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.

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.

Is hibachi Mongolian?

Hibachi is Japanese, not Mongolian. There is a resemblance with teppanyaki cooking though (the iron griddle they use at a hibachi restaurant) because Mongolian barbecue is also cooked on a flat iron griddle.

Is hibachi korean food?

The teppanyaki they serve at hibachi restaurants is Japanese, not Korean. When cooking on an open flame hibachi it’s called a shichirin and that type of grilling is called yakiniku. Some say yakiniku has it’s roots in Korean barbecue.

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.

Is hibachi stir fry?

Hibachi is not the same as stir-fry. Hibachi fried rice is a stir-fry dish because it is stirred and mixed while frying on a grill, but other dishes, like steak or shrimp are just grilled on the cooking plate without being stirred together.

Is hibachi sweet or spicy?

Hibachi is a little sweet from the rice wine often used in dishes, but it isn’t overly sweet. Some dishes use teriyaki sauce and can be sweet but normally it’s more salty than sweet. It also isn’t spicy by itself, but there’s often at least one spicy sauce to dip your food in if you like it that way.

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

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.