Is Yakiniku Japanese or Korean? History, Types of Meat & Serving Style
Yakiniku, it’s what they serve at many Japanese restaurants, but is it really Japanese? The answer’s not as straightforward as you might think.
Yakiniku is a style of cooking meat that originated in Korea, was introduced to Japan, and adopted by the Japanese as their own. The word “yakiniku” is derived from the Japanese word “yaki” meaning “grilled” and the Korean “niku” meaning “meat.”
Let’s look at the differences and similarities between yakiniku and Korean barbecue.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Yakiniku vs Korean BBQ: The Differences and Similarities
- 2 The History of Yakiniku
- 3 Type of Meat
- 4 Serving Style
- 5 Side Dishes
- 6 Condiments
- 7 Conclusion
Yakiniku vs Korean BBQ: The Differences and Similarities
Yakiniku is a Japanese-style barbecue that originated in the early 20th century. It involves grilling bite-sized pieces of meat, usually beef, pork, or chicken, on a table-top grill. The meat is sliced thinly and marinated in soy sauce, sake, and other ingredients before being grilled. Yakiniku is all about the quality of the meat and the technique used to cook it.
Korean BBQ, on the other hand, is a traditional Korean dish that has been around for centuries. It involves grilling meat, usually beef, pork, or chicken, on a table-top grill. The meat is usually marinated in a sweet and savory sauce before being grilled. Korean BBQ is all about the sauce and the way it is combined with the meat.
Types of Meat
Yakiniku is primarily a beef dish, with cuts like ribeye, sirloin, and tongue being the most popular. Pork and chicken are also common, but beef is the primary focus.
Korean BBQ includes a wider variety of meats, including beef, pork, chicken, and even seafood. Korean BBQ is also known for its use of fatty cuts of meat, like pork belly and beef short ribs.
Serving Style and Side Dishes
Yakiniku is typically served with rice and a variety of side dishes, like kimchi, pickled vegetables, and miso soup. The meat is usually sliced thinly and served on a platter.
Korean BBQ is usually served family-style, with the meat and side dishes placed in the center of the table for diners to share. Korean BBQ also includes a wider variety of side dishes, like japchae (stir-fried glass noodles) and banchan (assorted side dishes).
Condiments and Sauces
Yakiniku is typically served with a simple soy sauce-based dipping sauce, although other condiments like wasabi and garlic are sometimes added.
Korean BBQ is known for its variety of sauces and condiments, including ssamjang (a spicy dipping sauce), gochujang (a spicy red pepper paste), and sesame oil.
Wrapping and Eating Style
In yakiniku, diners typically wrap the grilled meat in lettuce leaves or sesame leaves before eating.
In Korean BBQ, diners typically wrap the grilled meat in lettuce leaves or perilla leaves before eating.
Popular Cuts of Meat
Yakiniku is all about the quality of the meat, with cuts like ribeye and sirloin being the most popular.
Korean BBQ is all about the flavor of the meat, with fatty cuts like pork belly and beef short ribs being the most popular.
The History of Yakiniku
Yakiniku is a Japanese style of cooking meat on a grill or griddle. The word “yakiniku” is derived from the Japanese words “yaki” meaning grilled or cooked over heat, and “niku” meaning meat. However, the origins of yakiniku are not entirely Japanese.
It is said that yakiniku originated in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. At that time, people would gather around a grill and cook meat together, creating a social feeling. This style of eating revolved around grilling kalbi (short ribs) and other cuts of meat on a mesh grill over a charcoal fire. The meat was often marinated in a lemon and soy sauce mixture before being cooked.
During the Japanese colonial era, yakiniku was imported to Japan from the Korean peninsula. However, it was not until after World War II that yakiniku became popularized in Japan.
Yakiniku in Japan
In Japan, yakiniku is usually served in dedicated restaurants that offer a variety of cuts of meat and vegetables. Customers usually order a set course or choose a number of different meats and vegetables to grill themselves. Unlike Korean BBQ, yakiniku does not come with side dishes or utensils, so customers need to ask for them if they want them.
Yakiniku is typically cooked on a small grill or griddle placed in the center of the table. The meat is cut into small pieces and cooked quickly, leaving it slightly raw in the center. The ideal way to eat yakiniku is to mix the meat with rice and sauce, or to eat it with vegetables.
Type of Meat
The origin of yakiniku meat can be traced back to the Korean barbecue style, which is why there are similarities between the two. However, yakiniku has evolved to have its own unique features and style. Here are some interesting facts about the origin and prevalence of yakiniku meat:
- Yakiniku became popular in Japan in the 20th century, and it is now a standard dish found in many restaurants across the country.
- The word “yakiniku” means “grilled meat” in Japanese.
- Yakiniku meat is typically served with a sweet soy sauce marinade, which is a common condiment found in yakiniku restaurants.
- Premium cuts of meat, such as wagyu beef, are also commonly found in yakiniku restaurants.
- The cross marks carved into the meat are a familiar feature of yakiniku, and they are meant to enhance the texture and flavor of the meat.
- In modern yakiniku restaurants, meat is typically served in smaller, bite-sized pieces, whereas traditional yakiniku restaurants served larger pieces of meat that were meant to be broken down into smaller pieces by the diners themselves.
- In the past, yakiniku meat was considered a delicacy and was only eaten by the upper class. However, it is now a popular dish enjoyed by fans of all social classes.
- The prevalence of yakiniku meat is heavily concentrated in cities, where there are many yakiniku restaurants to choose from.
Yakiniku restaurants in Japan are considered to be more contemporary and derived from Korean BBQ. The serving style involves the following steps:
- Meat is presented raw and sliced thinly.
- Customers cook the meat themselves on a grill located at the center of the table.
- The cooked meat is then handled with chopsticks and dipped in a spicy sauce or other additional condiments.
- Side dishes such as kimchi and lettuce are bundled together to make a sandwich with the cooked meat.
It is customary to eat yakiniku with a group of people, making it a social dining experience.
Korean BBQ Serving Style
Korean BBQ restaurants, on the other hand, involve grilling meat prior to serving. The meat is cooked in the kitchen and then brought to the table. The serving style is simpler and involves the following steps:
- Cooked meat is presented on a plate.
- Side dishes such as kimchi and lettuce are served separately.
- Customers can dip the meat in a sauce or wrap it in lettuce with paste and other condiments.
Korean BBQ is also a social dining experience, often eaten with a group of people.
While the serving style of yakiniku and Korean BBQ may differ, both are popular and delicious ways to enjoy grilled meat. It is interesting to note that the origin of yakiniku can be traced back to Osaka, where a Korean restaurant opened and took the concept of Korean BBQ and adapted it to fit Japanese tastes.
When it comes to yakiniku, the main dish is certainly the grilled meat. However, the side dishes that accompany it are just as important. In Japan, yakiniku restaurants typically serve a number of small dishes alongside the main meat dish. These dishes are referred to as “dishes to finish directly on the stone” and are designed to be cooked and eaten directly on the hot stone grill at the center of the table. Some of the most popular Japanese side dishes served with yakiniku include:
- Pickled vegetables: A common accompaniment to many Japanese foods, pickled vegetables are a staple side dish at yakiniku restaurants. Expect to see a selection of pickled vegetables like daikon radish, cucumber, and carrot.
- Steamed rice: A pretty standard addition to any Japanese meal, steamed rice is served alongside yakiniku to help balance out the flavors and provide a filling base.
- Miso soup: Another common Japanese side dish, miso soup is a hot and savory soup made from miso paste, tofu, and seaweed.
- Sanchu: A type of lettuce that is often used to wrap pieces of grilled meat, sanchu is a refreshing addition to the yakiniku table.
- Kimchi: While not originally a Japanese dish, kimchi has become a popular addition to yakiniku menus. This spicy Korean side dish is typically served alongside grilled beef and vegetables.
When it comes to yakiniku, the Japanese have their own unique set of condiments that are considered essential for enhancing the flavour of the meat. Here are some of the most popular Japanese condiments for yakiniku:
- Soy sauce: This is a plain and simple seasoning that relies on the flavour of the meat. It’s suitable for adding flavour to any type of meat.
- Salt: This is another plain seasoning that is suitable for adding flavour to any type of meat. Some restaurants, such as Isomaru Suisan, even offer a mountain of salt for rolling your meat in.
- Yuzu kosho: This is a contemporary addition to the yakiniku condiment series. It’s a paste made from yuzu citrus and chili peppers that adds a tangy and spicy flavour to the meat.
- Onion sauce: This is a popular dipping sauce that includes chopped onion and soy sauce. It’s a great addition to beef dishes.
- Marinades: Some yakiniku restaurants, such as Kobe Ikuta and Hantei in Shinjuku, offer a series of marinades that you can add to your meat before grilling. These marinades can include soy sauce, garlic, and other flavourings.
Korean Condiments for BBQ
Korean BBQ, on the other hand, relies heavily on marinades and dipping sauces to add flavour to the meat. Here are some of the most interesting Korean condiments for BBQ:
- Ssamjang: This is a dipping sauce made from soybean paste, chili paste, and other seasonings. It’s a popular addition to beef dishes.
- Gochujang: This is a spicy chili paste that is often used as a marinade for meat. It’s a great way to add some heat to your BBQ.
- Sesame oil: This is a popular seasoning for Korean BBQ. It’s often used to add flavour to the meat before grilling.
- Rolling Rock: This is a method of seasoning the meat by rolling it in salt and pepper before grilling. It’s a popular technique at Korean BBQ restaurants.
- Adding vegetables: Korean BBQ often includes a variety of vegetables, such as onions and peppers, that are grilled alongside the meat. These vegetables can be used as a condiment by wrapping them in lettuce or other greens.
Interesting Yakiniku and BBQ Condiments
In addition to the traditional Japanese and Korean condiments, there are some interesting condiments that you can find at yakiniku and BBQ restaurants in Japan:
- Kushiage sauce: This is a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and other seasonings. It’s a popular addition to kushiage (deep-fried skewers) dishes.
- Yakisoba sauce: This is a sweet and savory sauce that is often used to season yakisoba (stir-fried noodles). It’s a great addition to grilled meat dishes.
- Kakekomi sauce: This is a dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and other seasonings. It’s a popular addition to gyoza (dumplings) dishes.
Overall, the major difference between Japanese yakiniku and Korean BBQ condiments lies in the method of seasoning. Japanese yakiniku relies on simple seasonings and dipping sauces, while Korean BBQ relies heavily on marinades and dipping sauces to add flavour to the meat.
Yakiniku is a Japanese-inspired Korean dish, but the Korean version is much more authentic and uses more flavorful cuts of meat. The Japanese version is more of a social gathering where everyone cooks their own meat on a grill.
So, is yakiniku korean or japanese? It’s both!
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.