Teriyaki vs. sukiyaki | Let’s compare these two popular Japanese classics

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Every person who loves Japanese food must be familiar with teriyaki and sukiyaki. These two are some of the most popular foods both in Japan and in the West.

Teriyaki is a way of cooking food on the grill, and it’s different from teriyaki sauce, which is a sweet and savory sauce made of soy, mirin, and some condiments.

Many people think teriyaki strictly refers to the sauce, but it’s a way of cooking!

The teriyaki sauce is fusion food, and it was actually invented in Hawaii by Japanese immigrants.

Teriyaki is a type of “yaki” or “grilled” Japanese dish. The meat is first grilled or broiled before the sauce, and other ingredients are added to it.

But sukiyaki is a hot pot dish, which is an entirely different type of cooking. It involves simmering meat in a hot broth alongside vegetables on a tabletop stove.

teriyaki vs sukiyaki comparison between these two classic Japanese dishes

Once you try both of them, you’ll surely love the sweet and savory flavors and all the side dish possibilities.

Let’s examine the difference between these two beloved Japanese classics.

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They are different types of Japanese cuisine

In fact, teriyaki, sukiyaki, and yakitori are the three “sisters” of Japanese cuisine. These three dishes are some of Japan’s most famous.

Today, I’m talking about teriyaki and sukiyaki and how they compare.

For more on yakitori, read Is yakitori sauce the same as teriyaki? Uses & recipes

Here’s a rundown of the two dishes:

First of all, both of these dishes end in the word “yaki,” which means grilled or broiled in Japanese.

The names are a bit confusing because teriyaki comprises grilled meat, but sukiyaki is actually simmered, so they are different in that sense.

Sukiyaki is a popular Japanese hot pot dish cooked by diners on a tabletop stove. It consists of simmered beef with vegetables, noodles, mushrooms, and tofu in a sweet and savory soy sauce.

On the other hand, teriyaki refers to food (usually beef and chicken) that is grilled on a griddle and served with a tasty soy-based sauce.

But let’s take a closer look at both dishes and see how they’re made and what ingredients are used for each.

About sukiyaki

Nabemono is a Japanese hot pot. Nabemono style refers to a way of cooking and serving food at the table. The diners have a tabletop stove, and everyone can cook their own food.

It’s similar to Korean barbecue, except it’s a stove, not a grill. Sukiyaki is one of the most popular nabemono style dishes.

Sukiyaki is most often made with very thin slices of beef, simmered with vegetables, mushrooms, and ingredients like tofu in a soup-like broth. The broth is sweet and savory and made of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar.

Everything is cooked in the same pot, and as soon as people eat the food, you add and cook more.

There are two types of sukiyaki:

  • Kanto-style refers to sukiyaki in which the beef and vegetables are cooked in the sauce directly.
  • Kansai-style is when the beef slices are first cooked and caramelized in the pot with a bit of sugar. The veggies are cooked in sauce afterward. Both taste almost identical, and they are delicious!

Want to make sukiyaki at home? Try our simple and tasty sukiyaki recipe!

Origin of sukiyaki

Sukiyaki emerged sometime in the 1860s during Japan’s Edo period.

The name of the dish is a combination of two Japanese words. Some people believe that it is a mix of “suki,” which is the word for a spade, and “yaki,” the word for “grilling or grilled.”

Others think suki comes from “sukimi,” which means thinly sliced meat.

Either way, it is a fitting name for a dish made from paper-thin beef slices.

Travelers and foreign dishes influenced sukiyaki. It only became popular during the subsequent Meiji period, when people embraced eating beef after the beef-eating ban ended.

Sukiyaki was influenced by Chinese hot pot dishes, as well as foreign ingredients and cooking methods.

The first Kanto-style sukiyaki was served at a restaurant in Yokohama in 1862. Since then, this hot pot dish has been a favorite among locals.

About teriyaki

Let’s discuss teriyaki sauce first. It is a fusion-style sauce created by Japanese immigrants in Hawaii in the 1960s.

Since there was an abundance of pineapples in Hawaii, they combined soy sauce with pineapple juice to sweeten it. A bit of mirin or sake, sugar, garlic, and ginger were then added to create the perfect glaze and marinade for grilled meat.

There are many types of teriyaki out there, but bottled varieties like Kikkoman’s Teriyaki sauce are some of the most popular.

You can also make teriyaki sauce and add honey, vinegar, and even red chili flakes. As sugar and mirin caramelize, it gives the sauce a beautiful shiny appearance.

No doubt, it’s one of the tastiest sauces for meat, vegetables, rice, tofu, and noodles.

Check out our article about how to sweeten and thicken teriyaki sauce if you make it from scratch.

Japanese teriyaki

The word teriyaki is a combination of two Japanese words: Teri (照り), which means glaze or luster. This luster is the result of the sugars coating the meat. Yaki (焼き) is the Japanese word for grilling.

The Japanese-style teriyaki sauce is made with soy sauce, sugar, and sake or mirin.

Mirin is a popular rice wine with low alcohol content, and it’s sweet, so it’s ideal for teriyaki sauce. Sake is a brewed rice beverage, but it’s not as sweet as mirin.

Origin of teriyaki

The origin of teriyaki dates back to sometime in 17th century Japan. During that period, grilled and broiled foods became extremely popular because they were easy to make, and the addition of glazes and sauces made them very tasty.

The original sauce was a bit different from today’s teriyaki sauce. It was the last part of the cooking process and brushed on the meat as a glaze.

Comprised of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, it was free from other additives.

The origin of teriyaki in the US dates back to the 1960s. With the arrival of Japanese immigrants after WWII, new Japanese restaurants opened up.

They combined traditional chicken and beef teriyaki with the Hawaiian teriyaki sauce, and the combination of savory meat and sweet teriyaki sauce became very popular.

Which is healthier: teriyaki or sukiyaki?

Both teriyaki and sukiyaki are not the best diet or weight loss foods. The problem with both comes from the sauces.

Teriyaki sauce is full of sugar and salt, which is quite unhealthy. In sukiyaki, the soy sauce adds lots of sodium to an otherwise pretty healthy dish.

Thinly sliced beef or lean chicken are both healthy meat options. They make the dish wholesome.

Chicken or beef is a low-calorie and low-fat source of protein. Combined with vegetables and ingredients like tofu, it is a healthy meal.

But, when you add white rice and noodles for teriyaki, it increases the calorie count.

The biggest culprit is the teriyaki sauce which is fatty and full of sugar, sodium, and other additives.

In sukiyaki, the broth is full of calories. Plus, you’re eating a whole variety of other foods alongside the beef, and it becomes a fatty food.

A serving of sukiyaki has an average of about 670 calories, whereas chicken teriyaki has about 350-400.

Therefore, my conclusion is that teriyaki chicken is healthier for you. But, you also need to examine sodium and sugar intake for each and the sides for each.

The bottom line

If you’re looking to try delicious Japanese dishes, sukiyaki and teriyaki are both excellent options. They’re classics but cooked differently.

Teriyaki is grilled meat in a delicious sweet and salty sauce. Sukiyaki is a hot pot dish you cook yourself at the table, and it’s an exciting dining experience.

So, if you feel like you want a flavorful Japanese meal with a tasty sauce, don’t hesitate to try these foods!

Read next: What is Toban Yaki? History, recipe & the ceramic plates used

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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.