A Hibachi grill buffet refers to a restaurant experience where the diners sit in and watch the chef cooking the meals on an open fire grill.
Customers are free to take any kind of food and how much they want to take. This delicious dining originated in Japan. But nowadays, you can also get some in the US.
Some people confuse it with teppanyaki, but these two are, in fact, different.
Let’s look at what to expect at a hibachi grill buffet.
If Japan is too far away, you can find some restaurants in the US that offer a Hibachi grill buffet experience.
You can also buy the utensils and make your family buffet at home.
What is Hibachi?
The word “Hibachi” in Japan means “fire bowl”. It refers to a grilling device with a round container.
An open grate sits at the top of the container where you put the food to grill. The fire bowl itself is cast iron, while the outer container can either be wood or ceramic.
Hibachi is small in size, making it portable and easy to store within the house.
Hibachi grill buffet refers to fancy dining in hibachi-style grilling where you have wide varieties of food to eat.
Many kinds of meats, vegetables, and even side dishes are present. You are free to eat as much as you can. The chef will be grilling the food right in front of you.
There will be some amazing grilling tricks to entertain you while waiting for your meal to be ready.
The chef who cooks in a Hibachi grill buffet is called Itamae. It has a literal meaning of “in front of the board”.
The name refers to their position, which is right in front of the grilling board.
In the US, The words “Hibachi” and “Teppanyaki” have widely been a common misconception that people consider these two as the same.
So if you find a Hibachi restaurant, chances are it serves a teppanyaki dining instead of an open-grate charcoal-based grilling.
Sometimes, a restaurant offers both teppanyaki-style and hibachi-style, allowing guests to choose one.
I have laid out all of the exact differences between hibachi and teppanyaki here if you’d like to dive more into that, but here I will focus on the hibachi buffet.
Inside a hibachi restaurant, you will see large arrays of food. Any kind of food you can imagine would be there. All are neatly organized based on the categories.
In the protein section, you can name any meats you want, even the special cuts like sirloin, short ribs, etc.
Even vegans would be glad by the abundant choices of vegetables and fruits. Condiments, side dishes, and even desserts would present too.
And the food stocks are not only Japanese. There are also plenty of choices of food from other countries like Chinese and Korean.
Even American food like pizza and barbecue steaks will be there as well to cater to people who want to have the experience but are not a fan of Japanese cuisine.
How to Do a Hibachi Grill Buffet
If you plan to try out a Hibachi grill buffet, make sure you have a lot of time on your hands.
It is not fast food. Instead, it is quite a slow dining where you can pick and choose and go for a fresh plate multiple times.
You are often free to customize your menu and ask the Itamae to cook them for you. The chef will ask you what kind of sauce you choose as seasonings.
To make the best of your experience, Itamae will show you off some of their best cooking tricks such as tossing a shrimp up high to flip it on the grill or creating a dramatic flambe.
If you love alcoholic beverages to accompany you on a big meal, you can order some. Every Hibachi restaurant provides sake in various types.
There are other kinds of boozes too, of course. But most people would order sake to complete their lavish Japanese dining experience.
After done with your meal, you can move on to choose the desserts to end your sophisticated meal time.
You might think that a fancy buffet dining must be expensive. However, it does not always have to be like that in a Hibachi grill buffet restaurant.
The prices may vary from one restaurant to another. It all depends on how fancy the restaurant is.
Simple Hibachi restaurants can charge only around $8-15 per person per meal. They also offer free meals for little kids and discounted prices for senior citizens.
Higher-class restaurants can charge around $20-50 per meal.
Weekends are usually more expensive than weekdays. A dinner buffet is usually more expensive than a lunch buffet.
So if you want to save your money for this wonderful experience, try visiting the restaurant on a weekday afternoon.
How Is It Different from Teppanyaki?
Many people, especially in the US, think that Hibachi and Teppanyaki are interchangeable. Those two are, as a matter of fact, different.
It is understandable how people can get confused because both grills hold the concept of open and live grilling.
However, there are a few key differences that make it easier for you to recognize.
It is pretty easy to differentiate between these two at first glance.
A teppanyaki grill is boxy, big, and made of metal. It has a large solid flat surface where chefs can do the cooking process.
Hibachi, as mentioned before, has a round or container made of cast iron. Some modern-style Hibachi grills can be square in shape as well.
The outer layer is either ceramic or wood to avoid burning the chef. It has an open grate at the top where the chefs put the food to cook.
Teppanyaki is so large that people don’t normally have one in the house (although you have these great tabletop teppanyaki plates for a party)
In a restaurant, one station of teppanyaki can serve about 10 people or even more. You have to sit ina chair where the table is integrated into the teppan.
Hibachi uses charcoal to cook the food. Teppanyaki uses propane as fuel to make the flame under the flat surface.
These different methods result in different burnt taste and color on the dishes.
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However, some modern units of Hibachi use electricity to generate heat to grill the food.
Foods to Cook
Due to the solid and flat surface, you can cook anything on a teppan grill. Even julienned vegetables and noodles would do just fine.
Such things would be impossible to do over Hibachi. The open grate will cause all the foods to fall to the charcoal flame if you cut them too small.
History of Hibachi
In Japan, the culture of Hibachi dates back centuries ago. Back then, Hibachi worked to generate warmth instead of solely for grilling.
The device is made portable so families can move it anywhere in the house as they need it.
Gradually, people came up with the idea of putting a grate on top of it so they can grill some food along.
Sometimes, the grill is mounted somewhere in the house.
There were also Hibachi containers where the outer layer has intricate decoration, making it both aesthetically and functionally.
It was common to see a Hibachi being passed down from generation to generation.
After the Second World War, Americans started traveling to Japan and experienced the enchanting cuisine, including the Hibachi and Teppanyaki.
The first Hibachi restaurant opened in Kobe in 1945.
Gradually, the culinary business made its way to the US. However, American people have already mixed up between those two.
Hence, now you can see many restaurants offering “Hibachi” dining while in fact, they are serving a teppanyaki experience.
Meanwhile, in Japan, people don’t use Hibachi much anymore these days, either for warming or grilling.
There have been many modern appliances to cater for such purposes that Hibachi is no longer efficient. Even so, you can still find many Hibachi sold in the market.
But most of them are more like decorative goods rather than a warming or grilling tool.
Japan has no exact rules on what and how to grill in Hibachi. People have varied favorites to grill on their Hibachi.
Feel free to grill almost anything as long as the cut is large enough so it won’t slip through the grate.
A Japanese-style beef steak, lobster, or fish fillet can taste wonderful if grilled over the Hibachi.
Vegetables that may work for this culinary style are radish, cabbage, and tomatoes. To operate the foods while grilling, they use a kind of metal tong.
You can buy a unit of Hibachi container to have your own Hibachi grill buffet with your family at home. It allows you to choose anything you want to grill.
Even foods that are not from Japanese cuisine can taste amazing after being grilled over this old-school firepot.
For example, you can try grilling bread, sausage, and paprika.
Seasonings and Condiments
Being a comfort family food, the seasonings used in the Hibachi grill buffet are simple and easy to get. Most Japanese people used to have them every day in their kitchen.
There are two sauces and two dry spices that play important parts in creating a balance of flavor. They are Japanese soy sauce, mirin, ginger, and garlic.
Japanese soy sauce is the key to give it a unique Japanese taste. The authentic sauce will pair perfectly with a kicking taste of garlic, giving it a strong savory flavor.
The combination of these two results in an appealing sense of saltiness.
When Mirin comes into the mix, its sweetness will create a balance with the salty seasonings.
The fermented rice wine is also effective in binding the taste and deepening the flavor complexity. Not to mention how it can neutralize the fishy smell of seafood and meats.
Ginger also helps to eliminate the unwanted smell from foods. It also gives a sense of warmth both in the flavor and in your stomach.
Sometimes, people also add more spices to enrich the flavor.
Mix all the ingredients to make a marinade sauce. Dip each food on the sauce and let it soak for a minute before you place it on the grilling pot.
After done grilling, you can dip it again in a bowl of mirin for one second. Place it on your plate and sprinkle a pinch of sesame seeds to top it off.
If you are not a fan of mirin, feel free to skip the sauce for your Hibachi grill dining.
People enjoy their Hibachi meal with a bowl of warm rice and various Japanese condiments, such as wasabi or miso soup.
Sometimes, people would drink sake along with the meal. It warms their stomach. The rice wine also works to lighten up the mood.
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The culture of the Hibachi has grown much from its roots, especially after it landed on America. However, the authentic flavor and experience stay wonderful.
People are loving it. If you have the chance to try out a Hibachi grill buffet, you really should sometime.