What Kind Of Charcoal Do You Use For Yakitori?

                by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 29, 2021

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Today, there is something trending in the western world—yakitori. This is a Japanese word that means a grilled chicken.

However, this name doesn’t describe the complexity, variety, as well as cultural meaning of Japan’s most desired grilled meat.

Yakitori comprises of small and elegant skewers (mostly made of chicken, and it can be made of other meat, as well as vegetables but then it wouldn’t be called yakitori).

What kind of charcoal do you need for Yakitori?

These are the embodiment of Japanese BBQ and are considered to be some of the best fast foods in Asia.

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Binchotan is the only traditional choice of charcoal when it comes to Yakitori grilling.

Best Charcoal for Yakitori: IPPINKA Kishu Pro-Grade Japanese Binchotan BBQ Charcoal

This is BY FAR the best authentic yakitori charcoal I’ve found available over here.

If you’re going the traditional route you should use binchotan charcoal whenever you can, because it gets to those insane temperatures that you need for the perfect chicken skewers grilled over charcoal flame.

MTC Japanese Style Binchotan Hosomaru (Skinny Charcoal) White Charcoal 33 Lb. / 15 Kg. Professional & Restaurant Grade!

Check out the latest prices on these big bags here on Amazon

What kind of charcoal can I use for yakitori?

Everyone knows that the best yakitori comes from Japan, and it is grilled to perfection. To produce this mouthwatering Japanese delicacy, you need to use charcoal.

However, many people have a challenge in choosing the best charcoal to use to cook their yakitori.

However, it is important to note that there are three types of charcoal that you can use for yakitori.

These include lump charcoal, briquette, and binchotan (with binchotan being the only traditional choice of course).

If you’re just grilling at home, you might do fine with lump charcoal or briquettes, just as you normally would use with your grill, but for the best taste you should go with binchotan and I’ll get to why in a second.

If you don’t have a good grill at home you should either lump or briquettes though, because the binchotan does burn quite hot.

You could destroy your current grill if you don’t watch out.

Yakitori grills are either ceramic, ceramic-lined steel or of the highest quality steel so you’d best be careful with that.

You should check out these great Yakitori grills I’ve reviewed as well if you haven’t bought one

Binchotan

Many chefs from different parts of the world love binchotan. It is a highly pure carbon charcoal, which is produced from oak.

Binchotan is entirely odorless, unlike briquettes and lump charcoal, because of its high carbon content. As a result, binchotan allows you to enjoy the ordinary flavors of your food.

So, how do you identify binchotan charcoal? It’s pretty simple—you just need to hit two pieces of the charcoal together, and they will produce a light-metallic sound.

To produce binchotan, oak wood is burned in a sealed kiln at low temperatures for an extended period of time. This can take up to four days.

Oxygen levels in the kiln are reduced to allow carbonization to occur. Then, it is refined at high temperatures, of over 950 degrees Celsius for a short period of time.

After the firing process, the charcoal is removed from the kiln and then smothered with ash, soil, and sand. The smothering process gives the charcoal its unique white appearance.

The end product is a highly solid charcoal, with a carbon content of around 93% to 95%. The best binchotan in the world comes from Kishu, and it is said that it has a carbon content of around 96%.

Can you use lump charcoal for yakitori?

Mostly, lump charcoal is made by burning wood in an enclosed container at around 500 degrees Celsius. The entire process requires minimum oxygen before the fire is extinguished and then cooled.

Lump charcoal contains a carbon content of approximately 70 % to 80% and doesn’t last for long.

Just like binchotan, lump charcoal should be ignited in a chimney starter before being used. A bag of lump charcoal contains pieces of different sizes.

Because of the inconsistency in the charcoal sizes, your grill will not have uniform heat distribution. You will find that some parts are hotter than others are.

One notable thing about lump charcoal is that it first burns at high temperatures, and then it quickly loses heat once it peaks.

So that’s why it isn’t THE BEST for traditional yakitori.

Jealous Devil makes a pretty good natural hardwood variety though that does a pretty could job for those yakitori sessions you might have at home:

Jealous Devil lump charcoal

(view more images)

You could actually get away with these quite well if you’re just grilling a couple of skewers for yourself or your guests. 

Binchotan most often is the preferred option because restaurants would have to have the perfect temperature all night long, so with lump, it’s best to get in quick to get those higher temperature spikes you want. 

Check the latest prices here

Can you use briquettes for yakitori?

someone is firing up the grill with briquettes

Also known as hot beads, briquettes are manufactured in uniform sizes, which assists in dealing with the inconsistencies of lump charcoal.

I would not recommend using briquettes for yakitori since they burn more slowly, but also less hot. And that heat is exactly what you want from your yakitori grill.

However, briquettes have lots of fillers, impurities, as well as a lower carbon content compared to lump charcoal. Besides, they have extra chemicals, which allows them to have a steadier burn and light faster.

Adding briquettes to synthetic fire starters can give you clouds of dangerous chemical pollutants at the beginning of your barbeque period.

When you compare lump charcoal with briquettes, you will realize that it produces less hash and burns hotter than briquettes.

However, lump charcoal burns quickly, and it’s susceptible to producing sparks, as well as sudden popping and loud sounds.

So, why do people love binchotan?

Binchotan comes with numerous benefits, and that’s the reason why many yakitori chefs love it.

First, it burns cleanly, and it produces a steady heat. In addition, it is said that its ashes can neutralize the acids found in proteins, as well as other unwanted acidic products as the meat continues to cook.

Since this charcoal produces far-infrared radiation, foods are sealed quickly, and this helps in improving the natural flavors found in food.

Furthermore, it is essential to note that binchotan is a very dense charcoal, which means it can burn for an extended period of time.

Each piece of the charcoal can burn for up to 5 hours, but this also depends on the thickness.

The major drawback of binchotan is that that it’s hard to ignite, compared to briquettes and lump charcoal.

How can I ignite binchotan?

You can also check this video from Tee Cloar on Youtube:

Check out these amazing Binchotan grills to start Japanese grilling with charcoal

Popular Yakitori

However, you cannot enjoy this Japanese delicacy with one thing missing—charcoal. It is important to note that you need charcoal to grill your yakitori.

Bottom Line

Well, now you have everything you need to know in case you need to go and search for charcoal to cook your yakitori. However, it is important to note that the efficiency and purity of your charcoal plays an important part in preserving the taste of your yakitori. Therefore, you need to consider charcoal, which burns for long and which doesn’t contain additives or chemicals.

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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.