Yakiniku (焼き肉): Get to Know the History and Types

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Yakiniku is a Japanese style of cooking meat, usually beef, at the table. It’s a social experience where everyone cooks their own meat and vegetables on a grill in the middle of the table. “Yakiniku” originally referred to the “barbecue” of western food.

Let’s look at the history, ingredients, and etiquette of this unique dining experience.

What is yakiniku

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Understanding Yakiniku: A Guide to Japanese-Style BBQ

Yakiniku, which means “grilled meat” in Japanese, originated in Japan during the post-World War II era. It was said to have been popularized by Korean immigrants who brought their own style of grilling meat to Japan. Today, yakiniku has become a staple in Japanese cuisine and is enjoyed by people all over the world.

What is Yakiniku?

Yakiniku is a style of cooking meat, usually beef, on a grill or BBQ. The meat is cut into small pieces or thin cuts and served raw, leaving it up to the diner to cook it to their desired level of doneness. Yakiniku restaurants offer a variety of cuts of meat, including the famous kalbi (short ribs), as well as marinated meats and vegetables.

The Yakiniku Experience

Yakiniku is more than just a meal, it’s a social experience. When you go to a yakiniku restaurant, you’ll be seated at a table with a grill in the center. You’ll be given a menu to order from, and you’ll pay per piece of meat or vegetable that you order. The restaurant will provide you with utensils and a choice of sauces to mix and match.

How to Cook Yakiniku

Cooking yakiniku depends on your personal preference, but here are some tips to get you started:

  • Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking.
  • Use a mesh grill to prevent the meat from sticking.
  • Cook the meat in small pieces to ensure it cooks evenly.
  • Try different cuts of meat to find your ideal choice.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help or recommendations.

Yakiniku vs BBQ

Yakiniku is often referred to as Japanese BBQ, but there are some differences between the two:

  • Yakiniku is usually cooked on a gas or electric grill, while BBQ is often cooked on wood or charcoal.
  • Yakiniku is served raw and cooked at the table, while BBQ is usually cooked beforehand and served hot.
  • Yakiniku often includes marinated meats and vegetables, while BBQ typically focuses on the meat itself.

Is Yakiniku Worth Trying?

Definitely! Yakiniku has a reputation for being expensive, but it’s definitely worth the cost. The meat is of a high standard and the experience is unique. If you’re new to yakiniku, check out dedicated yakiniku restaurants to get the full experience. Don’t forget to try the lemon and other sauces that are often offered to enhance the flavor of the meat. Jump in and give it a try!

The History of Yakiniku

Yakiniku, which means “grilled meat” in Japanese, originated from a Korean dish called bulgogi. During the Meiji era, when Japan opened its doors to the world, Korean immigrants introduced this style of BBQ to Japan. Yakiniku was first referred to as “Korean BBQ” or “Chōsen Ryōri” (Korean cuisine) and was commonly found in restaurants in the Shinanomachi area of Tokyo.

The Birth of Yakiniku Culture

Yakiniku’s popularity blossomed after World War II when meat consumption restrictions were dropped. Yakiniku was officially legalised in January 1948, and people started to enjoy this type of food in restaurants and at home. The basic style of yakiniku involves marinated pieces of beef or pork, which are grilled at the table. Yakiniku is commonly served with a variety of dipping sauces and toppings.

The Theory of Yakiniku’s Birth in Japan

There is a theory that yakiniku was actually born in Japan and not Korea. According to this theory, yakiniku was inspired by Western-style roasted dishes that were introduced to Japan during the Meiji era. Yakiniku was proposed as a way to promote the consumption of beef and was part of a campaign by the emperor to introduce Western-style food to the Japanese people.

The Acceptance of Yakiniku in Korea

Yakiniku has also become a popular food in Korea, where it is called “bulgogi.” The dish is commonly found in Korean restaurants and is often served with a variety of side dishes. While some Koreans claim that yakiniku is a Japanese dish, others accept that it is a Korean dish that has been popularized in Japan.

The Widespread Usage of Yakiniku in Menus

Yakiniku has become a common dish in Japanese cuisine and is often found on menus in restaurants throughout the country. Yakiniku is also commonly found in Korean restaurants and is a popular dish in North and South Korea. Yakiniku has even extended beyond beef and pork and can now be found in chicken and seafood varieties.

Kinds of Yakiniku

Japanese-style yakiniku is the most famous type of yakiniku. It originated in the early Showa era and was popularized by Korean immigrants in Osaka and Tokyo. Today, you can find Japanese-style yakiniku restaurants all over the world. Here are some interesting facts about Japanese-style yakiniku:

  • Unlike Korean BBQ, Japanese-style yakiniku is cooked on a grill that is heated with charcoal or gas.
  • The meat used in Japanese-style yakiniku is typically marinated in a soy sauce-based sauce before being grilled.
  • Japanese-style yakiniku is usually served in bite-sized pieces, making it easy to eat with chopsticks.
  • Some popular cuts of meat for Japanese-style yakiniku include kalbi (short ribs) and tongue.
  • Japanese-style yakiniku is often dipped in a sauce made from soy sauce, lemon, and other ingredients.

Offal Yakiniku

Offal yakiniku is a type of yakiniku that uses parts of the animal that are often thrown away in Western countries. Here are some interesting facts about offal yakiniku:

  • Offal yakiniku is popular in Japan and is often served at yakiniku restaurants.
  • Some popular cuts of offal for yakiniku include liver, heart, and stomach.
  • Offal yakiniku is often marinated in a sauce made from miso, soy sauce, and other ingredients.
  • Offal yakiniku is usually cooked quickly on the grill and served hot.
  • Unlike other types of yakiniku, offal yakiniku is often eaten without dipping sauce.

Typical Ingredients

When it comes to yakiniku, meat is the main attraction. The term “yakiniku” originally referred to grilled meat in a Western style, but it was popularized in Japan and now refers to a broadest style of grilled meat. Some popular meat options for yakiniku include:

  • Thin slices of beef, such as ribeye or sirloin
  • Pork belly slices
  • Chicken slices
  • Prawns
  • Shitake mushrooms

Seafood: A Delicious Addition

While meat is the star of the show, seafood can also be a great addition to your yakiniku feast. Some seafood options to consider include:

  • Oysters
  • White fish
  • Squid

Vegetables: Add Some Color and Texture

To balance out the meat and seafood, it’s important to add some vegetables to your yakiniku spread. Some popular vegetable options include:

  • Yellow and white onions
  • Eggplant
  • Squash
  • Free ramp vegetable

Sauces and Seasonings: The Flavor Boosters

To give your yakiniku that extra flavor boost, there are a variety of sauces and seasonings you can use. Some common options include:

  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Light and sweet soy sauce
  • Pinch of white sesame seed

Cooking Oil: Keep it Light

When it comes to cooking oil, it’s best to keep it light. Vegetable oil is a popular choice, and you’ll only need a few tablespoons to get started.

In conclusion, yakiniku is a delicious Japanese style of grilled meat that can be customized to fit your taste preferences. Whether you prefer meat, seafood, or vegetables, there are plenty of options to choose from. So fire up the grill and enjoy a yakiniku feast!


Yakiniku toppings can vary depending on the region in Japan. Here are some of the popular toppings in different areas:

  • In Osaka, they love to add garlic chips and grated yam to their yakiniku.
  • In Tokyo, they prefer to use negi (Japanese green onion) and shiso (perilla) leaves as toppings.
  • In Hokkaido, they often use butter as a topping for their yakiniku.

Jobs for Toppings in the Yakiniku Industry

Toppings are not only important for the taste of yakiniku, but they also provide job opportunities in the industry. Here are some of the jobs related to toppings in the yakiniku industry:

  • Topping suppliers: They supply various toppings to yakiniku restaurants.
  • Topping designers: They create new and unique toppings to attract customers.
  • Topping chefs: They specialize in creating and preparing toppings for yakiniku dishes.

How to Enjoy Yakiniku Like a Local

When it comes to yakiniku, the ideal way to eat like a local is to order an array of juicy and colorful meats and vegetables. Here are some tips on how to order and choose your meats and vegetables:

  • Check the menu: Depending on the place, yakiniku restaurants offer a la carte menus or tabehoudai (all-you-can-eat) menus. Make sure to check the menu before ordering.
  • Know your cuts: Yakiniku meats are usually divided into thin and thick pieces. Thin cuts cook quicker, while thick cuts take a bit longer. Choose the cuts that you prefer.
  • Try different things: Yakiniku is all about trying different meats and vegetables. Don’t be afraid to mix and match and try new things.
  • Ask the staff: If you’re not sure what to order, ask the staff for recommendations. They know the best meats and vegetables to try.
  • Bring your appetite: Yakiniku can be a bit expensive depending on the place, but it’s worth it. Make sure to bring your appetite and try as much as you can.

Choosing the Best Yakiniku Restaurant

To eat like a local, it’s important to choose the best yakiniku restaurant. Here are some things to consider:

  • Check the number of menus: Some yakiniku restaurants offer a wide array of meats and vegetables, while others have a limited selection. Choose the one that suits your taste.
  • Check the prices: Yakiniku can be expensive, so make sure to check the prices before going.
  • Check the atmosphere: Yakiniku restaurants can be lively and noisy or quiet and intimate. Choose the one that fits your mood.
  • Check the reviews: Check online reviews to see what other people are saying about the restaurant.
  • Check the tabehoudai option: If you’re going with a big group, check if the restaurant offers a tabehoudai option. This is a great way to try different meats and vegetables without breaking the bank.

By following these tips, you can enjoy yakiniku like a local and have a memorable experience at any yakiniku restaurant.

Differences between Yakiniku and Teriyaki

When it comes to Japanese cuisine, two dishes that are often compared are yakiniku and teriyaki. While both dishes involve meat and are popular in Japanese restaurants, there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between yakiniku and teriyaki and what makes each dish unique.

The Difference in Cooking Style

The biggest difference between yakiniku and teriyaki is the cooking style. Yakiniku involves grilling thinly sliced meat on a tabletop grill, while teriyaki involves cooking meat in a pan or on a grill and then adding the teriyaki sauce. Yakiniku is a lighter and more interactive way of cooking meat, while teriyaki is a bit heavier and more complicated.

The Difference in Meat Type

Another difference between yakiniku and teriyaki is the type of meat that is typically used. Yakiniku is usually made with beef or pork, while teriyaki can be made with a variety of proteins, including chicken, beef, and fish. Yakiniku is often enjoyed raw and dipped in sauces, while teriyaki is cooked and then scattered with sesame seeds.

Restaurants offering both

According to Wikipedia, in September 2021, a new ramen restaurant called Dan Yang Ramen opened in New York City. The restaurant offers both yakiniku and teriyaki dishes, and the number of yakiniku dishes differs from the number of teriyaki dishes. This shows that even within one restaurant, there can be a difference in popularity between yakiniku and teriyaki.

In conclusion, while yakiniku and teriyaki are both popular dishes in Japanese cuisine, they differ in terms of their cooking style, meat type, sauce, and popularity. Whether you prefer the interactive and light style of yakiniku or the sweet and savory flavor of teriyaki, both dishes are great options for anyone who loves Japanese food.

Yakiniku vs Gyudon: A Comparison

Gyudon is a popular Japanese dish consisting of thinly sliced beef that is usually served over a bowl of rice. The word “gyudon” literally means “beef bowl” in Japanese and is also called “beef donburi”. The beef is typically prepared by simmering it in a mildly sweet soy sauce and dashi broth, then placed over the rice and topped with onions. Gyudon is a fast and easy food to prepare and is commonly offered at small restaurants and fast-food chains in Japan.

How do they differ?

Although both dishes involve beef, yakiniku and gyudon differ in several ways:

  • Preparation: Gyudon is prepared by simmering the beef in a broth, while yakiniku requires grilling the beef.
  • Cutting: Gyudon requires slicing the beef into thin portions, while yakiniku requires slicing the beef into bite-sized pieces.
  • Toppings: Gyudon is topped with onions, while yakiniku is typically served with a variety of dipping sauces and toppings.
  • Cooking Needs: Gyudon can be prepared with limited cooking needs, while yakiniku requires a special grill or griddle.
  • Time: Gyudon is a fast and easy food to prepare, while yakiniku takes more time to prepare.
  • Similar Foods: Gyudon is similar to a dish called “donburi”, while yakiniku is similar to barbecue.

Where to find them?

  • Gyudon: Gyudon is commonly offered at small restaurants and fast-food chains in Japan. It is also sold in supermarkets as a pre-packaged meal.
  • Yakiniku: Yakiniku is typically offered at special restaurants that sell grilled meat. It is not commonly found in supermarkets.

In conclusion, while both yakiniku and gyudon involve beef, they are two different dishes with unique characteristics. Gyudon is a fast and easy food to prepare, while yakiniku requires more time and special cooking needs. Gyudon is commonly found at small restaurants and fast-food chains, while yakiniku is typically offered at special restaurants that sell grilled meat.


Yakiniku is a Japanese-style BBQ where you cook your own meat. It’s a great way to socialize with friends and family and perfect for special occasions.

It’s important to use a grill pan to prevent the meat from sticking and to cook it in small pieces to make sure it’s cooked evenly. Enjoy!

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.