What Is a Hibachi Grill? History and How to Use It

Hibachi grill with meat and vegetable on top

Many years ago, there was a great chain restaurant in my area that had hibachi chicken on its menu. It was the most flavorful chicken I ever tasted and was cooked on a hibachi grill -- or so I thought. So I wondered, what is a hibachi grill, and could I use one at home to give my food that same mouth-watering flavor?

What Is a Hibachi Grill?

Meat on top of a grill

Image Source : Pixabay

So what is a hibachi grill exactly?

Well, the question "what is a hibachi grill?" is not a simple one to answer. It's actually quite confusing, but once you know the facts, it's easy to understand.

Many people think a hibachi grill is what they see at their favorite Japanese-style restaurants. You know, the ones where the chef comes to your table and skillfully chops up your food as it sizzles before you?

It's an amazingly entertaining theatrical event, but most of these restaurants are not using a hibachi grill. The grill they're using is actually a teppanyaki grill. This grill is a flat iron griddle that uses propane as its heating source.

Even if you're favorite Japanese-style restaurants uses an open grate for cooking, it's still not a hibachi grill. Why? Because it's using a gas flame as its heating source.

A hibachi grill is different. And if we want to get really technical about it, what we call a hibachi grill isn't really a true hibachi at all. But we'll get to that in a bit.

Hibachi grills have an open grate design, but most importantly, it uses charcoal as the heating source. In addition, hibachi grills are small, portable, and usually made from cast iron.

A Brief History of the Hibachi Grill

Smoke on top of a grill

Image Source : Pixabay

Now that we've answered the question "what is a hibachi grill?" let's delve into its history and find out the true meaning of "hibachi."

The hibachi originated in Japan and dates back to the Heian Period between 794 and 1185 AD. It's interesting that the literal translation of the word "hibachi" is "fire bowl" because that's basically what it is.

Originally made out of clay and wood, families filled them with sand and embers to keep their houses warm and cozy during the harsh Japanese winters. Later designs included different heat-resistant materials such as bronze, porcelain, or iron. Over time, hibachis became highly ornate and decorative.

Today, you rarely see hibachis in Japan except at traditional ceremonies and festivals. And shocker! The Japanese never used hibachis to cook food.

Say what?

Yep. What we think of as hibachi grills are actually called "shichrin" in Japan.

It's unclear how the shichrin made its way to the U.S., but many believe it was during World War II. Japanese troops were using shichrin grills to cook during wartime because of their small size and portability.

When the shichrin grills made their way to America, they became known as hibachi. Why? Probably because Hibachi is a lot easier to pronounce than shichrin.

Pretty fascinating, huh? Ask "what is a hibachi grill?" and you shall receive.

The Difference Between A Hibachi Grill and Other Grills

So another question you might have after asking "what is a hibachi grill?" is what's the difference between it and other grills.

The biggest difference is the size. Hibachi grills are small and can only cook a limited amount of food usually enough to feed up to four people.

Also, a hibachi grill doesn't have a lid so you can't grill large items like hams, whole chickens, or roasts like you can with the grills most of us have in our backyards.

Plus, they only use charcoal. Hibachi grills also cost a lot less than traditional grills.

Hibachi grills are ideal for people who don't have a lot of outdoor space but want their food to have that yummy charcoal flavor. And they are portable which makes them perfect for camping, picnics, tailgate parties, or a trip to the beach.

Cast iron makes for the best hibachi grills. You can find cheaper models, but they're made out of thin steel and tend to rust easily. They also usually won't last long no matter how careful you are with storing it.

So if you're going to invest in a hibachi grill, go with cast iron. It'll last a lifetime if you show it the proper amount of tender, loving care.

How to Use a Hibachi Grill

Drawing of a chef's hat and barbecue tools

Image Source : Pixabay

Now that we've answered the question "what is a hibachi grill?" and provided a bit of history, the next question you probably have is how do you use one?

Using a hibachi grill is super easy. All you need is the grill, charcoal, a charcoal starter, a lighter to get that flame started, and the food you're planning to cook.

Habichi grills work best with quick-cooking meats. Kebabs are great. So are thinner cuts of steak, fish, and chicken. Sausages, hamburgers, and hot dogs work well, too.

But first, you'll need to get the grill ready.

Season the grill

The first thing you'll want to do before you start using your hibachi grill is to season it. You'll only need to do this if you have a cast iron grill, and if you use cast iron skillets at home, you understand the importance of this step.

Seasoning gives your cast iron grill a natural, nonstick surface and prevents rust from building up after each use. It's basically baking on a layer of oil to bring out the grill's naturally protective patina. It will also smooth out the rough texture of the cast iron that you'll find when you first purchase your grill.

Seasoning is simple. First, wash your grill grates with water making sure to scrub out any bits of rust on the surface. Then dry completely.

Next, rub on a light coat of vegetable, olive, or soy oil. Make sure the oil covers both sides of the grates, but it should only be a very thin layer. The grates shouldn't be greasy.

Then place the grates in a 400-degree oven for an hour and cool completely. Your grill is now ready to use.

Starting the charcoal

You can light your coals using lighter fluid, wood, or paper. But the most hassle-free way to get those charcoals started is by using a charcoal chimney.

Charcoal chimneys are simple to use, and once you get it going, it'll only take a short time before your grill is ready to cook that delicious food you have waiting in the wings.

A charcoal chimney, or starter, is a metal container with holes at the bottom that will get your coals super hot super quick. You simply pour your cold coals into the top of the container, fill the bottom with paper and light it up.

Within minutes, your coals will be hot enough to spread onto the bottom of the grill. Then just set your grates, and you're ready to start cooking.

Cooking the food

Unlike traditional grills, food cooks fast on a hibachi grill. Like literally minutes. So you don't want to step away only to return and find all that mouth-watering food burnt to a crisp.

You can adjust the cooking temperature on most hibachi grills by raising or lowering the grates. If the grill has adjustable vents, that's another way you can control the heat.

Even so, keep an eye on your food at all times.

And this might seem like a "duh" thing to say but make sure you have tongs to flip your food. Believe it or not, I've seen people use their hands. Do that with a hibachi grill, and you'll be spending your time in an emergency room instead of in the great outdoors.

Cleaning the grill

You need to clean your hibachi grill each time you use it, especially if it's cast iron. It's easiest to clean when it's still warm, but if you're out partying, cleaning a grill might be the last thing on your mind.

Still, you should at least remove as much of the food remnants and oil off the grates that you can. Then later you can give it a proper cleaning.

Simply place your grates under hot running water and scrub them with a non-metal brush or nonabrasive scrub pad to remove any remaining food. Soap is usually not recommended, but some experts say a small amount of dish soap is okay. It's your choice.

Dry your grates thoroughly. Don't let them air dry, or you'll be looking at a thin layer of rust instead of a beautiful black finish. Then grab some paper towels and coat the grates with a thin layer of oil.

Store the grill in a temperature-controlled area of your house or garage until you're ready to use it again.

Safety considerations

Because a hibachi grill has no lid and gets very, very hot, there are some precautions to take before and while using your grill.

  • Only use it outdoors
  • Keep it far away from walls or anything else that could easily catch fire
  • Make sure it's on a solid, non-flammable surface like bricks or concrete
  • Keep all flammable materials away from it, including leaves
  • Use oven mitts, and only touch the grill by the handles
  • Keep a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher nearby in case a fire accidentally breaks out
  • Don't ever leave a hot hibachi grill unattended whether there's food cooking on it or not

Give Your Food Mouth-Watering Flavor with a Hibachi Grill

Photo of person grilling meat

Image Source : Pixabay

So what makes hibachi-grilled food taste so good? The simple answer is the food is grilled with charcoal.

Have you ever noticed when you're grilling with charcoal how your food drips with fat from the heat? Well, when that fat falls into the charcoals causing that unmistakeable sizzle, all that flavor gets vaporized and rises back into your food.

You can add all sorts of different seasonings or marinade to your meat and vegetables to give them extra flavor, but even if you add nothing but salt and pepper, your food will still be delicious.

That's why grilling on a hibachi grill makes your tastebuds tingle. You don't have to get fancy to have a mouth-watering meal.

Have we answered the question "what is a hibachi grill?" to your satisfaction? Have you ever used a hibachi grill? What did you like best about it? Share your experiences below!

Featured image via Unsplash

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