Japanese grilling techniques often revolve around using a broiler rather than an outdoor grill, especially during the cold winter months. But spring and summer in Japan are a different story, even for those without outdoor space for grilling.
The long, lilting chirp of cicadas, the smell of chicken fat sizzling on glowing hot coals, shochu highballs, and neighborhood festivals—these are the things that remind me of my summers in Japan. I didn’t have grilling space at my apartment in Machida, outside of Tokyo, but I could always count on festivals and cookouts in parks to get my yakitori fix. While it would be downright irresponsible to import a bunch of cicadas simply to create a bit of atmosphere at my next summer barbecue, I can at least serve a menu of some of my favorite Japanese grilling recipes. While you can use a broiler to make all of the recipes below, we suggest using a charcoal grill for better flavor. A Weber is fine, but a tabletop konro or shichirin (small grill made of clay) creates a communal experience that lets you and your guests eat as you cook. For an even better flavor experience, try your hand at using binchotan charcoal.
Looking for simple recipes that celebrate the main ingredients? Try the salt-grilled fish or some of the classic yakitori recipes. If you’re seeking complex, layered flavors, head straight to the ginger garlic half chickens or miso-marinated salmon. Of course, just because we’re grilling doesn’t mean dessert is off the menu—mitarashi dango is a grilled dessert and a favorite at springtime festivals in Japan. Find all of these recipes and more below.