Best Yakitori and Yakiniku Grills for Japanese Cooking

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Whether you’re someone who just returned from Japan with a new love of the izakaya food service, or simply really love Japanese cooking, yakitori and yakiniku grills can be perfect for sharing your love of the food culture. 

Japanese barbeque arts have come a long way in the past few decades. Today, there are very few bars across all of Japan that don’t serve meat dishes such as yakitori, yakiniku, karaage, or other delicious fried or grilled meaty treats to go with your alcohol.

As many gastronomes know, having a meal composed of delicious meat and alcohol is a fantastic combination no matter where you live in the world. It’s tried and true, and whether you want to enjoy your wings and beer on game night, simply kick back after a long day at work, or otherwise, you can’t go wrong with grilled and fried meats.

So, “What are the best grills for cooking yakitori and yakiniku?”, you ask. Well, we’ve collected some of the best Japanese grills for cooking the two meat dishes, and reviewed them below.

The first on the list and best overall choice for the majority of people is this Zojirushi electric grill. Zojirushi is a Japanese company located in Osaka that has been making consumer electronic products for over a century now, and their overall quality compared to their prices cannot be beat.

There are a few reasons why we feel that this particular Zojirushi model stands out above all the rest.

To start, the Zojirushi EB-DLC10 has a fairly wide grilling surface compared to other yakitori and yakiniku grilling surfaces out there. It measures a whopping 14.875″ x 10.625″, and is perfect for slapping on both veggies and meat alike. You can generally grill for a gathering of about 4 people without any problems at all. It’s not overly large by any means, and can still fit nicely in compact spaces, too. 

Next, the grill heats up evenly with the power of 1500 watts. You won’t have any issues with meats around the edges cooking at speeds slower than the innermost placed ones. Because the grill is fully electric and utilizes its 1500w power in its entirety, it’s quick and efficient. You won’t even notice very much smoke at all during the cooking process.

In addition, the surface of the grill is very easy to clean. It’s a mostly flat panel, and any marks made during the grilling process can be quickly scoured and washed away.

Lastly, the heating element is incredibly easy to use. You can easily change the temperature of the grill plate from 176 to 410 degrees very quickly by turning the knob on the heating element. Whether you want that slow, melty sizzle or that quick char on your yakiniku, it’s got you covered.

Pros

  • Easy to use heating element to facilitate all temperatures you love to cook at
  • Fairly wide grill plate can accommodate four people’s worth of food easily
  • Quick to heat up, quick to cook, quick to eat!

Cons

  • For larger gatherings, you may want to invest in a bigger yakiniku/yakitori grill

The second on our list of great yakiniku and yakitori grills is another fantastic option available from Zojirushi. This particular grill contains several different possible setups for grilling or making anything from okonomiyaki to yakitori and even takoyaki.

To start, the bottom most layer available on the grill is the griddle-like hot plate. This can be used to make Japanese dishes such an okonomiyaki or monjayaki, or even western foods such as your classic pancake, sausage, and bacon breakfast.

Next, the grill plate can be placed on top. This is the one that is perfect for searing your yakitori, yakiniku, or any other bits of chicken, pork, and beef that you desire. You can even change one side out to cook on a flat panel alongside the grill panel if you desire.

Finally, a takoyaki panel is included as well. Obviously, the main intended usage of this is to make delicious octopus balls, but you can also make other round western foods such as muffins, donut holes, hushpuppies, and anything else your creative mind can think of.

However, there are two reasons why this particular grill package isn’t our top pick. One drawback is the fact that this Zojirushi grill does not include any English instructions. The second is that this is a direct Japanese import, so you unfortunately will have to purchase a transformer to safely operate the 100 volt package. 

It’s also significantly more expensive than the smaller grills, but is also much larger at 21″ x 17″ and includes a lot more overall, so we feel this balances out overall.

Pros

  • Countless ways to grill your meats, and even make dessert or other meals alongside them
  • Can make all your meals using at least one of the various included panels
  • Much larger than smaller, cheaper Zojirushi grills out there

Cons

  • No English instructions
  • Will need a 100V to 120V transformer to safely operate in the US

Tired of electric Zojirushi grills yet? (We’ll get to other brands soon. Apologies!) The third and final Zojirushi grill perfect for grilling yakiniku and yakitori is the EB-CC15. 

Whereas the other two grills were either more powerful or much larger than this grill, this particular Zojirushi grill uses lass wattage and has a smaller overall grilling surface than any of the other ones made by Zojirushi.

The surface measures a mere 12.5″ x 9.25″ and the grill uses 1300W instead of its 1500W cousin at number one on the list. This makes it more ideal for people who either live alone or with one other that they intend to make meals for.

The temperatures available to cook with are the same as the bigger models, but since it operates at 1300W, it will take a tad longer to heat up fully. 

Luckily, it does operate at 120V like the original Zojirushi, so this one will not require a transformer. It even has English instructions this time around, too. Lucky us!

Pros

  • Great for single people or couples living in a compact space, as it doesn’t take up much space at all
  • Grills evenly and efficiently at temperatures ranging from 176 to 410 degrees
  • Easy to clean with a great nonstick grilling surface
  • Doesn’t create much, if any, smoke while cooking

Cons

  • Not ideal for families or gatherings, but great for date night!
  • 1300W is weaker than its 1500W cousin at #1

Finally, a new brand! The next grill fantastic for any yakitori or yakiniku needs is this one by IWATANI. There are a number of features that make this grill one of the cheapest and highest value grills for on the go out there.

For one, and definitely the most prominent feature, the grill uses a circular “Korean-style” grilling plate. This particular rounder grilling plate is very popular in Korean barbeque restaurants and homes across South Korea and the US. It creates a lot of surface area to cook on despite the overall size of the grill not being exceptionally large. This allows you to cook meat for up to 4-6 family members or guests without any issues.

Secondly, the Yakimaru can be taken anywhere. You can cook indoors or outdoors due to the fact that the IWATANI grill uses cans of butane in order to power the flames below the grilling surface. This makes it great for both feeding guests within your home, or having a family picnic in a local park.

Sadly, there are a few drawbacks that I also have to mention. The cans of butane are not included in the purchase. Each can of butane lasts approximately 217 minutes or so at the maximum, so this can add up over time with repeated use. 

Additionally, no English manual is included with this one either. Luckily, the grill is very easy to own and operate regardless, as the only operation outside replacing the butane is adjusting the heat via a knob on the front panel.

Pros

  • Can be taken anywhere and easily cooks yakiniku both indoors and outdoors
  • Fairly cheap compared to other options
  • Small, compact grill with a fairly wide cooking surface due to Korean-style grill plate

Cons

  • No English instructions
  • Butane not included, and must be replaced every 217 or so minutes of cooking time

The final entry and last but not least on the list is another wonderful option by IWATANI. The Aburiya model is another fantastic gas grill that is by far the best to make authentic yakitori with for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, the wire frame and open flames by design make it the ideal way to cook the skewered yakitori meats. When you’re cooking yakitori on an electric surface, sometimes you end up with a perfectly even cook across every single individual piece. Sometimes, being a little too perfect just doesn’t feel quite right. The butane-powered Aburiya model provides a more uneven cooking overall, which provides the more realistic chars and variance that we’ve come to expect from frequenting different izakaya during our travels across Japan.

Secondly, placing skewered meat on the grilling surface is a pleasure. The grill isn’t absurdly large, but it’s not overly small either. You should be able to comfortable place upwards of sixteen different yakitori skewers on to cook at once depending on the size of each. This makes for a very easy way to feed a large group, or simply cook a lot of food for yourself in one go. (We get it and don’t judge. Yakitori is delicious.)

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this grill is the best for anything outside of yakitori and thin slices of grilled yakiniku. The design is fairly hard to clean due to the wire mesh, and the last thing I’d want is a lot of fattier meats dripping into the open flame and creating smoke that I couldn’t handle. 

And of course, as this is another IWATANI grill, you’ll need butane cans in order to operate the gas-powered grill. Luckily, these aren’t too expensive, but it’s worth mentioning that they’re once again not included with the purchase.

Pros

  • Not overly expensive to own and operate
  • Fantastic char and great cooking experience on skewered yakitori
  • Creates the most authentic yakitori due to wire mesh over open flame design

Cons

  • Not easy to clean, and recommend not having thick, juicy slabs of fatty meats on the wire mesh
  • Smoke can be a problem if you’re cooking fattier pieces of meat above the open flame
  • No butane included, and you’ll need that to operate the grill

Frequently Asked Questions About Yakitori and Yakiniku Grilling

What is Yakitori?

Yakitori, which literally means “Grilled Chicken”, is a Japanese meat dish based on skewering various pieces of chicken and then grilling them over an open heat source. This is typically done over charcoal in Japan, and is especially popular in izakayas (Japanese bars), festivals, and other indoor and outdoor venues.

The meat is typically seasoned simply with either salt or a tare sauce. Tare sauces are essentially thickened, sweetened soy sauce based sauces that are used either during the yakitori cooking process, or often offered as a dipping sauce for the yakitori instead.

Though the grills above are not based on cooking with charcoal, they’re commonly used even in Japan as “yakitori-ki”, or machines meant for cooking at home opposed to the massive grills used commercially in stores and other instances.

What Cuts of Chicken are Used for Yakitori?

Nearly every cut of meat from the chicken is used in Yakitori. In fact, most Izakaya will offer anywhere from a few to dozens of different options depending on how the chicken is cooked, what pieces of the chicken are used, whether vegetables or other additions are included, and what seasonings and dipping sauces are included. In general, Japan is a country that strives to use every part of the chicken in a variety of ways.

Some of the more notable and more popular yakitori include but are not limited to:

  •  Momo: Refers to chicken thigh meat skewered and grilled.
  •  Mune: Chicken breast meat that’s been skewered and grilled.
  • Tsukune: Minced chicken that has been turned into meatballs before being skewered and grilled.
  • Torinegi / Negima: Typically is made with chicken thigh meat and includes negi (Japanese leek) skewered and grilled alongside the thighs.
  • Tebasaki: Typically two chicken wings that have been skewered together and grilled. Usually crispy.
  • Reba: Skewered chicken liver.
  • Nankotsu: Cartilage of the chicken taken from between the chicken’s breasts that’s been skewered and grilled. Doesn’t contain much meat at all, but is great for your skin due to the fatty nature.
  • Kawa / Torikawa : Bits of chicken skin tightly skewered together and grilled to a crisp.
  • Hato / Hatsu: The heart of the chicken, taken and skewered in bite size pieces before being grilled and served.
  • Seseri: Meat taken from the neck of the chicken that is then skewered and grilled.
  • Sunagimo: Chicken gizzards that are skewered and grilled. Known for their unique springy texture and typically low amount of seasoning.
There are dozens more describing and using nearly every single part of the chicken, too.

What is Yakiniku?

Yakiniku in Japanese literally translated to “grilled meat”. It was a term that originally referred to western, and then Korean, barbequed meat. Today, however, the word is entirely tied to the Japanese take, which is grilling small cuts of meat and vegetables over an open flame or electric grill!

Like yakitori, yakiniku are grilled and typically served with a variety of tare sauces for dipping. However, since the Japanese way of cooking stems from a Korean background, classic Korean side dishes such as kimchi and bibimbap are typically served alongside the meats, too.

What Cuts of Meat are Used for Grilling Yakiniku?

The majority of yakiniku meats are going to be beef and pork. Occasionally, chicken and even lamb is included, but these aren’t as common in the majority of yakiniku restaurants.

Typically, the most common cuts of meat are the following:

  • Karubi (Kalbi): Boneless Korean short ribs.
  • Tan / Gyuutan: Cow tongue.
  • Rosu: Beef neck and upper portions, referring to the “chuck” parts of the cow.
  • Misuji: Softer portions of the upper shoulder consider a delicacy.
  • Harami: Cuts of skirt steak located around the abdominal muscles of the cow’s diaphragm. 
  • Butabara: Pork belly.
  • Tontoro: Fatty meat taken from the neck and cheeks of pigs.
There are plenty of additional cuts not included as well!

How Do I Eat Yakitori?

Right off the skewer, of course!

Yakitori isn’t the greatest Japanese bar food for no reason. It can be simply enjoyed without any usage of other utensils or much other than a small amount of salt or tare sauce. Enjoy!

How Do I Eat Yakiniku?

Yakiniku is typically eaten with a variety of dipping sauces at your disposal. You’ll generally use chopsticks to move your preferred thin slices of meat to whatever sauce you feel tastes the best. Some of the fattier cuts of meat taste just fine on their own, but others will generally best be paired with a nice tare or miso-based sauce. 

Picking the Right Yakitori or Yakiniku Grill for You

If you’re still lost on what yakitori or yakiniku grill is the best for you, no sweat. Below you’ll find the summarized recommendations based on our full reviews found above. Hopefully they’ll help you make a choice if you’re on the fence or trying to choose between multiple options.

  • If you intend on grilling yakitori, yakiniku, or any other grilled meat and need a stellar, powerful electric grill: 
    Zojirushi EB-DLC10
  • If you want the all-in-one package complete with griddle, takoyaki plate, grill plate, and intend on cooking in a variety of manners:
    Zojirushi EA-GV35-TD
  • If you need a compact yakitori or yakiniku grill and are only intending on using the grill for yourself and/or a maximum of one other person:
    Zojirushi EB-CC15
  • If you want a circular Korean-style yakiniku grill that you can take and cook things with anywhere:
    IWATANI Yakimaru
  • If you want to exclusively use a gas grill meant primarily for yakitori, and want the best overall grilling experience for skewered meat alone:
    IWATANI Aburiya
And, hopefully, with that you’re able to make an informed choice on what you’re looking to cook and enjoy many more delicious Japanese meals in the near future.

Thanks for reading, grilled meat lovers!