What would summer be without outdoor cooking? There is just something about meat and veggies grilled over a real fire that brings out the cave-person in all of us. Hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages all seem to take on a new life when cooked on a grill.
Grills come in lots of shapes and sizes, from diminutive little buckets, to huge cylindrical monstrosities that look like nuclear devices. Some are large enough to roast an entire side of beef at one time. And some are barely large enough to grill one hamburger patty. The majority of people need something in-between, and a good hibachi grill is really hard to beat to cook enough food for up to 4 people at a time.
|Recommended Hibachi Grills||Brand||Cooking Surface||My Opinion|
|Marsh Allen Hibachi||Marsh Allen||157 Square inch||Great quality hibachi grill. I've been using mine for years and still working great.|
|Cajun Hibachi||Cajun Hibachi||15 inch diameter||Another good hibachi grill.|
Table Of Content
What is a Hibachi Grill?
What we refer to as a ‘Hibachi’ is not really a hibachi. The traditional hibachi dates back to before the Japanese Heian Period (785-1184 AD). This was the Golden Age of Buddhism, Taoism, and the Age of the Samurai, during the reign of the Fujiwara Clan. Japan was experiencing some major economic issues. Winter in Japan can be cold, and since most houses were partially made of paper, a fireplace was not a good idea. Also, wood was in short supply, and very expensive. People heated rooms by placing hot charcoal in fire-proof open-topped containers. Coals remain hot for long periods of time, put out a surprising amount of heat for the material being used, and don’t throw sparks (usually, if left alone…). Coals also do not make a lot of smoke, so a chimney is not needed. Japanese houses were ventilated well enough so that what little smoke may occur simply blew outside, and it was not a problem. Thus, the true Hibachi was born. It was originally a simple heating device, possibly the world’s first space-heater. They were usually round bottomed with legs to keep them off the ground, or table top. The word, ‘Hibachi’ literally means, “Fire Bowl” in Japanese. Hibachis are still in use in traditional Japanese homes, most notably for special events, like the Tea Ceremony, and the Setsubun Festival.
During WW-II, the requirements of rapid troop movement had a profound effect on the Japanese Army. It was no longer possible for support personnel like cooks, with all of their equipment and supplies, to stay with the troops all the time. Soldiers pressed the hibachi into service as a small individual cooker to prepare their rations on in the field, like a “shichirin”, (‘7 -Wheels’, in Japanese…no one know why…). Shichirins are small charcoal cookers, dating from the Edo Period (1603-1868 AD), made from ceramic, which would not last very long in the field. Hibachi’s could serve the same purpose, and were almost indestructible.
After the war, some enterprising individuals thought these would sell in the US, since outdoor cooking and suburbia was on the rise. The units that were shipped to the US were mistakenly called Hibachis, because the shipping clerks were unable to spell or correctly pronounce the word, “Shichirin”, or so the story goes… The name stick, and today, Hibachi is used to describe any portable, or semi-portable round or rectangular cooker, with or without a lid. A real hibachi has no lid, and is only used with charcoal.
What’s So Great About a Hibachi?
First, you need to understand what a true hibachi is, and is not. It is not a gas-powered or electric grill. It is not a smoker. It does not use a lid. It has no mechanical parts. It is a container to hold hot coals, and a grill above them…that’s it. Some fancy ones have adjustable vents, but these are just for show, and are not needed on an open grill. Here are all the parts of a basic parts of a hibachi:
As you can see, a hibachi is just a bowl or box that holds hot charcoal. A grill is set on top. It has legs so that you don’t burn what it is setting on. That’s all there is to it.
I have to say, I love these little cookers, and own several. They are inexpensive, and always work. One of the things that make hibachis so great is their simplicity. There are no flames to adjust, no dangerous liquid fuels, no moving parts to break, and charcoal is cheap. You can also use wood, or other solid flammable materials if you need to. Anything that will burn down to coals will work. Hibachis are wonderful for camp cooking. They can also be used as heaters. I have used mine in my tents when the temperature was as low as 10ºF, and we stayed toasty warm, without using any stinky propane. If you wake up hungry, just throw on a couple of hot dogs and a pot of coffee, and you’re all set.
Some of the advantages of having one…
- Easily portable.
- They can be set up almost anywhere there is enough space, usually a 10’ x 10’ space is plenty (you need a Safety Zone around them…)
- Charcoal is cheap, and safe.
- No moving parts to malfunction.
- No small parts to lose.
- Very versatile.
And The Disadvantages…
Of course, everything has some disadvantages, and hibachis are no exception. The cons aren’t much, but they are there, just the same. They are mainly a result of the limitations of the design itself. Here they are:
- Their size prohibits cooking large quantities of food, but if they did, they wouldn’t be as portable. You can always use 2 or 3 hibachis at the same time.
- The only real heat control is by the amount of coals you use, and the height of the food above the coals. Most hibachis have a way to set the grill at different heights. Some have adjustable vents, but they really don’t do much.
- Since there is no lid, large cuts of meat such as whole hams, whole chickens, and roasts will not cook properly. Hibachis work best with thinner, quick-cooking meats such as steaks, sausages, pork chops, chicken parts like leg quarters and breasts, fish, ham steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, shish-kebobs, shrimp skewers, etc… Hibachis are also not capable of smoking meats and veggies.
- Cheaper units made from thin steel can rust and deteriorate, but they cost a pittance. You can always just toss them and buy a new one every spring. Use the old ones as planters…. You can buy these all day long at any Dollar Store, Dollar General, Walmart, Kmart, etc…, for under $15.00. The food you cook on them will probably cost you more than the cooker.
- Their small size means you can’t really stack coals to one side, creating a hot side, and a cooler side, like on a large grill. You can’t move the food far enough away from the coals to make much of a difference, except with height adjustment.
Most of these limitations can be worked around. Anything you buy or make is going to limited by its design and intended use. For the money, nothing can beat a hibachi for grilling food for 4-6 people.
7 Safety Measures To Follow While Using a Hibachi
Before you go looking for a hibachi, it will help if you have an idea about how you will be using it. As I said earlier, there are inexpensive ones that are perfect for tailgate parties, light camping, and moderate use. You can also opt for cast-iron models that will last a few lifetimes, and can be used as hard as you are able. Even these units are still moderately priced, especially when you compare them to other types of grills. And keep in mind, there is no law that says you can’t have more than one.
However you plan to use your hibachi, they are all used the same way. The very first concern is safety:
- Make sure the hibachi is far enough away from walls, or anything that could catch fire. If you feel the wall, or anything else near your hibachi, and it is uncomfortably warm to touch, you need to move the unit, or the object farther away.
- The surface under the hibachi needs to be inflammable. Always be sure not to set the unit on bare wood, plastic, or glass surfaces. Put bricks or rocks underneath if you need to. Better yet, set it on a steady non-flammable table top.
- Make sure there are no flammable materials close to the hibachi, such as leaves, paper, lighter fluid. Keep a ‘Safe Zone’ of at least 4’ from the hibachi at all times. Watch for blowing leaves and paper, and keep them away from the cooker.
- The sides of a hibachi get very hot when cooking. Do not ever touch the cooker without using the handles. Oven mitts are also a very good idea.
- Be careful of other people. Keep children, elderly people, intoxicated or impaired people, or anyone who appears inattentive away from the cooker when it is hot. They can get burned, maybe seriously.
- Keep water nearby. Always keep a large container of water nearby to extinguish any flames that may occur, or to kill the coals immediately in the event of an emergency. A spray bottle with water is also handy when coals flare up under your food from fat drippings. Flames will char and burn your food beyond recognition.
- Never, repeat, never dump hot coals anywhere. Even when you think the coals are out, they aren’t. Coals can stay hot for 24 hours or longer. When you are done cooking, and you no longer want the unit hot, extinguish the coals in the cooker. Pouring water over them, stirring them, and pouring more water over them is the best way. Keep doing this until every single piece of coal is extinguished, Then scrap the dead coal and ash into a trash bag, and dispose of it properly. Even if you have let the coals burn out on their own, still flush them with lots of water before disposing of them. Never just dump it on the ground and leave it. It is disrespectful to those who may use the site after you. Leave the area just like you found it…or even cleaner.
How To Use a Hibachi Grill
Using hibachis is one of the easiest things you will ever do. Before using a cast-iron hibachi for the first time, you will need to season the grill. Just clean it well with water and scrubbies (never use soap on a seasoned cast iron grill, pot, or skillet), then give it a light coat of vegetable, olive, or food-grade mineral oil. Never use lard, bacon or meat grease, because they contain salts that will corrode the metal. Some people use Crisco, but I prefer not to. It contains other things besides just oil. Now, just place your grill in a 350ºF oven for around one hour, let it cool, and you are good to go.
To use your hibachi, find a safe place for it to set while cooking. Once you have decided on a place, start your coals. You can start them in the hibachi, if you want, but I have always have better results using a charcoal starter, which is just a large metal can with holes in the bottom, and a place underneath to stuff with paper. You put your coals in the can, put paper in the bottom, light it, and your coals will be started in minutes, and will be red-ready to cook on in a few more minutes…all without using any smelly and dangerous charcoal starter fluid, When the coals are red-hot, just pour them into the bottom of the hibachi, and using tongs, arrange them to your liking. Set the grill over the coals at the height you want, and you’re all set. Just add food. It will help a lot with clean-up afterwards if you spray the inside and grill with a non-stick cooking spray before adding coals and cooking. Some people line the bottom with foil. If you do, keep in mind that it will reflect even more heat to your food, so adjust the cooking time accordingly. You’ll still need to scrub the cooker afterwards.
Most food on the hibachi cooks in minutes per side. You can adjust the cooking temperature by raising or lowering the grill, or using adjustable vents if the unit has them. For less heat, you can also spread the coals out more, or stack them tighter for more heat. Sometimes, melted fat from the meat will drip onto the coals and ignite into flame. You want to put these flames out as quickly as possible, because they will char and burn your food. Use a spray bottle to spray the flaming area of the coals until the flame goes out. If it becomes a problem, you can periodically drain the fat from the meat into a coffee can, and return it to the grill. Chicken and pork are notorious for flaming up, so be prepared.
How To Keep it Clean: My Recommendations
If you want your hibachi to last, you need to keep it clean and store it properly. You should clean your hibachi thoroughly as soon as possible after each use. Even cheap hibachis last a long time if properly cared for. I have one that I bought from Dollar General for $12.00 about 10 years ago. It still works like new, and other than some scratches, doesn’t look all that bad.
When you clean the hibachi, scrub the inside well with scrubbies (Scotch Brite pads, SOS pads, etc…), or even a nylon or copper wire brush, until there is no residue left on the metal. I clean mine the same way I do my other grills and smokers. I go to the local car wash, give my vehicle a nice soak, and then use the remaining time to spray the hibachi with hot, high pressure water, (I never use soap on any of my cooking vessels). Then, I dry it off completely, give the whole thing a light coat of food-grade mineral oil, place it in a plastic bag and tie is shut, then store it in a dry place until the next use.
4 Things To Look For In A Hibachi Grill
If you just need an inexpensive hibachi for occasional use, the ones at bargain stores work fine. I have really never seen a hibachi that didn’t work, for a while anyway. But if you want one that may last a little better with harder use, there are 4 things to look for:
- Choose cast iron. If you are going to get serious about hibachi cooking (a noble pursuit, if there ever was one…), or want a cooker that will last several lifetimes, cast-iron is the only way to go. They will be heavier than the steel models, anywhere from 10 lbs to around 40 lbs, depending on which one you get, but most come with a lifetime guarantee ( …of course they do….What could possibly happen to a chunk of cast iron?..), mostly because they are just about indestructible. The extra weight is a small price to pay for their durability, and efficiency. Even expensive cast-iron hibachis are less than $100.00 in most places. The vast majority are under $50.00. That’s a small price for something your grandkids will probably be cooking on long after you are gone.
- Ease of use. You really want one with a good, easy-to-use grill height adjustment.
- Split grill. Some people like models with a split grill, so they can keep things that need to cook longer farther away from the coals, while having the fast stuff right over the heat.
- Wood handles are great. This makes life a lot simpler. I wouldn’t pass on a unit just because it had solid metal handles, but wood handles are a nice feature to have.
The 2 Best Hibachi Grills: My Favorites
That’s really all there is to finding a great hibachi. Here are some of my favorites, based on my experiece:
1. Lodge L410 Cast Iron Review
The Lodge is a great heavy-duty hibachi that will give you a lifetime of use…and then some. It is solid, and very well-made.The grill comes pre-seasoned, and has a full 153” of cooking surface, plenty for most cooking. I have one of these, and it will easily cook 6-5” hamburger patties at a time. I have done as many as 10 hot dogs at a time on the Lodge. 4 chicken leg quarters fit perfectly, and you could possibly get 6 on there if you arrange them right, depending on the size of the chicken. Rather than vents, it has a draft door, which actually does provide some control over the heat. Hot coals are easily accessible through the rear. It weights around 33 lbs, so once you set it down, it is not going anywhere. The grill has 2 height adjustments, but this brings me to the only gripe I have about this unit. To change the height, you have to take the food off the grill and flip it over. Not a big gripe, but still a grip. Priced just right, this is a the best hibachi in my opinion, and I do recommend it.
2. Marsh Allen Charcoal Grill Review
This is my one of my all-time favorite hibachi grills. Out of the 5 hibachis I own, I use this one probably 60% of the time. At 10” x 18” x 4”, it fits into my A.L.I.C.E. pack easily, and at only 18 lbs, is easy to carry all day. The wood handles give a good grip. It has a full 157” of usable cooking surface. Sure, you can’t grill a mastodon on it , but for fish, small game, and even deer steaks, it is perfect for 2 to 4 people. It has a split grill, with each side capable of 3 independent height adjustments. Light enough, and small enough to take just about anywhere, the Marsh (formerly Kay Products, Inc.) will give you several lifetimes of great service. Considering the low price, you won’t have to mortgage the house to get a great hibachi.
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Conclusion: It’s Time to Choose
There are lots of other great hibachis out there, and these are by no means your only options. To tell the truth, I have never met a hibachi I didn’t like. But these will give you a starting place. Good hunting.