In the English language “Hibachi grills” usually refers to small aluminum or cast iron grills used for cooking. Due to their portable size they are often used for picnics, tailgating, and camping. The highest quality hibachi grills are the ones made of rugged cast iron and are best suited for direct-heat grilling versus slow, in-direct heat cooking more commonly known as barbecuing. This makes the current day cast iron charcoal hibachi ideal for grilling thinner food items such as vegetables and steaks (up to about 2 inches thick).
What is the difference between direct heating and indirect heating? Direct heating refers to quickly cooking over a direct heat source at a high temperature (500F+ degrees) for a short period of time. Hibachi grills use direct heating which is why they excel when it comes to cooking steaks and veggies. Flavors are quickly seared–in over an evenly distributed 500+ degree heat source. Grilled meat has a distinctive flavor that can be achieved no other way. In-direct heating on the other hand involves much lower heat (around 240F degrees) and relies on radiant heat and smoke to do the cooking. In-direct heating is most commonly referred to as barbecue. It is ideal for slow cooking that smoky flavor into tougher meats (such as brisket) or larger items like thick chicken breast.
Cast iron has a lot of pros, and one major con. First with the obvious – cast iron hibachi grills are heavy. At around 30 pounds, they are far from what any backpacker would be interested in toting around to the remote wilderness. Other than that though, if it’s a car camping trip, a picnic in the park, or even grilling in the back yard for the family or on the patio for 2, they are great! The biggest benefit of cast iron is the ability it has to retain and evenly distribute heat. Unlike cheap aluminum grills, this results in the ability to easily grill food, evenly and thoroughly to perfection. With cast iron grilling you will never have that burger that’s well done on the left side, and still breathing on the right. Another benefit is the durability. When you own a quality cast iron hibachi grill you never have to deal with handles falling off, legs bending, or bottoms rusting out.
There are some common misconceptions about the origin of the modern day hibachi. Originally the hibachi came from China as a portable charcoal heater used to heat the homes of the noble. Eventually it made its way to Japan (some say around the Heian period of 798 – 1185AD). Back then they were made out of cypress wood lined with clay. Later, stronger materials came into use such as metals and ceramics. The hibachi has seen many uses throughout its life time as a heating source. During WWII Japanese troops even used them as cigarette lighters.
There is still some uncertainty as to the name “hibachi” itself. Some believe that the original name was actually shichirin (defined as a traditional, Japanese, charcoal-heated cooking utensil). It is thought that when these cooking stoves were originally introduced to North America they were marketed as “hibachis” because nobody could pronounce “shichirin”.
Whether it is historically shichirin or hibachi, this modern day charcoal cooking device has evolved into a convenient, portable, outdoor cooker we now call the hibachi grill. They come in various versions and are made of different materials but it is the cast iron hibachi grills that offer the highest quality. They are not light but most people accept that compromise because nothing else grills better or more evenly than cast iron.
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