How to use a hibachi grill – Real experiences for beginners!

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Ever since I first set foot in Japan more than 20 years ago, I’ve been impressed with Japanese BBQs, often called “Hibachi” in the West.

Now, living in a mixed Japanese & Western family, I’m a bit obsessed with cooking on my Japanese Charcoal grill. I have a couple, including a small one which I take camping and to outdoor picnics, and a bigger one for using at home.

Hopefully my experiences are helpful to you!

What is Hibachi called in Japan?

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I say “in the West” because what are called “Hibachi” outside of Japan are generally called “Shichirin” in Japan. A “Hibachi” is usually a bowl with coals placed inside used to heat the house, not usually to cook. Where the confusion comes from, I’m not sure. But the naming situation is actually even worse, because many non-Japanese people also refer to cooking on a hotplate as “Hibachi”, instead of “Teppanyaki” is it is known in Japan. 

For the purpose of this article, I’ll call the Japanese charcoal BBQ Hibachi, because that is what it has come to be known by in the West. Just bear in mind, that if you go to Japan and start talking about cooking on your hibachi, they might look at you weird, because you are saying that you like cooking on your heater…

At first, it can be a little tricky to figure out how to get started with knowing how to cook Hibachi steak, or whatever you are trying to cook on your hibachi grill.

Hopefully, this article will give you an idea of how to use and cook on a hibachi grill. But first thing’s first. Let’s get clear on what we are talking about here:

What is Hibachi?

Hibachi is a Japanese device or vessel used for heating. Most often, a Hibachi uses open hot coals as the main heat source. 

In Japan, Hibachi have been used for more than a thousand years to and heat the house and sometimes to boil water or cook. 

Similar vessels used for cooking are generally called shichirin in Japan.

Though traditionally these were heat-resistant braziers, bowls or receptacles capable of holding hot charcoal, modern shichirin, (or Hibachi as the are referred to in the West) take on a variety of shapes.

Here’s one that I use at my house: 

A modern hibachi grill
A modern Shichirin/hibachi grill
  • Technically, a Hibachi that is used for cooking is called a “Shichirin”.

The term “Hibachi” outside Japan can refer both to the actual cooking apparatus or to the style of cooking.

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How does a hibachi grill work?

Hibachi work by simply heating whatever sits on a basic metal mesh placed above coals in a receptacle. Modern versions will generally have vents on them that allow you to control the amount of air circulation and, thus, the heat. 

Hibachi grill ventillation
Hibachi grill ventillation

Hibachi grills have become popular in recent years because they can be smaller than traditional grills, simpler to cook with, and more portable. They can be used indoors or outdoors depending on the ventilation conditions inside or the weather conditions outside.

The main drawback of hibachi grills is that it can take time and sometimes be difficult to get the charcoal to a sufficient level of heat in the first place.

Hibachi grill from top
Hibachi grill from top

What does hibachi mean in japanese?

In Japanese, “Hibachi” literally means “Fire Bowl”. The two characters that make up the word “Hibachi- 火鉢” translate to:

火 – fire, flame, blaze 

鉢 – bowl, pot, basin

There are several other words in Japanese that refer to the same receptacle including 火櫃(Hibitsu) and 火桶(Hioke), which translate roughly as “Fire-chest” or “Fire-bucket” respectively.

A Hibachi used specifically for cooking is technically called a shichirin. They may also be referred to as a hibachonn. The hibachon typically consist of a small, open metal bowl which is heated from below by charcoal or wood fire.

Hibachi can also refer to an entire meal prepared on this type of grill. 

How To Set Up A Hibachi Grill For Cooking 

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Most modern hibachi grills are small and portable, so they don’t require too much prep work before use. 

The main steps in setting up a Hibachi Grill are:

  1. Set up a grill space.

You need to be careful about where you put your grill.

Charcoal gives off carbon monoxide when burned, which can kill you.

So you need to make sure you’re in a well-ventilated space,  completely outdoors.

You want to make sure there is nothing close to the grill that can catch on fire. At the end of the day, we are dealing with naked embers and flames here!

The bottom of your Hibachi Grill will also be very hot, so don’t put it on top of anything that is easily damaged by heat.

The hibachi needs to be on something stable, no wonky tables. You don’t want hot coals coming down on you or onto something that could catch fire.

I recommend finding a table that isn’t too precious to you. When you are moving hot coals around, it is pretty common to accidentally drop shards of broken coal – especially if you are using Japanese Binchotan. 

Even a small piece of hot charcoal dropped on a table will almost instantaneously burn an irremovable black mark on to the surface. Don’t risk it.

Believe me, it happens a lot.

You also want to put the Hibachi BBQ at a height that is going to be comfortable for you to work on.

  1. Light up the charcoal.

There are a few methods you can use to light your charcoal, as listed below. My favorite method is to put a Chimney starter on top of a Butane gas stove to get it going. See the coal lighting section below.

  1. Cook!

Make sure your coals are sufficiently hot. If you have a dual-chamber Hibachi grill you can have more coal on one side, and less coal on the other, for meat you want to cook more slowly. In reality, though, many hibachi grills are pretty small, and it is hard to achieve a good hot chamber/cold chamber contrast unless you have only very few coals in the cooler chamber. This then means you have less overall cooking space. So I generally just fill up both chambers around the same.

Place the grill on top of the coals and allow it to heat up for about 10 minutes – 15 minutes before you start cooking. This is not a hard-and-fast rule. There are a lot of factors that come into play, such as how much you heated your coals before you put them in.

What do I need before I do Hibachi at home?

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What You Need:

  • A Hibachi Grill
  • Charcoal (heat beads and other products work too, but charcoal gives the best taste)
  • Metal Tongs (Preferably two sets, one for moving charcoal, one for cooking)
  • Gloves
  • A plate to put cooked items on

For lighting the Hibachi grill:

  • Long-form lighter
  • Fire lighters
  • Optional:
  • Fire chimney (recommended)
  • Blowtorch
  • Pan, if heating charcoal on stovetop (this doesn’t work well for large chunks of coal, such as binchotan)

What fuel to use in Hibachi Grill?

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Binchotan is the preferred charcoal used in Japan. It is generally harder than other types of charcoal and produces less smoke.

It can be harder to get binchotan heated up than other charcoal, partly because it is so big!

How to ignite a hibachi grill?

There are four main methods of lighting the charcoal you will use in your Hibachi grill; heat them on a stovetop, heat them in an external vessel such as a “fire chimney” with firelighters, heat them inside the actual hibachi grill itself, use a blowtorch.

Fire Chimney on Butane Gas Stove Method (this is how I do it)

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This is my favorite way of doing it because it is quick and requires very little effort. It does mean that you have to lug the butane stove wherever you are going to do your BBQ though.

  1. Place charcoal in fire chimney
  2. Place fire chimney on butane gas stove and ignite stove.
  3. Wait until about half the coal is glowing yellow or turns white.
  4. Carefully transfer charcoal to Hibachi by pouring or with tongs.

Fire Chimney With Fire Starters Method

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I find this method a little fiddley, so I usually don’t do this – but plenty of people do.


  1. Place charcoal in fire chimney
  2. Place fire chimney on a fireproof surface with paper or firelighters placed beneath (chemical based firelighters can give an unpleasant flavor, so are best avoided)
  3. Light paper or firelighters
  4. Wait until about half the coal is glowing yellow or turns white.
  5. Transfer charcoal to Hibachi

Stovetop Method

I’ve had limited success with doing this one. For it this to work, you have to be working with small coals or heatbeads. 

  1. Place charcoal in a pot or pan
  2. Light stove and put pan with charcoal on top.
  3. Heat coals until they are red on the bottom half, then use a pair of tongs to turn them over. 
  4. Carefully move the hot coals from the pan to the hibachi grill
  5. Add any additional charcoal if you want a larger heat. These will be heated up by the initially added charcoal.
  6. Give the charcoal 5-10 minutes for the heat to settle in the hibachi grill

In-Hibachi Method

I’ve found starting the hibachi this way is a bit hit and miss.

  1. Add firelighter or starter to charcoal in various locations
  2. Light the firelighters with a lighter or igniter
  3. Wait 10-30 minutes for coal to ignite

Blowtorch Method

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This is kind of the “nuclear” option. I haven’t tried it myself, but many people swear by it and I’ve seen a lot of people do this in Japan.

  1. Fill the Hibachi grill halfway with charcoal
  2. Wave blowtorch over coal evenly
  3. Repeat process adding coal as required

How to Cook hibachi?

How to cook hibachi steak on Hibachi Grill

When cooking hibachi steak, make sure that they are cut into bite-sized, thing cut pieces. Japanese BBQ meat, called yakiniku, is usually very thinly sliced. You can get these cuts from Asian butchers. You can also check places like Costco for Korean style Bulgogi meat, which can achieve a similar effect.

For larger western style cuts, it is best that the meat be seasoned with salt and pepper.

Put them on top of the grill over direct heat for about 4-5 minutes per side.

When you flip them, some people say that you should only turn once. Personally, I tend to flip them several times as they go, and I haven’t noticed a difference.

How to make hibachi vegetables

Making hibachi vegetables is an easy and healthy dinner option. Vegetables often cook very quickly, in 1-2 minutes per side, so you need to be careful not to burn them.

TIP: If I’m cooking something like potato, or sweet potato, I’ll generally give them a short blast in the microwave before putting them on the BBQ – to save time.

Popular vegetables to cook on a hibachi grill include:

Corn, mushrooms, onion, peppers/capsicum, eggplant etc.

Types of Hibachi Grills

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Different Types of Hibachi Grills

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The most common types of Hibachi grills are tabletop Hibachi grills, outdoor or patio Hibachi grills, and portable Hibachi grills.

Tabletop Hibachi grills are smaller in size and can be used indoors or outdoors (always consider ventilation). They can be conveniently placed on any table or countertop. 

Outdoor or patio Hibachi grills provide a more sophisticated look to your outdoor living space with their sleek design that is often made of cast iron or stainless steel. 

Portable Hibachi grills provide an easy way to cook your food outside while camping, at the park, etc…

Many Western charcoal grillers have large ridges in the cooking surface that are well suited to cooking large cuts of meat and sausages for Western style BBQ. They look like this:

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These are not so well suited to doing a Japanese style BBQ, because the mean can slip through. 

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How Much Does it Cost to Use a Hibachi Grill? 

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Hibachi grills are not all that expensive to use. 

A bag of coal might set you back 10-30 dollars, depending on the quality.

Hibachi grills generally cost about $99 to $500, depending on the size and brand.

What can you cook on a hibachi grill?


A hibachi can be used for cooking different types of food, such as yakiniku, yakitori, vegetables, chicken fillets, steak or shrimp.

TIP: One good option that I’ve found is to go to Costco and get their Bulgogi Korean-style marinated meat. This is thinly cut, similar to how it is cut in Japan. It tastes great, and is a good alternative to trying to track down thinly cut Japanese style meat or wagyu.

Tips for Using a Hibachi Grill

The type of meat you are grilling should also be taken into consideration when it comes to the best way to cook on a hibachi grill. Thin cuts like marinated ribeye, flank steak, and skirt steak should be cooked at medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side. Thick cuts like pork chops, chicken breast, or leg of lamb should be cooked at medium-low heat for 5-8 minutes per side.

If you want to add flavor without adding too much fat like oil or butter, then try adding spices such as garlic powder or paprika before cooking.

Invest in heatproof gloves, they make everything so much easier!
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Best Utensils to Use With a Hibachi Grill

Metal tongs, wooden skewers, and metal spatulas are all useful for cooking with a hibachi grill. Tongs allow you to move the food from the grill to the plate without burning yourself. They also help you flip food on the grill more easily than a spatula will. 

Wooden skewers are great for cooking meat on the grill because they don’t get too hot or lose their shape like metal skewers do. Metal spatulas are good for flipping things on the grill and removing foods from it as well.

How To Keep your Hibachi Grill In Good Condition


  • IMPORTANT Don’t pour water on a hot hibachi grill – the rapid change of temperature can break the hibachi.
  • Wait until hibachi is fully cooled and cleaned before storing
  • Store in a weatherproof area, don’t leave it outside in the elements after use!
  • Keep the hibachi grill dry
  • Use the right type of fuel
  • Clean your hibachi grill after each use
  • Always keep your hibachi grill out of the reach of children

How to clean a hibachi grill

Look, cleaning any BBQ, including an Hibachi grill, after you’re finished is a pain in the butt. 

Save yourself a whole lot of bother and get yourself a dedicated scraping tool with metal twine and a scraping blade, like this one:

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What isn’t an hibachi?


It is worth noting that many people in the west confuse Hibachi with Teppanyaki, which is a different style of Japanese cooking. Teppanyaki literally means “cooking on a metal plate”, and usually refers to the large metal hotplates you see at certain Japanese restaurants. 

Hibachi is different from Teppanyaki in that it refers to cooking directly over hot coals, as opposed to a gas or electric Teppanyaki frypan.

This confusion has been further fueled by many Western restaurants branding themselves as “Hibachi” restaurants to cater to what people already understand.

Alternatives to buying a dedicated Japanese BBQ grill

If you already have an outdoor BBQ cooker, such as a webber or kettle cooker, one option is to just get a fine grate to put over the top of your existing BBQ. 

Here’s an example of me doing a Japanese BBQ at home using a grate on my Webber:

This can actually work just fine. The only slight issue is getting the coals hot enough to the cooking surface, because the Webber is quite big and deep. I find that you just need to pile up the coals a little and I don’t really have any problems. 

Of course, this is not nearly as portable an option as using a small hibachi grill.