I read a social media message earlier this week from a friend who wanted to buy a “habachi grill” like the one they had seen in a restaurant. They were confused about why their searches returned small, round bowls that seemed totally unrelated to the flaming device that had been used to prepare food in front of them. While I’d like to think I cleared things up for them, they’re probably not the only person who’s confused by the inconsistent use of this word.
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In order to help you figure out whether a hibachi grill is right for you and what kind of hibachi to buy, I’ve assembled as much information as I could find about hibachi grills right here. This includes a basic introduction, reviews of several top products, and some tips on how you can get the most out of your hibachi. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and learn everything there is to know about these cooking devices.
What Is A Hibachi Grill? Exploring Common Misconceptions
Hibachi is a Japanese word that translates literally to “fire bowl.” A Japanese hibachi grill is little more than a heatproof box that’s designed to hold burning charcoal. Often made from porcelain or lined with a similar fire-resistant coating, these hibachi grills simply contain a small charcoal fire that users can use to heat up food.
In American, however, hibachi grills are somewhat different. Usually, the term refers to a small charcoal stove. The difference here is the design, shape, and application of the device. American hibachi grills are complete devices that contain cooking racks and sometimes include sets of features that help control the heat of the fire and make cleanup easier.
In other words, they’re more modern, complete tools.
Finally, hibachi grill can sometimes refer to an iron hot plate that’s used in teppanyaki cooking. This showy style of eating involves chefs preparing food in front of guests on a skillet.
While teppanyaki-style cooking originated in Japan, it has nothing to do with hibachi. Americans often use the terms interchangeably, however, making it somewhat confusing to figure out what someone means when they want a hibachi grill.
Hibachi grills are simple tools that can be used to produce all sorts of wonderful meals. They’re perfect for searing meat, roasting vegetables, and grilling pretty much anything you can think of. Think of them like small, high-quality portable grills that you can use to make a perfect meal whenever you want.
Cast Iron Hibachi Reviews: The Best Grills For Your Backyard
This large, durable cast iron grill is a pretty hefty piece of equipment. Made by Lodge, an American company known for their cast-iron cookware, it’s definitely the best choice for anyone who doesn’t mind the fact that the price tag is somewhat hefty as well.
Before we get into the things that make this hibachi grill the best, let’s talk about the basics. This is a 30-pound cooking apparatus that consists of a cast iron body on top of a handy stand. The tub-shaped base can hold plenty of charcoal (or wood) and features both a tilt-down door for fuel access and a sliding door at the base to help you control airflow.
On top of this tub rests an adjustable cooking platform with plenty of grilling space. The grilled cover can be moved up or down to one of two positions to give you a little bit more control of your heat levels.
Like other hibachi grills, the Sportsman grill requires you to have some basic knowledge when it comes to cooking with charcoal. You’ll have to light your briquettes (or wood, or whatever other fuel you use), let it come to temperature, and manage your fire. Heat is controlled by a combination of airflow and grate height.
There are no knobs, automatic lighting buttons, or other amenities attached to this grill. This isn’t unusual for a charcoal grill by any means, but it’s worth noting that you could purchase a cheap propane grill for a somewhat comparable price if you’re after something a bit more convenient.
While the Lodge Sportsman might lack in convenience, it more than makes up for that in solid build quality. It’s made from cast iron, one of the most durable materials around, and it’s been lovingly manufactured by a reputable company. Those of you who are familiar with cast iron probably know that it’s common to pick up decades-old cast iron pans at yard sales and fully restore them with a little bit of work.
This pre-seasoned grill can last for a similarly long time. As long as you refresh the seasoning on the cooking grate occasionally (which is easy to do by simply cooking fatty foods) and you take some basic precautions to avoid rust, this grill will stick around for a very, very long time.
This is honestly one of the best parts of this grill.
I mentioned earlier that this Lodge is in the price range of a cheaper propane grill, but it’s not really comparable in terms of durability. A cheap propane grill might last a couple seasons. This Lodge might last a couple decades. Sure, it might be heavier, and you might have to learn how to manage your charcoal fire, but you’ll have plenty of time to learn all the nuances of your hibachi.
One commonly overlooked feature of this grill is the fuel tub. Cheaper hibachi grills, like the Marsh Allen below, lack the deep cast-iron walls that make this Lodge so great. Not only do these surfaces shelter your fire from the wind, they also help to control the flow of air into your charcoal fire. This makes the sliding vent cover at the bottom a more effective tool for managing the heat level of your grill.
The top cooking grate of the Sportsman isn’t super adjustable, with only two “stops.” Unlike the Marsh Allen, however, it’s incredibly stable and fairly easy to manage due to its sheer simplicity. The lack of options lets you focus more on your fire and less on wiggling around a contraption that’s supposed to hold your food at just the right level. This makes cooking a seamless, headache-free experience.
One thing to note: this grill and the other options on this page all get really hot. Do NOT use this apparatus on top of anything that will melt or combust. This means you shouldn’t put the grill on top of newspaper, plastic, or dry grass. It’s easy to forget about this and watch your grill sink through a plastic picnic table at your family gathering. Don’t let this happen.
Place your hibachi on an appropriate surface.
I think that there are three types of cooks out there: people who don’t care about the cooking process, people who want to precisely control the cooking process like it’s a science, and people who want to experience the cooking process like it’s an art. This Lodge hibachi grill is absolutely perfect for the last category of people.
While cooking is somewhat more involved than throwing some food at a hot skillet, the process of lighting a fire, managing the airflow, and cooking up a delicious meal outdoors with this simple grill is wonderfully fun. You get to really feel like you’re involved in the whole operation of cooking your food.
Even if you’re not one of those people, the Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman Grill is the perfect choice for any household that wants a durable outdoor cooking device. Whether you’re tailgating, cooking in your backyard, or you want something that you can take out in your RV, this grill is a wonderful contraption that’s incredibly solid, Its simple features give you all of the control that you need to manage your fire and make some incredible dishes out in the open air. You’ll be able to enjoy this grill for years to come.
The Marsh Allen Cast Iron Hibachi grill claims to have an abundance of brilliant features that should make it a worthy competitor to the Lodge Sportsman. It’s got multi-stop adjustable racks, two air vents to allow you to set up a hot side and a cold side, and wooden handles that make it easy to adjust. Perhaps more importantly, it’s quite a bit lighter, weighing in at less than 20 lbs.
Unfortunately, these features come with a handful of issues that make the Marsh Allen a complicated choice. It’s a great cooking apparatus, but you’ll have to put in a bit of work if you want it to rival the Lodge above.
First of all, let’s talk about the basics.
The Marsh Allen consists of a shallow cast iron tub on raised feet with a built-in grill that helps control your coals. The tub features two small sliding-door-covered air vents and has two funny looking cast iron supports coming off of one end. Two included cooking grates can slide into one of several slots on the supports, enabling you to move your food closer to or farther from your fuel. A plethora of wooden handles give you the ability to adjust the grill or the grates without burning yourself, or so the manufacturer claims.
In practice, you’ll find out that the Marsh Allen hibachi is essentially two products bundled together. While the cast iron parts are all excellent – the tub, the supports, and the grates – the vents, handles, and even the screws that you use to hold everything together are somewhat flimsy and cheap. I’d go as far as to recommend that you go to a local hardware store and pick up some parts before you even put this grill together.
This is a bit of a letdown, certainly, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. One important thing to consider here is price. This hibachi is several dollars less than the Lodge Sportsman above. You should have plenty of room in your budget to pick up a few screws or replacement handles. Another factor here is durability.
The Marsh Allen is made out of two categories of parts: nearly indestructible cast iron and things you can replace for a couple bucks at the hardware store. It’s not as worry-free as the Lodge in the long run, sure, but you can certainly expect to use this hibachi grill for a pretty darn long time with no worries.
While the cheaper air vents and the lack of deep walls make controlling your charcoal fire a bit harder, the extra adjustable grates help make up for this somewhat. The supports are pretty sturdy and have a surprisingly good grip on the cast iron grates, meaning you can hold a decent amount of meat pretty solidly on any notch you want.
I found the handles to be woefully inadequate for moving a hot grate while protecting my hands, but you should be fine with an appropriate potholder and a bit of care. It’s just one more little downside that makes this product slightly inferior to the Lodge above.
Overall, I have no problems recommending this hibachi to anyone who wants a cheaper, lighter grill than the beefy Lodge Sportsman. It’s an odd combination of high-quality cast iron parts and cheap fittings. The resulting grill is very easy to spruce up to incredibly high standards and can easily compete with more expensive options in terms of cooking quality and durability.
While there’s certainly a bit of fiddling involved, you’ll love cooking all sorts of food on the adjustable racks. For those of you who want a grill that’s easier to transport or a few dollars cheaper, the Marsh Allen cast iron bbq may very well be the superior choice.
If your only hibachi experience is from restaurants, this Update International cooker might be what you’re looking for. This much smaller hibachi-style grill is perfect for cooking small quantities of food at the table. Often used for warming up appetizers, this small cylindrical implement is a vital part of a pu-pu platter.
This tiny 3.5 lb grill closely resembles a miniature old-school hibachi from Japan. It’s a very basic instrument, consisting of a cast iron body with a metal grate on top. It’s small enough to be used on top of your kitchen table, although you’ll want to be careful what you use as a heat source.
These days, hibachi grills like these aren’t necessarily used with charcoal. Consider filling it with a bit of sterno gel and simply lighting that up. While the Update International hibachi doesn’t have any built-in safety features, it’s sturdy enough and small enough that you should be well-protected against most mishaps.
The biggest thing you’re probably worried about is someone knocking the grill over.
While the Update International hibachi is a fair bit cheaper than the Marsh Allen, its tiny size is ill suited for cooking entire meals. It’s more of a novelty item for toasting marshmallows or sizzling small pieces of meat at the table. It’s definitely not a close competitor when it comes to heating up moderate amounts of actual food.
Despite the cast iron used in the body of this hibachi, the grate that you put on top of the device is painted, not seasoned. This is a health concern for some users. For occasional novelty use, the paint is probably fine. If you want to use this as a tool to cook meals regularly, however, it’s probably a good idea to replace the grate or scrub off the paint. Should you choose to remove the paint, it’s not too hard to season the bare metal by simply oiling it before each use. After a while, it will build up the same sort of natural non-stick coating that the other grills have.
As a novelty cooker, the Update International won’t replace the hibachi grills above when it comes to cooking more than a few mouthfuls at once. Instead, it will serve as a great conversation starter that you and your dinner guests can use at the table to cook small portions of food.
While the choice of paint for the cooking grate might be somewhat questionable, the unit itself is still cheap enough that you can easily justify putting in a bit of work or replacing the grate entirely. It’s definitely the go-to choice for people who want a hibachi grill for pu-pu platters or any other dish you’d want to cook indoors.
Top Tips to Get The Most Out Of Your Hibachi
Hibachi grills are easy to use but difficult to master. Here are a few tips that you can use to streamline the cooking process and make it even easier to make wonderful meals in your backyard.
While you can use your hibachi with wood, most people prefer to use charcoal. As the only heat source for your grill, managing your charcoal fire is the key to getting good results from your grill. This means choosing the right charcoal, lighting it properly, getting the fire to the right temperature, and putting your fire out when you’re done. Here are a few tips for each stage of the process.
There are three main types of charcoal: lump, briquettes, and easy-light. Lump charcoal burns faster and hotter, has a bit more of a wood-y flavor, and is commonly used by competition barbecue teams. It’s harder to light, however, and it produces uneven heat.
Briquettes are easier to get going, burn incredibly evenly, and burn longer. They make more ash, however, and they’re thought to be less flavorful by most experts.
The final type, easy-light charcoal, consists of briquettes that have additives that make them even easier to light. You can mix in some easy-light charcoal to make it easier to get your fire started without adding lighter fluid yourself.
Generally speaking, serious backyard cooking enthusiasts prefer to light their charcoal with something called a chimney. This device is pretty much just a metal tube that you place on top of a fire. After your coals get nice and hot, you dump them out of the chimney and into your grill. While some people use newspaper to make their own fire below their charcoal chimney, one popular technique involves placing the chimney on top of a propane grill until the coals get started.
A common alternative is to simply use a bit of lighter fluid to get your coals going. You can do this by piling your coals and pouring on a bit of lighter fluid according to the instructions on the fuel you choose. This method is pretty quick once you get it down.
Finally, you can use easy-light coals to get the fire going. Place these strategically throughout your charcoal pile and light them up with a match. Since they’ve been pre-soaked in lighter fluid, they’ll immediately get going and light up the rest of your coals.
Managing Your Fire
Your charcoal fire is ready to cook once the coals are covered in gray ash. This can take up to ten or fifteen minutes.
Once it’s going, you’re all set!
In order to control the heat of the fire, you have two main tools. The first is oxygen. Allowing your grill to suck up more air from the bottom will make the fire hotter. Conversely, limiting the flow of oxygen will make the charcoal burn more slowly and give off less heat. Adjusting the vents on your hibachi can have a big impact on how hot the fire is.
The other “knob” you can turn has to do with fuel. Simply throw more unlit coals on top of your burning charcoal to add more heat. These coals will take ten or fifteen minutes to light, so try to plan ahead.
Putting Things Out
Charcoal burns for a very long time. When you’re done cooking, you’ll want to smother your coals completely. If you have a covered grill in a stable location (like your backyard), you can simply close the lid and all the air vents. The coals will burn themselves out in a couple days. Otherwise, the usual practice is to douse your coals with water. Thoroughly immersing your charcoal in lots of water ensures that oxygen can’t get to the fire, extinguishing your shouldering coals.
No matter what method you use to put out your fire, be sure to dispose of the coals properly. When they’re cool, wrap them in foil and throw them into a fire-proof container. This will help minimize the chances of an unfortunate accident.
Japanese-Style Tailgating Grills For Your Patio and Backyard
If you’re looking for the best cast iron hibachi, the Lodge Sportsman grill is probably your best bet. It’s a durable, solid device that will last for years with a little bit of care. It’s big, heavy, and has a simple collection of features that make it perfect for backyard grilling.
If you want something a bit cheaper, lighter, or more adjustable, the Marsh Allen cast iron hibachi grill is a solid contender. It’s not quite as solid as the Lodge, but it’s still a wonderful grill that can be easily modified with parts commonly available at your local hardware store.
Finally, if you just want something you can use on your table indoors, the Update International hibachi is perfect for kitchen table use. It’s a tiny urn-style grill that’s great for hotpots and appetizers. You can’t cook whole meals on it, however.
No matter which hibachi you choose, you’ll love the food you can prepare using these modern interpretations of traditional Japanese devices. The combination of rugged cast iron and a simple charcoal fire is perfect for generating lots of heat and cooking delicious meals. It’s a timeless pairing that only gets better with age.