Japanese barbecue and Korean barbecue are both flavorful and delicious, but they are not the same. If you are trying to create an authentic cultural experience at home, there are a few differences you should be aware of.
When you are in the mood for flavorful Asian food, you can’t go wrong with either Japanese BBQ or Korean BBQ but while these two cooking styles are very similar, their differences are just as notable.
Both Japanese BBQ and Korean BBQ produce grilled meat that can be cooked using charcoal grills, gas grills, or electricity, and both often (but not always) feature beef as the main protein source. From there, the two meals differ significantly.
From preparation to serving, each provides a unique experience for diners. The main differences are important if your goal is to create an authentic meal at home.
First things first, you should know there are different types of Japanese BBQ and Korean BBQ.
The three most popular types of Japanese BBQ are teppanyaki, hibachi, and yakiniku.
Teppanyaki is when the food is cooked on a large iron plate that is heated by propane. The flat cooking surface used for Japanese teppanyaki makes it easy for chefs to chop, flip and move food as it cooks. Many hibachi restaurants in the US, where Japanese cuisine is cooked in front of diners by a skilled chef, are actually teppanyaki.
Yakiniku is believed to be inspired by Korean BBQ. In this style, small cuts of meat are cooked over a charcoal grill. At Japanese yakiniku restaurants, the grill is sunk into the dining table.
Hibachi is similar to teppanyaki but the tabletop grill is smaller and has a grill plate rather than a flat surface. This small cast iron barbeque is usually placed in the center of the table so everyone can eat and dine together but it is a portable stove.
The two most popular types of Korean BBQ are galbi and bulgogi. Both use a built-in table grill and thin slices of beef.
Galbi focuses on grilling beef boneless short ribs while bulgogi is used to cook beef tenderloin and beef sirloin. Bulgogi is more popular in US Korean BBQ restaurants. The main difference between the two types of Korean BBQ is the marinade used.
Both Korean and Japanese BBQ feature mostly beef, but chicken and pork may also be used. When chicken is incorporated into Japanese BBQ it is usually served on a skewer.
Adding Flavor to the Meal
While beef is the most common type of meat for both Korean and Japanese BBQ, the flavor of the beef differs greatly and that has to do with the different ways of cooking meat.
In Korean BBQ, the meat is marinated for a long period of time before being cooked to ensure it has plenty of flavor.
Japanese cooking focuses on using higher-quality meat and then dipping the meat into the sauce after it has cooked. The Japanese take great pride in the quality and natural flavor of their wagyu beef which is a popular choice for Japanese BBQ.
Dipping sauces for Japanese meat may include a variety of condiments including soy sauce, mirin, or garlic. Try preparing Yakisoba Sauce – just 6 ingredients!
Korean BBQ doesn’t focus as much on the quality of the meat cuts and also incorporates more pork and pork ribs into their meals.
Completing the Meal
Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ also feature different side dishes.
With Korean BBQ, numerous side dishes are served and shared among those at the table. These interesting side dishes, which could be Korean spicy cucumber salad, kimchi, dried squid, soybean sprouts, fishcakes, or potato salad, are called banchan.
Americans may confuse banchan dishes with appetizers, but these small sides are meant to be enjoyed right along with the meat. Banchan provides a great opportunity for diners who want to try a variety of different flavors and textures.
In Korean BBQ, the well-seasoned meat may be wrapped in lettuce leaves with a few of those flavorful sides and interesting ingredients to create a sort of sandwich of savory flavor. It’s a good choice for adventurous eaters!
Japanese barbeque is much simpler with very clean flavors. Side dishes may consist of raw vegetables, alongside a variety of sauces for the meat. In this meal, the high-quality meat is the star of the show, along with the variety of dipping sauce that highlights the beefy intensity.
Which is Right for You?
Japanese BBQ is focused on providing quality meat with a simple, beefy flavor, while Korean BBQ provides a variety of intense flavors that would be ideal for an adventurous eater.
Japanese BBQ may be better for a smaller group to enjoy since high-quality meat can be costly. Korean BBQ is great for bringing people together–as long as they are OK sharing lots of different dishes.
No matter which you choose, you’re sure to end up with a delicious meal full of Asian flavor and an enjoyable experience for your taste buds. But be sure to start with a Japanese Clear Soup first to start your palate with one of these small bowls, flavorful, umami-forward soups.
Yakiniku was inspired by Korean BBQ but still has a greater focus on the quality of the meat, versus the flavor or the marinade. It may also feature different types of meat. Korean BBQ is great for beef brisket and chicken but yakiniku may feature beef, beef tongue, and veggies.
Yakiniku is a form of BBQ that was inspired by Korean BBQ when Korean immigrants came to Japan in the 1920s. Korean BBQ was the original, but Japanese eaters have put their own spin on BBQ meat.
Korean cuisine calls for a lot of sauces and spices to add intense flavor to each dish. Japanese cuisine is much less spicy and focuses more on quality ingredients to add flavor.
American hibachi restaurants provide a bit of a show along with your meal. In order to provide this service, they must hire extra chefs who are only able to work on one small group’s meal at a time. Hiring all these talented chefs is difficult and costly, but it is worth it for the dining experience you receive (and especially for the Yum Yum Sauce!!).
If you are planning a night out to enjoy some Japanese BBQ and want to make some healthier choices, opt for fish, chicken or shrimp rather than beef. You can also fill up on miso soup which is low in calories and usually contains tofu and green onions.