Japanese Style Smoky Grilled Beef

Posted May 27th, 2007 by Mike Cherim

(Click for large image view) This is an off-the-wall post for me — a recipe of all things — but I do want to share this with my readers since I’m a graduate of the University of Diversity and a gastronomic guru. Long before “fusion cuisine” was a buzzword in culinary circles, I had written and published a recipe that married the influence of a special Japanese recipe and American backyard grilling. You see, I learned a lot about Japanese cooking having lived there: three years in Tokyo, and one year in Wakkanai.

This recipe is a home-grown spin-off of an awesome Japanese delight I used to favor called Yakitori (which translates roughly to chicken on a stick). So, grab your laptop (or print this out), gather your friends, fire up the grill, and enjoy this tasty treat.

The ingredients

The ingredients are broken down into three parts. The sauce, the food, and the stuff. This serves four to six people as a large snack, but if you want to make a meal of it, double the sauce and the food. Serve on a bed of short grain white rice with a side of seaweed salad — or not.

The Sauce
1 cup of a quality soy sauce.
1 cup of dark brown sugar.
¾ cup rice wine (sake).
3 tablespoons of peanut oil.
3 tablespoons of dark sesame oil.
For variations and other ideas, see Customizing.
The Food
2 pounds of steak cut into ¾-inch pieces. A decently marbled cut is best. Avoid flank steak and grab the sirloin. An expensive cut in unnecessary.
1 bunch of green onions (scallions) cut into one-inch lengths. It’s best to use large diameter green onions so they can be safely skewered without splitting.
The Stuff
1 sharp knife and a cutting board.
1 package of thin bamboo skewers.
1 large roasting pan.
1 pair of long metal tongs.
1 hot outdoor grill.
1 serving plate.
1 large stack of napkins.

Making the sauce

The sauce is easy to make. Simply combine the ingredients above in a medium sauce pan, and heat to dissolve the sugar, then let it cool off a little bit (but not fully). Do not bring this to a boil or make it steam. You don’t want to cook off the alcohol yet — save that for the grill. If you’ve made the sauce right it will seem oily and it won’t taste very good until grilled. I would have provided a photo of the sauce, but it’s a just pot of sauce… boring. Intentionally, this makes more sauce than you’ll actually consume, but it can be saved if frozen.

Prepping the food

As noted on the ingredients list, first cut the green onions or scallions into one-inch lengths. You’ll want to use fairly large diameter scallions so they can be safely skewered. If you can’t find them, use one-inch squares of a sweet, mild white onion like Vidalia onions. Once you’re done crying over your choice of allium, then cut the steak into ¾-inch pieces. (That’s about 2½ centimeters for my metric friends.) What you want to end up with is approximately two chunks of meat for every piece of onion. See the following photo to see what you’ll end up with (double recipe shown).

Skewing them up

Now thread the food ingredients onto the bamboo skewers. (Watch out for bamboo slivers!) Begin with the meat, adding two pieces and bringing them down to within an inch or so from the end of the skewer, then thread on a piece of onion. Repeat this process, being sure to end with the meat since it’ll help ensure the onions stay on. Often when using bamboo or wooden skewers on the grill you’ll want to first soak them in water, but there’s not a huge need for this with this recipe since they’ll be marinated. Plus burnt skewers look cool. Here’s what you’ll end up with.

A warm bath

Place the finished skewers in a roasting pan large enough to accept them and pour on the warm (not hot) sauce — you don’t want to cook them with the sauce, but you do want it to soak right in and the warmth helps. Cover them and place the roasting pan in the fridge for a couple of hours at least. Be sure to turn them every hour or so to ensure even coverage and allow the ones on top (see the photo below), to have a turn on the bottom.

At the grill

Once everything is ready, move it all out to the grill: roasting pan with the skewers, serving plate, and tongs (as shown in the photo below), and maybe a beer or two. I use charcoal, but a propane grill is fine. Be forewarned, though, this is messy and it will make your grill pretty messy as well. Be sure to stoke up the grill so it’s really hot. The cooking process requires it since a lot of the sauce will be introduced to the coals. Flare-ups shouldn’t be a problem at all, though.

Hot and smoky

How are you doing so far? Are you being warmed by the grill and have smoke in your eyes? If you said yes, that’s good. It means your fire is just right. Don’t walk away, though, the cook gets no rest with this recipe. Keep reading to learn why.

The plunge

On the heat the alcohol and oil (used to coat the skewers nicely) will burn off and the sugar will caramelize and create a nice layer of flavor. But put away your sissy basting brush and grab the tongs. With this recipe you’ll constantly dunk the skewers (see photo) to build up this coating. This is one of the reasons so much sauce is made, and why this recipe is so messy. Notice in the photo that the roasting pan in inclined so there is a pool of sauce on the side closest to the grill.

Fast and furious

This dunking continues throughout the whole grilling process. Every minute or so you’ll be dunking them. Start at one end and keep going, repeating this cycle once the last one is dunked. You can even dunk them in batches if you fall behind (it’ll happen if you’re stupidly trying to photograph this while you’re doing it).

Plating up

At this point you’ll have captured the attention of your guests with the wonderful smell. They will be looking over your shoulder, possibly salivating. You can turn around with a smile and tell them the wait is over — cooking time is only about seven to ten minutes. Plate them up and bring them to the table. You can offer them on a help-yourself serving platter, or make individual plates serving the skewers atop a bed of short grain white rice. Garnish with some small bits of green onions if you want. Serve with beer or your favorite beverage.


If you want to kick it up a notch, you can try the following:

  • Try adding a tablespoon of dried Thai pepper flakes to the sauce to make it hot.
  • Sprinkle on some sesame seeds near the completion of the cooking. Looks nice.
  • For something slightly less sweet, you can substitute corn syrup for the sugar.
  • Add other ingredients to the skewers such as mushrooms and/or peppers.
  • Substitute green onions with Vidalia or other mild, sweet white onion squares.
  • Use chicken cuts (meat, skin, or livers) to be traditional, or try lamb, duck, or pork.

Bon appétit

Try it out and tell me what you think. My family and I love them. And while a bit messy and smoky, it’s an easy recipe to master. I don’t, however, recommend trying to photograph the operation.


15 Responses to: “Japanese Style Smoky Grilled Beef”

  1. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: May 27th, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    That, my friend, is finger lickin’ good eats. I am absolutely going to try it at my next barbecue. Thanks for the recipe, Mike!

  2. Andreas responds:
    Posted: May 28th, 2007 at 6:29 am

    That looks delicious!
    Too bad I don’t have grill, nor a backyard =/

  3. aj responds:
    Posted: May 28th, 2007 at 11:58 am

    im hungry now… :D

  4. tedeh responds:
    Posted: May 28th, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    christ those pictures make my mouth water

  5. Sarah responds:
    Posted: May 28th, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    That “looks” delicious *wink*

  6. Jermayn Parker responds:
    Posted: May 28th, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    Sending the url off to the Fiance for our next BBQ as well
    (need an icon for mmmm)

  7. Anthony Brewitt responds:
    Posted: May 29th, 2007 at 10:56 am

    I’m vegetarian but must admit that looks goooooooood!

  8. jon responds:
    Posted: May 29th, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    ah, yakitori. how i miss thee. has to be one of the main things i miss about japan. i’m surprised it’s so hard to find quality yakitori state side. i’ll see it on a menu from time to time but i’m always disappointed. nothing like sitting in a dark yakitori bar sipping some kirin, suporo, or orion while smelling the wonderful aroma coming from the grill. i will definitely try this recipe out.

  9. AainaA responds:
    Posted: June 4th, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    That is one yummy thing! I see that the recipe is traditionally and almost Asian, except for the sake {Nippon} of course - Have you been cooking all your life? Now, I’m revving to try it out!

    Thanx for sharing :)

  10. japan » Blog Archive » Homestyle Cooking of the East - Part 1 A Taste of Japan responds:
    Posted: June 17th, 2007 at 1:28 am

    […] … written and published a recipe that married the influence of a special Japanese recipe and American backyard grilling. You see, I learned a lot about Japanese cooking having lived there: three years in Tokyo, and one year in Wakkanai. …MORE […]

  11. matt2k responds:
    Posted: July 16th, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Goddamn that looks good!!

  12. John Lennon responds:
    Posted: September 6th, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    Needs more cowbell. :\ Seriously. When you say japanese meat girlled over fire I expected something far different.

Sorry. Comments are closed.

Note: This is the end of the usable page. The image(s) below are preloaded for performance only.