5/31/2012 11:32:00 AM

BBQ Week: Korean and Japanese 'Cue in NYC

This week, we've been focusing on all things barbecue, but up until now we've kept things within the boundaries of the US of A. Well, it's time to expand our focus to all the Korean and Japanese joints that are full every night. These styles are vastly different than American 'cue, which is largely centered around of meats - brisket, pulled pork, rib - that are smoked over long periods of time. Both Korean and Japanese barbecue however, have more in common with backyard grilling than with falling-off-the-bone meat. What the two countries' versions of this style of eating have in common however, is a whole different story.

A Korean barbecue meal generally begins with an assortment of banchan - small bowls of various kimchis, salted-cured fish like chile sauce slicked dried squid and vegetables - as soon as the table is seated. Raw meats, marinated or not, are then served to be grilled (in New York gas grills dominate) alongside rice, salad, a noodle dish and a selection of dipping sauces. Kom Tang is one of the rare locations that uses charcoal grilling which certainly makes it stand out from the crowd. Other destinations include Kang Suh, Madangsui and Jang Soo Chon in Flushing, Queens.

There are technically multiple varieties of Japanese barbecue. Yakitori restaurants (Yakitori Totto) specialize in grilling skewers of chicken parts dipped in soy based sauce. While at a robatayaki, you’ll point to the vegetable or protein that you’d like grilled and the cook will carefully grill it in front of you before placing it on your plate. It’s common at a robata (Inakaya in Midtown Manhattan is a branch of a well-respected Ginza, Tokyo robata of the same name) for the plate to be handed over to the diner using a long-handled paddle.

Yakiniku however, is the most similar to the Korean barbecue. Short rib, pork belly and rib eye are common protein offerings and meat is cooked by the diner. The duo of Gyu-Kaku restaurants in New York (East Village and Midtown East) are the most popular options for yakiniku. Note: The downtown location has more of a party atmosphere while uptown is more refined and business-dinner worthy.

So what sets yakiniku apart? It’s possible but unlikely that you’ll be presented with more than two dipping sauces and banchan won’t be placed on the table. Other than that? Not too much. Sure, you may be able to order sashimi as a starter but does that really set the two regional barbecue styles apart? We’ll leave it to you to decide. Since that will require more than a few dinners, that's not something to complain about.

Photo: YHK17th via Flickr


  1. Korean bbq is fun, but nothing beats the hibachi chefs flinging pieces of food to catch in your mouth and making onion volcanoes...

  2. Asian BBQ is for skinny people. If you're not getting your fingers sticky with Down Home Kansas City or Texan BBQ than at least look at our southern neighbors. Go Brazilian with a good Churrascaria. Keep your hockey puck green and the skewers of charred meats keep a'coming. Just forget about fitting into your Brazilian Bikini.

  3. Sounds intriguing and different when you want a change from sushi or even Texas BBQ. Nothing like variety!

  4. Korean or Japanese bbq is great for anybody who misses the thrill of searing meat on a real outdoor grill and is constrained by living in the city.