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Japanese-Inspired Personal Grills (a.k.a. HIBACHI!)

I recently undertook a search for the perfect "personal grill," a.k.a. HIBACHI. Here's what I found…

and what I learned along the way.

HIBACHI... another great Japanese word that sounds like

something you holler when you're breaking a board.

Taking up trucking as a late-life new career gave Andrea and me a priceless first-hand gander at most every nook and cranny in the Lower 48. It also stimulated my curiosity about southern barbecue, a nebulously-delimited culinary genre that ranges from slow smoking (think pulled pork or beef brisket) to hot grilling (steak) and includes hybrids of the two along with aspects of braising and smoking. (Imagine trying to describe firehouse chicken BBQ or properly rubbed/smoked/simmered/broiled spareribs to an alien.) The more real southern barbecue I tasted, the greater my desire to figure out A.) what makes it great; and B.) how to make it myself.

After diligent and focused research I purchased a very heavy-duty combination smoker/grill, one completely devoid of any cyber-connectivity and able to run on firewood if desired... in other words, a freaking doomsday device, one that weighs over 400 pounds. No, it's not made of titanium (as its price tag might suggest) but I expect it to outlive me by several decades.

The M1 from MGrills, a.k.a. my Doomsday Device. "Zero Cyber-Connectivity" means

that malicious hackers in East Tadzhikistan can't burn my brisket with their cell phones.

I love this beast, and yet I sensed a need for a smaller grill as well...

something perfect for making dinner for two...

I needed what had become known in the United States as a HIBACHI.

The original Hibachi Grill, circa 1976, made and distributed by the Hibachi Company of Taiwan.

Simple and rugged, with multiple height settings. My family delighted in cooking on this thing.

In Japan, "Hibachi" refers not to a miniature cooking grill but rather to a round little personal warming device. On this side of the Pacific, "Hibachi" is a typically American misappropriation of foreign terminology, somehow combining the elements of teppanyaki (iron plate cooking) and shichirin (a ceramic-sided fire-box topped with a thin screen) in a word that means neither. Back when I was in high school my family and I loved our little Hibachi and used it often. Several decades later I went off in search of one, and I was both surprised and disappointed.

Like many manufactured products, the Hibachi I recalled from my youth no longer exists, having been replaced by comically flimsy knockoffs from TCTMATCC, i.e., The Country That Makes All That Cheap Crap. I found one notable exception... the LODGE SPORTSMAN'S GRILL, proudly made in Tennessee by the same company that makes all that iron cookware. I bought one, and it was excellent... American-made and extremely sturdy; elegantly simple with no superfluous bells and/or whistles. I used it for years. It eventually got a little rusty, so I tried to buy another one–

"Currently unavailable," as in permanently discontinued. Of course.

Like most simple and nearly perfect things, this product was discontinued and no longer available, as if part of a general and intentional societal plot to shift from excellence toward mediocrity. (Or worse... see THEY RUINED THE FREAKING SHOVEL.)

We'll see about that, I thought... I'm one hell of a sleuth when it comes to tracking things down... there's gotta be one out there somewhere. So I searched all of cyber-space and got the same disappointing answer... mostly. The SPORTSMAN’S WAREHOUSE, a rapidly-expanding chain of hunting/fishing/camping superstores, still showed it as available. With the help of an actually helpful customer service rep I searched the chain's nationwide network and had their remaining inventory of Lodge Sportsman's Grills– exactly FOUR of them– shipped to my local store... a lifetime supply, I figured, even after gifting one of them to my mother-in-law.

And yet... perhaps out of lament at the demise of yet another iconic quality product from my youth, my curiosity about Hibachi-style grills remained. My online sleuthing eventually took me to this highly recommended and highly informative page at Steven (“Project Fire”) Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible site. Here one can see what the Japanese actually use to grill their yakitori, and also learn that they use a rare and special type of super-premium, super-hot burning charcoal (binchotan) that is available HERE on Amazon for about the same price per pound as prime steak.

Raichlen's site also led me, finally, to the Hibachi-style grill of my wildest dreams– a hand-made, built-to-order, rock-solid carbon steel masterpiece from Kotai Grill

The Kotai Hibachi-Style Grill, built to order in Maryland by a talented craftsman.

(Copyrighted photo by Kotai Grill; please do NOT re-use without permission.)

So I excitedly ordered one and patiently waited the five weeks required for its completion. After one test grilling, this one seems like nothing short of simple and rugged perfection. The closely-spaced carbon steel grates are particularly fish-friendly (our swordfish was fabulous!) the heat distributes evenly, and I can burn my regular lump charcoal without springing for wood pellets or that fancy Japanese fuel.

And in case you had been wondering exactly why I drove about 150 extra miles on my way home a couple of weeks ago (see A BOUTIQUE SAWMILL) for an order of black locust lumber, it was so I could build a worthy stand for my new grill... a base as visually compelling and rock-sturdy as its crown. I'll post some photos when it is finished.

* * * * * * *


LODGE recently introduced their "new and improved" Sportsman’s PRO Grill... at nearly twice the price of its wildly popular predecessor. As a repeated victim of phone and computer "updates" that left me incommunicado and/or offline for hours or even days, forgive me if I'm a tad or more skeptical.

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