Could this be the way to level up your grilling? Hibachis are known for their ability to deliver searing heat while infusing food with a charcoal flavour, and the Japanese Korean Ceramic Hibachi BBQ Table Grill from Amazon managed to impress our expert testers. The meat and fish was moist and succulent, with the hibachi having similar cooking times to a regular barbecue. For those short on space, hibachis are small, portable and easy to store, and we also found they weren't a chore to clean – the grill plate, which may need a soak, can easily fit in your kitchen sink or dishwasher. You'll need to factor in the additional cost of using binchotan, the recommended charcoal (we paid $28.30 for 4kg), but you won't be disappointed with the results.
Anyone who's watched Masterchef in recent years will have heard of a hibachi grill. These traditional Japanese high-heat grills can cook and infuse meat, seafood and vegetables with a smoky charcoal flavour.
But do they hold their own as a portable grilling unit? Or are they another kitchen fad you could do without? Our expert testers have given dozens of barbecues a real grilling over the years to find the best performers, so we picked up Amazon's 'Japanese Korean Ceramic Hibachi BBQ Table Grill' to put it to the test in our kitchen lab.
Taken from the Japanese translation of 'fire bowl', a hibachi features a grill plate that sits on top of a ceramic (or sometimes wooden) bowl that's filled with burning charcoal. As the food being cooked is very close to the heat source, it allows it to be infused with the smokiness of the charcoal.
This hibachi grill is compact, portable, easy to store and requires no assembly. It comes with a pair of tongs and a stand to keep the unit off the table or ground which helps to minimise heat transfer, but apart from the tongs, no other accessories are provided.
The hibachi pot is ceramic with a stainless steel grill plate, and the double air vent at the front can be easily opened or closed to help control the heat. You also need to manually light the charcoal, which requires a chimney starter, fire starters and matches to light the coals.
We put the hibachi grill through the same performance tests we use for standard barbecues: cooking sausages, steak and marinated chicken wings. We also ran an additional two tests, cooking salmon (skin on) and shish kebabs. Overall, performance is excellent – all the meat and fish our testers cooked was super tender and juicy.
While the hibachi provides an intense heat from the charcoal, it still cooks the food gently so that the food stays moist and succulent
While the hibachi provides an intense heat from the charcoal, it still cooks the food gently so that the food stays moist and succulent. We also found cooking times to be similar to a regular barbecue.
A hibachi grill is traditionally used for thinner cuts/small cubes and slices of meat, but you're still able to cook thicker cuts like steak as long as the meat size and shape is suitable for the charcoal cavity area. Thicker cuts may also require extended cooking time, and more frequent turning of the food will prevent it from burning. If you're cooking fish, it would be a good idea to brush the fish with oil to keep it from sticking to the grill plate.
To find out how the hibachi grill stacks up against full-size barbecues, take a look at our barbecue reviews.
Overall, our testers found this hibachi grill easy to use. The portable unit is small, doesn't require any assembly, and is easy to store. It has thin metal side handles which can be uncomfortable to hold, and while it's fairly heavy, it's easy to move around.
The cooking surface is a full chargrill plate and you'll need to manually light the charcoal that sits beneath it. The coals take around 30 minutes to heat before placing them in the coal cavity of the hibachi. If you need to add more charcoal, you'll need to lift the chargrill plate, which can be awkward if food is already on the grill.
Binchotan is a Japanese charcoal that brings out the natural flavour of the food you're grilling and is a chemical-free, 100% natural hardwood barbecue fuel. When grilling is over and the charcoal has been carefully extinguished, binchotan can be reused (generally several times).
The recommended charcoal to use for the hibachi grill is white binchotan, and we were able to buy 4kg for $28.30 (which works out to be $7.08 per kg). This is the best type of charcoal for this type of grilling due to the close proximity to the grill plate, and the fact that it burns low and slow, which allows for better heat control.
When grilling is over and the charcoal has been carefully extinguished, binchotan can be reused
You may be able to save money using regular charcoal, but it'll produce a stronger smoky flavour in your food that might become overpowering. Regular charcoal may also produce more smoke and may make it harder to control the heat when cooking. With binchotan, we found that the meat was still juicy after cooking.
This one was! The clay pot doesn't need cleaning at all and while the grill plate may need soaking, it can easily fit into a kitchen sink or dishwasher. Once the hibachi has cooled, the brick plates can be lifted out to help remove any ash. When not in use, store the hibachi inside or well covered outdoors so it isn't exposed to the elements.
The hibachi is compact in size and can be used on a benchtop, so it may be tempting to use it inside, but we don't recommend this. Regardless of its size, the charcoal poses a potential fire hazard. In some circumstances it can also produce a considerable amount of smoke (especially if you're not using binchotan charcoal), which can present health risks. The one we tested specifies that it's designed for outdoor use only and is not to be operated indoors or in an enclosed area. Adequate ventilation is essential.
Hibachi grills range in price from around $60 all the way up to $800, depending on the size and brand. However, they all work on the same principle of using a ceramic unit with a cavity for the charcoal and a stainless steel grill rack. For $69 this hibachi grill impressed our testers – you just have to factor in the ongoing cost of buying binchotan.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.