Woman holding tongs over barbecue

How to make a Japanese Konro barbecue grill in 6 easy steps (and what to cook on it)

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Experts in Japanese cuisine share how to DIY your own mini Japanese Konro barbecue grill. This solo and couple-sized barbecue is the perfect way to catch summer vibes without attending large gatherings.

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The barbecue is a staple of British summer time. We slip into our finest, congregate around a cleverly configured garden, and wait patiently for some self-appointed grillmaster to impatiently hand out a plate of charred meats that are suspiciously cold at the centre. 

Ok, they’re not all like that, but it helps to remember them in that way if you’re one of the many who’s apprehensive about socialising in large groups this summer. Despite your misgivings though, you can still enjoy barbecue vibes without violating your six-foot rule, by taking inspiration from the Japanese Konro grill.

This miniature grill is perfect for solo or couple dining and has its roots in relaxed, family mealtimes. According to Kaori Simpson, owner and head chef of Harajuku Kitchen in Edinburgh, “In ancient rural Japan, families would cook everything on a Konro and eat around it. It’s a very intimate, but social and family-centred way of eating.”

Kaori Harajuku Kitchen
Kaori Simpson owns Edinburgh restaurant Harajuku Kitchen

Although you could invest in a brand new Konro grill, or visit a Japanese barbecue restaurant to get the professional Konro experience, they’re just as easy to DIY at home. Simpson says, “They’re perfect for people isolating and living alone.”

Here, Kaori and other experts in Japanese cuisine share expert tips for mastering your very own Japanese-inspired Konro barbecue.

What you need to make a DIY Konro barbecue grill

Although the traditional Japanese Konros were used in the home, this version is for outdoor use only. Mimi Tokumine, a chef at the Japan Centre in London recommends gathering the following:

  • Two small rectangular terracotta planters (one must be able to easily fit into the other)
  • Tin foil
  • Charcoal
  • Sand
  • An oven grill ray
  • Tongs 
  • Skewers

How to assemble your DIY Konro barbecue grill

Assembling your Konro should only take minutes, as you are essentially placing one planter into another, adding the coal and then grilling. Follow the step-by-step below:

  1. Plug any holes in the planters with some tin foil.
  2. Fill the larger terracotta planter with a layer of sand.
  3. Place the smaller terracotta planter into the larger one.
  4. Pour two to three inches of sand into the bottom.
  5. Light your coal with a torch and then layer it on top of the sand.
  6. Place your oven grill on top and start grilling on your DIY Konro.
Mimi Tokumine
Mimi Tokumine is a trained sommelier and sake maker with years of experience in the Japanese culinary industry

Foods to cook on your DIY Konro barbecue grill

According to Kaori Simpson, what makes a Konro grill so special is that “it’s a very relaxing and almost therapeutic way of cooking and eating.” Because the grills are so small, you can only cook a few bite-sized morsels at a time. The idea is that you grill your food for a few minutes, “once it’s cooked you pick up the skewer, put it straight into your dipping sauce and eat it,” says Kaori.

    If in doubt, she advises: “Anything that’s big, make bitesize!” She recommends avoiding large or tough cuts of meat, in favour of the following:

    • Diced or thinly sliced marinated beef
    • Marinated chicken wings
    • Chopped vegetables that won’t shrink too much in heat such as leeks

    Recipe for a Konro grill dipping sauce

    Here Mimi Tokumine shares her recipe for tare. It’s a traditional dipping sauce used for the yakitori chicken wing skewers usually made on Konro grills, but is also delicious with vegetables. 

    What you’ll need:

    • 100g soy sauce 
    • 100g mirin 
    • 60g sugar – add 10g more fore extra sweetness
    • 5g of minced garlic

    To serve:

    1. Mix all the ingredients.
    2. Place on your table and enjoy.

    Recipe for barbecue marinade

    Whatever you choose to barbecue, using a marinade at least 30 minutes before cooking can pack a flavourful punch. Kaori shares her go-to marinade, here:

    What you’ll need: 

    • ½ cup of sake
    • ½ cup of mirin
    • 1½ cups of soy sauce
    • Salt to taste

    Method: 

    Simply add all the ingredients into a bowl and stir together well before serving. 

    If you’re too impatient to dunk your skewer in a dipping sauce after barbecuing, Kaori advises sprinkling it with the Japanese spice mix, or Shichimi Togarashi, as a finishing touch.

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    Images: Getty, and courtesy of Kaori Simpson and Mimi Tokumine 

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