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Japanese Style Smoky Grilled Beef


  • 1 c of a quality soy sauce
  • 1 c of dark brown sugar
  • ¾ c rice wine (sake)
  • 3 tbsp of peanut oil
  • 3 tbsp of dark sesame oil

The Food:

  • 2 lbs 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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:

  1. 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.

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