You can cook almost all the foods you cook on a regular barbecue on a hibachi, as long as you make the most of its limited capacity. Hibachi barbecues have small surface areas, and they work best for the quick-cooking foods you usually find in hibachi restaurants, such as thinly sliced meat and chopped vegetables. You can make accommodations for slow-cooking items, like thick steaks and whole chicken breasts, using the rack system that most hibachis come with or by utilizing the perimeter of the cooking grate. Like regular barbecues, use grill skewers when cooking sliced and chopped foods on a hibachi.
Set the hibachi grill outside on a stable, flat, heat-proof surface. Use common sense when choosing a location. Just like a regular grill, don't place it near anything flammable, such as drooping tree limbs with dry leaves, overgrown weeds, brush piles, firewood, kindling, haystacks, tumbleweed or any other potential fire hazard in your backyard.
Light about half of a charcoal chimney starter full of natural, lump charcoal. Remove the cooking grate and empty the charcoal in the hibachi's charcoal tray when you see a red glow in the center of the chimney starter and the top coals just start to ashen. Replace the grill grate.
Adjust the grill grate's height, if applicable. Most hibachi grills have two wooden handles you pull out to release the cooking grate, then use to lift the grate to a second and third position above the coals. Use the lowest position for cooking thin steaks, chicken breast halves and skewered meat and vegetables, and the second position for steaks up to 1-inch thick, whole chicken breasts and delicate foods that burn easily, such as fish and seafood. Use the third or highest position for cooking steaks thicker than 1 inch and for keeping cooked food warm.
If your hibachi doesn't have a rack system to raise the cooking grate, place delicate and longer-cooking items, such as thick steaks and fish filets, around the perimeter of the cooking grate, and place quicker-cooking items, such as thin steaks, chicken breast halves and vegetables, toward the center of the grate. You can also push the coals to one side of the grill and cook thick steaks on the other side.
Move the food to the center of the grate or lower the rack to the lowest position to sear food and add some char to it after it finishes cooking.
Let the coals extinguish on their own after you finish cooking, then transfer them to a metal bin used only for charcoal. Charcoal stays hot for about 24 hours after the fire extinguishes, so don't place it in a regular trash can or near anything that can ignite.
Clean the cooking grate with a wire brush and tap it a few times to shake off the char and ash. Empty the ash in the metal coal bin.
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- If you have a folding-style hibachi grill, follow the manufacturer's instructions for setup.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.