"This was my first time ever cooking with charcoal of any kind, let alone binchotan," says Knife's own Marcus after taking home a new medium sized Konro Grill.
"It made for a uniquely interesting and delicious experience."
After a little experimentation and a full belly of perfectly seared chicken and king mushroom skewers, Marcus quickly discovered the joys of traditional yakitori cooking.
Once out of the box, the Konro was easy to set up on Marcus' small outdoor patio. Getting the Kishu and Tosa charcoal lit was a pretty simple process. After dropping a half kilo of each into a simple charcoal chimney starter, it took about 20 minutes over a naked flame for the coals to get red hot. This isn't a smokey process, but still important to do out in open air or in a kitchen with a pretty powerful hood-fan.
"You could really feel the heat radiating from the charcoal. The first time I removed it from the heat I was wearing an oven mitt just to be careful."
Once he'd dropped the charcoal into the ceramic well, Marcus gave it a few seconds to sit before spreading it around with a set of tongs.
"I found that lining the walls of the well with the shorter pieces and then stacking the longer ones across diagonally made for an even air flow and kept the coals closer to the food so that you get a really steady, consistent heat source."
Keep in mind that if you need to raise the temperature, you can open the slots on the side to provide added ventilation. "I got comfortably close to the openings and used short, controlled breaths to add a little air."
Once Marcus was happy with the charcoal and the even heating, it was time to start cooking. "I went the traditional yakitori route (as one should when first breaking in a Konro), just chicken and scallion on a stick. Do yourself a favour and look up Japanese tare sauce if you decide to go with yakitori. It really adds that quintessential sweet and savoury flavour."
One thing to remember about cooking with the Konro is that the directed heat rarely rises above the grill. Any produce that isn't directly over the grill will have a hard time cooking like the rest, so try and keep that in mind when planning your portions.
That being said, it's no wonder that traditional yakitori mainly consists of snack sized skewers, though Marcus soon learned that the Konro has no problem also cooking more Western fare.
"Beyond yakitori, I also gave some more standard BBQ staples a shot. I did burgers, sausages and corn. Everything you cook on there gets a nice and crispy caramelized skin while still keeping things juicy. Everything was really tasty but working with fatty food proved to be really intense. Unlike the yakitori, which was virtually smokeless, the burgers and sausages proved to be an entirely different story."
As Marcus quickly discovered, it wasn't the bincho creating all the smoke, but the fat dripping from the beef and burning up on the hot coals. The smoke barely bothered Marcus, but if you're looking to use your Konro to grill up Western BBQ, we suggest sticking to leaner meats.
As easy as it was to get started, extinguishing the grill was just as simple. After filling a pot with cold water, Marcus removed the coals with a set of tongs and transferred them over to the pot.
Though the Konro cools quickly, Marcus gave the grill a few hours to cool before safely dumping out the ash and dust, and brushing out any excess. The inside of the grill is going to stay blackened after cooking in it, but this is nothing to worry about and is just part of the Konro experience. In the meantime, Marcus soaked the grill racks in hot water and then scrubbed them thoroughly.
"Once cooled, I just put the wet coals back into the chimney. When they had dried, I threw them back into the well for the next time I want to cook."
"It seemed a little difficult at first, but after learning how to heat the charcoal at a steady temperature, it proved to be a very satisfying experience. Using binchotan may be one of the best ways to cook anything, especially on a nice, sunny Summer day."
Be warned: you won't be the only one enjoying this grill.
Thanks for reading, - GP with MK