What Is That Little Round Outdoor Grill In Anime?
by Justin Sevakis,
What is that little barbecue grill that looks like a flower pot? Are they even easy to make as a D.I.Y. project?
There are a few different kinds of Japanese barbecue grills, but that one, which is common for home use, is called a shichirin (七輪). These simple little portable grills are made of clay, diatomaceous earth or similar material, and are typically round and little less than a foot in diameter (although square ones are fairly common too). Westerners sometimes call these hibachi (which is wrong, as that word actually describes a charcoal burning space heater).
Shichirin are designed to be small and light, and since they're so simple, they're practically unchanged since the Edo period. They consist of just a heat-proof pot for burning fuel, with a metal mesh on top for cooking. They're normally filled with a Japanese variety of charcoal known as binchotan, which is made of pre-fired oak and gives off a nice, even heat for a long time. Most importantly, it's relatively safe to use, as it doesn't smoke or pop very much.
Shichirin are ideal for cooking small things like skewers (yakitori and the like), small fish, shrimp and anything else you might want to barbecue. Binchotan also has a cult following among chefs overseas, due to how even and long-lasting its heat tends to be. (Importing it can be pretty expensive compared to your standard charcoal briquettes.)
There are other kinds of Japanese grills, and they're all collectively referred to as "konro," which just means "portable stove." These are often larger and rectangle, and many are gas powered, although plenty are sold specifically for barbecue.
I suppose you COULD make a shichirin yourself, if you used sturdy clay with good insulating properties, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it unless you REALLY know your pottery and know what you're doing. The last thing you'd want is for the pot to burst apart when there are hot coals inside. However, the best shichirin and konro are made with diatomaceous earth, which is essentially fossilized algae. This material is ideal for grills, as it insulates and reflects the heat from the charcoal, redirecting it upward. I don't think you can easily make anything with diatomaceous earth without a proper factory.
I've never had the pleasure of making a fire in a shichirin, fanning it and grilling a mackerel on top of it like in anime, but to be perfectly frank, it's probably something I should add to my bucket list.
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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for over 20 years. He's the original founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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