A Hawaiian BBQ: Types of BBQ in Hawaiʻi

A Hawaiian BBQ: Types of BBQ in Hawaiʻi

Written by Kailanianna Ablog l Cover Photo Courtesy of Yakiniku Seoul

Hawaiʻi is known for its views, beaches and biodiversity. Although not the first thing you would think of, Hawaiʻi’s cuisine scene is also notable! For this Support Local Blog, we'll be diving into Hawaiian BBQ. Often called a mixed plate or a melting pot, Hawaiʻi is home to people from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds who have brought with them their version of BBQ. 

To keep the summer sunshine and good vibes going, we at Valia Honolulu will be taking a brief look at some of what Hawaiʻi has to offer for your summer BBQs! This list does not cover all types of BBQ in Hawai‘i (because if it did, it’d go on forever with all the great options out here), so we encourage you to share your favorites with us on social media!

Hawaiian BBQ

"Laulau and Kalua Pig" by greggman is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Hawaiian BBQ doesn't have just one meaning in Hawai‘i. Native Hawaiians have been enjoying their own form of BBQ for centuries. An Imu is an underground cooking method where meat is slow cooked in a wood-fired underground oven for about six to eight hours. Meats are suspended over hot coals and cooked for many hours. Fish, chicken and vegetables are also cooked this way—the meat is wrapped in ti leaves before being placed into the hole.


Plate Lunch Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

A plate lunch is also often called Hawaiian BBQ. This easy takeout meal combines Chinese, Japanese, and Hawaiian influences into one unique culinary experience. The roots of Hawaiian BBQ can be traced back to the early 1950s when Chinese immigrants moved to Hawaii and brought with them a love for barbeque. This tradition quickly spread throughout the islands and became part of local culture.


Korean BBQ

Photo Courtesy of Yakiniku Seoul

With K-Drama and K-Pop’s rising popularity worldwide, Korean BBQ has also been finding its way into the hearts (and stomachs) of meat lovers everywhere. 

According to an article by Korean BBQ Online, the beginning of K-BBQ can be traced back to a nomadic tribe known as Maek, who moved eastward from Central Asia. The Maek people brought Maekjeok with them - meat that was seasoned prior to being cooked. 

The article mentions this was different from typical Chinese meat dishes “herein the meat would only be seasoned after it has already been cooked.” Upon the introduction of Buddhism to the Korean Peninsula, the consumption of meat was prohibited in the kingdoms of Baekje and Silla for some time. When this prohibition was lifted, the act of roasting or grilling pre-seasoned meat became popular and eventually grew into the modern Korean BBQ we see today. 


Photo courtesy of Yakiniku Seoul

On O‘ahu, there are several KBBQ spots including Yakiniku Seoul! They are often family run and support a number of other local families. Yakiniku Seoul takes pride in offering delicious Korean cuisine and Korean BBQ. The restaurant is currently owned and run by Christine Ko since 2014. Before that, her brother ran the restaurant for 13 years. Their family took over the business from close friends back in 2001, in hopes of making it a success. All the past and current owners shared one goal: to bring loved ones together with tasty food!


For other spots to try, check out Gina’s BBQ, which was established in 1991, the well-known Sorabol and locally-owned and operated ShikdorakWhether you prefer bulgogi, samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) or kalbi (marinated short ribs), KBBQ is definitely a local favorite and offers a lovely dining experience with family, friends, and loved ones! Be sure to grab a few of your favorite Korean sauces and garnishes to add some Korean cuisine flair to your KBBQs!


Photo taken at BBQ Yoshi

There are two theories as to how yakiniku (grilled meat) came to be. 

According to an article for the Tokyo Restaurant Guide, the first theory states that yakiniku originated from “horumon-yaki,” a practice introduced by Koreans living in Japan after World War II. Made using discarded beef and pork innards, Koreans would open-fire grill and serve the meat via stalls in the black market. As time passed, loin and short ribs were included in the cuisine and these horumon-yaki stalls evolved into the yakiniku spots we know of today. 

The second theory, which directly challenges the first one, states that the practice of grilling meat over an open fire could be traced back to the prewar era: 

“Several documents show that, before the Meiji era and mainly in mountainous regions, Japanese ate meat from birds, wild boars, etc. after grilling it over an open fire. So, even in prewar days, there were stews with innards and grilled innards on skewers, using beef or pork offal,” the article states. “It is also written that, in the 1930s, the style of ‘grilling and eating meat on the spot,’ such as grilled short ribs and sukiyaki-style bulgogi (a Korean dish of grilled beef), which were popular in Seoul in those days, was already being introduced in Osaka by Korean immigrants. This goes against the common theory that yakiniku was born after the war.”


Photo taken at BBQ Yoshi

After World War II, it is believed that the present form of yakiniku restaurants appeared, spreading from Tokyo and Osaka to other parts of Japan. The accessibility of eating yakiniku within the home also prompted its popularity and what is called “Tsuke-dare,” or “dipping sauce culture. Tokyo Restaurant Guide mentions tsuke-dare as being unique to Japan and involves the eater to grill unseasoned meat, dip it into sauce and eat them; this method “reduced burning and smoke, and made yakiniku more acceptable in ordinary homes.” 

A few yakiniku spots on O‘ahu include family-owned Yakiniku Sizzle on Cooke St., Japanese BBQ Yoshi on Young St., and Han No Daidokoro in Kaka’ako. Trying out the tsuke-dare technique is an awesome reason to include yakiniku at your next summer BBQ or get-together. 

CHamoru BBQ

A type of BBQ not many may be aware of, CHamoru/Chamorro BBQ is a way of cooking by folks of CHamoru descent (or lovers of Chamorro BBQ). The CHamoru/Chamorro people are indigineous to the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. 

According to Guampedia, CHamoru BBQ, as it stands today, began in the 1960s when packaged meats and poultry were made accessible. Many of the food items shipped to Guam during this time were sent for the U.S. military on the island. 

BBQs nowadays can include a variety of barbecued meats including short and spare ribs, fish, pork belly and tinala’ katne (beef jerky). A popular marinade used for meat and sauce eaten with CHamoru BBQ is fina'denne', which is made with soy sauce, vinegar, onions, hot peppers and lemon juice. Red rice is also common in CHamoru BBQ dishes. 

"delicious bbq trio" by love.jsc is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Guampedia article continues by stating that the act of grilling meats can be traced to Pre-Contact times, prior to Spanish colonization. Before the introduction of different proteins such as beef, chicken or deer by the Spanish, CHamoru people would consume seafood, such as haggen (turtle), birds and fanihi (fruit bat). These foods were cooked over a fire (tunu). Guampedia mentions that flavorings for these foods were “salt extracted from seawater, coconut cream, lemon and mango’ (yellow ginger or tumeric).”

Upon the introduction of meat, the CHamoru cooked it with their seafood, root and tuber dishes in a chåhan (an underground pit); the food would be covered with leaves and were either suspended over fire or placed on coals. During the Latte Period, marked with the emergence of latte stones (pillars for housing), ceramic vessels were used to stew meat with starches. The practice of cooking by chåhan continued to be practiced by families through World War II, according to Guampedia. 

If you are interested in trying out CHamoru BBQ, O‘ahu has a few food trucks: Chamorro Grindz and JebaSina's Kusinan Chamoru



 Add This To Your BBQ in Hawai‘i!

If you’re looking to try out a BBQ recipe this summer, consider making your own kalbi for your next party or gathering! The following recipe is courtesy of Foodland Hawaii:

  • 1 1⁄2 cup yamasa or similar soy sauce
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1 cup mirin
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1⁄2 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 3 green onions, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 pounds Korean short-ribs (kalbi) 
  1. Combine all ingredients and marinate the short ribs for 24 hours. 
  2. Heat a grill and cook meat as desired.

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