Friday, March 13, 2015

Binchotan Charcoal

When me and Geri were in Marukai the other day we looked at some table-top shichirins much like this one that me and Leslie used in a restaurant in Japan. Geri was seriously considering buying one but ended up just "thinking about it".


I told her that if she got it she would need to use that special Japanese charcoal.  I didn't know the name of it at that time. We couldn't find it at Marukai, but I did manage to find it at Nijiya the next day.  I bought a bag. Ho da expensive.  $9 for a 1-pound bag.  

When I got home I looked it up.  Sooooo interesting. Binchotan is made from ubame oak and is called white charcoal. It does not release smoke or other unpleasant odors. Binchotan is harder than black charcoal and rings with a metallic sound when struck. You can reuse binchotan several times by submerging the hot coals in cold water and then drying them for a day. It's also used to freshen the air and to purify water. The photo below is from Wikipedia.
"BurningBinchōtan" by STRONGlk7 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

Here's a video I found showing how the King of binchotan, Kishu Binchotan is made. From what I could figure out using Google Translate, they use ubame oak which they straighten and make uniform in size by inserting wedges. This is so that the pieces will burn evenly. They fire the pieces at 2190 degrees F. Many factors including the season, weather, condition of the wood, etc. determine when the binchotan is done. It takes many years of experience to learn when the timing to finish is right. 

Watching the video made me realize why the binchotan is so expensive.  And I wonder how much longer this traditional method of charcoal-making will survive.


Anonymous said...

I learn so much from your blog!
(I've always eaten the oak leaf :O)
I wouldn't even consider trying to burn charcoal in the house but an now intrigued by this. I guess you would still need good ventilation because it would still emit gases and oil mist from the frying meat.

jalna said...

Hahahahaha!!! Too funny about the leaf, Anon! Totally cracks me up. It does seem so dangerous to burn charcoal in the house, yah! And true about the fumes.

Lorna said...

Last year, two of my friends bought some and tried to bring it back to Hawaii. Well, you can't fly it out, so then they tried to mail it to themselves in Hawaii, and the post office in Japan wouldn't even allow that to happen. So they had to mail it to a friend in Japan who's going to try to mail it out here. Story continues . . .

Anonymous said...

J: But the food must taste soooooo good. Weirdly I was thinking of this last night for some reason. When I went to Osaka in my teens I remember all these street vendors cooking food just like that. We didn't try them though. I was thinking it must taste good and how cool to charcoal inside the house rather than outside with all that smoke and sparks whirling around. Hhhhmmmm, I'd go take a look. Thanks, you guyz do cool stuff -N

Anonymous said...

j: btw how much did those table-top shichirins cost? -N

Kay said...

We had this in Shirakawago, but didn't know what it was called. This is so cool!

jalna said...

Whoa, Lorna. I just looked it up. Charcoal is a TSA prohibited item. Good to know. I was thinking it must be way cheaper in Japan.

N, you making me ono for some kushiyaki food now. Marukai had three different-sized shichirins. I think they were around $30 to $50.

K and S said...


jenny said...

So is your sis gonna buy it now?? I'm excited to see you guys put it to use!

jalna said...

Kay, Shirakawago in Japan? We're going there next month!

So interesting yah, Kat!

I'm thinking she'll probably get it, Jenny.

Mark Shelby said...

Jalna, just cut some Kiawe wood!

It's very hard wood! It burns very long and smells great! And it puts great smoke flavor in your BBQ! I Promise!

In Arizona they call it Mesquite.

And it's free when you know where to cut it! ; )

I had all of the free Kiawe wood trees in my back yard that I could eva want!
Other than that, I love the BBQ apparatus that fits perfect on da table! That's a very cool idea!


Kay said...

If you do a search on my blog for Shirakawago, you'll see a bunch of posts on our experience there.

This post is about the spectacular snowfall we encountered. Absolutely gorgeous and shows the shichirins.

You're going to have such a great time!

jalna said...

Backyard Kiawe wood . . . love your memories, Mark.

Thanks, Kay! I'll go check it out.

Nippon Nin said...

Fascinating! I hope I could find yakiniku restaurant that use . I don't have a shichirin but I would like to have one.

Are you going to Japan next month? So do will be short trip this time but excited.
Have a wonderful trip!

Anonymous said...

My mom had one an unused large square one full of ash in our lanai for years. One day she checked on it and found the cat had used it as an alternative litter box, lol! She later put a decorative cushion on it and the same cat took naps in it.

Erick said...

That is so cool!

jalna said...

Ooooh Akemi! You too . . . have a nice trip!

Too funny, Anon!

I think so too, Erick.

Les said...

holy moly!!! No wonder taste so good! :)

jalna said...

Really yah, Les. I feel like I'll appreciate the taste more now that I know how much effort it takes to make the coal.