10 Types of Yakiton (Grilled Pork Skewers) You Need To Try
Grilled skewered meat and vegetables, or kushiyaki, are a very popular food in Japan, and can be eaten at izakayas, specialty stores and street food stands. You may already be familiar with one type of skewered food called yakitori—bite-sized pieces of chicken grilled over an open flame. In Japan, another popular type of skewered food is yakiton, grilled pork skewers.
Also known as “butakushi” or “buta no kushiyaki”, yakiton comes in a wide number of varieties made with different cuts of meat and various seasonings. Japanese cuisine emphasizes using the entire hog to prevent wastefulness, which means cooking everything from the head to the tail. While many of these cuts are not commonly eaten in Western cultures, in Japan they’re considered quite a delicacy, and a worth trying for a delicious and diverse meal.
Yakiton are typically seasoned in shio (salt) or grilled and dipped in tare (sauce) and can be eaten with various condiments such as a dab of wasabi, miso paste, yuzukosho (ground yuzu citrus and pepper), a fresh squeeze of lemon, or Japanese spices like sansho pepper and schichimi togarashi. Yakiton also features a number of creative fusion combinations, such as buta-mochi (mochi rice cakes wrapped in pork), asupara-bacon (bites of asparagus wrapped in bacon), and bacon-wrapped cherry tomatoes.
With over 20 different cuts of meat that can be used from a pig, there’s so many to choose from—here are 10 kinds of yakiton to get you started!
10 Popular Types of Yakiton, a Pork Variety of Kushiyaki
Buta Bara (Pork Belly)
Probably one of the most popular kinds of yakiton is buta bara, or pork belly—the same cut of meat used to make bacon, but unsmoked. The pork belly is thickly sliced and threaded on skewers, then carefully grilled until the rich belly fat is cooked to perfection. Buta bara tastes best when seasoned simply with some salt (buta bara shio-yaki), and you can try garnishing it with some freshly squeezed lemon.
Kashira (Pork Jowl)
Buta kashira, which roughly translates as “pork cheek” or “pork jowl”, is the meat found around the temple and cheeks. Its texture is quite firm and dense, giving it a very meaty quality, but because the jowl muscles are worked frequently, buta kashira meat is also very juicy. Pork jowl is available in limited quantities as there is less yielded per pig than other cuts of meat, so be sure to give it a try if you come across it!
Organ meat may not be a frequent menu item in some countries, but in Japan it’s a popular food to enjoy while drinking, especially buta hatsu (pork heart). Hatsu has a distinctly firm, springy texture that can be quite refreshing if you’ve been eating a lot of fatty cuts of meat, and unlike other kinds of organ meat, hatsu does not have a strong flavor or odor so it’s very easy to eat, even for people trying it for the first time.
Buta reba (pork liver) is another organ meat that you can enjoy when eating yakiton. It’s high in protein and low in fat, making it extremely healthy, but overcooking can make reba dry. Ideally, reba should be grilled on the outside but left rare in the center, so that the creamy texture of the meat can be enjoyed.
Harami is a cut of meat from the diaphragm, also known in English as “pork flank steak”. It’s a thin cut of meat with a chewier texture than fillet meat, but it’s still very tender. Buta harami is a very popular cut of grilled meat in Japan that’s often enjoyed with a nice miso tare sauce.
Shiro is the Japanese name for meat from the intestine. It gets its name “shiro”, meaning “white”, from the color of the meat. While intestine is not typically eaten in Western cuisine, char-grilled shiro meat is incredibly delicious seasoned with a bit of sea salt and garnished with ponzu citrus soy sauce.
Tan—tongue—is a lean cut of meat that can be somewhat chewy. In Japanese cooking, tan is typically sliced thinly giving it a more palatable texture. Pork tongue has a milder, more delicate flavor than beef tongue, making it easier for some people to eat. It goes excellently with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Teppo is a springy cut of meat from the section of the intestine that’s located close to the rectum. While that may not sound like the most appetizing cut of meat, if you’re feeling adventurous enough to try it, you’ll find that teppo has a bold flavor that’s delicious when grilled with miso paste.
Kutsubera / Nodo Nankotsu (Cartilage)
Nankotsu is crunchy cartilage meat that’s highly prized for its texture. Kutsubera is a specific kind of cartilage that comes from the esophageal, or throat, area and has a high collagen content, which is said to be very good for the skin and joints. Cartilage meat is a popular snack in Japan that goes well with alcohol.
Ami-Hatsu & Ami-Reba (Heart & Liver Wrapped in Fat)
Ami-hatsu and ami-reba are two types of pork skewers that don’t really have an equivalent in Western cuisine. Basically, they’re pork heart and pork liver that have been wrapped in a thin net-like layer of fat (“ami” means “netting” or “web” in Japanese). Both of these organ meats are low in fat and extremely healthy, so cooking them wrapped in fat like this adds richness and flavor.
Try Japanese Pork Skewers for an Entertaining and Tasty Meal-On-Stick Experience
Yakiton is a fun and delicious food to try in Japan as a casual snack or as a full meal. With a wide variety of pork skewers available, yakiton can be ordered to suit personal tastes—more familiar cuts of meat for those who want to play it safe, and more adventurous cuts for those who are interested in trying something new and exciting. Check out Gurunavi’s restaurant listings for places to enjoy yakiton in Japan.
Tonton Byoshi is an izakaya in Suidobashi, where you can enjoy a wide range of delicious grilled-to-order yakiton and yakitori in a fun and casual dining setting. There’s individual tables in an open dining area, as well as relaxed private dining, making the restaurant perfect for both small and large groups. The menu offers a variety of appetizers such as tofu, edamame, sweet potato fries, broiled tuna and mackerel, avocado with wasabi and nori, and fresh chicken liver, plus an extensive drinks menu including authentic shochu and sake. Set price, 180-minute banquets with unlimited drinks are a popular dining option. Fresh ingredients are delivered to Tonton Byoshi each morning, to ensure the high quality of dishes.