Being the grill-master at a barbecue is a lot of pressure. You have to make sure everyone is getting what they want to eat and that it's cooked to the right doneness, which means you're usually too busy baby-sitting the grill to mingle with guests. That's why I love cook-outs in Japan — the cooking is quick and easy, and the guests serve themselves right off the grill!
If you've ever been to a Korean BBQ or Japanese yakiniku restaurant, you have an idea of how it works. Thinly-sliced meats and vegetables are placed on a hot grill to quickly cook and guests pick them up with their chopsticks when the food is cooked the way they like. The food generally isn't seasoned before it is grilled; instead, everyone preps a little bowl of flavorful sauce and carries it around rather than a plate, dipping the meat and vegetables after pulling them off the grill.
Thinly-sliced beef and pork are staples, but there are a lot of more unusual ingredients as well, like thin slices of kabocha squash, whole shishito peppers, meaty shiitake mushrooms, oysters, or scallops in the shell. Eating happens a little at a time, since everyone politely takes turns pulling food off the grill, with lots of beer-drinking in between.
When I lived in Japan, some of my best times were spent standing in the park, flipping slices of kabocha with my chopsticks and chatting with friends. It was the casual, communal cooking that made these parties so special, and it is a spirit I still remember fondly years after I left.
Have you ever been to a cook-out in another country?
Related: Why Grilling & BBQs Are Good for Your Mental Health
(Images: Flickr member scion_cho licensed under Creative Commons; Flickr member Hyougushi licensed under Creative Commons)