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Compact but Mighty Charcoal Grill

The product we used:

Grill Season Is Here

Four kebabs on a Kaginushi grill

I don't often cook outdoors here in Japan. Unlike Japanese, my skin burns if I stay out too long. Japanese summers are hot and humid, a combination I'm not fond of.

But, once or twice a year I have a party with my friends. When we get together, we cook with charcoal. Although I'm no expert on starting fires, I'm usually called on to get the fire going for our cookouts. It's usually a long, challenging process, although I've gotten faster over time.

So when I was asked to review the Kaginushi Charcoal Grill, I summoned all of my experience to start the fire. As you will find out, that was a mistake.


Fire lit on charcoal

At first glance, the Kaginushi looks rather compact. I realized that would be an advantage for starting the fire. The long, narrow design allowed me to stand the charcoal up easily, making fire-starting much easier. The walls of the grill are made of thick and sturdy diatomaceous earth, meaning that it was going to hold in heat better than my aluminum grill.

Yet, I wasn't prepared for just how good the Kaginushi Grill is. We were low on fire-starter, so I wasn't confident that we would get the fire started without a trip to the store to get some more starter. We opened the little windows on the sides of the grill, lit the fire, and started huffing and puffing.

Fire lit on charcoal

And... it worked. We started the fire almost effortlessly.


Windows on the Kaginushi grill

Soon, I realized we were too successful. The fire was too hot. We needed to calm it down, so we closed the side-windows. With the windows closed, the fire calmed down a bit, so we got to work on some shish-kebabs.

Cooking Kebabs

Grilling kebabs

The Kaginushi's narrow design has several benefits and makes it ideal for shish-kebabs. Four kebabs can be placed lengthwise on the grill, but you can easily place eight kebabs on it on the narrow side. The diatomaceous earth walls help insulate and spread the heat over the whole grill, so you can use the entire grill mesh surface for cooking. Typically, I can't do that with my larger aluminum grill. Without a skewer, you may drop food (like I did) if you place your vegetables free-form on the grill.

When we started cooking, the fire was clearly still too hot. We sprayed the charcoal regularly with water regularly to calm it down. This was a nice problem to have. My usual experience with charcoal grilling involves fiddling with the charcoal and adding a lot more as time goes on. With the Kaginushi Grill, once we got the fire going, we never touched it again. If you grill a lot, the Kaginushi could save you significant amounts of time and money.

If you're used to cooking with an aluminum grill, I recommend beginning with a smaller amount of charcoal than you're used to. If you do, and you find the fire isn't hot enough, try opening the side windows. The heat should pick up almost immediately.

Another thing to keep in mind: it's probably best to place the grill on a table. It's a little too short to use comfortably while placed on the ground. I found that out the hard way. I had a small, plastic camping table, but I didn't trust it to support the heavy Kaginushi, so I was forced to bend over in my camping chair. If you don't already have a steady table to place it on, I recommend you get one before buying the Kaginushi.

In about 30 minutes we had 8 skewers of food cooked to perfection. I'm sure with practice I could learn to cook double that amount in the same time.

Cooking Other Western Style Food?

A Kaginushi grill at full capacity

While shish kebabs have their fans in America, most people I know want to cook other larger items. Steaks, hamburgers, chicken thighs, hot dogs, etc. are far more popular. The Kaginushi is probably not well suited to cooking American-sized steaks. I estimate that only about two steaks can fit on the Kaginushi Grill. Hamburgers, chicken, and hot dogs are probably more comfortable on the Kaginushi. I recommend skewering the hot dogs to ensure you don't drop them.

The box says that the grill is for between 4-8 people. Food like shish kebabs can safely use the entire surface of the grill mesh, so it's possible to cook for 8 people. However, you'll need to eat a few 'waves' of food, rather than having your entire meal set in front of you right away. If you are placing food freely on the grill, expect it to be more appropriate for four people. The Kaginushi isn't well suited to mass-cooking for a large group of people like a more typical American-style grill.


An empty seat and a kebab

I was very impressed by the Kaginushi. Several hours after we were done cooking, the grill was still hot! Its diatomaceous earth walls combined with its long, narrow design make it an outdoor cooking powerhouse. However, if you are new to this style of grill, let me summarize my advice to you.

  1. Place the Kaginushi on a sturdy stand or table for comfortable cooking.
  2. Start with far less charcoal than your used to using with other charcoal grills.
  3. After starting the fire, close or open the side windows with a tool adjust the heat.
  4. Have a spray-bottle of water ready to help calm the fire if it gets too hot.
  5. Using skewers, you can cook for about eight people with one round of cooking. Without skewers, you'll probably feel more comfortable cooking for about four to six people.

If you're in the market for a grill that will make your outdoor cooking experience more enjoyable and more affordable, I recommend the Kaginushi Charcoal Grill.

The product we used: