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Grilling takes the pride of place amongst techniques in Japanese cuisine. This is perhaps the most ancient of ways of cooking - imagine our earliest ancestors grilling a piece of meat on stick over an open fire. In Japan, though, grilling has become a very refined art. Great care is taken to choose particular cuts of meat or fillets of fish, then delicious sauces are made to ensure that the ingredients stay moist and flavoursome when exposed to the high temperatures. Then the cooking method is unique to Japan - the charcoal used is made from oak, and called bincho. Bincho is hard and shiny, burns without smoke or smell. The characteristic "char-broiled" flavour liked in America and Europe is too unrefined for the more cultivated of Japanese tastes, however bincho is costly, so a standard charcoal is generally used.

The key factor is for the charcoal to get to a very high temperature and stay hot for hours, a condition that is very difficult to reach with gas or electricity. Nevertheless, a gas or electric grill can achieve satisfactory results and does not impact the flavour of the ingredients by adding a charcoal-smokiness.

When using charcoal, light the barbecue at least 1½ hours before cooking, so that the coals are red hot when the ingredients are placed over them for cooking. Place your food at the right distance, taking into account its size - a whole fish should be further away than cubes of beef. Remove the cooked food from the fire before completely cooked, since the heat still stored in the food will continue the cooking process after taking it away from the heat.

Grilled food is delicious enough to be part of formal dinners in Japan, but is also great for informal occasions.