The Counterintuitive Trick for the Best Grilled Whole Cauliflower

Burnished, lightly charred whole cauliflower slathered in a savory teriyaki sauce has entrée energy, but there are a few pitfalls to avoid when grilling the heads. Here’s how to ensure perfect results.

Overhead view of grilled cauliflower
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

I’m a sucker for Japanese-American classics like teriyaki chicken, and for me, the best part of that dish isn’t the chicken itself, but the smoky, chargrilled vegetables that often accompany it. But when you bring the teriyaki treatment to a whole head of cauliflower, it captures the spirit and what I love most about the original: Deep umami notes, charcoal, caramelized flavors, sweetness, salt, substance. In fact, this is probably the meatiest version of cauliflower I could dream up—something main-course worthy.

Burnished, lightly charred domed cauliflower heads slathered in a savory teriyaki sauce has entrée energy and show stopping appeal, but properly grilling whole heads of brassicas presents us with two common pitfalls: They’re often unevenly cooked (too crunchy on the inside while blackened and bitter on the outside) and under seasoned throughout. Here’s how to solve these two main problems.

Overhead view of brushing teriyaki on caulifloweer
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

3 Tips for Grilling Whole Cauliflower Heads

1. Brine for even seasoning. One way to guarantee even seasoning—even to the woody core—is to employ a brine. When cauliflower is submerged in a saline solution over the course of a few hours, the brassica takes on more and more seasoning. In previous testing on how and why you should brine your vegetables, I found the difference in flavor between surface seasoning and brining for cooked cruciferous vegetables is stark. Here, a soak in a 4 to 5% salt brine for about three hours produces optimal results, but you can let the cauliflower sit for up to six hours to work with your cooking schedule.

2. Start low and slow over a two-zone grill. In my first tests, after brining I simply threw the heads on the hottest side of the grill, but this resulted in a burnt exterior with a crunchy, undercooked center. It was clear that I needed to speed up the cooking of the cauliflower’s fibrous core before the exterior florets overcooked. I tried various methods for par-cooking the cauliflower before finishing it on the grill—boiling, microwaving, even baking to ensure the cauliflower heads were cooked through prior to a final blast of heat from the grill. Boiling and microwaving resulted in a sweet interior, but since the heads were so saturated with moisture, the rate of browning was less in the final stage of cooking on the grill; the texture was too soft, the cauliflower lacked depth of flavor, and it also didn’t char as well on the grill.

Baking was a better direction, since the dry cooking environment drew moisture from the exterior, ensuring that the heads charred well on the grill. But similar to my tests with boiling and microwaving, even after grilling, the baked cauliflower lacked the smoky, grilled aroma and flavor I wanted.

In the end, I opted to cook the cauliflower on the grill for the entire time, and treated it similar to a big barbecued chunk of meat, such as brisket or pork butt. Using a two-zone indirect heat grill set-up as described in our guide to grilling, I cooked the heads low and slow over the cooler side of the grill so there was no direct heat underneath them, which kept the cauliflower from charring too early and turning bitter. Over 40 to 50 minutes, the interior cooked to a perfect crisp-tender texture, and took on plenty of the smoky, grilled flavor I was looking for.

3. Create layers of flavor. One of the hallmarks of teriyaki is the characteristic smoky flavor that comes when the teriyaki sauce (and fat, if you’re grilling meat) hits the coals and caramelizes, and the resulting cloud of volatile compounds floats back up to the food. That cascade of flavors from the reaction of burnt sugars and other sulfur-containing amino acids such as cysteine amplifies meaty flavor, and it’s a big reason why teriyaki is special. To mimic that, I brush the glaze on in three stages—once after the first 20 minutes of cooking and twice toward the end of cooking when the crown of the cauliflower head gets a final blast of direct heat on the grill. This way, the cauliflower reaps the benefits from the slower Maillard reaction and caramelization happening during the longer initial cooking process over the indirect heat, but also develops the more aggressive, charred flavors in the final hotter grilling stage on the hot side of the grill. The result is burnished, smoky cauliflower that slices easily into thick wedges for serving. All it needs is a squeeze of lemon, and maybe a bowl of rice to scarf it all down.

Remove leaves from bottom of each cauliflower head. Using a sharp knife, slice stem off of each head so that cauliflower sits evenly on flat surface. Do not cut out the core.

Overhead view of trimming cauliflower
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

In a large container, such an 8-quart Cambro or large stock pot, whisk water and salt until dissolved (see notes). Place cauliflower in saltwater brine, core side up, making sure that cauliflower is submerged. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 3 hours and up to 6 hours.

Overhead view of bringing cauliflower
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Make the teriyaki sauce: A few minutes before you want to cook the cauliflower, in a medium saucepan, whisk shoyu, sake, mirin, sugar, and powdered dashi until combined. Bring mixture to boil, then cook over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until temperature reaches 225°F (107℃) and sauce thickens and is reduced to a scant 1 cup, 12 to 16 minutes. Off heat, stir in rendered fat or butter and sesame oil. Set aside.

Overhead view of making Teriyaki sauce
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

For a Charcoal Grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

Overhead view of charcoal grill being prepped
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

For a Gas Grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner on, and switch other burners off.

Remove cauliflower from brine, letting excess liquid drain back into container. Place both cauliflower heads, stem side down onto cooler side of grill, approximately 2 inches from edge of hot coals or primary burner. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Overhead view of cauliflower on grill
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Uncover grill, and using a heatproof brush, brush one layer of reserved sauce over cauliflower heads. Cover and continue cooking until thermometer registers 175°F at the thickest part of the core, and cauliflower is tan, but not well browned yet, rotating cauliflower occasionally, 20 to 30 minutes longer.

Overhead view saucing cauliflower
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Uncover grill and brush cauliflower with a second layer of sauce. Using tongs, flip cauliflower and place floret-side down directly over the hottest part of grill (for a charcoal grill, directly over the coals, for a gas grill, over the primary burner). Cover and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover grill, flip cauliflower heads stem side down, and brush florets all over with a final layer of sauce. Flip cauliflower and place floret side down, cover, and cook until well browned and lightly charred, 3 to 5 minutes longer.

Four image collage of grilling cauliflower
Serious Eats / Lorena Masso

Transfer cauliflower to a plate. Sprinkle with togarashi. Serve with lemon wedges and remaining sauce.

Special Equipment

8-quart plastic container (such as a Cambro) or large stock pot for brining, charcoal or gas grill, chimney starter (if using a charcoal grill), thermometer, heat safe brush, grill tongs

Notes

Koikuchi shoyu is a general, all-purpose shoyu with a balance of salinity, umami, and richness. For a richer, slightly darker sauce, use tamari (it’s also gluten free). Saishikomi shoyu is the darkest, richest, most umami option, and produces teriyaki sauce with the greatest depth of flavor. 

Make-Ahead and Storage

The cooked cauliflower is best eaten right away, but it can be safely covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

The Case for Brining Vegetables: Why It’s Not Just for Meat

With a little planning, you can transform your vegetables from bland or bitter to tender, savory, and even sweet by soaking them in a salt-water brine before cooking them. Our writer Tim Chin put several different vegetables to the test to discover the optimal brine salt concentration and time.

Side view of brining vegetables
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

In the recipe development world, it often seems like there’s no problem that brining can’t solve. Dry, chalky chicken? Bland, overcooked salmon? Unevenly cooked, wrinkly beans? Brining makes all your problems go away.

Beyond beans, brining is known to work for some specific types of vegetables. Salting eggplant before cooking, for instance, is a long practiced method, and salting cabbage, cucumbers, and other water-rich vegetables is commonly employed for salads, pickles, and more. For the most part, brining is meant to drive water out of these items, concentrating flavor and firming up their otherwise floppy texture—or conversely, softening some vegetables to tenderize them.

But is that where vegetable brining ends? Is there a place for brining other vegetables, like the more waxy, dry, and starchy options—things like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, winter squash, green beans, or potatoes? I’d wager that most people don’t brine these items before throwing them in the oven or on the grill. But should they be brined? I got to testing to find out.

Defining "Brine"

By the strictest definition, a brine is a solution of salt and water. In modern cooking parlance, brining has expanded to mean simply treating foods with salt for a period of time—either with a “wet” brine (saltwater solution) or a “dry” brine (just salt). Dry brines manage to act as brines by drawing water out of the ingredient and then dissolving into it, forming a wet brine with the ingredient's natural moisture. (Brines can also include sugar, but for the purposes of this discussion—and simplicity—let’s just stick to salt.)  

Which Vegetables Are Good for Brining?

A Question of Water Content

For meats and fish, the benefits of brining are clear: Salt not only penetrates the tissue and seasons it, but it also enhances texture by dissolving proteins (like myosin), preventing them from contracting as much during cooking. Limited contraction means the meat holds on to more water, so it tastes juicier and more tender.  

But vegetables don’t have any of the filamentous (fibrous) proteins that make meat, well, meat. There’s no dissolving of proteins or tenderizing going on here. Instead, vegetables contain polysaccharides like cellulose and pectin, sugars, and many other starches, among other components. Most importantly, vegetables have cell walls which are semi-permeable to salt and water. 

Overhead view of vegetables on a sheet tray
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Salt tends to move away from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration across a cell membrane in a process known as diffusion. And together with osmosis—the movement of water from areas of lower (salt) concentration to areas of higher concentration—these processes are crucial for preparing vegetables like cucumbers for pickling, or cabbage for sauerkraut or kimchi. Osmosis drives water out of the plants’ cell membranes, while salt diffuses across those membranes and seasons the vegetables deeply. 

That’s all well and good if you’re a high-water content vegetable without much of a tough exterior. But what about the rest? Consider the following table:

Most people don’t usually brine these vegetables. Why? Maybe because they are perceived as “drier.” Certainly vegetables like sweet potatoes, potatoes, or carrots have a lower relative water content. On the flip side, broccoli and cauliflower are over 90 percent water. Meanwhile, eggplant is about 90 percent water. So what makes eggplant a worthier candidate for salting or brining than, say, broccoli?    

The truth is, I don’t know the reason. But clearly, water percentage is not the only part of this story.

A Question of "Waxy" Skins and Peels

If water content isn't a good predictor of a vegetable's affinity for brining, is it possible it has to do with the nature of the vegetable's peel and flesh? Are "waxy" vegetables less appropriate for brining?

When we say “waxy” vegetables, we refer to vegetables that don’t seem permeable to water. But the truth is that most vegetables—even the ones we typically do brine, like eggplant and cucumbers—have a skin (or epidermis) and a layer of epicuticular wax, a naturally occurring, water-repelling substance on the outermost layers of vegetables and fruits that prevents water loss and potential harm from pathogens. This feature is most apparent with foods like carrots or winter squash, but it's present in most vegetables. You can also see epicuticular wax at work in the leaves of uncut kale, as water beads up and runs off them in the rain or under the faucet.

Overhead view of vegetables on a sheet tray
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

For the most part, we peel or cut vegetables to access the flesh beneath. And in order to brine, peeling, cutting, or physically breaking the plant’s cells (think smashing cucumbers, or thinly slicing and then massaging cabbage) are essential steps for success. It seems that even here, there are no easy rules about a vegetable's peel that might provide a hint as to whether it's good to brine or not, since peeling and cutting are routine parts of prep in many vegetable brining situations.

The Testing: Brining Every Vegetable in Sight

Here’s my hypothesis: Under the right conditions, you can brine any vegetable in a solution of salt and water; given enough time and a high enough salt concentration, you will observe some positive difference in seasoning and/or texture.

To test, I submerged various vegetables in a 5% salt solution for varying lengths of time. For vegetables with a defined skin, I peeled or cut them to expose the inner flesh and maximize any chances of salt transfer. I then drained the vegetables and cooked them, either by roasting, broiling, or some other heat treatment. I weighed each sample before and after brining to measure any water loss (or gain?), and evaluated everything for taste and texture.

I repeated this testing for 8% and 10% brines.

Here are the results, highlighting a few vegetables:

Green Beans

Overhead view of green beans brined 30 min and 12 hrs
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Green beans have a leathery exterior that seems to repel water. Because of this, I opted to trim the ends of each bean to facilitate easier transport of water/salt into the beans. (I even halved some crosswise to compare any differences, though it didn’t seem to matter in the end.) After brining, I drained the green beans, tossed them in a measured amount of oil, and broiled them for exactly seven minutes.

Across the board, the beans tasted saltier as brining time increased. Interestingly, longer-brined beans tended to cook faster and wilt more than shorter-brined beans. Why? You’ll notice that as brining time increased, the beans seemed to lose water weight. Water is what keeps plant cells crisp (turgid), and the cooking process drives water out of those cells. I suspect that longer-brined green beans had less water prior to cooking, so wilting happened more quickly.

The verdict: Were brined beans objectively better than un-brined beans? Across all salt concentrations, on the extreme end (12 hours), I’d say no; the beans just got too salty and became too wilty. But around one to four hours—especially at the eight percent concentration—the level of seasoning was ideal, and compared to longer-brined beans, they didn’t wilt so dramatically, retaining a bit of their color and structure through broiling. I’d say that’s a win for brining—especially for high-heat applications where you might want to retain some crisp-tender bite.

Russet Potatoes

Overhead view of potatoes on sheet tray
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Here I left potatoes unpeeled, cut them into 2-inch chunks, then brined them. After brining, I coated the potatoes in oil and air fried them at 400°F for 30 minutes.

Brined cut potatoes took on plenty of salt as time elapsed, with a sweet spot between 30 minutes and four hours. Like green beans, the 12-hour brined samples were aggressively salty. And again, the potatoes appeared to lose water weight over time—as much as 10 percent after 12 hours.

Texturally, brined potatoes had a creamier texture as time elapsed. By comparison, unbrined potatoes were fluffier and more starchy. But how much of that difference comes from salt? After all, soaking potatoes in water is a common practice intended to give foods like french fries a creamier cooked texture. To nip this in the bud, I ran an additional test comparing potatoes brined for 12 hours versus potatoes soaked in water only for 12 hours. As expected, the resulting textures were nearly identical—so the salt is primarily adding seasoning, while the water alters the texture.

The verdict: If you want creamier, more evenly seasoned potatoes, then brining is beneficial. I suggest a 5% to 8% brine for at least 30 minutes and up to four hours for optimal results.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Crowns

Cruciferous vegetables are a tricky case for brining. While the stems are waxy and seemingly impervious to water, the florets are porous, presumably trapping some brine between the buds. That means that at minimum, we might expect brined florets (of any duration) to be more seasoned than unbrined florets; it also raises the question of whether this type of vegetable can be brined evenly, or whether the process results in florets that are seasoned differently from the stem sections.

Overhead view of cauliflower
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

First, I ran this test with whole crowns, only trimming away the thickest bottom stems, then submerging the crowns in brine. I repeated the tests with separated florets as well. After brining, I coated the vegetables in oil and roasted each sample at 400°F and evaluated.

Across all cases, I didn’t see much moisture loss. I attribute this to the fact that I wasn’t really peeling or exposing much of the flesh beneath the protective periderm. Alternatively, it’s possible that water was trapped in the florets between individual buds. As for taste, there was little to no seasoning in the cauliflower samples brined up to one hour. At four hours, the benefits were more noticeable—good salt penetration to the deeper parts of the florets, and acceptable seasoning at the stems. At 12 hours, the salt level was just too much.

I saw similar results for broccoli crowns: virtually no seasoning after 30 minutes, minimal seasoning up to one hour, and ideal seasoning around four hours. This time, salt penetration into the broccoli florets seemed deeper than cauliflower. My guess is that the florets were less tightly spaced in broccoli than cauliflower, allowing more brine to seep into the spaces over time.

Separated, individual florets had slightly more seasoning across all tests. As expected, cutting and separating exposed more of the interior plant cells, which probably allowed more contact with brine. Here, one hour was sufficient for discernible benefits.

Texturally, I saw no major differences between unbrined and brined samples. But the big advantage was flavor: Brined samples tasted more vegetal, slightly sweeter, more like themselves.

The verdict: For more evenly seasoned, less bitter, sweeter tasting cruciferous vegetables, brine whole crowns for around four hours in a 5% to 10% brine before cooking. If you’re in a hurry, you can separate broccoli or cauliflower crowns into individual florets to speed up salt penetration, and brine for up to one hour.

Sweet Potatoes

Overhead view of sweet potatoes on sheet tray
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Sweet potatoes have the lowest water content of all vegetables I tested. I peeled, cut, and brined 1 ½-inch chunks, then roasted them at 400°F for 30 minutes. Even after 12 hours of brining, there was minimal moisture loss. Texturally, longer brined sweet potatoes had a creamier interior than shorter brined samples—just like russet potatoes. Unbrined sweet potatoes also tended to brown more quickly than all brined samples (this could be unrelated to the salt in brine and more to do with the brine's water washing away surface starches that are prone to quicker browning).    

The verdict: If you want creamier, well seasoned sweet potatoes, brining them for up to four hours in a 5% to 8% salt solution is optimal. Be sure to peel and cut the potatoes for optimal salt penetration.

Brussels Sprouts

Overhead view of brussel sprouts
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Brussels sprouts are essentially mini cabbages. Their structure features overlapping leaves, which form random spaces between those leaves. Because of those nooks and crannies, we’d expect halved Brussels sprouts to hold onto more water if submerged in a brine. And for the most part, the results show this: Regardless of duration, all samples gained weight after brining.

After brining, I coated the Brussels sprouts in oil, then air fried them for 30 minutes at 425°F. In terms of taste and texture, I didn’t see much benefit until at least one hour of brining at all salt concentrations. Brussels sprouts brined for 30 minutes showed uneven browning, a more bitter, vegetal flavor with a raw mustard finish; they also had more crunch and rawness.

In contrast, longer brined sprouts were saltier, creamier in texture, sweeter, less bitter, and surprisingly, had more even browning. Why more even browning? There’s some evidence that salt enhances the rate of browning in certain foods. Maybe salt facilitates more even browning in this case by drawing out initial moisture, but I don’t have enough evidence to say for sure.

The verdict: Brined Brussels sprouts are a win. Opt to halve them, then brine them in up to a 10 percent salt solution for at least one and up to four hours. When roasted, the Brussels sprouts are sweeter, less bitter, more evenly browned, and more tender-creamy than unbrined versions.

Other Vegetables

Other highlights in testing included carrots, kabocha squash, and butternut squash. These vegetables behaved similarly, and all benefited from at least one hour in brine.   

Limitations of Testing

Clearly, brining has a place in enhancing flavor and even the texture of certain vegetables. But it’s not a cure-all for every vegetable, and it’s difficult to make blanket statements. In general, I found optimal results brining between one and four hours at salt concentrations between five and eight percent.

For high-heat applications, brining tough vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and even green beans can be transformative. But I’ll admit, I didn’t test lower, slower, gentle cooking applications.

Finally, my testing wasn’t exhaustive. There are dozens of vegetables that I didn’t test. But hopefully I captured a wide swath of options across a range of vegetable types to give a general picture of possible benefits.

If You've Got Time, Put It in Brine

Vegetable cookery is often an afterthought. It can play second fiddle to more show-stopping mains or substantive dishes. So next time you’re marinating your steaks or brining your chicken breasts at the peak of a summer grilling season, consider brining some vegetables too. With a little planning, you can transform your broccoli from bland and bitter to tender, savory, and even sweet—just be sure to dry off any brined vegetables that you want to cook very quickly over high heat, since the excess water can slow browning.

Katsu Sando (Japanese Breaded Pork or Chicken Cutlet Sandwich)

Japan’s iconic katsu sando features a fried pork or chicken cutlet, finely sliced green cabbage, tonkatsu sauce, all neatly packed between two pillowy slices of Japanese milk bread.

Side view of katsu sandow
Serious Eats / Two Bites

At the beginning of 2023, at the height of its popularity, the Los Angeles restaurant Konbi shuttered its doors. Konbi had become a social media sensation, buoyed by the popularity of its maddeningly photogenic versions of Japanese cafe foods like egg sandos and multi-layered croissants. But of all of its offerings, few were more iconic than Konbi’s pork katsu (cutlet) sandwich. The uniform finger sandwiches developed a cult following, with patrons lining out the door for a chance to savor that timeless combination of fried pork cutlet, milk bread, cabbage, and sauce.

Overhead view of assembling katsu sando
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Konbi didn’t invent the katsu sando. The sandwich has been around since at least the 1930s, when the manager of the Japan’s tonkatsu restaurant Isen sought a more portable and convenient format for the cutlet. In Japan these days the sandwich is prevalent throughout the country—you can even find a katsu sando at 7-eleven (some might argue that this is the greatest version of the sandwich).

The construction of the sandwich is simple: A fried pork or chicken cutlet, finely sliced green cabbage, tonkatsu sauce, kewpie mayonnaise (sometimes), all neatly packed between two pillowy slices of Japanese milk bread. So how do you make one at home? Is there some secret sauce? (Hint: There is, in fact, a secret sauce.)

Rather than attempting to put some new spin on a classic, here I focus on execution. So let’s go layer by layer, starting with the most important part: the katsu.

The Katsu (Cutlet)

The katsu portion of the sandwich makes or breaks it—it’s in the name, after all. The cutlet’s fried exterior should be crisp, light, golden brown,and slightly yielding; while the meat should remain juicy, be uniform in thickness, and well seasoned. Most recipes call for breading the cutlets in store-bought, Japanese-style dry panko. And while this method produces a serviceable cutlet, I’m never quite satisfied with the results: The browning can be spotty and uneven, and it’s never quite as shatteringly crisp as I envision. Just one look at the pros in action confirms it: At the highest level, restaurant versions of katsu are fluffier, crispier, more uniformly golden, and the panko flakes are massive in comparison to store-bought dry panko. So how do they do it?

Overhead view of pork chop
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Nama Panko

The key to restaurant quality katsu lies in using nama panko (fresh panko). Traditionally, panko is made from loaves of enriched bread baked by electrical current, which results in a crustless, white bread. The loaves are staled, then shredded into flakes and dried for long-term storage and transport. For most consumers in the States, this dried panko is what you’ll find in most stores. 

In contrast, nama panko is a specialty product, in which the flakes are left undried, dramatically decreasing their shelf life. But the increased hydration of nama panko carries several benefits. The panko is light and fluffy, and the flakes are large, increasing the available surface area such that, when deep fried, the crust becomes shatteringly crisp. Increased hydration means no hard, dense crumbs to begin with, so the fried flakes take on a more lacy, delicate texture than store-bought dried panko.* The excess moisture in nama panko also insulates the meat slightly, slows down the frying process, protecting the cutlet from overcooking.

*If you’re not convinced, you can try this experiment yourself: Deep fry cubes of fresh bread and fully desiccated, rock hard bread, then compare. You should notice a big difference in the finished texture.

If nama panko is so vastly superior to dried panko, then what’s the catch? Why don’t more people use it? For one, nama panko isn’t shelf stable, so unless you’re ready to use all of it within a few days, then longer term storage becomes an issue. The product is also hard to source outside of Japan. In the States, there aren’t any obvious online sources, and that’s probably because a) there’s not much demand for it and b) the shelf life is so short.

A Solution

While I don’t have access to real nama panko, I can get pretty darn close. I’m fortunate to live by a number of Japanese bakeries, all of which offer shokupan, or Japanese milk bread. So I sliced up a loaf, trimmed the crust, let it stale for a day, then gave the bread a whirl in a food processor. The result? Flaky, shredded, fluffy pieces that coated the cutlets nearly perfectly. The fried crust was delicate, shattery, and blew crusts made from store-bought dried panko out of the water.

Overhead view of panko
Serious Eats / Two Bites

The look and feel of this “nama panko” was almost identical to what I could see online. But the individual flakes were smaller, and a bit uneven—probably due to the brutish, indiscriminate nature of the processor blade. I switched to the grater attachment, and immediately saw improvement. The grated flakes were large, strand-like, and even fluffier than before. And the fried coating? Light, golden brown, impossibly crispy—a worthy facsimile of some of the finest katsu I’ve eaten.

Additional Cutlet Care

Kenji has detailed most considerations when preparing the actual cutlet, but to summarize here:

  • Pork or chicken are the most popular options.
  • Use a fatty cut of pork such as pork sirloin to ensure the meat stays moist; pork loin and shoulder are acceptable; ask for 4- to 5-ounce portions.
  • Chicken thighs can be treated similarly to pork sirloin.
  • Chicken breasts should be salted at least a few hours and up to a day ahead of frying.
  • All meats should be trimmed and pounded to achieve a uniform 1/4 inch thickness. This is especially important for the katsu sandwich, since we want an even layer throughout.

The Cabbage

Cabbage is the go-to accompaniment for katsu, whether served with katsu curry or in a sandwich. The cabbage is sliced into razor-thin threads, and often shocked in ice water to maximize its crisp and crunch. The best way to cut the cabbage (beyond having a sharp knife), is to separate individual leaves from the head, trim out the thick ribs and any non-leafy parts, roll up the leaves, and slice through the roll (this is most similar to a chiffonade). Of course, you could just blast through a head of cabbage with a mandolin. But to get the most uniform, perfect strands, there’s no substitute for careful knife work.

I dress the cabbage in a light sauce of ground toasted sesame seeds, kewpie mayonnaise, rice wine vinegar, and a calculated hit of Dijon mustard. The dressing doesn’t overpower the sandwich, but instead complements the other elements, brightening an otherwise rich and heavy ensemble. And as much as I enjoy raw cabbage in this application, it definitely benefits from the added flavor of the simple dressing.  

The Bread

Most versions of the katsu sandwich feature thick slabs of milk bread. At most, the slices are trimmed of their crust, for the tidy, iconic look of a traditional konbini katsu sando. Whether you trim the ends is up to you. But I’d argue that the crust is generally chewier than the pillowy interior of the milk bread, so if you’re a fan of uniform texture, then trim away. Beyond that, I choose to lightly toast the inner sides of the bread—providing a slight buffer against sogginess from the sauce or juices from the cutlet.

The Sauce

Tonkatsu sauce is essential to the flavor of this sandwich. Of course, you could make your own version of tonkatsu sauce. But in my opinion, there is no substitute for Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce (and I’m not alone in that camp). Besides, you’ve already put in all that work to dial in the katsu component. Why attempt to overachieve, when the result is arguably inferior? Don’t be a hero.

Kewpie mayonnaise is a subject of debate in the final construction of the sandwich. In my research, I’ve found versions with and without mayonnaise. For example, Konbi’s version omits any mayonnaise. On the other hand, the 7-eleven chicken katsu sandwich includes a light swoop of mayo. At the end of the day, choosing kewpie is your right. Just don’t skimp on the Bull-Dog.

Using a sharp or serrated knife, trim ends of 4 pieces of milk bread so that no crust remains; discard trimmings. Cut trimmed bread lengthwise into 1 1/2-inch thick batons. Using a food processor fitted with the grater attachment, process bread into coarse flakes. Transfer fresh panko flakes to a large, shallow bowl or high-rimmed plate and set aside.

Four image collage of creating bread crumbs
Serious Eats / Two Bites

If Using Chicken Breasts: Slice breast in half horizontally into 2 thin cutlets. Place them, one at a time, in a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and pound gently to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat pounder or the bottom of a heavy 8-inch skillet. (See this guide for step-by-step directions.) Season generously with salt and pepper. For best results, let them rest in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours and up to overnight after seasoning. Proceed to step 4.

If Using Chicken Thighs or Pork Cutlets: Place thighs or cutlets, one at a time, in a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag and pound gently to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat pounder or the bottom of a heavy 8-inch skillet. Season generously with salt and pepper. Proceed immediately to step 4.

Overhead view of pounding pork
Serious Eats / Two Bites

For the Cabbage: Place cabbage in a salad spinner and cover with ice water. Let cabbage sit until crisp, about 20 minutes. Drain cabbage thoroughly and spin until dry.

Overhead view of cabbage
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Meanwhile, in a mortar or suribachi, add sesame seeds and pound until seeds are coarsely ground, about 30 seconds. Transfer seeds to a large bowl and whisk in mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar until combined. Transfer cabbage to large bowl with dressing and toss to combine; Set aside.

Two image collage of crushing seasame seeds and making dressing
Serious Eats / Two Bites

To Fry The Cutlets: Fill a wide, shallow bowl or high-rimmed plate with flour. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and water until smooth, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a second shallow bowl or high-rimmed plate. Place flour, egg, and reserved fresh panko next to each other, in order. Working with one thigh or cutlet at a time, dredge in flour with your first hand, shaking off excess. Transfer to egg dish, then turn thigh or cutlet with your second hand to coat both sides. Lift and allow excess egg to drain off, then transfer to fresh panko panko. With your first hand, scoop bread crumbs on top of thigh or cutlet, then gently press, turning to ensure a good layer of crumbs on both sides. Transfer thigh or cutlet to a clean plate and repeat with remaining meat. If this is done properly, your first hand should touch only dry ingredients, while your second hand should touch only wet, making the process less messy.

Four image collage of dredging cutlet
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Fill a Dutch oven or wok with 2 inches of oil. Heat over high heat until oil registers 350°F (175°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Set a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet, line it with paper towels, and set aside.

Overhead view of oil in dutch oven
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Using tongs or your fingers, gently lower cutlets into Dutch oven, laying them down away from you. Fry, gently rotating cutlets for even browning, and adjusting heat as necessary to maintain temperature around 300 to 325°F; 150 to 160°C, until bottom side is set, about 1 1/2 minutes. Gently flip cutlets and fry until second side is set, about 1 1/2 minutes longer. Continue cooking, basting frequently with a large spoon and flipping occasionally, until well browned on both sides, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to prepared baking sheet to drain and season on both sides with salt. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Four image collage of frying cutlets
Serious Eats / Two Bites

To Assemble Sandwiches: In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until just melted. Add 2 slices milk bread and cook, swirling bread around pan frequently, until toasted evenly on one bottom, about 3 minutes. Transfer bread, toasted side up, to cutting board. Repeat with remaining butter and remaining 2 slices of milk bread.

Bread after being toasted
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Spread thin layer of mayonnaise (if using) on toasted side of bread slices. Top 2 of the bread slices with one cutlet each and drizzle with tonkatsu sauce. Place a handful of dressed cabbage on the sauced cutlet, making sure to wring excess moisture from cabbage before placing. Top with remaining bread slices, mayo side down. If desired, trim left and right ends from the sandwich, then slice in half. Serve.

Four image collage of assembling sando
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Special Equipment

Dutch oven or wok, rimmed baking sheet, 12-inch nonstick skillet

Notes

If you can’t find Japanese milk bread, you can substitute it with thick slices of white bread or pain de mie.

While you can certainly make your own tonkatsu sauce, many, including myself, would argue that there’s no substitute for Bull-Dog brand sauce.

If your food processor does not have a grater attachment, you can simply process the bread using the normal blade. The panko flakes will not be as large, but will still produce a great cutlet.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Homemade fresh panko flakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

For a Better Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Sandwich, Go Square

A basketweave of crisp bacon and cheesy bodega-style eggs are served square on a bulky roll for the bacon-iest, cheesiest BEC ever.

BEC hero
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Whether you get yours at a deli, from a coffee shop, or just make it at home, the bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich checks all the boxes: Protein, fat, carbs. Salty, rich, gooey, crispy. And above all, a good BEC is deeply satisfying—a welcome cure for everything from a hangover to heartbreak.    

Do you need a recipe for a breakfast sandwich? Maybe not. But it might behoove you to consider some careful approaches to build a better bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich which will improve your BEC game.

The Making of an Icon: The Key Components for a Great BEC

BEC headnote 1
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Everything about the experience of eating a BEC should be easy: Easy to understand, easy to eat, and fairly easy to make. As a breakfast item, it should ease you into and power your day—a sure, dependable experience.

I’m not here to reinvent the wheel. A classic demands simplicity. No blatant gimmicks, no sous vide, no baked egg, no artisanal sourdough, no dry-aged, house-cured pork belly confit. The ingredients should be accessible to all, because the BEC is for everyone.

The key to a great bacon egg and cheese, therefore, lies in its precise execution. In my opinion, the ideal BEC has the following basic features:

  • Fully rendered, crispy strips of bacon
  • A griddled, bodega-style egg
  • Melty cheese (but not too much)
  • A griddled roll

Its layers should exist in balance. Not too much bun, not too little bacon, not a mountain of eggs so thick you can barely manage to get your teeth around the thing. You should be able to taste each component with every bite. More simply put, the sandwich should eat well. To ensure this, every component should be more or less the same size and shape. The fillings should neither overwhelm the bread nor be overwhelmed by it, which requires scaling them to each other, because who wants all bun, no filling? Or too much filling, and no bun? Again, balance and precision. 

Now let’s go deeper.

The Bacon

BEC headnote photo 2
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Bacon plays multiple roles in this sandwich. It’s crispy, it’s salty, it’s savory, and it imparts richness. It’s a major player and we want to make sure it's in every bite. To guarantee this I employ a bacon weave, which offers maximum coverage and stability in the sandwich. As Kenji notes, a weave won’t fall apart with each bite, or fall out of the sides as you’re eating. Plus, its square shape ensures that you get some bacon with every bite. And best of all, it’s the most efficient way (i.e. the best excuse) to cram six slices of bacon in this bad boy. 

The bacon weave is assembled and  baked on a sheet tray. Baking is an efficient method for rendering fat evenly and crisping the bacon at a uniform rate.

Finally, where does the bacon actually go? I tried top, middle, and bottom positions relative to the egg and cheese. Keeping the bacon at the bottom produced far and away the best eating experience. Think about it: As your incisors pierce the top bun, they traverse through the pillowy egg, the gooey cheese, and finally hit a bit of crisp and crunch in a sturdy bacon layer before meeting your bottom teeth. That progression of textures is logical, and at the end of the day, it’s just a satisfying experience.

The Egg

BEC headnote photo 3
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

No doubt, there are multiple avenues for egg cookery here. You could go fried, scrambled, or even baked. But here I stick with a tried-and-true classic: The NYC bodega-style egg.Why? It’s fairly approachable, and it gives the opportunity to fold the egg mixture into a square shape as it's cooking (the same dimensions as the bacon layer). 

This style of egg is born of short-order bodega cooks making these sandwiches for speed, cracking the whole eggs directly onto the griddle, piercing the yolk and doing an only partial scramble so that yolk and whites are semi-distributed but not well mixed. The result is a thinner sheet of egg instead of a taller pile of scrambled curds, which allows for a firmer texture of separately cooked whites and yolks so the egg holds together when you eat instead of squishing out the sides like scrambled eggs tend to.  

Don’t be tempted to add cream, or milk, or water to the eggs when whisking. While adding a splash of dairy to whisked eggs is a great technique to achieve fluffy, cohesive, and tender scrambled eggs, we actually want to avoid this texture with this bodega-style egg pocket. 

The key to this style of egg is to keep the egg whites and egg yolks relatively streaky—not fully emulsified—which produces an egg with varying textures. There’s also really no need to add any salt to the eggs. The folded-in cheese (more on that below) and bacon are salty enough, but feel free to satiate your salt lust and season away.

The key to success with these eggs is mostly timing and technique. I found that leaving the eggs about 80 percent cooked before folding gave enough leeway for carryover cooking—a perfect opportunity to introduce the cheese.        

The Cheese

BEC headnote cheese
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Get outta here with your fancy gouda. American cheese in a BEC is all but a foregone conclusion. And I don’t even think that’s a hot take. You see, despite its reputation for being cheap, lowbrow, or decidedly not “cheesy” in flavor, American cheese’s ability to melt, stay gooey, and stay emulsified is unmatched (we can thank melting salts like sodium citrate for that), so it’s ideal for sandwiches and burgers served hot. Incidentally, it also comes in square slices, which is ideal for this application.

Here we can use that perfect squareness of the cheese slice to our advantage. By placing one slice in the center of the eggs, it’s easy to fold the edges of the egg into a neat square, using the cheese as an exact guide. There’s no guessing, but also no measuring involved. The eggs perfectly envelop the cheese, creating a square packet, and the stored heat from the eggs serves to melt the cheese.

Cheese inside the egg is great. But for added gooey factor and decadence, I top this egg-cheese packet with a second melty slice, which results in a nice cross section of egg-cheese-egg-cheese.

The Bread

BEC headnote bread photo
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

I tested 10 different bread products for this BEC. I immediately ruled out breads like brioche and english muffins. Brioche was too rich and delicate to hold up to the interior, while the english muffins were too dense. But more importantly, these round roll-type breads didn’t quite fit all the fillings. For instance, English muffins were far too small, while the brioche didn’t fit the square shape of the eggs and bacon, so you encountered pockets of just bread as you ate. I saw similar results with large hamburger buns and potato rolls.

Square, sliced breads like pain de mie or Japanese milk bread were promising, but again, I found these options too delicate, getting lost in the mix of layers. Plus, the fillings would occasionally fall out. And sourdough? Forget about it—it wasn’t consistent enough in shape or crumb structure to merit consideration. 

In the end, I settled on two serviceable options: The Kaiser roll and the New England bulkie roll. Both are slightly enriched breads, which means they have a moderate richness and pillowyness to them. But they’re also sturdier than brioche or milk bread, holding up well to toasting, pressing, wrapping, and other forms of manipulation. Plus they often come in a square(ish) format because of the way they are baked. They’re bulky and big enough to fit nicely around the square filling components.

As for the technique, I took this opportunity to toast the cut sides in all the leftover rendered bacon fat (no waste, am I right?). By toasting the cut sides of the rolls, the softer exterior gives way to a sturdier toasted surface, followed by a cascade of texture and flavors from the eggs, cheese, and bacon. Toasting also mitigates any risk of soggy bread, which is important if the sandwich is sitting for more than a few minutes. 

The Condiment(s)

One could argue that condiments have no place on a BEC; that the bacon and cheese alone supply plenty of seasoning and sauciness. A little salt and pepper is all you might need.

But others choose to die on their condiment hill: Salt, pepper, ketchup; salt, pepper, hot sauce; chipotle mayo only. Far be it from me to flame the embers of a BEC condiment war. Here I included the least controversial option (or at least one you’d hardly notice while munching on a symphony of fat and richness): A light swoop of mayonnaise—whatever gets you up in the morning. The mayo is there to offset any of the residual dryness of the toasted roll, a little added insurance that every bite is perfectly sauced, seasoned, and accounted for.*

*If you hate mayo, feel free to leave it off. It’s your sandwich; you have agency.

The Wrap

BEC the wrap headnote photo
Serious Eats/ Amanda Suarez

Wrapping is an often overlooked step in the construction of a legit BEC. But it’s arguably the most important part of this recipe. For one, it makes the sandwich portable. Most importantly, wrapping ensures that the cheese melts fully and the interior steams slightly, which softens and warms the sandwich just enough. The wrap is the reason why a deli-style BEC stays hot, stays gooey, and has a unique texture. While insulated foil wrappers work best, a roughly 14x14-inch square of aluminum foil will work well as a stand in.

Why It's Worth It

So that’s how you make a bodega-worthy bacon egg and cheese at home. I mean, sure, you could go to a deli and order one up, saving you considerable time, effort, and probably a little cash. But this recipe captures the spirit of what makes a BEC special, because ultimately—whether you savor each bite or wolf it down in a frenzied hurry on your way to the L train—a bacon, egg, and, cheese is, at heart, a comfort food. And you can’t really put a price on dialing in comfort.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F (205°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut 3 slices of bacon in half crosswise and set aside. 

BEC step 1
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Place 3 whole slices of bacon side-by-side on the prepared baking sheet running parallel to counter edge, forming three rows. Fold over half of the center bacon strip halfway. Place 1 half-slice bacon across the 1st and 3rd row, running perpendicular to counter edge, then unfold the center slice over top the perpendicular strip. The half-slice should be woven between every other slice. Fold over 1st and 3rd whole slices until flush with perpendicular half-slice and lay another perpendicular half-slice of bacon across the center row. Repeat, alternating between folding back the center then the 1st and 3rd strips and laying remaining half strips across until all 6 half-slices of bacon have been used to create an interwoven pattern.

BEC step 2
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Bake bacon until crisp, 25 to 25 minutes. Using 2 spatulas, transfer bacon, flat bottom side up, to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Pour rendered bacon fat into a small bowl and set aside (you should have about 2 tablespoons/30g). Once bacon is cooled, use a sharp knife to cut bacon into 2 equal squares; set aside. 

BEC step 3
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

In a small bowl, use a fork to beat eggs until they are just combined but still streaky, about 10 seconds. In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat until it starts to foam and sizzle gently. Pour eggs into skillet, and tilt pan to distribute eggs evenly. Cook eggs, gently pushing sides of egg toward center, tilting pan to fill any gaps, until eggs are nearly cooked but surface is barely wet, 60 to 90 seconds. Reduce heat to low and place one slice of cheese in center of eggs. Using a flat spatula, with the cheese as a guide, fold edges of eggs over cheese, creating a square packet. Gently press eggs to adhere to cheese, then carefully flip the packet over. Place remaining cheese slice on top of eggs, cover, and cook until cheese is melted, about 60 seconds longer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer eggs to plate with bacon. Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.

BEC step 4
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

In now-empty skillet, heat 1 tablespoon reserved bacon fat over medium heat until shimmering. Place one bread half in pan, cut-side down and cook, pressing and swirling bread around pan with hand, until bread is golden brown and evenly toasted, 60 to 90 seconds [CHK]. Transfer toasted bread to cutting board, toasted side up. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon bacon fat and bread half.

BEC step 5
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

To Assemble: Spread mayonnaise, if using, evenly over both toasted bun halves. Place bacon squares on bottom bun and top with egg-cheese packet. Top with bun half and gently press to adhere. Wrap sandwich in foil sandwich wrap and let sit for up to 5 minutes. Serve.

BEC step 6
Serious Eats/Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, 10-inch nonstick skillet, foil sandwich wrap or aluminum foil

Notes

This recipe was developed and tested with the recommended kaiser and bulkie roll, but feel free to substitute with your preferred bread. 

This recipe can be scaled up to make more sandwiches. If you're making more than one sandwich, consider cooking the egg-cheese squares while the bacon finishes cooking. (Leaving the sandwiches wrapped for 2 to 3 minutes will reheat the eggs and cheese.)

There is no salt in the eggs; this is intentional, as the bacon lends the sandwich plenty of savory flavor.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The bacon weave can be shaped, covered, and refrigerated raw overnight.

Should You Get a Flat- or Round-Bottomed Wok?

We explain the pros and cons to each shape, plus give our tested recommendations for woks.

a carbon steel wok on a marble kitchen surface
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Woks come in all shapes, sizes, and constructions. And for the average consumer, there are many questions when it comes to purchasing. Carbon steel or iron? Fourteen, 16, or 18 inches in diameter? Thin or thick gauge? Wooden or metal handle? Riveted or welded?

But maybe the simplest—and perhaps the most important—decision comes down to shape: Should you get a flat- or round-bottomed wok? 

I’ve glossed over this topic in the past, and the recommendation for most home cooks has been to choose a flat-bottomed wok. But for the sake of clarity, and making your own spending decisions, here’s the full case for each, laid bare.

Flat-Bottomed Wok Pros

Simply put, a flat-bottomed wok is the best choice for most people cooking on a western range. Whether you cook on gas, electric coil, ceramic, induction, or even a fancy French top, chances are your cooking surface is flat, and all your pots and pans are also flat.

Greens being stir-fried in a wok
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

For the average consumer who might just be dipping their toes into wok cooking, a flat-bottomed wok offers an easy and convenient option, and has several advantages: 

  • It sits easily on any flat cooktop, providing a stable and safe cooking surface.
  • On most flat heating elements, it heats up faster and more efficiently than a round-bottomed wok, which is arguably the most important factor for effective wok cooking.
  • In terms of handling, most home cooks will feel comfortable tossing and flipping foods in this type of wok, since the motion is nearly identical to using a standard sauté pan.
  • Here’s an often overlooked point: There’s slightly more surface area at the bottom than a round-bottomed wok, so technically, a flat-bottomed wok can hold more food.
  • It is compatible with most induction burners since it’s a) flat and b) is usually made of carbon steel or cast iron, which are both naturally magnetic.

Flat-Bottomed Wok Cons

A carbon steel wok on a stovetop
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Despite its versatility, a flat-bottomed wok has a few drawbacks:

  • While it can be used on a traditional wok burner, a flat-bottomed wok tends to burn foods at the bottom, since the heat is so concentrated at the flat base.
  • You cannot recreate the true circular “flip” motion with a flat-bottomed wok, so foods cannot move as seamlessly through each cooking zone of the pan. Instead, you’re relegated to the classic, herky-jerky motion of a traditional skillet.
  • Depending on the material and gauge, the bottom of the wok may warp over time, so it doesn’t rest perfectly flat, or it loses its effectiveness on induction surfaces, which rely on even contact with the element. 

Round-Bottomed Wok Pros

If flat-bottomed woks are so versatile and convenient, then why bother with a round-bottomed wok? Well, not everyone in the world cooks on a flat Western range. And for the diehard enthusiasts among us, for those who pursue perfection and old-school authenticity, a flat-bottomed wok just won’t cut it.

So here’s the breakdown: 

  • A round-bottomed wok is the ideal choice for a true wok burner. Because of the wok’s rounded construction, the powerful flames from a burner can rise up and over the lip of the wok with ease, which facilitates that coveted wok hei flavor—a hallmark of some restaurant-quality Chinese dishes.
  • It can offer slightly more even heat distribution compared to a flat-bottomed wok since the heat source is not exclusively heating the bottom.
  • It enables a more circular tossing motion, or “flip.” This technique is essential for stir-frying and allows the food to travel through multiple heat zones as it cooks. The flip is also a distinct skill, so it’s an entirely different technique from tossing food in a flat skillet or flat-bottomed wok.
  • It’s easier to scoop and scrape foods from a round-bottomed wok due to its curvature.
  • It’s less prone to warping over time than a flat-bottomed wok. And even if it does warp, it doesn’t really matter, since a flat cooking surface is not required.

Round-Bottomed Wok Cons

Wok over flames from outdoor wok burner
Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Of course, a round-bottomed wok carries several disadvantages:

  • A round-bottomed wok can’t be used on electric, induction, or ceramic cooktops. These heating elements won’t heat up the wok sufficiently, and the wok itself will wobble and lack stability.
  • It lacks versatility across a range of heating sources compared to a flat-bottomed wok.
  • A round-bottomed wok can work on a gas range, and depending on the size of your grates, it can even balance reasonably well in the center of those grates; but it’s by no means as stable as using a flat-bottomed wok.
  • Often, a wok ring or accessories like the Wok Mon are necessary to use a gas range effectively. While these tools afford plenty of stability and increased airflow for the wok, they are an added cost and can be cumbersome as you’re tossing and flipping foods.

The Bottom Line

So which wok shape should you choose? I would still argue that for most people, a flat-bottomed wok is the best choice. It’s more versatile, it works across a range of heating elements, and it’s more intuitive to handle.

But at the end of the day, the best wok shape is the one you will actually use. So if you’re committed to learning authentic circular wok tossing, or if you’ve gone all in on a custom-fitted outdoor wok burner, then maybe a round-bottomed wok is a better choice. And if you don’t mind a little wobble on your gas range, then maybe owning a round-bottomed wok isn’t such a dealbreaker after all. 

The choice is yours. And to be completely honest: I own both styles anyway. 

FAQs

Can you use a round-bottomed wok on a gas stove? 

Yes! But with a couple of caveats. People with round-bottomed woks can use a wok ring or similar accessory to prop the wok up, providing a stable surface on which the wok can rest. For others who might be more freewheeling (or frugal), it’s possible to balance a round-bottomed wok in the center of the grates of a gas stove, right above the “eye”. Of course, the latter option is really dependent on the style and shape of your stove grates. 

Are flat bottom woks any good?

Of course! They’re convenient, stable, and work across a wide range of heating sources, including gas, electric, and induction. They can give you great results, and for first-timers, making the leap from using western style skillets to flat-bottomed woks is fairly straightforward.

Why We're the Experts

  • Tim Chin is a frequent contributor to Serious Eats. He previously worked at America's Test Kitchen.
  • Tim has tested woks and kitchen torches for the site, amongst other things.

The Science of Marinades

After rounds of testing and research, we share everything you need to know to get the most out of your marinades, including how long to marinate for, what kinds of flavors do and don’t penetrate meat, and how to avoid marinade disasters.

Ovehead view of steak test
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Every year as grilling season rolls around, dads, moms, and general appreciators of summer cookouts knock the rust off their Webers, oil their grates, and gingerly navigate their home’s outdoor fire code. And for those who enjoy meat (and even those who don’t), many are making and using marinades to add flavor and improve texture and juiciness.

But questions about marinades linger. What are the essential elements of a marinade? What exactly does a marinade accomplish? How long should you marinate for? Is it true that marinades are just "surface treatments" that don't penetrate deeply? Are all acids in a marinade harmful to the texture of proteins if left for too long? And, are marinades even worth it?

As with most things, there's no easy answer to any of this, as it depends both on the marinade and the type of food being marinated. While this article can't account for every possible variable, we can look at some of the biggest factors. There's plenty we can learn by examining the basic science of marination as well as running tests of our own to better understand what happens when foods are marinated.

Understanding how marinades function isn't just an academic matter—it can influence how we concoct marinades and how we apply them. Since the whole point of marination is to enhance the foods we cook, we might as well make sure we're getting the best possible result when doing it. The time to submerge ourselves in the topic is now.

What is Marination?

Marination is a broad term, but the crux of it involves soaking some food in a flavorful liquid before you cook it, usually for anywhere from 30 minutes to 24 hours.

A basic marinade will contain some combination of the following:

  • Water: Water can come in the form of juice, wine or beer, a condiment like soy sauce, or just straight-up water.
  • Salt: Essential for basic seasoning and moisture retention*, salt can come from condiments or pure salt.
  • Sugar: Whether refined, raw, brown, or in the form of a sweet ingredient like honey, sugar seasons the exterior of meats and enhances browning and caramelization.
  • Aromatics: These might include herbs, spices, fresh aromatics like garlic and ginger, or even fruit rinds.
  • Fat: Liquid fats such as olive oil, vegetable oil, and even sesame oil are added for flavoring; they also conduct heat more efficiently than water, so the surface of meat may cook faster when fat is present.
  • Acid/Base/Enzyme: These ingredients alter the texture of meat by denaturing or digesting proteins like actin, myosin, or collagen; these effects can be pronounced depending on the concentration of the additive and the amount of marination time you choose.

*Salt partially dissolves proteins in meat (primarily myosin, which is responsible for muscle contraction), such that those proteins don’t contract as much when cooked. If the proteins don’t contract as much, the meat holds onto more water, so it tastes juicier and more tender. For a detailed explanation, read Kenji’s primer on brining here.

Why Marinate?

With respect to meat proteins, the common reasoning looks something like this: 

  1. Marinating seasons the meat, primarily via salt.
  2. Marinating sometimes enhances the exterior of meat by promoting browning.
  3. Marinating keeps (or makes) meat tender when cooked.
  4. Marinating flavors meat via aromatics, spices, or other ingredients.

Now let’s be real: Those are all broad claims. So we’ll start with what we know with certainty. 

Yes, marinating seasons meat protein via salt, and it does so effectively. We know this because osmosis and the diffusion of salt in proteins is a proven process. Heck, we have entire guides dedicated to brining and dry brining; brining, after all, is exactly what salt in a marinade is doing. I’d even go so far as to say that the most important ingredient in any marinade is salt, period. So no disputes there.

And for sure, marinating can enhance the exterior of meat by promoting browning. Many marinades contain sugar (in the form of sucrose, fructose, even glucose), which promotes browning and caramelization (see: the Maillard reaction and caramelization). In these cases, a nice crust or char can form on the surface of meat, which can have a pleasing effect on both texture and flavor.

But what about those last two claims about marination improving tenderness and flavor? The answer to whether those are true, unfortunately, is: It depends. And to really unpack those ideas, we have to start asking more specific questions. 

Here are some questions that can help us more fully explore those claims:

  1. Does time in a marinade matter? 
  2. Do seasonings other than salt make a difference in flavor, especially at the interior of the meat being marinated?
  3. Does fat make a difference in flavor, including at the interior? 
  4. Do acids, bases, or enzymes make a difference in the meat's texture and quality?

Question 1: Does Time in a Marinade Matter? (Answer: Yes)

People have all sorts of opinions on how long you should marinate meat. Two hours, 6 hours, 48 hours, exactly 18 minutes—and those recommendations often get downright Draconian in their reasoning. While I can't tell you how long you should soak your meat in the marinade you might be using right now, I can show you some trends by employing some basic testing.

To answer this question, I mixed a basic marinade of soy sauce, water, sugar, grated garlic, and vegetable oil (in a ratio of 4:3:2:1:0.5 by weight). I poured a measured amount of this mixture into separate bags containing 3-ounce samples of chicken breast, pork tenderloin, and flank steak, and marinated each sample for varying durations (0 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 4 hours, 8 hours, 24 hours). I staggered each test so that I could cook each sample at the same time and compare them fairly.

You may ask, why no acid in this marinade? Firstly, soy sauce is slightly acidic (around 5.0 pH). Plus, the inclusion of stronger acids or bases (or enzymes) in a marinade drastically complicates our ability to assess effects of base ingredients like salt, sugar, or aromatics. For more on acids, bases, and enzymes, see the relevant section below.

Here’s chicken breast (1-inch thickness) marinated at various times, prior to cooking:

Overhead view of raw chicken
Serious East / Tim Chin

Not much to note here visually, but I did notice that the 24-hour sample felt noticeably firmer than the other samples—almost like a gummy bear.

Here are the same samples of chicken breast after cooking in a carbon steel skillet to an internal temperature of 150°F:

Overhead view of cooked chicken
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

And some selected cross-sections for good measure:

Cross section of chicken
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

General Observations for Chicken

  • Four-, 8-, and 24-hour samples were more deeply seasoned (saltier) than all the other samples, with the 30-minute sample tasting least seasoned.
  • There was visible caramelization and char on samples marinated for at least one hour, with 8- and 24-hour samples showing the most intense coloration.
  • The 24-hour sample was moist, but also rubbery and ham-like. There was an unpleasant springiness to the meat when chewed—almost crunchy between the teeth.
  • Tasters preferred the 1- to 8-hour samples, with slight preference to the 4-hour sample for its perceived balance of seasoning, tenderness, and juiciness.
  • Zero- and 30-minute samples showed virtually no seasoning at the interior; they tasted drier and less succulent than longer-marinated samples

Next is the same test with samples of pork tenderloin and flank steak.

Pork tenderloin (1-inch thickness), cooked to 140°F and rested:

Raw pork
Serious East / Tim Chin
Cooked prok
Serious Eats / Tim Chin
Cross section
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

General Observations for Pork

  • Unlike the chicken samples, the 24-hour marinated pork did not taste over-cured or overly chewy; it was moist and well seasoned.
  • The 0-minute, 30-minute, and 1-hour samples were relatively unseasoned in comparison to the longer-marinated samples; they were also less juicy.
  • It seems that pork tenderloin holds up better to longer marination than chicken breast.

Flank steak (3/4-inch thickness), cooked to 125 degrees and rested:

Raw beef
Tim Chin / Serious Eats
Cooked Beef
Serious Eats / Tim Chin
Cooked beef Cross section
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

General Observations for Beef

  • The best tasting samples came at the 4-hour mark and longer, with slight preference for the 8-hour flank steak.
  • The 24-hour marinated sample did not taste gummy, crunchy or over-cured.

The Bottom Line

Time in a marinade definitely matters as far as its brining effect is concerned. In general, longer marination results in deeper seasoning, better moisture retention, and increased levels of browning or char (provided that there is sugar in the marinade). But we can’t necessarily make firm conclusions on optimal timing; it depends on the meat you are using, the pH of your marinade (read Question 4 below), and even your personal preference for seasoning. But using a relatively inert marinade for poultry and red meats, there seems to be a window between 1 hour and 8 hours where the benefits of seasoning and moisture retention are greatest. For chicken breast, the meat can over-cure and become almost crunchy if you marinate it too long; for beef and pork, you’ve got some more wiggle room. Do note, though: A marinade with an acid, base, or enzyme would drastically affect this timing as well.

In contrast, shorter times in a marinade don’t deliver much of a payoff in terms of deep seasoning (or even surface seasoning) or moisture retention. It seems that there isn’t enough time for the marinade to adhere and penetrate even the first millimeter of meat. But keep in mind, this testing didn’t include more delicate proteins like fish, shrimp, or lobster—which have slightly different protein structures and permeability (so a shorter marination time may be adequate in those cases).

Question 2: Do Seasonings Other Than Salt Make a Difference in Flavor? (Answer: Maybe)

Kenji has written at length about skipping aromatics in a brine. The reason? Salt is a small molecule that passes easily through the semipermeable membrane of meat tissue; aromatics like pepper and garlic are much bigger molecules. Salt is also a highly charged molecule, so water in and around meat is more attracted to it than less-charged (non-polar) molecules.

But sound reasoning aside, people still put all kinds of flavorings and aromatics in their marinades—garlic, sugar, liquid smoke, bouillon powder, bay leaves, citrus rinds, the list is never-ending. And certainly, these ingredients contribute to the flavor of the exterior of the meat. After all, what would a dish like beef galbi be without the charred, smoky, sweet-savory flavor that results from the combination of asian pear, garlic, and various aromatics hitting a hot grill?

But do these seasonings truly penetrate beyond the surface? Just to be thorough, I performed some basic tests.

Below are six samples of chicken breast, each treated with a different seasoning in a 10-percent salt brine: sugar, MSG, grated garlic*, pepper, cumin, and five-spice seasoning. I marinated each sample for 8 hours and then cooked the chicken sous vide in a 150°F water bath for one hour. For comparison’s sake, I also repeated the test without salt (0-percent brine).  

I evaluated each sample for flavor penetration by cutting off the outermost 2 millimeters of meat on all sides, compared against a control sample of “unflavored” (salt brine–only) chicken, as well as a completely unseasoned sample.

Various seasoning
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

General Observations

  • For pepper and cumin, there was no detectable flavor penetration; I couldn’t taste any spice at the interior.
  • Garlic and five-spice seasoning showed the faintest hint of seasoning in the interior, but it was almost imperceptible compared to the unseasoned control sample.
  • The flavor of sugar-treated chicken was mostly salty at the interior; there was little to no detectable sweetness.
  • The MSG sample showed the greatest transformation: very umami, with a ham-like flavor and texture.

I selected these seasonings based on a couple premises: A) Molecular weight correlates loosely with degree of permeability through meat since smaller molecules can generally pass through that semipermeable membrane more easily, and B) molecules that dissociate in water into ions can permeate meat tissue to an extent.

Sugar is a huge molecule (342.3 g/mol, compared to salt’s 58.44 g/mol) that doesn’t dissociate into ions in water. It’s far too big to penetrate meat tissue—which we observe in testing. Similarly, piperine, the compound responsible for the pungency of black pepper, is another large molecule (285.35 g/mol) with no magnetic charge—and we don’t taste it in the interior either. Cuminaldehyde, the aromatic oil responsible for cumin’s flavor, is also pretty large (148.21 g/mol), so it should not season meat deeply.

The results for garlic and five-spice seasoning were unexpected, though. Both garlic's allicin (162.28 g/mol) and five-spice's eugenol (164.2 g/mol; one of the molecules responsible for the flavor of clove and cinnamon) are relatively large molecules compared to salt. We wouldn’t expect much flavor penetration based on our initial premise, but I did detect the faintest hint. It could be that these molecules are slightly more polar (charged) than, say, cuminaldehyde or piperine, so they may be able to reasonably pass through that semipermeable membrane. But that’s just an educated guess at best.

Finally, the MSG sample gave the most surprising result. MSG has molecular weight (169.11 g/mol) similar to allicin or eugenol, but it readily dissociates in water into sodium and glutamate ions. The charged nature of this molecule probably makes it easier to pass through meat tissue, and we may have observed this in testing: The MSG sample seemed almost like cured ham, with a distinct savory flavor. 

The Bottom Line

Beyond the surface of meat, it seems like for the most part, they do not. If you truly want your seasonings to penetrate to the interior of your meat, you might choose ingredients with flavor molecules that are smaller, and preferably ones that can dissociate in water into smaller, charged ions. Or you might consider manipulating the meat itself: Cutting it smaller for increased surface area, injecting a marinade into it, or pounding or roughly massaging it to break up muscle tissue might help a marinade penetrate more deeply.

Question 3: Does Fat Improve Flavor Inside the Meat? (Answer: Not Really, But You Should Still Use It)

You’ve probably heard the cook’s adage: Fat carries flavor. After all, how many recipes have you read that tell you to toast or “bloom” your spices in oil? Many flavor molecules are relatively nonpolar, meaning they don’t readily dissolve in water, but they do dissolve in fat or oil, which acts as a nonpolar solvent. So cooking your spices and aromatics in oil does tend to intensify their flavors. But the question remains: Can fat deliver those flavors deeper into meat?

Overhead of cooked pork
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

I set up four samples of chicken breast using four different flavorings, and stirred each flavoring with a measured amount of vegetable oil. (None of these samples included salt or any other ingredients.) I marinated each sample for 8 hours and cooked them at 150°F for one hour. Concurrently, I repeated this test but briefly cooked the aromatics in oil by microwaving the mixtures for 2 minutes (until they were bubbly, slightly browned, and fragrant).

General Observations

  • I didn’t detect flavor at the interior of any sample!

The Bottom Line

Fat doesn’t seem to “carry” flavor deeper into meat through marination. And if we think about this from a molecular perspective, this observation tracks. The permeability of meat to certain molecules largely depends on both their size and magnetic charge. Fats are large nonpolar molecules, and they lack charge, so they shouldn’t pass through meat very easily (if at all).

So why do so many cooks use oil in marinades? Despite their inability to transfer flavor into the meat, fats still deliver plenty of flavor to the surface. They also play double duty to conduct heat and lubricate food to keep it from sticking on a hot surface. But as far as adding flavor that you can detect through to the center of your meat? Don’t count on it. 

Question 4: Do Acids, Bases, or Enzymes Make a Difference in Texture or Quality? (Answer: Yes)

It’s common practice to add acids like lemon juice, vinegar, or buttermilk to marinades. These ingredients lower the pH of the mixture, which helps to denature proteins by changing their shape. In the best case, this denaturation can tenderize meat. Acids can also increase the water-holding capacity of meat. As Serious Eats contributor Nik Sharma explains in his exploration of the effects of different acids on meat texture, changing the shape of proteins exposes certain amino acids, which provides new opportunities to bind water. 

But acids are just one player in a wider field of additives that can alter the texture and juiciness of meat. For example, there’s plenty of evidence to support the notion that raising the pH of a marinade (with say, baking soda or baking powder) also improves water-holding capacity. Why? High pH makes it harder for intramuscular proteins to associate and bond tightly when cooked; water gets trapped in the spaces between proteins, so the meat holds on to more water and stays juicy. Even Kenji stumbled upon this trick to keep shrimp plump and juicy. Finally, baking soda is a common addition to marinades in Chinese cooking—an essential step for velveting.

Apart from pH, we can also harness the power of enzymes—specifically proteases, such as those found in pineapples, to tenderize meat. Instead of denaturing (unfolding) proteins in the way that acids do, proteases cut proteins (like collagen) into smaller building blocks—the constituent amino acids. That means that proteins treated with protease tend to be very tender, almost falling apart in texture. Among proteases, bromelain (from pineapple), papain (from papaya), and ficin (from the fig tree) are some of the most common enzymes used to tenderize meat in industrial food preparations.

To illustrate and compare the differences between these treatments, I set up a basic test: 3 samples of chicken marinated for 8 hours each using a different “marinade”: a solution of 10-percent baking soda, a solution of 10-percent lactic acid, and pure pineapple juice (grated and strained from the core of a fresh pineapple*). I cooked each sample for one hour at 150°F in a sous-vide bath. I weighed each sample before marination, after marination, and after cooking to track any water loss. I also repeated this test with salt in each sample, and kept a control sample of plain, 10-percent brined chicken for comparison.

*Canned pineapple fruit or juice does not contain any active bromelain. The easiest way to obtain bromelain is to juice a fresh pineapple, or grate the flesh.

Here are the samples after 8 hours of marination:

raw chicken
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

The baking soda sample looks relatively raw in comparison; the lactic acid sample looks opaque, almost cooked at the exterior; the pineapple sample is slightly cooked but with visible striations in the meat that weren’t apparent at the start.

Here are the same samples after cooking:

General Observations

Chicken tested three ways
Serious Eats / Tim Chin
  • All samples were relatively tender compared to the untreated, 10-percent–brined chicken.
  • Lactic acid yielded the least tender meat, with a slightly “squeaky” texture between the teeth; the meat lost roughly 22 percent in water weight.
  • Pineapple gave the most tender, fall-apart texture; but the exterior was mushy, pasty, and categorically unappetizing. Total weight lost was 32 percent after cooking.
  • Baking soda resulted in the juiciest meat by far. The texture was slightly less tender than pineapple. Total weight lost was 5 percent.

Overall, all three methods showed a tenderizing effect. The most dramatic effect came from pineapple juice (bromelain), but it came at the cost of a nearly inedible exterior. This mushy, pasty quality is probably why most cooks recommend marinating in pineapple juice for shorter time periods—30 minutes to 4 hours at most.

The pineapple sample also showed the most water loss despite its fall-apart texture. 

Pineapple marinade chicken
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

Baking soda produced the most striking result at the interior. Check this out:

Inside chicken
Serious Eats / Tim Chin

I didn’t poke those holes. Those gaps are likely evidence of proteins failing to bond and contract due to the elevated pH. Instead, water became trapped in these spaces, and I could see that water pressing out from these gaps as I sliced through the sample. But despite baking soda’s effectiveness, there was a drawback: Using such a high concentration of baking soda gave the chicken a metallic, ammonia-like aroma.

The Bottom Line:

Acids, bases, and enzymes all work to tenderize or retain moisture in meat.

  • Enzymes give a more fall-apart, broken-down interior, but don’t help meat retain ‘juiciness’;
  • acids have a mild tenderizing effect and help to retain water; 
  • and bases seem to produce the juiciest, most plump interior.

The big caveat? Mind your concentrations of these additives as well as timing, since they can quickly transform the meat from palatable to mushy (bromelain), metallic tasting (baking soda), or inedible. Finally, don’t mix acids and bases in a marinade! They won’t work because they neutralize each other, so pick one or the other.

Conclusion: Is Marinating Worth It?

After all this testing and research, we can (kinda, sorta) answer the question: Is marinating really worth your time? Well, yes, somewhat. But not for the reasons you may have thought. If you take away one idea from this article, it’s this: Marination is mostly a brine and otherwise a surface treatment. The benefits are maximized through cooking—over high heat, over a grill, in a hot oven. That cascade of flavors resulting from caramelization of sugars, and the heating of aromatics, spices, and fats all occur at the surface and maybe even the first millimeter of meat, though to be fair, those are all benefits that would also occur when a marinade is applied right before cooking. 

Marination is mostly not a method for injecting flavor into the interior of proteins. Beyond salt, and a select few ingredients like MSG, there are few ways to season the interior without resorting to physically manipulating the meat so that the marinade can penetrate, such as injecting flavorings with a syringe. And apart from flavor, if you really want to transform the interior texture of meats, consider adding an acid, base, or enzyme to your marinade.

There are still plenty of questions to ask here: Does marination work better for certain proteins, or certain thicknesses of meat? And how does marination affect vegetables? But for most marination scenarios, this guide is a good starting point, one that should give you enough information to help you navigate the ingredients and timing when marinating meats.

Unagi No Tare (Unagi Sauce)

If you want to go the extra mile and make unagi sauce at home, the process can be quite simple. In the spirit of a more “traditional” method, this recipe utilizes a base of dashi, which adds umami and depth to an otherwise heavy-handed sauce.

Side view of unagi sauce being brushed on eel
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Unagi no tare, kabayaki sauce, nitsume—the glossy, syrupy glaze that adorns tender pieces of grilled eel—goes by several names and many preparations. And in truth, it’s mostly a restaurant thing. “No one would make unagi tare at home,” says author and Japanese food scholar Nancy Singleton Hachisu. “It’s really not a thing.” In part, that’s because when you buy unagi at the store, it already comes brushed in that iconic dark sauce, with a little extra in a packet for good measure.

Traditionally, nitsume (literally “boiling down”) was made from a broth of grilled eel bones, and even the liquor from steaming clams. To this broth, chefs added varying amounts of sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, then reduced the mixture until it was thick and syrup-like. Presumably every chef had (or has) their own proprietary, guarded recipe for unagi sauce, employing variations in timing, ingredients, and texture.

Close up of unagi sauce on eel and rice
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

These days, most restaurant chefs tend to eschew the eel-bone broth, and go straight for the other stuff: just sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. Some even opt for the prepackaged, bottled sauce instead of cooking up their own. In restaurants that specialize in unagi, chefs are constantly basting and brushing eel throughout the day, using the same batch of sauce. And over time, this sauce takes on the grilled flavor of eel, so it develops additional savory depth, smokiness, and a slight brininess. 

If you want to go the extra mile and make unagi sauce at home, the process can be quite simple. In the spirit of a more “traditional” method, this recipe utilizes a base of dashi, which adds umami and depth to an otherwise heavy-handed sauce.

Because you’re cooking the sauce to a syrupy consistency, and because there’s a significant amount of sugar here, it’s easy to overcook and even caramelize the sugar if you’re not careful. And while caramelization can be desirable in certain applications, it can also overpower more subtle flavors like those in dashi, or the wine from mirin and sake. So to prevent caramelization, it’s helpful to use a thermometer. I cook this sauce to around 235°F—within the range of a typical “soft ball” sugar stage (the point at which the cooked sugar syrup will cool to a solid but malleable consistency).

Out of the pot, this sauce might seem a bit runny. But it thickens as it cools, and assumes the perfect texture and viscosity for brushing and glazing meats. (If you prefer a thicker sauce, you can cook the sauce up to 240°F.) For best results, be sure to use a 3-quart saucier or larger with tall sides. The mixture will bubble and froth considerably, rising up the sides of the pot.

In a 3-quart saucier or saucepan, whisk dashi, mirin, sake, sugar, and soy sauce until combined and sugar is dispersed. Bring mixture to boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture begins to bubble and froth, about 10 minutes. Adjust heat as necessary to ensure that mixture continues to boil but doesn’t boil over.

Two image collage of overhead view of whisking sauce in a pot and close up of sauce bubbling
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Continue cooking mixture, stirring occasionally, until bubbling slows and mixture has reduced by more than half and registers 235°F (113°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes longer (f you prefer a thicker sauce, you can cook it to 240°F/115°C); sauce will seem a little runny at first but will thicken as it cools. Transfer sauce to a heatproof bowl and let cool to room temperature. Use immediately as desired or store in refrigerator for up to one month.

Sauce dipping off spoon
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

3-quart saucier

Notes

If you do not want to make homemade dashi, you can substitute powdered instant dashi: Dissolve 1 teaspoon instant dashi in 1 cup of water. If you prefer a more “toasted” flavor, you can substitute brown muscovado sugar (kokutō) for white sugar.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The finished unagi sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one month.

Homemade Kiri Mochi (Grilled Mochi With Soy Sauce and Nori)

Also known as isobeyaki or yakimochi, these tender grilled Japanese rice cakes come together from scratch with the help of a stand mixer.

OVerhead view of mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Every year, a few days after Christmas, some families in Japan gather to celebrate Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, by pounding hot, steamy rice into mochi. Using a large wooden mallet called a kine, they take turns hitting the steamed grains in a one-meter diameter usu (mortar) carved from a tree stump, rhythmically turning the rice by hand between strikes, until the rice transforms into a smooth, sticky dough. “It’s a family affair,” says Nancy Singleton Hachisu, who has resided in rural Japan since 1988 and is the James Beard Award-winning author of Japanese Farm Food and Preserving the Japanese Way. “Mochitsuki is a time for community and gathering.”

What Is Traditional Mochi? Why Should You Make It?

Soft, chewy, and sticky, mochi is a rice cake that  can be served in a multitude of ways: grilled, boiled, wrapped around anko (red bean paste), dipped in kinako (roasted soybean flour), and even deep fried. Its name, “mochi,” comes from mochi gome, the type of short-grain glutinous rice it’s made from.

Mochitsuki (mochi pounding) is a tradition dating back to at least the 8th century, with origins going back much farther to ancient China. Throughout history, mochi has held cultural significance for several occasions, from celebrating the New Year to childbirth and marriage, but by far the most common time for making and eating mochi is during Shogatsu.

Side angle view of mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For many, the notion of mochi evokes multicolored shapes (fruits, even animals) and molded confections popular in Japanese convenience stores and candy shops. For many more, mochi might be most closely associated with ice cream. But Hachisu is quick to point out that these foods are often not made with mochi in the most traditional sense. “Those [confections] are the furthest thing from mochi,” she says. “It doesn’t taste the same, because it’s made from mochiko flour—not from freshly steamed rice.” The vast majority of mochi you find commercially is not hand-pounded.

Modern food processing has made it possible to mix mochi at home from a fine, boxed powder or flour. You mix mochiko (or shiratamako) with water, cook it over the stovetop or microwave, and boom—mochi on the fly. But all that convenience comes at a price. “That stuff is pretty much flavorless in comparison,” Hachisu says. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it lacks a few things: flavor and texture, and in a more sentimental sense, the feelings of tradition, process, gathering, and community which make mochi such a special food in the first place.

The Challenge of (and Solution to) Making Pounded Mochi at Home

Developing a pounded mochi recipe for the home cook presents several challenges. For one, I’m pretty sure most people don’t own either an usu or a kine. Second, mochitsuki is traditionally performed outdoors or in a large, open area with plenty of room to swing a big old mallet. “You’re never gonna be able to do it at home,” Hachisu says. At least, not in the traditional way.

Third, there’s the communal aspect of making mochi. “Ideally, you’d make mochi with your family, or with friends, with people in the neighborhood,” Hachisu says. “The idea of community is so essential to making mochi.”

While I can’t necessarily solve these issues—after all, recipes are typically written for a single user, and we recipe developers are generally loner types to begin with, faffing around with culinary minutiae—I considered a few alternatives to the traditional pounding process.

  • Large Mortar and Pestle: A mortar and pestle seemed an obvious choice to replicate the pounding and kneading of mochitsuki. I had passable results with small volumes of rice, but the yields were pitiful; a typical mortar simply doesn’t have enough capacity. And because of that small capacity, the rice tended to cool down too quickly before forming a cohesive, smooth paste. The rapid cooling made pounding prohibitively difficult as the paste thickened. This method took upwards of 15 minutes for a cup of dry rice, and the result was grainy and unappealing.
  • Mochi-Making Machine: For those intent on regularly enjoying pounded mochi at home, you can buy dedicated mochi-making machines from reputable rice cooker companies like Zojirushi and Tiger. Marketed as all-in-one rice cooking and mochi-making devices, these machines set you back anywhere from 200 to 500 dollars. While I was tempted to try these machines out, I concluded that most home cooks wouldn’t be willing to drop that kind of money for such a specialized piece of equipment.
  • Stand Mixer: When I suggested using a stand mixer to replicate the pounding and kneading process, Hachisu was skeptical. “You know, I had one of those Cuisinart stand mixers once. I’m pretty sure I threw it out,” she joked. In her estimation, the mochi dough might overwhelm the mixer, burning the motor out. “I’m not sure that it would work,” she said. “But I’ve also never tried it. So feel free to prove me wrong.”

The stand mixer does, in fact, work. Using a combination of the dough hook and the paddle attachments yielded the best results. The dough hook accomplished the initial kneading and helped to form a cohesive mass; whipping the dough with the paddle attachment broke the grains further apart, yielding a smoother result. And the best part? The work can be done quickly while the rice retains its heat.

Overhead view of rice being pounded in a stand mixer
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There are still limitations to this method. Compared to the texture of store-bought mochi or mochi made the traditional way, the resulting dough isn’t perfectly smooth—just ever-so-slightly grainy if you hold a cross-section up to the light. But in terms of eating quality and the handling of the dough, that graininess is imperceptible. Additionally, I found that there was an upper limit on the volume of rice my 7-quart KitchenAid mixer could handle—around 3 cups of dry rice. So depending on the model and capacity of your stand mixer, your mileage may vary. 

Other Keys To Mochi Success

Type of Rice

Good mochi starts with selecting the proper rice variety and quality. For one, mochi gome, or short-grain japonica glutinous rice, is essential. Glutinous rice is nearly 100 percent amylopectin, one of two main polysaccharides found in starch, along with amylose. Amylopectin tends to form a sticky, viscous but flowing gel. Higher amylose rice varieties, such as jasmine rice, are not suitable for making mochi, since they don’t form a sticky gel when blitzed apart or pounded.

Rice Cooking Methods

The traditional method for cooking rice is twofold: the rice is first soaked overnight in water, then it is wrapped in muslin cloth and steamed for about an hour under a heavy wooden lid over an iron pot of water until the grains are tender. Soaking ensures that the rice cooks evenly when steamed, and some studies suggest that it reduces the protein content of the rice and also improves both shine and eating quality.

I tried to replicate this steaming method with cheesecloth and either a bamboo steamer or a heavy-lidded Dutch oven. While the Dutch oven produced good results results, it was a finickier process that required having to consistently check the grains by opening up the cheesecloth. The bamboo steamer, on the other hand, didn’t produce evenly cooked grains, and tended to stain the grains slightly brown.

Hachisu also recommended using a rice cooker (without soaking the grains beforehand)—though this is far from a traditional technique. This gave me consistent results, so I could really dial the ratio of water to rice to mimic the texture of properly steamed rice. I was curious if omitting the soaking step affected the texture and appearance of the dough, but I found the differences too minute to tell. If you’re a purist, stick to steaming. Otherwise, rice prepared in a rice cooker works just fine.

Heat

Another fundamental aspect of mochitsuki involves maintaining heat while pounding the rice. If the rice cools too much before the paste reaches the target consistency, then pounding becomes increasingly difficult, and the finished texture isn’t ideal. It’s also a pain to handle the dough when it’s cold, so the mixing, pounding, or kneading must be done quickly. “It’s a race against time,” says Hachisu.

Fortunately, the stand mixer does the heavy lifting here. But to maintain the temperature of the dough, I found it helpful to keep a rigid silicone spatula dipped in boiling water nearby. That hot, wet spatula made it easy to scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold the dough over itself, mimicking the motions of folding by hand.

Rolling, Shaping, and Katakuriko

Overhead view of covering mochi with potato starch
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once the mochi is mixed, it is usually formed into shapes and eaten right away. No matter what form mochi takes, it is customary to coat the work surface with katakuriko (potato starch). In fact, without potato starch, the mochi dough is nearly impossible to handle because of how sticky it is. A liberal dusting of katakuriko makes portioning, rolling, or pressing a relatively painless endeavor.

Drying

For the specific style of mochi called yakimochi (grilled mochi) shown in this recipe, it’s helpful to dry the mochi before cutting and cooking. These cut squares, known as kirimochi, are often sold commercially in vacuum sealed packs. The drying process forms a skin on the surface of the mochi, which allows the mochi to puff up dramatically over the grill or when toasted. The result is a crispy, crunchy exterior that gives way to a soft, chewy interior.

Serving Suggestions

There is no shortage of serving options for mochi. While this recipe produces a mochi dough suitable for enrobing or rolling into various shapes, I wanted to offer mochi in its more unadorned form. “My favorite way to eat mochi is just toasted in the oven, maybe brushed with a little soy sauce,” says Hachisu. “Mochi is all about the rice, that delicate flavor.”

Ideally, yakimochi are cooked on a Japanese grill called a konro, ideally over binchotan coals. To replicate this at home, I opt for the strategic use of a blowtorch to get those charred, smoky edges and encourage the mochi to puff on all sides (if you don't have a blowtorch, you can use a broiler, though it will be more difficult to get even browning). The grilled mochi are brushed with a simple tare thickened with potato starch, wrapped in nori, and eaten hot—a serving style known as isobeyaki.

If you don’t have a grill or a blowtorch, a toaster oven (or an oven) is your next best option. The broiler setting produces a similar effect as a grill, albeit with less pronounced blistering or charring.

If you prefer sweeter options, you can drizzle the mochi with brown sugar syrup and serve it with some kinako (roasted soybean powder) or with globs of anko (red adzuki bean paste).

Continuing Traditions

Several years ago, Hachisu stumbled upon people making mochi while traveling through an airport. “It was probably a PR event,” she says. They wore gaudy, extravagant Japanese costumes, which were fake. They were shouting in a touristy, obnoxious way. “It was kind of sickening, to be honest. That’s not mochi.”

But all around Japan, there are enclaves of people carrying on the true traditions of mochitsuki, mostly in rural areas. “There are plenty of young people who come to our farming area, seeking a more natural life,” says Hachisu. They learn the tradition, revive it, and carry it on. Beyond the action itself, mochitsuki is about community and gathering.

How do you bring that feeling to your home? Hachisu recommends inviting friends over to make mochi—even if you happen to be using a stand mixer, with no usu or kine in sight. And if you can’t gather? You might as well share. As we wrap up our interview, Hachisu remembers to send a little mochi to her son who’s moved across the ocean to Brooklyn—so he can enjoy a little taste of home.

For the Mochi: In the bowl of a rice cooker, combine rice and water. Cook rice according to rice cooker settings for “white rice,” until grains are cooked through and translucent, about 45 minutes.

Overhead view of rice in a rice cooker
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Pour 4 cups of the boiling water into the bowl of a stand mixer, then pour out the water (this warms up the bowl and helps to maintain the heat of the rice as it’s beaten.) Keep the remaining boiling water in the pot with a rigid silicone spatula in it (this keeps the spatula warm and moist for scraping down the sides of the bowl). Immediately transfer rice to the warmed stand mixer bowl and, using a dough hook, mix on medium speed until the rice forms a coarse paste, about 2 minutes. Stop stand mixer and, using the hot spatula, scrape down rice to the center. Continue mixing until paste is smoother, about 1 minute longer.

Two image collage of rice being added to a stand mixer and a plastic spatula pushing down rice
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Switch to paddle attachment, scraping any excess paste off the dough hook. Mix on medium speed until paste is smooth with minimal visible grains, 3 to 5 minutes, stopping to scrape sides down with the hot spatula, until the dough is pliable. (There will still be some graininess; that is okay.)

View inside of stand mixing bowl with rice dough
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using a fine-mesh strainer, dust a  9- by 13- inch rimmed baking sheet or baking dish liberally with potato starch. Scrape dough onto prepared pan and dust the top of the dough liberally with additional potato starch. Using clean, dry hands, press dough to edges of the pan, smoothing and leveling the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick and the surface is flat. Place dough in freezer and chill until edges release easily from the pan and the dough is firm but not frozen, about 1 hour.

Four image collage of dusting baking sheet, transferring, mochi dough into sheet, and pressing out to fill pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Transfer dough to a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 2- by 3-inch rectangles (you should have 14 to 16 portions); wipe the knife down with a wet paper towel between cuts to keep the edges of the mochi clean. Arrange mochi on a wire rack and let dry at room temperature, flipping mochi once after 12 hours, until the surface is firm and no longer sticky, 24 hours.

Four image collage of chilled mochi being cut into squares
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Sauce and to Serve: In a medium saucepan, whisk together mirin, water, soy sauce, sugar, and potato starch. Place saucepan over medium heat, bring mixture to boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bubbling subsides and the mixture is thickened, glossy, and coats the back of a spoon, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to a heatproof bowl and cool to room temperature. Set glaze aside until needed.

Four image collage of making sauce
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Using a dry pastry brush, brush excess potato starch from the surface of mochi. Place the portioned mochi on the prepared baking sheet. Using a blowtorch, toast the tops and sides of the mochi until it begins to puff up and blister all over. Flip and repeat until all the mochi have been evenly torched. (A lightly charred or blistered appearance is okay.) Alternatively, hold the mochi on a rimmed baking sheet about 4 to 6 inches under a broiler element until puffed and blistered all over, then flip and repeat on other side (it will be more difficult to brown the mochi evenly all over with a broiler, so a blowtorch is preferable).

Overhead view of blowtorched mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Transfer cooked mochi to a wire rack, and brush each portion with sauce to coat. If desired, wrap each piece of mochi with nori and place seam-side down. Serve right away.

Side angle view of brushing glaze on mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rice cooker, stand mixer, pastry brush, blowtorch or broiler, wire rack

Notes

The mochi may blow out and burst while it’s being torched. This is normal—continue to evenly torch the mochi.

Do not use non-glutinous rice, since the resulting dough will not be as cohesive or chewy.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Dried mochi can be kept in a single layer in a zipperlock bag and frozen for up to 2 weeks.

Homemade Yakimochi (Grilled Mochi With Soy Sauce and Nori)

Also known as isobeyaki or yakimochi, these tender grilled Japanese rice cakes come together from scratch with the help of a stand mixer.

OVerhead view of mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Every year, a few days after Christmas, some families in Japan gather to celebrate Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, by pounding hot, steamy rice into mochi. Using a large wooden mallet called a kine, they take turns hitting the steamed grains in a one-meter diameter usu (mortar) carved from a tree stump, rhythmically turning the rice by hand between strikes, until the rice transforms into a smooth, sticky dough. “It’s a family affair,” says Nancy Singleton Hachisu, who has resided in rural Japan since 1988 and is the James Beard Award-winning author of Japanese Farm Food and Preserving the Japanese Way. “Mochitsuki is a time for community and gathering.”

What Is Traditional Mochi? Why Should You Make It?

Soft, chewy, and sticky, mochi is a rice cake that  can be served in a multitude of ways: grilled, boiled, wrapped around anko (red bean paste), dipped in kinako (roasted soybean flour), and even deep fried. Its name, “mochi,” comes from mochi gome, the type of short-grain glutinous rice it’s made from.

Mochitsuki (mochi pounding) is a tradition dating back to at least the 8th century, with origins going back much farther to ancient China. Throughout history, mochi has held cultural significance for several occasions, from celebrating the New Year to childbirth and marriage, but by far the most common time for making and eating mochi is during Shogatsu.

Side angle view of mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For many, the notion of mochi evokes multicolored shapes (fruits, even animals) and molded confections popular in Japanese convenience stores and candy shops. For many more, mochi might be most closely associated with ice cream. But Hachisu is quick to point out that these foods are often not made with mochi in the most traditional sense. “Those [confections] are the furthest thing from mochi,” she says. “It doesn’t taste the same, because it’s made from mochiko flour—not from freshly steamed rice.” The vast majority of mochi you find commercially is not hand-pounded.

Modern food processing has made it possible to mix mochi at home from a fine, boxed powder or flour. You mix mochiko (or shiratamako) with water, cook it over the stovetop or microwave, and boom—mochi on the fly. But all that convenience comes at a price. “That stuff is pretty much flavorless in comparison,” Hachisu says. There’s nothing wrong with it. But it lacks a few things: flavor and texture, and in a more sentimental sense, the feelings of tradition, process, gathering, and community which make mochi such a special food in the first place.

The Challenge of (and Solution to) Making Pounded Mochi at Home

Developing a pounded mochi recipe for the home cook presents several challenges. For one, I’m pretty sure most people don’t own either an usu or a kine. Second, mochitsuki is traditionally performed outdoors or in a large, open area with plenty of room to swing a big old mallet. “You’re never gonna be able to do it at home,” Hachisu says. At least, not in the traditional way.

Third, there’s the communal aspect of making mochi. “Ideally, you’d make mochi with your family, or with friends, with people in the neighborhood,” Hachisu says. “The idea of community is so essential to making mochi.”

While I can’t necessarily solve these issues—after all, recipes are typically written for a single user, and we recipe developers are generally loner types to begin with, faffing around with culinary minutiae—I considered a few alternatives to the traditional pounding process.

  • Large Mortar and Pestle: A mortar and pestle seemed an obvious choice to replicate the pounding and kneading of mochitsuki. I had passable results with small volumes of rice, but the yields were pitiful; a typical mortar simply doesn’t have enough capacity. And because of that small capacity, the rice tended to cool down too quickly before forming a cohesive, smooth paste. The rapid cooling made pounding prohibitively difficult as the paste thickened. This method took upwards of 15 minutes for a cup of dry rice, and the result was grainy and unappealing.
  • Mochi-Making Machine: For those intent on regularly enjoying pounded mochi at home, you can buy dedicated mochi-making machines from reputable rice cooker companies like Zojirushi and Tiger. Marketed as all-in-one rice cooking and mochi-making devices, these machines set you back anywhere from 200 to 500 dollars. While I was tempted to try these machines out, I concluded that most home cooks wouldn’t be willing to drop that kind of money for such a specialized piece of equipment.
  • Stand Mixer: When I suggested using a stand mixer to replicate the pounding and kneading process, Hachisu was skeptical. “You know, I had one of those KitchenAid stand mixers once. I’m pretty sure I threw it out,” she joked. In her estimation, the mochi dough might overwhelm the mixer, burning the motor out. “I’m not sure that it would work,” she said. “But I’ve also never tried it. So feel free to prove me wrong.”

The stand mixer does, in fact, work. Using a combination of the dough hook and the paddle attachments yielded the best results. The dough hook accomplished the initial kneading and helped to form a cohesive mass; whipping the dough with the paddle attachment broke the grains further apart, yielding a smoother result. And the best part? The work can be done quickly while the rice retains its heat.

Overhead view of rice being pounded in a stand mixer
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There are still limitations to this method. Compared to the texture of store-bought mochi or mochi made the traditional way, the resulting dough isn’t perfectly smooth—just ever-so-slightly grainy if you hold a cross-section up to the light. But in terms of eating quality and the handling of the dough, that graininess is imperceptible. Additionally, I found that there was an upper limit on the volume of rice my 7-quart KitchenAid mixer could handle—around 3 cups of dry rice. So depending on the model and capacity of your stand mixer, your mileage may vary. 

Other Keys To Mochi Success

Type of Rice

Good mochi starts with selecting the proper rice variety and quality. For one, mochi gome, or short-grain japonica glutinous rice, is essential. Glutinous rice is nearly 100 percent amylopectin, one of two main polysaccharides found in starch, along with amylose. Amylopectin tends to form a sticky, viscous but flowing gel. Higher amylose rice varieties, such as jasmine rice, are not suitable for making mochi, since they don’t form a sticky gel when blitzed apart or pounded.

Rice Cooking Methods

The traditional method for cooking rice is twofold: the rice is first soaked overnight in water, then it is wrapped in muslin cloth and steamed for about an hour under a heavy wooden lid over an iron pot of water until the grains are tender. Soaking ensures that the rice cooks evenly when steamed, and some studies suggest that it reduces the protein content of the rice and also improves both shine and eating quality.

I tried to replicate this steaming method with cheesecloth and either a bamboo steamer or a heavy-lidded Dutch oven. While the Dutch oven produced good results results, it was a finickier process that required having to consistently check the grains by opening up the cheesecloth. The bamboo steamer, on the other hand, didn’t produce evenly cooked grains, and tended to stain the grains slightly brown.

Hachisu also recommended using a rice cooker (without soaking the grains beforehand)—though this is far from a traditional technique. This gave me consistent results, so I could really dial the ratio of water to rice to mimic the texture of properly steamed rice. I was curious if omitting the soaking step affected the texture and appearance of the dough, but I found the differences too minute to tell. If you’re a purist, stick to steaming. Otherwise, rice prepared in a rice cooker works just fine.

Heat

Another fundamental aspect of mochitsuki involves maintaining heat while pounding the rice. If the rice cools too much before the paste reaches the target consistency, then pounding becomes increasingly difficult, and the finished texture isn’t ideal. It’s also a pain to handle the dough when it’s cold, so the mixing, pounding, or kneading must be done quickly. “It’s a race against time,” says Hachisu.

Fortunately, the stand mixer does the heavy lifting here. But to maintain the temperature of the dough, I found it helpful to keep a rigid silicone spatula dipped in boiling water nearby. That hot, wet spatula made it easy to scrape down the sides of the bowl and fold the dough over itself, mimicking the motions of folding by hand.

Rolling, Shaping, and Katakuriko

Overhead view of covering mochi with potato starch
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once the mochi is mixed, it is usually formed into shapes and eaten right away. No matter what form mochi takes, it is customary to coat the work surface with katakuriko (potato starch). In fact, without potato starch, the mochi dough is nearly impossible to handle because of how sticky it is. A liberal dusting of katakuriko makes portioning, rolling, or pressing a relatively painless endeavor.

Drying

For the specific style of mochi called yakimochi (grilled mochi) shown in this recipe, it’s helpful to dry the mochi before cutting and cooking. These cut squares, known as kirimochi, are often sold commercially in vacuum sealed packs. The drying process forms a skin on the surface of the mochi, which allows the mochi to puff up dramatically over the grill or when toasted. The result is a crispy, crunchy exterior that gives way to a soft, chewy interior.

Serving Suggestions

There is no shortage of serving options for mochi. While this recipe produces a mochi dough suitable for enrobing or rolling into various shapes, I wanted to offer mochi in its more unadorned form. “My favorite way to eat mochi is just toasted in the oven, maybe brushed with a little soy sauce,” says Hachisu. “Mochi is all about the rice, that delicate flavor.”

Ideally, yakimochi are cooked on a Japanese grill called a konro, ideally over binchotan coals. To replicate this at home, I opt for the strategic use of a blowtorch to get those charred, smoky edges and encourage the mochi to puff on all sides (if you don't have a blowtorch, you can use a broiler, though it will be more difficult to get even browning). The grilled mochi are brushed with a simple tare thickened with potato starch, wrapped in nori, and eaten hot—a serving style known as isobeyaki.

If you don’t have a grill or a blowtorch, a toaster oven (or an oven) is your next best option. The broiler setting produces a similar effect as a grill, albeit with less pronounced blistering or charring.

If you prefer sweeter options, you can drizzle the mochi with brown sugar syrup and serve it with some kinako (roasted soybean powder) or with globs of anko (red adzuki bean paste).

Continuing Traditions

Several years ago, Hachisu stumbled upon people making mochi while traveling through an airport. “It was probably a PR event,” she says. They wore gaudy, extravagant Japanese costumes, which were fake. They were shouting in a touristy, obnoxious way. “It was kind of sickening, to be honest. That’s not mochi.”

But all around Japan, there are enclaves of people carrying on the true traditions of mochitsuki, mostly in rural areas. “There are plenty of young people who come to our farming area, seeking a more natural life,” says Hachisu. They learn the tradition, revive it, and carry it on. Beyond the action itself, mochitsuki is about community and gathering.

How do you bring that feeling to your home? Hachisu recommends inviting friends over to make mochi—even if you happen to be using a stand mixer, with no usu or kine in sight. And if you can’t gather? You might as well share. As we wrap up our interview, Hachisu remembers to send a little mochi to her son who’s moved across the ocean to Brooklyn—so he can enjoy a little taste of home.

For the Mochi: In the bowl of a rice cooker, combine rice and water. Cook rice according to rice cooker settings for “white rice,” until grains are cooked through and translucent, about 45 minutes.

Overhead view of rice in a rice cooker
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Pour 4 cups of the boiling water into the bowl of a stand mixer, then pour out the water (this warms up the bowl and helps to maintain the heat of the rice as it’s beaten.) Keep the remaining boiling water in the pot with a rigid silicone spatula in it (this keeps the spatula warm and moist for scraping down the sides of the bowl). Immediately transfer rice to the warmed stand mixer bowl and, using a dough hook, mix on medium speed until the rice forms a coarse paste, about 2 minutes. Stop stand mixer and, using the hot spatula, scrape down rice to the center. Continue mixing until paste is smoother, about 1 minute longer.

Two image collage of rice being added to a stand mixer and a plastic spatula pushing down rice
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Switch to paddle attachment, scraping any excess paste off the dough hook. Mix on medium speed until paste is smooth with minimal visible grains, 3 to 5 minutes, stopping to scrape sides down with the hot spatula, until the dough is pliable. (There will still be some graininess; that is okay.)

View inside of stand mixing bowl with rice dough
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using a fine-mesh strainer, dust a  9- by 13- inch rimmed baking sheet or baking dish liberally with potato starch. Scrape dough onto prepared pan and dust the top of the dough liberally with additional potato starch. Using clean, dry hands, press dough to edges of the pan, smoothing and leveling the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick and the surface is flat. Place dough in freezer and chill until edges release easily from the pan and the dough is firm but not frozen, about 1 hour.

Four image collage of dusting baking sheet, transferring, mochi dough into sheet, and pressing out to fill pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Transfer dough to a large cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 2- by 3-inch rectangles (you should have 14 to 16 portions); wipe the knife down with a wet paper towel between cuts to keep the edges of the mochi clean. Arrange mochi on a wire rack and let dry at room temperature, flipping mochi once after 12 hours, until the surface is firm and no longer sticky, 24 hours.

Four image collage of chilled mochi being cut into squares
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Sauce and to Serve: In a medium saucepan, whisk together mirin, water, soy sauce, sugar, and potato starch. Place saucepan over medium heat, bring mixture to boil, and cook, stirring occasionally, until bubbling subsides and the mixture is thickened, glossy, and coats the back of a spoon, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer mixture to a heatproof bowl and cool to room temperature. Set glaze aside until needed.

Four image collage of making sauce
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Using a dry pastry brush, brush excess potato starch from the surface of mochi. Place the portioned mochi on the prepared baking sheet. Using a blowtorch, toast the tops and sides of the mochi until it begins to puff up and blister all over. Flip and repeat until all the mochi have been evenly torched. (A lightly charred or blistered appearance is okay.) Alternatively, hold the mochi on a rimmed baking sheet about 4 to 6 inches under a broiler element until puffed and blistered all over, then flip and repeat on other side (it will be more difficult to brown the mochi evenly all over with a broiler, so a blowtorch is preferable).

Overhead view of blowtorched mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Transfer cooked mochi to a wire rack, and brush each portion with sauce to coat. If desired, wrap each piece of mochi with nori and place seam-side down. Serve right away.

Side angle view of brushing glaze on mochi
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rice cooker, stand mixer, pastry brush, blowtorch or broiler, wire rack

Notes

The mochi may blow out and burst while it’s being torched. This is normal—continue to evenly torch the mochi.

Do not use non-glutinous rice, since the resulting dough will not be as cohesive or chewy.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Dried mochi can be kept in a single layer in a zipperlock bag and frozen for up to 2 weeks.