We love to go for Thai barbecue at a local Thai restaurant where many Thai people and other expats converge on the weekends. It's all-you-can-eat (and all-you-can-drink San Miguel) for about US$10 a person. That's actually expensive by Thai standards, but a pretty good price in Taiwan for what always turns out to be an epic meal.
They offer a lot of the same ingredients that we expect to see at any other all-you-can-eat Taiwanese hot pot or Taiwanese barbecue restaurant: thin slices of pork belly, frozen curls of beef, chicken breast, shrimp, seafood, and lots of vegetables like cabbage and morning glory.
However, Thai barbecue is cooked a little differently: the meat is grilled on a metal dome laid like a lid over the clay grill full of burning charcoal. A piece of pork fat is placed at the top of the dome and you can run it over the surface as it melts to keep the meat from sticking. The dome is rimmed by a moat of broth into which you stuff the vegetables. The heat from the charcoal grills the meat and the smoke flavors it. As the meat cooks, the juices run down the dome into the broth, flavoring the vegetables. It's a flawless system that results in perfect, flavorful grilled meats and cooked veggies.
At the restaurant we go to, they also provide little clay grills (konros) with conventional grill tops, perfect for cooking up chicken wings, sausages, and other items that won't fit on the dome. Check out our page on konro grills to learn how to use and care for these cool tabletop grills!
As with so many of our favorite tabletop-cooked dishes, what really makes this are the dipping sauces. The sweet chili sauce provided at the restaurant is totally different from the savory sacha-based sauce we love having with our Taiwanese barbecue. It's sweet and a little spicy. You can find it in Asian grocery stores and even some supermarkets in the US, but it's also easy to order online.
The incomparably cool Jaden at Steamy Kitchen has a recipe for sweet chili sauce you can make at home. Without all the additives and preservatives, it's a healthy alternative to buying it already bottled.
Buuuut...if you don't want to cut up quite so many peppers, just chop up a few super-spicy Thai bird peppers (wear rubber gloves if you got 'em!) and make this Thai dipping sauce with fish sauce and lime juice.
There are countless other sauces you could also use for dipping, such as peanut/satay sauce or a flavorful teriyaki sauce. What you choose depends on how authentic you want to be, but it's also a matter of taste.
I'm going to awkwardly insert a pro-tip about the meat right here: if you can get to an Asian grocery store that has hot pot meat or grilling meat sliced credit-card thin, that's ideal. But if not, you can get a bigger cut of meat and slice it thin. It's easiest to do this after the meat has been partially frozen, so toss it in the freezer for an hour or so. Use your sharpest knife to cut it just about as thin as you can.
Mr. Tabletop Cook and I are planning on going to Thailand next year for our summer holiday, and we'll definitely be looking to try different Thai hot pot and Thai barbecue restaurants while we're there!
Keep reading to learn how you can recreate the Thai barbecue experience at home:
Get your own grilling dome from Amazon.com--this is where I got mine!
Please have a piece of pork fat or some lard available to grease the grill top as you're cooking.
Choose your own adventure:
Every guest should have a bowl or plate, some chopsticks or a tong, and if you like, a fork and a spoon for eating and serving.
Want wine? Try pairing your Thai barbecue dinner with a slightly sweet Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, or Traminette. A very fruity dry red could also work, but a little sugar goes a long way in helping the wine and the spice of the dipping sauce get along. Of course, we usually skip the wine in favor of some cold Singha beer if we can get it.
Some of my favorite online stores might have just what you need for your next tabletop meal!
Asian Food Grocer has a great selection of essential ingredients and many hard-to-find items.
Cilantro Cook Shop has a great selection of quality raclette and fondue sets.
For The Gourmet has an amazing selection of cheeses and chocolates.
Sephra specializes in chocolate, caramel and fruit fondues... and fountains.