Summer is here, and in Japan that means one thing: 3 months of agonizing heat. If I were one of the lucky ones able to travel home this vacation, I’d probably spend it with my family back in Nashville. Sure, it’s just about as humid as it is here, but at least I’d be able to get in on some excellent backyard barbeques. There’s just nothing better than sharing beers and smoked meat with good people.
However, living in Japan, with its distinct lack of backyards and my home-owners’ association being real jerks with their “no open flames on the balcony” laws; I was under the impression that I would have to spend my summers here without that taste of home. Until one day I discovered Tiger Lily Bar-BQ Market in Nagakute, just a quick 10 minute walk from Fujigaoka Station. From the lovely smell of smoked wood to the Red, White and Blue hung out front, it’s like I’m back at my parents’ house, without the feudin’ and the fussin’.
Tiger Lily’s owner is one Takeshima Yasunori, a man with an even more zealous appreciation of smoked meat than my own. As a young dude, he bounced around the States surfing and falling in love with the oh-so-many ways we do our barbeque. Upon returning to Nagoya, his passion gave way to a true American entrepreneurial spirit, and he opened the first American pit BBQ in Aichi. And from its hardwood floors to the Hollywood memorabilia adorning the walls, this place it Takeshima-san’s love letter to his spirit animal, the Bald Eagle.
But none of that means squat without an expert manning the pit. And Tiger Lilly has that, with pit master Shibutani. Having spent a good part of his life studying the art of cooking meat at low heat for a long time, he has helped Tiger Lilly develop an extensive menu of various cuts and styles of barbeque, taking a meticulous approach to preparing each slab before it gets anywhere near the heat. Like their babyback ribs, a personal favorite of Shibutani-san. He starts with a dry rub of chili, brown sugar, pepper and other secret ingredients before cooking them for six to eight hours, while sparingly applying their original BBQ sauce. The end result is so tender it falls apart faster than a gas grill from Ikea, which they call a KORPÖN.
Not satisfied with just making the best ribs in town, Tiger Lily also offers other BBQ favorites including beef brisket that would make a homesick Texan cry, burgers so big they require a lance to hold them together (careful not to stab your lip) and pulled pork just like we make back in Tennessee. They also have a variety of exotic meats as available by season. Takeshima-san says that camel is the strangest and toughest meat he’s ever had.
But what’s a summer BBQ without a cold beer? Thank the gods that Tiger Lily is well-stocked with a selection of microbrews from America and Japan, including Brew Dog, Stone Brewing and Lagunitas. During my last visit, I washed down some ribs with a Pineapple Sculpin, an IPA from the Ballast Point brewery in San Diego. But the menu changes often, so you can try something different every time you go.
In Japan, your choices for summer BBQ are slim pickins at best. Sure, you could fight for space at the public grills at a park, maybe settle for yakiniku again or even throw caution to the wind and fire up the grill on your balcony (for the love of God, do not do that!) or you can let the experts at Tiger Lilly serve you up the best BBQ in Japan.