Bachan’s is the Japanese Barbecue Sauce You’ll Want to Drizzle on Everything 

Last Update: October 23, 2023

In Japanese, the word bachan translates to granny. It’s a loving, familiar nickname for a grandmother, and that’s exactly why Justin Gill chose it for the name of his Japanese sauce brand, Bachan’s

Gill’s bachan, Judy Yokoyama, fostered a strong work ethic in her grandchildren and always encouraged their entrepreneurial spirits, so it was no surprise that her own sauce recipes became the inspiration for Bachan’s. Though Yokoyama was forced to spend part of her childhood in a Japanese internment camp, Gill says that his grandmother was always filled with joy and held a special reverence for family. He calls her words of wisdom “bachanisms” (one of her favorites is “The world is your oyster!”) and if you follow Bachan’s on social media, you’re likely familiar with both Gill’s bachan and the way her bachanisms occasionally pop up in the brand’s memes and other playful shares. 

Today, the vibrant, modern sauce brand stands out among other condiments for its vibrant, Japanese-inspired branding and its familiar squeeze bottle — and for its loyal fan base. We spoke to Gill about what sets Bachan’s apart, his favorite ways to use their sauces (hint: it’s good on pretty much everything), and what’s next for this beloved barbecue sauce brand. 

Q&A with Justin Gill, Founder of Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue Sauce

Tell us about your grandmother. Why do you think cooking with her had such an impact on you?

My bachan, Judy Yokoyama, is the legacy holder of the family recipe, having passed it down to my mom and myself. Growing up, she used to cook for me and my family all the time.  She lived on the same property as us, so we would eat a lot of meals with her and my grandfather. She and my grandfather (or jichan) never missed any of our sporting events and were there for every big moment we had as children. They were a huge part of our lives, and my bachan is still a big part of my life and my daughters’ lives today. She always supported me in my entrepreneurial endeavors, so when I decided to bring our family’s sauce to market, it just felt natural that I would name it in her honor. Cooking with her made an impact on me because she was educating me on Japanese American culture through food and passing down our family traditions, all at the same time.

What makes Japanese BBQ sauces stand out from sauces from other cuisines? What were you hoping to capture in the flavors of your sauces?

Our sauces are teriyaki-ish in flavor and based on a Japanese tare sauce [a type of sweet soy sauce] that is a ubiquitous sauce in Japan used to glaze grilled chicken, beef, or seafood, as well as a dipping sauce for many dishes. Where traditional American barbecue sauces tend to be sweeter, Japanese barbecue sauces are typically more balanced and are very umami flavor-forward. The goal was to keep this sauce as close to our family’s original recipe as possible to keep it authentic to our family and the sauce that I grew up with.

What was your process like when creating these sauces?

When we created the Original Japanese Barbecue Sauce, Japanese barbecue sauce didn’t exist in the U.S. I spent more than six years, and many variations of our family recipe sauce, to finally commercialize it. I’ve been dedicated to bringing our family’s heritage sauce to market with authentic, umami-filled flavor using real ingredients, innovating a cold-filled process, and never skimping on quality. 

Our plan is to continue to try to make the best sauces in the world. We don’t ever want to make too many products, just the best products. With each flavor we launch, there is so much time and effort put into making sure it honors our original family sauce and adds something special to it. I wanted to build a brand that our customers could trust and I wanted Bachan’s to be inclusive, approachable, accessible, and authentic. I wanted the Bachan’s brand to be classic and timeless – not too trendy. 

You have amazing packaging! What was the inspiration there? 

Our bottle itself is reminiscent of ketchup and mustard bottles you’d find in diners. I wanted something that would create a sense of familiarity, beauty, and also be highly functional. When you see a chef cooking with sauces in a kitchen, you will see them using a bottle like ours. I wanted our customers to have that same experience. As for the octopus, I’ve just always admired them as highly intelligent, adaptable, and resourceful (and cool) creatures.    

How would you recommend our members use your sauces?

The great thing about our sauces is there’s not just one way to use them. You can use them for dipping, stir-frying, drizzle them over rice bowls and salads, or marinate your steaks, chicken, and fish in them. Recently, chicken wings have become a fan favorite! We have an entire recipe section on our website for tons of inspiration and hundreds of recipes.

What’s next for Bachan’s? 

My vision from the very start was to make Bachan’s available to the masses. I wanted to build a brand and products that were accessible, inclusive, and approachable. We are entering the mass market, while still honoring our roots in the natural channel and independent retailers that gave us the opportunity to build our brand and earn our way into the pantries of their customers. We want to make Bachan’s available everywhere our customers are. We want Bachan’s to be as ubiquitous as Heinz ketchup here in the U.S., and then expand internationally in the future.

Shop Bachan’s at Thrive Market 

Bachan’s The Original Japanese Barbecue Sauce 

Bachan’s Japanese Barbecue Sauce, Gluten-Free

Bachan’s Yuzu Japanese Barbecue Sauce 

This article is related to:

BBQ Ideas, Brand, Sauce Recipes

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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is Thrive Market's Senior Editorial Writer. She is based in Los Angeles via Pittsburgh, PA.

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