Mu kratha (sometimes also spelled mookata), meaning “pan pork,” is a style of Thai cuisine that combines Korean barbecue and Chinese hot pot into a perfect symphony of sweat, spice, and joyous gluttony. You can find mu kratha restaurants all over Thailand, which offer a DIY dinner where you pay a fixed price for a buffet of food that you cook using a special skillet and charcoal grill.

While mu kratha is quite the indulgence it does take some getting used to. To enjoy mu kratha, you need to know the rules: what to wear, how to be safe while cooking, and how to choose a restaurant with quality meat, seafood, and vegetables.

What to wear

Prior to indulging in mu kratha, it’s imperative that you know how to dress for the occasion. Between the scorching Thailand heat, the bubbling mu kratha broth, and the scalding cookware, you want to make sure you’re wearing something breathable. Sweatshirts and sweaters are not recommended attire.

During mu kratha you will be reaching over hot grills, hot skillets, and plates piled high with food to cook your meal. The space on the table is normally jam-packed with uncooked cuts of meat and vegetables. It’s best to wear something with short sleeves so you can prevent any unwanted mishaps or spills. People with long hair must pull their hair back because nobody wants their hair swinging into a hotbed of coals.

You’ll also want to remember that the heat emitted from the skillet and grill combined with the Thai heat will drive up your body temperature, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.

How to cook mu kratha

Photo: Tee Williams

Tourists always say some version of, “Wow. This is kind of dangerous,” when they sit down for their first mu kratha dinner. They see the sizzling skillet, the burning embers flickering from the grill, and their close proximity to all of it, and immediately start to feel uneasy. But there’s nothing to fear if you know how to navigate the mu kratha pot.

The mu kratha pot has a dome in the middle, which is surrounded by a moat that holds a meat broth, similar to hot pot. The dome is used to grill meats and should be greased up by a fatty piece of pork, while the moat is used to cook vegetables.

Most restaurants charge a flat, all-you-can-eat rate, and have a buffet-style setup, where you will you serve yourself dishes of raw sliced pork, meat, chicken, fish balls, meat skewers, and vegetables like lettuce and carrots. You’ll take your ingredients of choice back to your table, and cook them on your own.

If you don’t have a solid grasp on how to use chopsticks, be sure to use the tongs that can be found around the buffet area. Also, be sure that you’re not eating prepared food with utensils that have touched raw meat. That is a sure-fire way to get a bad bout of food poisoning. Speaking of food poisoning, be sure to thoroughly cook your meat as well — don’t take the sliced pork, chicken, or beef off the grill until it has browned completely.

Once your meats and veggies are cooked and ready to eat, dip them in the Thai suki sauce (or nam chim) at your table. The sauce is made from garlic, fresh red chilis, sugar, and bean curd. This sauce combines the perfect amount of sweet and spicy and is sure to leave you fanning your tongue.

Where to eat mu kratha

Photo: Davidology YW/Facebook

In Chiang Mai there are tons of mu kratha places, but not all of these restaurants are created equal. Some have flies buzzing all over the flood, wilted veggies, smelly meat, and generally unsanitary conditions. The best way to find the best mu kratha spot is by following the quintessential Southeast Asia travel rule: If a restaurant is crowded then that is absolutely where you want to be.

Once you get inside a restaurant take a second to do a subtle look around. Check to see if the tables are actually cleaned after people depart, and if the food and sauce stations look clean. Has food been left to sit or is someone making sure the buffet is fresh? Following these tips will help you find the best quality restaurants.

Once you get the hang of mu kratha, you won’t want to eat anything else. It’s certainly the most bang for your buck meal in Thailand, but it’s also probably the most labor-intensive dinner outside of home cooking. A typical mu kratha meal can last for two to three hours. So when you head to a mu-kratha restaurant, make sure you have an empty stomach, your sleeves rolled up, and elastic pants on.