Bulgogi, or Korean BBQ beef, is very simple to make at home with a few basic ingredients, and the thinly sliced beef marinades quickly.
This bulgogi recipe will teach you everything you need to know about making the best bulgogi!
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WHAT IS BULGOGI?
Bulgogi, also known as Korean BBQ beef, is thinly sliced marinated beef cooked over an open flame. In Korean, “bul” means “fire,” and “gogi” is a general term for meat.
While other meats, such as chicken (dak bulgogi) and pork (dweji bulgogi), can be used, the term “bulgogi” generally refers to the beef version.
While this Korean marinated beef is most commonly char grilled in restaurants and homes, particularly outside of Korea, there are many regional variations.
In this bulgogi recipe, I’m also including Seoul-style bulgogi (), which is how I grew up eating bulgogi. It’s also known as yetnal bulgogi (), which translates to “old-fashioned.”
It’s a specific way to eat bulgogi. It has made a remarkable comeback in the last decade or so and has become very popular across the country. It’s a hit with my family!
THE CUT OF MEAT FOR BULGOGI RECIPE
Ribeye is the best cut of meat for this dish. Any tender, flavorful cut of beef, such as chuck eye, sirloin, or tenderloin, will work well.
When I cook for the elderly members of my family and friends, I occasionally use tenderloin.
Bulgogi meat is available pre-cut in Korean markets. It is usually available in a variety of grades. If you can, spend a little more on high-quality meat.
You can also have your butcher thinly slice the meat for you after freezing it for a couple of hours.
HOW TO MAKE BULGOGI MARINADE
Soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and other basic ingredients are used to make the classic marinade or sauce.
The key is to strike the right balance of saltiness and sweetness. With this bulgogi recipe, you’ll find the perfect balance!
To achieve an authentic flavor, generous amounts of garlic and sesame oil are required.
Koreans traditionally add grated Korean pear to the marinade to enhance the flavor and tenderize the meat.
It’s simply the best method. If you can’t find a Korean/Asian pear, you can omit it or substitute a Bosc pear or an apple.
Tenderizing thinly sliced good quality meat is not necessary. If desired, use kiwi or pineapple, but only a small amount so the meat does not become over-marinated.
They are very strong tenderizing agents that can cause the meat to break down excessively. This marinade can also be applied to other types of meat, such as chicken or pork.
It does not take hours to marinate the thinly sliced meat. It only takes 30 minutes to an hour to marinate, but you can marinate it for up to overnight.
WHAT IS BULGOGI SAUCE MADE WITH? DO YOU HAVE TO USE ASIAN PEAR?
Soy sauce (jin ganjang), mirin or cooking rice wine, Asian pear, garlic, sugar and/or honey, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and black pepper are traditionally used to make the marinade sauce.
Asian Pear is the traditional Korean tenderizer of choice for bulgogi recipes, with a rule of thumb of 2 tablespoons grated pear for 1 pound of meat. You can, however, use other substitutes.
However, because Asian Pear is not always easy to find outside of Korea, here are my substitutions.
- Kiwi – this is my go-to tenderizer when pear isn’t available; it’s so potent that 1/2 kiwi is enough for 5 lbs of beef.
- Onion – 3 tablespoons minced onion will do the trick for 1 pound of beef, adding extra sweetness that is beneficial.
- If the meat is still too tough after the marinade, add 2 Tbs of Diet Coke to 5 lbs of beef as an emergency fix. Because Diet Coke is very strong, use it only as a last resort, and don’t leave it for too long.
HOW TO COOK THE MEAT
- You can grill the meat over charcoal or wood charcoal (sootbul, ), but a gas grill or a grill pan on the stovetop will also suffice. If you want nicely caramelized meat when pan-frying your bulgogi, preheat the pan and don’t crowd the pan.
- Bulgogi can also be cooked in its own juice in a pan over the stovetop for softer meat and a delicious sauce. If you want more sauce at the end, use the entire marinade.
BULGOGI À LA SEOUL
- As I previously stated, this is how I grew up eating this dish. The marinated meat is cooked in a dome-shaped pan with holes and a flat bottom to hold water or broth.
- The dome shape allows the drippings to drain into the water or broth, where they thicken as the meat cooks.
- Cooked in the slightly sweet and savory sauce, starch noodles and/or vegetables such as mushrooms are delicious. Mix the sauce into your rice. Exceptionally tasty!
- Water or broth can be used as the liquid. I use dashima broth that has been lightly seasoned with soy sauce.
- My dome-shaped grill pan was purchased at a local Korean market, but it is also available online if you want to purchase one. Otherwise, a large skillet will suffice.
WHAT TO SERVE KOREAN BBQ BEEF WITH
Along with lettuce wraps and ssamjang, pa muchim (scallion salad) is an excellent accompaniment to this dish.
See my list of 15 Korean vegetable side dishes for more ideas. Doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew) goes well with bulgogi as well.
WHAT TO DO WITH LEFTOVERS
Any unused marinated meat can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for longer storage.
Leftover bulgogi works well in bibimbap, gimbap (also spelled kimbap), bulgogi deopbap, and bulgogi jeongol. Alternatively, try kimchi bulgogi cheesesteaks or tacos.
- Add-Ons – Traditionally, Koreans marinate the beef alone, but you can add any or all of the following: sliced raw onions, mushrooms (shitake, white, oyster), bell peppers, and carrots can be added to the pan when cooking the meat.
- Rice wine/Mirin/Sake Substitute – Although most of the alcohol is cooked away when cooking, I am frequently asked if they MUST use it. If you can’t use alcohol in your cooking, substitute 2 tbsp ginger ale OR 2 tbsp apple juice OR 4 tsp grape juice + 1 tsp wine vinegar + 1 tsp water for 2 tbsp rice or red wine. Also, if using these juices or ginger ale, reduce the amount of tenderizer (especially kiwi) because the acidity in these juices or ginger ale may have a slight tenderizing effect.
HOW TO COOK BULGOGI
- Pan-frying is the most basic method of cooking. For more information, watch my recipe video.
- The most authentic and traditional way to cook Korean BBQ is on a charcoal grill (left pic). To cook the meat over charcoal, use a fine steel mesh or tin foil; otherwise, it will fall through.
- Broil in the oven – You can also broil it on the top rack of your oven at broil temperature, but keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn!
- Traditional Bulgogi pan over Gas (see photo) – Cook with water or light broth added to the rim of the classic domed pan (right photo) on top of Gas. The meat juice will fall into the water and form a wonderful liquid that you can mix with your rice.
- Cook it until it’s perfectly done – it also tastes great if it’s caramelized and a little burnt.
- Refrigerate or freeze leftovers (uncooked or cooked). Simply heat in a frying pan. Bulgogi can’t be overcooked and still tastes good.
- Suggestions for Serving – Serve with rice and a Korean lettuce salad, or with Ssam and Ssamjang. Raw garlic or chili pepper slices can also be enjoyed in the Ssam or grilled alongside your meat.
TIPS FOR BULGOGI
- Freezing the beef for 20-30 minutes will help you cut thin, even slices.
- Asian pears are native to Asia and are also known as Korean pears, Chinese pears, and Japanese pears. Asian pears are yellow and can be speckled. They’re light and refreshing. These pears are available in limited quantities at most supermarkets. Supermarkets frequently sell Asian pears packed in Styrofoam or other protective materials to protect the delicate skin. If you can’t find an Asian pear, try a crisp pear like a bosc or a seckel pear instead.
- Bulgogi can be served alone, over rice, with rice on the side, or in lettuce cups.
- If you can’t find gochujang, sriracha with an extra teaspoon of brown sugar will suffice.
- Gochujang can typically be found in the ethnic foods aisle of most major grocery stores.
Frequently Asked Questions
Bulgogi is not considered healthy because of its high fat content, which is nearly equal to its protein content. A typical portion (250 grams) of Bulgogi can contain up to 424 calories, making it detrimental to any health or weight loss goals.
So, if you’re unsure whether your store carries them, just ask! Substitute: Asian pear If you can’t find Asian pears, use a sweet apple like Fuji or Bosc pear instead.
The primary distinction between bulgogi and kalbi/galbi is the beef cuts used, though the marinade is the same. Kalbi/Galbi is made with short ribs, whereas Bulgogi is made with thinly sliced, against the grain rib-eye steak.
The primary distinction between kalbi and bulgogi in Korean cooking is the type of meat used. Kalbi is made with short ribs, while bulgogi is made with ribeye, sirloin, tenderloin, and brisket. Both are thinly sliced, their marinades are nearly identical, and the total time required to cook either is comparable.