For me, bulgogi is the most iconic Korean dish that’s not kimchi.
It’s super thin and tender sliced meat marinated in a subtle sweet and spicy sauce, charred to perfection. It’s one of the greatest things ever and a perfect introduction to Korean food. If you’ve never had it, it’s something new and wonderful that will immensely add to your quality of life, and if you’ve already had it, then I don’t need to go any further: you know what I’m talking about.
Bulgogi is one of the easiest Korean dishes to make at home. Whether or not you have a Korean BBQ pan or just a non-stick skillet on your stove, it’s an addictive savory melt in your mouth weeknight-compatible dinner I can’t get enough of.
Bulgogi is a classic Korean BBQ meat item. It’s typically a thinly sliced cut of beef that’s been marinated in a pear-soy-onion mix. The meat is then quickly charred on a Korean BBQ plate over an open flame. At home, people crisp it up in a pan on the stove. It’s served up with rice, lettuce, and little kimchi-forward appetizers and pickles.
In my opinion, Bulgogi should always be spicy. What is it about Korean food that is so much better spicy?
To make spicy bulgogi, just stir in a bit of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste). I would start with 1 heaping teaspoon, taste, and go from there based on your spice tolerance. Do this before adding the marinade to the meat, of course.
The best cuts of beef for bulgogi are sirloin, rib eye or brisket, but the real answer is, whatever you can find that’s already thinly sliced. It’s the thin slicing that’s the real secret to great Bulgogi. H-Mart or another asian grocery store is your friend. If your standard supermarket has a butcher, you can usually ask them for thin slices. As a last resort, you can buy a hunk of beef, quickly chill it to almost frozen, and go to town.
Bulgogi tastes best flame grilled over butane gas or charcoal (bulgogi means fire-meat in Korean) but most people don’t do that at home since it will be very smoky and possibly poisonous if you have improper ventilation. Your best bet is a nonstick skillet over high heat, or cast iron if your cast iron is nicely seasoned.
Bulgogi is traditionally beef or pork, but chicken is an increasingly popular choice. My favorites for pork bulgogi are fattier cuts such as pork collar or jowl, or pork belly (although for me, that’s a little on the too-fatty side). For chicken, thighs are your best bet, but if you are good with temperature control, properly cooked breast can be life-changingly good.
Asian pears, sometimes called apple pears, are light golden yellow, round, and firm with a crisp crunch (crispier than ordinary pears), lots of juice and more sweetness. If you can’t find an Asian pear, you can absolutely sub a regular pear (like Bosc) or sweet apple (like Fuji).
Believe it or not, soy sauces are different for each Asian country. Go for a Korean soy sauce such as Sempio if you can. If you can’t, a Japanese soy sauce is next best, such as Kikkoman. After that would come a Chinese light soy sauce such as LKK or Pearl River Bridge. Only finally, as a last resort, should you use a supermarket brand like La Choy. We take soy sauces seriously around here.
If you don’t have brown sugar handy, regular white sugar is just fine.
This is not the regular sesame oil you’ll find in the oil & vinegar aisle. Unlike clear sesame oil, toasted sesame oil is dark, nutty, and can’t be used for frying. You can find it in the Asian aisles, at an Asian grocery store, or online. Our favorite brand is Kadoya.
Rice vinegar is a little nuttier and a lot sweeter than most other vinegars. Many rice vinegars you find will be seasoned sushi rice vinegar, with sugar, salt, and possibly other items in its ingredients list (note the color difference in the label too). This isn’t exactly what you want but can still be used. Actual rice vinegar only has one ingredient. Any other vinegar you love will work too.
If you hate mincing ginger, use what we use: a Japanese ginger grater. They are pretty cheap (if you live near a Daiso, you can often get them for $1) and crazy effective. You don’t even need to peel the ginger first! Use a silicone brush (or a wooden one, authentically) to get all the ginger bits off when you’re done.
On restaurant menus, you’ll often see Bulgogi and Kalbi together. That’s because kalbi are short ribs cut specifically for KBBQ and usually marinated in bulgogi sauce. Kalbi cut short ribs are the middle meat below.
Bulgogi is one of the great dishes of our world today. I hope you give it a try.
Super Savory Korean Grilled Meat
4.25 from 4 votes
Blend the onion, pear, garlic, ginger, and water.
Mix the onion-pear mix with soy sauce, brown sugar, toasted sesame oil, vinegar, and black pepper. Add gochujang, if using.
Mix the marinade throughly with the meat and marinate for 2 hours to overnight.
Cook the meat on a hot plate/grill, cast iron pan, or nonstick skillet, flipping as needed.
You can julienne the rest of the pear as a garnish.
Amount Per Serving
Calories 336 Calories from Fat 106
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 3.9g24%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.