Bulgogi, a classic Korean grilled beef, is so easy to make and fun to eat with friends and family. Tender pieces of caramelized beef with crunchy sweet vegetables, this flavorful BBQ meat needs to make an appearance on your summertime dinner soon! You can grill on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle.
Grilling season is here and I want to share one of my family’s favorite grilled meat recipes, Bulgogi – the Korean BBQ beef. Intensely flavorful, it is undoubtedly some of the tastiest dishes to put on the grill.
When the marinated meat hit the sizzling skillet, you can immediately smell the tantalizingly sweet & smoky aroma fills the hot summer air. If you love your grilled meat with big bold flavors, you will have to give this Bulgogi recipe a try!
What is Bulgogi?
Bulgogi (불고기) is a classic Korean preparation of beef or pork in which thinly shaved meat is marinated in a sweet and savory sauce, and grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle. Literally meaning “fire” and “meat,” bulgogi has been in existence for nearly over a thousand years. It was even considered a fashionably high-class cuisine during the Joseon Dynasty.
Thanks to the rise of the Korean food scene in Japan, Bulgogi (プルコギ) is gaining such popularity that a lot of housewives are making the BBQ meat at home. When cooked with vegetables as I did in this recipe, bulgogi makes a wholesome one-skillet dinner for the family. It’s a simple dish that will satisfy even the pickiest eaters.
Watch How To Make Bulgogi (Korean BBQ Beef)
Click here to watch on YouTube
5 Tips to Make Delicious Bulgogi
1. Add Grated Korean / Asian Pear
I think one of the most important ingredients in the bulgogi marinade is grated Korean/Asian pear. Ever since I learned from my Korean friends about adding grated pear in the marinade, I almost always include this secret ingredient. It has an enzyme that tenderizes the meat.
The Korean/Asian pear is round in shape and it resembles an apple. Some call it apple pear. Unlike other varieties of pears, the texture of the Korean pear is rather firm like an apple, but it contains more moisture and juice. It’s sweet and really delicious.
They appear in the grocery stores in the fall and winter months. It’s a lot easier to find them in Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) grocery stores but even my local Costco carries them during the season. In Japan, we call these pears “Nashi” (梨).
Korean/Asian pear may not be available in all seasons, but it’s totally worth hunting down when you make bulgogi at home. I didn’t expect I could get hold of a Korean pear in May at my local American grocery store. You never know until you look for it!
Now, if you couldn’t find them, you can use an apple, like Fuji apple, or a kiwi, or fresh pineapple (a canned variety deactivates an enzyme) as a substitute.
2. Use Korean Soy Sauce
You probably think I’m crazy to highlight such a trivial ingredient. But I am as guilty as a charge when it comes to using Japanese soy sauce to make Korean dishes.
Everything changed when my friend Seonkyoung brought a bottle of Korean soy sauce for me to try. You may think Korean soy sauce and Japanese soy sauce (or Chinese soy sauce) are similar. They are not. Don’t take the shortcut (like I did) and substitute with the soy sauce you have. Using Korean soy sauce to make Korean dishes such as bulgogi makes a difference!
3. Marinate Overnight
In my recipe below, I stated a minimum of 30 minutes for marinating, but I still highly recommend overnight so that all the flavors are soaked in the beef. The flavors will come through much stronger and the meat tenderer if you allow it to marinade longer.
4. Leave the Marinade Liquid Behind
The trick to giving a nice char to the beef is to use a pair of tongs to pick up the meat from the marinade, leaving the marinade liquid behind. You need to place just the meat on the hot skillet, no liquid goes onto the skillet. You would end up steaming the meat with liquid in the pan. Make sure you coat each piece of sliced beef well with your hands covered with plastic and let them absorb the flavors while marinading.
5. Cook on Hot Skillet
Whether you use an outdoor barbecue grill or cook over the stovetop, you want to make sure the skillet/ pan is hot. That’s when the sliced meat gets nicely charred and caramelized quickly.
If using an outdoor barbecue grill, make sure to cook the meat on a skillet so the small pieces of meat won’t fall between the grill grates. I like to use a cast-iron skillet.
Bulgogi for An Easy Weeknight Family Meal
In the summertime, I often serve Bulgogi with steamed rice and kimchi on the side for a quick and easy weeknight family meal. If you are hosting a BBQ, this Korean grilled meat also makes a fabulous finger food when served on lettuce wraps. Enjoy with some icy cold beer or lemonade.
Oh, don’t forget to save a portion of leftover bulgogi meats for Bulgogi Onigirazu the next day! The rice sandwich is a delicious meal on its own.
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Bulgogi (Korean Grilled Beef)
- ½ onion
- 3 green onions/scallions
- 4 inch carrot
- 1 ½ lb thinly sliced beef (chuck or rib eye) (can also use tenderloin, top sirloin; If you can’t find thinly sliced beef, you can freeze the block of meat for 2 hours (depending on the size and thickness) prior to slicing (See my tutorial).
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil (roasted)
- ½ Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds (for topping)
- 4 Tbsp Korean soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil (roasted)
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar (don’t substitute with honey as it burns easily)
- 8 cloves garlic (4 tsp, minced)
- ½ Asian pear (4 Tbsp, grated; Substitute Asian pear with apple, like Fuji apple, kiwi, or fresh pineapple (a canned variety deactivates an enzyme).
- freshly ground black pepper
- Gather all the ingredients.
- To make the bulgogi marinade, add 4 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp sesame oil, and 3 Tbsp brown sugar, and crush 8 cloves garlic (or minced garlic) in a large bowl.
- Grate ½ of an Asian pear.
- Add freshly ground black pepper and mix all together.
- Cut the onion into thin slices and cut the green onion into 2 inches (5 cm) pieces and then cut in half lengthwise.
- Using a peeler, peel some carrot (or slice thinly). Add the onion, green onions, carrot in the marinade, and mix all together.
- Add the meat in the marinade, separating each slice. Mix all together to coat with the marinade. I wear plastic gloves so I can mix them thoroughly.
- Set aside for at least 30 minutes or best if overnight.
- In a large skillet (I use a cast iron grill pan here), heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high.
- Cook the marinated meat in a single layer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to the plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- If you have a single serving cast iron plate, you can use it to keep the meat warm for a longer time.
More Similar Recipes You’ll love:
- Korean Pancake
- Japchae 잡채 (Korean Stir-Fried Noodles)
- Bulgogi Onigirazu
- Kimchi Fried Rice
- BBQ Short Ribs
- Korean Spinach Namul and Bean Sprout Namul (side dishes)
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 26, 2017. The post has been updated in June 2020.