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 grilled 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 grilled beef. I’ve shared my kids’ favorite onigirazu Bulgogi Onigirazu recipe in the past but this time I will focus on the bulgogi recipe.
Intensely flavorful, it is undoubtedly some of the tastiest dish 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!
Watch How To Make Bulgogi
Click here to watch on YouTube
What is Bulgogi?
Bulgogi (불고기) is one of classic Korean dishes where thinly shaved meat is marinated in a sweet and savory sauce made of soy sauce, sugar, and Korean pear juice, and grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle. Literally meaning “fire” and “meat,” this well-known Korean dish 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 dish 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.
5 Tips to Make Delicious Bulgogi
1. 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 that 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. Korean Soy Sauce
You probably think I’m crazy to highlight such a trivial matter. 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 a 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
Although I stated a minimum 30 minutes of marinating in the recipe below, I highly recommend marinating the meat 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
If you want to give a nice char to the beef, you need 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 stovetop, you will need to place the meat on a hot skillet. You don’t want to overcook the meat by putting the meat on the cold skillet which resulting a longer cook time. You want to give nice hot char to the thinly sliced beef as they cook really fast.
If you want to cook on an outdoor barbecue grill, make sure to cook the meat on a skillet so small pieces of meat won’t fall between the grill grates. I like to use a cast iron skillet to cook.
For a quick and easy weeknight family meal, I often served Bulgogi with steamed rice and kimchi on the side. If you are hosting a BBQ for a crowd, this Korean grilled meat also makes a fabulous finger food when served on lettuce wraps. And on these hot days of summer, enjoy it with some icy cold beer or lemonade.
Other Homemade Korean food recipes:
- 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 inch (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 slices. Mix all together to coat with the marinade. I wear plastic gloves so I can mix thoroughly with my hands.
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 heat.
- 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.
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).
Recipe by Namiko Chen of Just One Cookbook. All images and content on this site are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission. If you’d like to share this recipe on your site, please re-write the recipe in your own words and link to this post as the original source. Thank you.