Thinly sliced beef and tender onions cooked in savory-sweet sauce, Gyudon, or Japanese Beef Rice Bowl, is synonymous with comfort. It has been a staple in Japanese cuisine for over 150 years! It’s a perfect quick meal for a busy weeknight!
Gyudon (牛丼) is classic comfort food that has had its place in Japanese cuisine for over 150 years. Not only is this hearty rice bowl extremely simple to put together, but it’s also famous for being a quick, nutritious meal that never fails to satisfy.
While every household in Japan makes gyudon a little different, the core ingredients remain the same: thin slices of beef, onion, and sweet and savory sauce served over steamed rice. Today, I’ll show you how I make this weeknight favorite at home.
What is Gyudon (Japanese Beef Bowl)?
Like other donburi, Gyudon, or Japanese Beef Bowl, is always served over a warm bowl of freshly steamed rice. “Gyu” (牛) translates to “beef” while “Don” (丼) refers to the type of bowl it’s served in.
History of Gyudon in Japan
The gyudon that we know and love today actually originated from a beef hot pot dish called “gyunabe” (牛鍋) during Japan’s Meiji Era (1868-1912). Up until this point, Japanese people were strictly prohibited from eating beef for both religious and practical reasons. Consuming meat went against Buddhist philosophies, and eating farm animals that were useful for work was largely discouraged.
Once Western culture was introduced to Japan in the late 19th century, gyunabe—beef and onion stewed with miso paste—became extremely popular. Apparently, the chef of an izakaya called Isekuma in my hometown of Yokohama was the first person to serve gyunabe in 1862! People began pouring their leftover gyunabe broth over rice, and soon restaurants began to serve this as a cheaper alternative called “gyumeshi” (牛飯).
The name “gyudon” was finally coined by Eikichi Matsuda in the late 1800s. Matsuda is the owner of Japan’s most famous Tokyo-based, beef bowl chain, Yoshinoya. If you want to make gyudon just like they do at Yoshinoya, I have a recipe here.
How to Make Gyudon
Ingredients You’ll Need
Gyudon in Japan is known to be a quick, tasty meal that is also cheap. It was most popular among business people and young, single men before reaching the general Japanese public. The ingredients to make this one-pot dish at home are simple.
- Thinly sliced beef: For this recipe, I recommend chuck or rib eye. The paper-thin slices are essential for achieving authentic gyudon (too thick, and your beef will be chewy), and you can often find packages of thin-cut beef at Japanese or Asian supermarkets. Alternatively, you can always slice your own.
- Onion: Sliced onions give sweetness to the dish and are a perfect pair with tender beef.
- Sauce: The sauce is a complementary balance of sweet and savory, made with dashi (Japanese soup stock), sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. So simple and highly effective in creating robust flavor!
- Garnish: green onions for the color and shichimi togarashi for a spicy kick.
Overview: Cooking Steps
- Cut the onion, green onions, and beef.
- Put the sauce ingredients, sliced onions, and beef in a large frying pan and start cooking.
- Serve the simmered beef and onion over steamed rice in large bowls.
5 Tips to Make Delicious Gyudon
- Thinly slice the onion so it will become tender and sweeter quickly. When the onion is cooked, it imparts a natural sweetness to the dish.
- Use good quality beef. Well-marbled beef will never become chewy after being simmered in the sauce. I highly recommend ribeye for gyudon. It’s also easy to thinly slice your own meat. For well-marbled beef, it’s easier to flash freeze and cut the semi-frozen meat.
- Make extra dashi (Japanese soup stock) so you can use it for gyudon and miso soup to go with the meal. I recommend making dashi either from scratch or with a dashi packet.
- Cook more rice than usual. Rice bowl dishes (or what we call “donburi”) typically serve more rice per person to go with the food on top of the rice. Therefore, prepare a little bit more than usual. I always make 1½ rice cooker cups for two servings and 3 rice cooker cups for four servings.
- Don’t overcook the beef, especially if your meat is not well-marbled. You don’t want chewy meat. As soon as the beef is no longer pink, you should stop cooking. If your meat is well-marbled, you can let it simmer slightly longer so the meat absorbs more flavors from the sauce.
Popular Gyudon Variations
1. Gyudon with Eggs
In Japan, gyudon is occasionally served with eggs. Generally, there are three variations (each comes with a different name).
- Tsukimi Gyudon (お月見牛丼) – A raw egg yolk is placed in the center of the simmered beef.
- Gyudon with Onsen Tamago (温玉のせ牛丼)- A poached egg is placed in the center of the simmered beef.
For the two variations of gyudon above, when you’re ready to eat, break the yolk and mix it into the beef and onions to add a layer of richness to the meal.
- Tanindon (他人丼) or Gyutojidon (牛とじ丼) – Right before finish cooking, drizzle beaten eggs over the simmered beef and cook covered until eggs are just set (In Japan, eggs are served slightly more runny).
The last option is probably the safest option as you can control the doneness of the eggs. This method adds a nice layer of fluffy egg to the beef mixture. You can read more about it in my Tanindon (Beef and Egg Rice Bowl) post.
2. Kansai Sukiyaki-Style Gyudon
If you’re a long-time JOC fan, you’re familiar with this image (above) and my gyudon recipe that I originally shared in 2011.
This is how my grandma and mother made their gyudon. Since they are from the Kansai area (my grandma was from Nara and moved to Osaka where my mom was raised), they cooked gyudon similar to how they made their Kansai-style sukiyaki. The signature is to sprinkle sugar on the beef while it’s still raw and cook the meat first before simmering with other seasonings.
Unlike the Kanto-style gyudon where beef and onion are simmered in dashi (Japanese soup broth), Kansai-style gyudon does not always require dashi and cook with the seasonings only, so the flavor is more intense.
Unfortunately, my grandma and mom’s gyudon is not technically the simple version of “gyudon” that people are looking for, I’ve decided to update this post with a more standard gyudon recipe.
So, if you would like to make my Gyudon recipe from 2011, or Kansai Sukiyaki-Style Gyudon, use my gyudon recipe below, but simply skip the dashi. Here are the 5 quick steps:
- Stir fry onions with a tablespoon of oil (not listed in the recipe) until tender.
- Add beef and sugar (use the same amount as specified in the recipe) and quickly stir to combine.
- Add sake, mirin, and soy sauce (again, use the same amount in the recipe) and cook until the meat is no longer pink.
- Optionally, slowly drizzle a thin stream of the beaten eggs over the beef (Do not mix the egg with the beef) and add the green onions on top. Cook covered on medium-low heat until the egg is almost set or done to your liking (but don’t overcook it).
- Serve over steamed rice, and enjoy!
Popular Japanese Rice Bowls (Donburi):
- Oyakodon (Chicken & Egg Bowl)
- Eggplant Unagi Donburi
- Chicken Katsudon (Chicken Cutlet Rice Bowl)
- Soboro Don (Ground Chicken Bowl)
- Poke Bowl
Gyudon (Japanese Beef Rice Bowl)
For the Sauce
- 2 servings cooked Japanese short-grain rice (1½ rice cooker cups (180 ml x 1.5 = 270 ml) yields roughly 2 servings (3 US cups) for donburi; see how to cook short-grain rice with a rice cooker, a pot over the stove, an Instant Pot, or a donabe)
- pickled red ginger (beni shoga or kizami beni shoga) (to garnish)
- Gather all the ingredients. I usually put the thinly sliced beef in the freezer for 10 minutes because it's a lot easier to cut semi-frozen meat.
- First, thinly slice the onion.
- Next, cut the green onions diagonally into thin slices.
- Then, take out the meat from the freezer. Cut the sliced meat into pieces 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide.
- In a large frying pan (do not turn on the heat yet), add the dashi, sake, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar. Mix to combine.
- Next, add the onion slices and spread them throughout the pan, separating the onion layers.
- Then, add the meat on top of the onions. Separate the thin slices of beef so the meat covers the onions.
- Cover the pan with a lid and start cooking over medium heat.
- When the meat is cooked, skim off the scum and fat from the broth with a fine-mesh skimmer. Turn down the heat to simmer and continue cooking, covered, for 3-4 minutes.
- Sprinkle the green onions on top and cook covered for another minute. If you like to add beaten eggs, you can add at this step (or refer to my Tanindon recipe).
- In a large donburi bowl, add the steamed rice and drizzle the remaining sauce on top.
- Put the beef and onion mixture on top. If you’d like, drizzle the remaining sauce on top. Top with the pickled red ginger. Enjoy!
- You can keep any leftover beef and egg mixture in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days, and in the freezer for up to 3-4 weeks
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on January 13, 2011. The content and images were updated and the recipe was revised on April 17, 2022.