Thinly sliced beef simmered with tender onions, savory-sweet sauce, and egg, Gyudon is synonymous with comfort. It has been a staple in Japanese cuisine for over 150 years! This is how my grandma and my mom made their Gyudon.
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, egg, and sweet and savory sauce served over a hot bed of 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.
In Japan, gyudon is occasionally served with a raw egg yolk or a poached egg (Onsen Tamago) placed in the center of the simmered beef. Breaking the yolk and mixing it into the beef and onions adds a layer of richness to this meal that simply can’t be beat. Since raw eggs are not recommended for consumption in the U.S., I suggest going with the Onsen Tamago recipe for a safe option.
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 (The main difference is the use of dashi).
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 this cut at Japanese supermarkets.
- Onion: Sliced onion is the first thing to enter the pan and cooked until soft. It’s a perfect pair with the tender beef.
- Sauce: Added soon after onion, the sauce is a complementary balance of sweet and savory, made with soy sauce, sugar, mirin, and sake. So simple and highly effective in creating robust flavor!
- Egg: My gyudon recipe is similar to my mom’s where we add beaten eggs to the pan just before serving. Rather than having a whole egg sit on top of the meat, this method adds a nice layer of fluffy egg integrated with the beef mixture.
How to Make Kansai-Style Gyudon
This gyudon recipe is based on 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 Ksansai-style sukiyaki. The signature is to sprinkle sugar on beef while it’s still raw and cook the meat first before simmering with other seasonings.
Here are the 5 quick steps:
- Stir fry onion slices until tender – the onion releases moisture and sweetness.
- Add beef and sugar and cook until no longer pink.
- Season the beef and onion with condiments and simmer.
- Optionally, you can add egg and cook until no longer runny.
- Serve over steamed rice, and enjoy!
For the Kanto-style gyudon like Yoshinoya beef bowl, click here for the recipe.
Tips to Make Delicious Gyudon
- Cook the onion until tender – When the onion is cooked, it gives a natural sweetness to the dish. Don’t add the beef until the onion is tender.
- Check the flavor after you add all the seasonings – The egg will dilute the flavor a bit, so you may want to add more seasonings if you prefer a stronger taste.
- Remove the frying pan from the heat when the egg is no longer runny -Remaining heat will continue to cook, so don’t overcook the egg.
Other Popular Japanese Rice Bowls (Donburi) You’ll Enjoy:
- Oyakodon (Chicken & Egg Bowl)
- Eggplant Unagi Donburi
- Chicken Katsudon (Chicken Cutlet Rice Bowl)
- Soboro Don (Ground Chicken Bowl)
- Poke Bowl
Gyudon (Japanese Beef Bowl)
For the Sauce
- 3 servings cooked Japanese short-grain rice (1½ rice cooker cups (180 ml x 1.5 = 270 ml) yields roughly 3 servings (3 US cups); 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.
- Thinly slice the onions, cut the green onions into thin slices (save for garnish), and cut the sliced meat into 3-inch (7.6 cm) long pieces.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook the onions until tender, about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the meat and sugar to the pan and cook until the meat is no longer pink.
- Add the sake, mirin, and soy sauce.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes.
- If you would like to add the egg, slowly drizzle the beaten egg over the beef. Cook covered on medium-low heat until the egg is done to your liking (don't overcook it). Usually, gyudon in Japan is served while the egg is almost set but still runny. Remove from the heat.
- In a large donburi bowl, add the steamed rice and put the beef and egg mixture on top. If you’d like, drizzle the remaining sauce on top. Top with the sliced green onion and 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 images were updated in August 2012 and the new content was added in January 2021.