Korean Beef Bulgogi is a dish that is packed with sweet and spicy umami flavor, which is surprisingly easy to make. It is thinly sliced beef in the most delicious bulgogi marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil and other delicious flavors.
Bulgogi can be a healthier BBQ option than say a burger in a bun or a lot of creamy potato salad, but I’m not thinking it’s lacking anything! It’s still that comforting and it is super flavorful dish worthy of a huge Summer BBQ party.
Wrapping this flavorful beef in a big and fresh piece of lettuce, some comforting rice and a punchy super duper quick carrot pickle! It is often served with kimchi, which is fermented cabbage and other vegetables in a spicy marinade.
And the leftovers are perfect for this bulgogi fried rice!
How to Cut the Beef for Bulgogi
The secret to the perfect bulgogi is to thinly slice the beef. It gets super tender and cooks so quick. It’s not always easy to get that thinly sliced beef using fresh beef.
It is easier if you half-freeze the meat before slicing. Wrap in cling foil and place in the freezer for an hour. If you use smaller steaks, 20-30 minutes would be enough. So when you take it out, it is a lot firmer and easier to slice! Also remember to cut the beef against the grain, this way the beef will be more tender.
Ribeye is the most common cut of meat, but you can choose whatever you like. Also chicken works really well. I usually buy a big sirloin steak and I think that works amazingly.
The Best Beef Bulgogi Marinade and Sauce
The bulgogi marinade is so amaazing. It is really spicy, but you can make it milder if you want. The bulgogi marinade is filled with ginger, garlic, chili paste and sesame oil, among others. You really can’t go wrong with this flavor combo.
The most iconic flavor in a bulgogi marinade is the gochujang. It is a Korean fermented chili paste that has this extra level of oomph. You can find this in any Asian grocery store.
If you want it milder in flavor, it is this chili paste you need to reduce. If you don’t want it spicy at all, you can omit it, although it will lack a little of the traditional flavor of Korean beef bulgogi. Whenever I serve this with a super spicy kimchi, I reduce the amount of gochujang in this bulgogi. You can always just dollop extra gochujang on your lettuce wrap if some like it hotter than others around the dinner table.
This marinade has a lot of onion in various shapes. I love the crunch from green onion and yellow onion, so there’s plenty. Feel free to reduce it if you like. I’ve also packed it with ginger and garlic, a tiny bit of sugar for balance and a little pepper.
Marinade the beef for at least 30 minutes to tenderize and flavor the meat.
How to Tenderize the Beef
Bulgogi is traditionally tenderized using Asian pear. This is a thing that is not easy to find in grocery stores, not even always Asian grocery stores. But there are still plenty of ways to tenderize the meat. First, we cut the meat thinly, second we add a tenderizer to the marinade.
Tenderizers you may use are:
- Asian pear
- grated kiwi
- grated onion
- pineapple juice
The easiest way is to just take a little of the sliced onion and grate it to evenly distribute in the marinade. That is usually what I use, but a kiwi works great too! Because the meat is so thinly sliced, it doesn’t need much. And if you can’t find any of these and don’t want to add onion, simply leave it out, it’ll be fine without it.
The longer you marinade the more tender the meat. However, if you add something acidic like vinegar to a marinade, beef shouldn’t marinade longer than a couple of hours. Longer than that and it will make the meat tough. 30 minutes to 1 hour is perfect for this recipe.
The Best Side Dishes for Beef Bulgogi
Bulgogi is usually served with a big leafy lettuce, steamed rice and kimchi. I’m sure there are lots of different ways to style your bulgogi, but this is a winner. The kimchi is so spicy and punchy it really balances everything out.
I followed Joshua’s recipe for kimchi and thus will not provide a recipe for that today. It worked really well and tastes amazing. Now I’ve got a huuge jar of kimchi, so I need to find other ways to use it as well.
Mega Quick Carrot Pickle
I’ve always served this with a mega quick carrot pickle, just for that acidity and freshness. Kimchi takes at least four days to make, and this takes 1 hour. Of course, the longer you let it sit, the better it will be, but it is fully eatable and delicious after 1 hour.
Cut carrots into matchsticks or thinner and place in a bowl. Drizzle a generous amount of salt on top. Don’t worry, we will wash it off. Rinse them after 15 minutes, and you’ll notice the salt has taken a lot of water out of the carrots.
Mix rice wine vinegar, water and sugar together with coriander seeds, ginger and garlic. Pour over the carrots and stir to coat. Let it sit for an hour before eating, but longer is also good. Keeps well in the fridge.
The Recipe: Beef Bulgogi (Spicy Korean BBQ)
Mix all the beef marinade ingredients, except for the beef. Carefully mix in the thinly sliced beef (see above for tips) with the marinade ingredients. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Cook the beef bulgogi in small batches on high heat. Add a little neutral oil to the pan. Focus on the meat (leave the onion stuff in the bowl), it needs only a couple of minutes in the pan. Set all the cooked beef aside and reduce the heat. We can now cook the marinade; the onion and green onion and delicious sauce. This needs around 5 minutes on medium heat. Mix it with the cooked beef. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional).
Bulgogi is traditionally grilled, so you may of course grill it as well.
Serve with steamed rice and big leafy greens such as iceberg, little gem (or heart salad in Norwegian), or romaine lettuce. Also don’t forget either the mega quick pickle (see above) or kimchi!
Take one large leafy green, add 3-ish tbsp of steamed rice, top with beef bulgogi, kimchi or pickled carrots, sesame seeds and the green parts of the green onion. Enjoy as a wonderful lettuce wrap! And as I mentioned earlier, if you find you have any leftovers, they are perfect as a bulgogi fried rice.
Other Spicy Recipes
- Chicken Shawarma
- Jamaican Jerk Chicken Quinoa Bowl
- Curry Coconut Chicken Satay with Mango Cucumber Salad
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