Everybody loves Korean Beef Bulgogi. A sizzling plate of this Korean classic deserves a regular place in your dinner rotation!
There’s a reason why everyone loves Korean Beef Bulgogi. Fast, tasty, and on the table in less than 30 minutes. You’ll be wondering why you never made it before.
Like all good Korean immigrants, I grew up loving and eating this iconic dish. Korean Beef Bulgogi was a staple at barbecues and a special treat for weeknight dinner. Now my kids love it just as much as I do. As a bonus, leftovers taste great for school lunch the next day. (I put bulgogi in a thermos over rice, sometimes with a fried egg on top.)
What is Bulgogi?
Bulgogi is the catch-all Korean term for any meat that’s cooked over a flame, Korean BBQ style. Bulgogi literally translates into, “Fire Meat.”
There are many different kinds of Bulgogi. I love them all! Some of my favorites:
The common factor for all Bulgogi: thin cut meat + marinade, cooked over high heat.
Sometimes, people confuse Bulgogi with Galbi. They are both Korean meat dishes. But they are NOT the same!
Galbi means “rib” in Korean. Galbi refers to mean that’s attached to a bone. LA Galbi is the most iconic Korean Galbi and eaten BBQ style. But there’s also the family of braised Galbi dishes: Galbi Jjim [Beef Short Ribs] and Spicy Galbi Jjim [Babyback Pork Ribs].
Galbi takes longer to cook and it’s more rich and indulgent. A holiday dish, you could say.
By contrast, Bulgogi is much faster to cook and very weeknight friendly — because of the thin cut meat.
How do I cook Bulgogi?
Bulgogi is cooked over high heat. It doesn’t really matter how you cook it, as long as it’s hot!
I’ve seen Bulgogi cooked in a variety of ways:
- Seared in a wok, skillet, or cast iron pan
- Broiled in the oven, on a sheet pan
- Sizzled in a special grill pan over a butane burner in the middle of the table
- Grilled on a gas or charcoal grill
For this recipe, I recommend a cast iron skillet. But a wok also works. Just make sure your pan is hot for those smoky, charred little bits!
Also, Korean Beef Bulgogi is not a dry meat dish. As you cook, the meat will release its juices. Save those juices and scrape into your serving platter. There’s nothing so good as bulgogi juice spooned on top of rice!
How do I eat Korean Beef Bulgogi?
For a simple meal, Korean Beef Bulgogi can be enjoyed Korean BBQ style with lettuce wraps, rice, kimchi, and Ssamjang. That’s a classic way to enjoy this iconic dish.
Or serve with rice and plain, steamed vegetables. That combination was my kids’ favorite when they were younger.
But Korean Beef Bulgogi is a staple that can be found in so many dishes! I’ve eaten Korean Beef Bulgogi wrapped up in Gimbap, Onigirazu, or even burritos. Or mixed into Bibimbop or Japchae. Or eaten on top of tator tots with kimchi and Cheez Whiz or stuffed into Bahn Mis. Be as creative as you dare!
What kind of meat should I use for Korean Beef Bulgogi?
I’ve made Korean Beef Bulgogi with just about every cut of beef. But for this recipe, I suggest thinly sliced rib eye.
Thinly sliced rib eye is weeknight friendly because it takes very little time to marinate. Also, it cooks up fast!
Most Asian grocers carry this cut of meat, either in the refrigerated section or the freezer section. If there’s only frozen rib eye available (the kind used for hot pot), then defrost overnight before using.
What’s in the marinade?
The marinade ingredients are staples in my Korean American Pantry: onion, garlic, sugar, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, green onions.
Simply whiz in your food processor until it looks like baby puree. Or grate with a box grater. This is the classic Korean way of marinating meat.
Note: I do not add Asian pear to my beef bulgogi marinade. Many Korean home cooks add Asian pear as a tenderizing and/or sweetening agent but the thin slices of rib eye don’t require it, in my opinion. For galbi and other Korean dishes, yes — I always add Asian pear. But for this recipe, I don’t think it’s necessary.
How to Make Korean Beef Bulgogi:
In a food processor, whizz onion, garlic, and ginger until pureed. (Alternately, you can grate the onion and mince the garlic and ginger.)
Scrape into a bowl and add sliced onion, green onion, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
Add thinly sliced beef. Mix well. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
Get the cast iron pan ready. I use a 12-inch, well seasoned, cast iron pan. Heat until smoking. Add 1 Tbsp oil and swirl around. Add bulgogi in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. When the edges are brown and crispy looking, flip and finish cooking.
- 1 lb thinly sliced beef rib eye
In the food processor:
- 1/2 onion cut into chunks
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/2 inch ginger peeled and cut into chunks
In the prep bowl:
- 1/2 onion sliced thinly
- 2 green onions chopped
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (not the low sodium kind)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp Mirin or rice wine
- 1 Tbsp sesame seed oil
- 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
- In a food processor, combine 1/2 onion cut into chunks, garlic, and ginger. Whizz until pureed. You may have to scrape the bowl down several times during the process. (Alternately, you can grate the onion and mince the garlic and ginger.) Scrape into a large bowl.
- Add 1/2 onion (thinly sliced), green onions, soy sauce, sugar, Mirin or rice wine, sesame seed oil, and sesame seeds. Mix with a spoon until combined.
- Add beef and mix well with hands. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Heat a well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When the cast iron is hot, add 1 Tbsp neutral oil and swirl around in the pan. The oil should be smoking. Add bulgogi in one layer, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. When the bulgogi looks brown and crispy on the edges, flip and finish cooking. Transfer to a serving plate and cover loosely with aluminum foil. This should take 2-3 minutes per side.
- Keep cooking the bulgogi in batches. Do not touch or disturb the meat while it cooks; this will ensure caramelized bits. In between batches, scrape down the skillet with a metal spatula to remove leftover marinade, and add an additional 1 Tbsp neutral oil.
- Garnish bulgogi with additional green onion and sesame seeds. Serve with lettuce wraps, rice, and kimchi for a complete meal. Ssam sauce is also a nice addition.