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Bulgogi- Korean barbeque demystified

Ever since my first Korean all-you-can-eat-barbeque experience in high school, I’ve been hooked to Korean food. The tender juicy beef, grilled on a hot iron skillet, alongside with grilled onions and garlic and a side of mouthwatering kimchi… just the thought gets me ecstatically mesmerized.  But because bulgogi or Korean bbq beef tends to run expensively in restaurants, I had to have an alternative plan if I was addicted. So I first experimented with making bulgogi in my year off working in Beijing, and it was a raging success. It was one of the dishes I served for a homemade Valentines’ dinner with my then boyfriend now fiance, Y. If you ask him, it might even be one of the reasons that he was convinced I was the “it” girl. Chuckles.

When I tell people that I marinade my own bulgogi instead of buying a pre-made sauce, their jaws drop in disbelief, as if I said an outraging thing. But in truth, it is incredibly simple to make your own marinade, and have it taste restaurant quality. The key ingredient is Korean pear. Bulgogi’s mildly sweet flavor comes not from brown sugar alone, but also Korean pears that they put into the marinade. I know…fruit in a meat marinade?! But, trust me on this one. It WILL turn out incredible.

Another key is to slice the beef as thinly as you can. I mostly buy pre-cut hotpot thin beef slices, just because my knife skills (and knife) are still lacking. The meat will absorb the flavor much better if the cut is thin. Lastly, using a case iron pan gives it the closest flavor to the real thing since cast iron skillets can heat up very fast and very very hot, so the high temperature locks the marinade into the meat and gives it a smoky kick. Now without further adieu, here’s yours truly homemade bulgogi!

Korean bulbogi

Korean Bulgogi

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print


  • 2 packs of pre-cut thin beef sirloin slices
  • 1/3 cup light soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce (to give it the brown glaze)
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 Korean pear, diced into small pieces
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 2 stalk of green onions, sliced

Make the marinade in a mixing bowl by adding all ingredients except for beef together. Place beef in marinade and refrigerate overnight.

Next morning, heat up oil on medium-high in a cast iron skillet until simmering. Lay out the beef slices on the pan. Try not to get too much marinade dripping into the pan. Grill each side for 1-2 minutes and then stir fry the contents until beef is well cooked and onions are slightly smoked.

Serve with sesame seed sprinkled on top.


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