Korean beef bulgogi is one of Korea’s beloved dishes that is guaranteed to be your favorite! Learn how to make this dish with everyday ingredients.
- What is bulgogi 불고기?
- Ingredients in bulgogi marinade
- Why is there Korean/Asian pear in the bulgogi marinade?
- Why I like to use apple sauce in the marinade:
- How to make bulgogi
- How to cook bulgogi
- Storage and reheating instruction
- Expert Tips
- How and what to serve
- For vegetarian and vegan
- Korean Beef Bulgogi (without pear)
What is bulgogi 불고기?
What does bulgogi mean?
A direct translation of bulgogi is fire-meat. “Bul 불” means fire and “Gogi 고기” means meat in Korean. It is pronounced, “Bool-go-gee". So any meat dishes that are cooked on fire are technically bulgogi.
Different types of bulgogi
People often think of bulgogi as a soy-marinated beef dish. But there are many different types of bulgogi. The most well-known bulgogi is the dish that I’m sharing with you today.
Other popular bulgogi dishes are pork bulgogi and chicken bulgogi. They often are gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) based marinade sauce and tend to be spicy.
There are 3 main components to the dish. They are beef, vegetables, and marinade.
Traditionally Koreans use thinly sliced ribeye to make beef bulgogi. You can easily find them at Korean grocery stores with the label "Bulgogi Beef."
You can also find sliced ribeye at Costco and regular grocery stores. Look out for meat with a "cheesesteak" cut or "sliced ribeye/New York" label.
Other options are using flank steak and sirloin steak. Because they have less marbling, they tend to be tougher. If you are using flank steak or sirloin steak, you can slice them yourself and adjust the marinating time.
Depending on the style of cooking method, you can choose different vegetables to cook with.
The vegetables that I like to add are:
- Green onions
- Mushrooms (button, cremini, shiitake, enoki, king oyster, oyster, etc)
The addition of vegetables is not the critical component of the dish so you can easily customize it to fit your taste.
This in my opinion is the star of the dish. There is something magical about the sauce that gives bulgogi its signature flavor - sweet, salty, and packed with umami!
Ingredients in bulgogi marinade
There are 4 main components to make the bulgogi sauce/marinade.
Soy sauce is the main ingredient in the marinade and this is where the saltiness is coming from. You may use the low-sodium kind.
One of the pronounced flavors of this dish is sweetness. The use of brown sugar and the choice of your meat tenderizer (often fruit) provides the sweetness of the dish.
I think the robust garlic flavor paired with sesame oil in bulgogi sauce is what makes it so flavorful. To fortify the onion flavor, I’m using minced green onion with a dash of black pepper.
4. Meat tenderizer
Traditionally, Korean bulgogi marinade calls for Korean/Asian pear. The enzyme in the pear helps tenderize the meat as well as enhances the sweetness of the dish. Because pear is a very common ingredient in Korea, it makes sense to use them in the marinade.
But it is perfectly acceptable to use different types of fruit or tenderizers such as:
- Apple such as fuji, gala, golden delicious, and honey crisp
- Korean green plum syrup (also known as 매실청)
Why is there Korean/Asian pear in the bulgogi marinade?
There are 3 reasons why Korean uses Asian pear in the marinade.
- To tenderize the meat. The enzyme in the pear helps tenderize the beef.
- Add sweetness to the meat. Korean/Asian pear tends to be a lot sweeter than American pear. The sweetness enhances the flavor of the dish.
- To promote caramelization.
So do we have to use Korean/Asian pear in the marinade? The answer is NO! My choice of tenderizer is apple. Specifically, applesauce!
Why I like to use apple sauce in the marinade:
There are 4 reasons why I like to use apple sauce:
- Cooked apples tend to have a milder acidic flavor
- The cooking process of applesauce breaks down the fiber in the fruit. So applesauce incorporate into the marinade better
- You can always find them at the store
- They are a lot cheaper than pears and sometimes fresh apples.
When buying applesauce, make sure to buy the plain kind. Do NOT use the applesauce with cinnamon or other fruits incorporated into it. Those will change the flavor of your bulgogi.
If you wish to use fresh apples, blend your apple with soy sauce to make your marinade more smooth. A great choice of apple for this marinade is fuji, honey crisp, gala, and golden delicious. Granny Smith is too tart and it is not the best type to use in this recipe.
How to make bulgogi
There are only 4 steps to making delicious bulgogi.
- Make the marinade.
2. Marinate your beef depending on the cuts and the thickness of the beef.
3. Cook the bulgogi. Add vegetables of your choice to bulk up the dish. Cook until the vegetables are just wilted.
4. Enjoy! Garnish with sesame seeds are always a nice touch!
How to cook bulgogi
There are two different ways to cook bulgogi - the stovetop method and the grill method.
This is the method I use the most only because I don’t currently have a grill. Although there is nothing that beats the char flavor from the grill, the stovetop method is easy and quick.
If you like to have some sauce on your bulgogi, you may cook all the meat at once and it will create juice from the marinade as you cook them. You can finish the dish with fresh vegetables of your choice.
If you like your meat to develop more caramelization, you can cook the meat in batches and skip the vegetables. Vegetables will create moisture as it cooks and prevent your meat from developing a nice sear.
This method will bring out the best flavor. You don’t need to cook them for long at all. 2 to 3 minutes on each side will be more than enough to cook the meat. I recommend using a grill basket to cook the meat.
Storage and reheating instruction
You can store cooked bulgogi in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. You can reheat it in the microwave or skillet with a little bit of oil.
Uncooked beef bulgogi freezes beautifully in the freezer. You can transfer uncooked bulgogi to a freezer-safe bag and store it for up to 2 months in the freezer. Just make sure to squeeze out all the air to prevent any freezer burn. You can safely thaw the frozen bulgogi in the refrigerator and cook it as you normally would.
- Buy the sliced meat (at a Korean grocery store, Costco, buy Philly cheesesteak meat). It is a lot easier to cut the sliced beef into bite-size rather than slicing the beef yourself.
- If you were to slice them yourself, place the meat in the freezer for 20 minutes before slicing. Also, make sure to cut your meat against the grain.
- Adjust the marination time depending on the cuts of meat being used. If you are using very thinly sliced ribeye, you don’t need to marinate them overnight. However, if you are using slightly thick flank steak, I recommend marinating overnight so the meat can be tender and juicy.
- Marinated bulgogi freezes well. Place the marinated bulgogi in a freezer-safe bag and squeeze out as much air as possible (to prevent freezer burn) and store them for up to 2 months. Simply thaw them in the fridge and cook the meat according to your preferred method.
How and what to serve
Traditionally, we serve bulgogi with a bowl of rice and other side dishes 반찬. It is common to enjoy bulgogi in lettuce wrap style “Sam 쌈” style.
Both Bulgogi and Kalbi are popular Korean BBQ dishes. Korean BBQ is often described as cooking marinated meat over a hot grill. You can experience cooking your own meat at a table in many Korean BBQ restaurants.
Beef bulgogi is thinly sliced beef in soy sauce-based marinade. And Kalbi has a similar marinade but uses short ribs. In fact, kalbi 갈비 means rib in Korean.
Thinly sliced ribeye is used in bulgogi. But you can use flank steak, sirloin steak, and/or New York strip steak to make bulgogi. Make sure to slice the meat thinly and adjust the marination time to make the meat more tender and juicy.
The answer is NO. You can use apple, pineapple, kiwi, Korean plum syrup (매실청), mirin, and cola in place of pear.
The marination time depends on the cuts and thickness of the meat you are using. If you are using thinly sliced ribeye, you can get away with quick marination (any time between 30 minutes to an hour). However, if you are using thicker cuts of flank steak or sirloin steak, I recommend marinating your meat overnight in the fridge.
There are many different types of bulgogi. The beef bulgogi is usually soy sauce-based marinade so they are NOT spicy. But bulgogi with gochujang (Korean pepper paste) based marinade that's used for making pork bulgogi or chicken bulgogi can be spicy.
For vegetarian and vegan
If you are vegetarian or vegan but love to try bulgogi, here are some recipes that you can try!
Korean Beef Bulgogi (without pear)
Korean Beef bulgogi (Korean BBQ beef) is easy to make. Enjoy this sweet soy-marinated beef dish with everyday ingredients at home!
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Main
- Method: Pan frying
- Cuisine: Korean
- 1 pound sliced beef (ribeye, sirloin, flank, or New York strip steak, thinly sliced against its grain), cut into large bite-size (about 2 to 3-inch pieces)
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened plain applesauce
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 to 3 tablespoons brown sugar, depending on how sweet you like the meat to be
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced/minced
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ⅛ large onion, sliced
- 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
- 2 green onions, sliced at a biased angle
- Cooked rice and other side dishes, for serving
- Cut your meat to be large bite-size pieces, about 2 to 3- inch pieces. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix together applesauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, minced garlic, minced green onions, sesame oil, and black pepper.
- Add the sliced beef. Mix well until all the meat is coated with the marinade. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes up to 24 hours.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add a little bit of oil. Add the marinated beef. Cook until most beef is cooked.
- Add the sliced onion, carrot, and green onion. Cook until the vegetables are heated through.
- Serve with cooked rice and other side dishes of your choice.
- I recommend buying the sliced meat but if you were to slice them yourself, place the meat in the freezer for 20 minutes before slicing. Slice the meat against the grain.
- Adjust the marination time depending on the cuts of meat and the thickness of the meat. Very thin sliced ribeye won't need to be marinated long but if you sliced sirloin yourself, marinate the meat overnight to tenderize the meat.
- If you like your bulgogi to be saucy, cook all the meat at once in a pan. But if you like more caramelization on the meat, cook the meat in batches and omit to add the vegetables. You can also cook this on a grill. Cooking them for 2 minutes per side is more than enough time. Since they are sliced meat, I recommend using a grilled basket to cook the meat on the grill.
- The Prep Time does NOT include marination time since it can vary depending on the cuts of meat and the thickness of the meat.
Keywords: Korean Beef Bulgogi