Bulgogi is a classic Korean dish of marinated beef cooked over a hot grill. The name actually translates as “fire-meat” as it was traditionally cooked over a grill, although today it is often cooked on the stove (a cast iron skillet works great if you’re cooking inside).
Since moving to New York City nearly 20 years ago, I’ve enjoyed a lot of Korean barbecue in Manhattan. There is a particular area near Madison Square Garden in Midtown that is known as Koreatown, and West 32nd Street is the heart of it (it’s called Korea Way), with numerous restaurants lining the street. In my younger days, I often ended up there late at night to grab a bite to eat before continuing on. Now, I lead a much more sedate life (except for the sailing).
Over the last couple of years, when the weather is warm, I have been making Korean BBQ or bulgogi myself, playing with different ingredients in the marinade. I also have settled on two types of meat that I like to use, sirloin or boneless short rib, although any good prime beef cut will work. The marinade not only adds flavor, but also helps to tenderize the meat – in particular if you’re using short rib.
The traditional way of eating bulgogi is to take a piece of lettuce, add a small bit of rice, one or two pieces of beef and other garnishes, and wrap it into a tight bundle before eating it. This is also a great way to serve it at grill parties when utensils are often a luxury. Bulgogi is not only delicious, but it is also very easy to make and can be easily prepped ahead of time. Give it a try!
Korean BBQ Beef (Bulgogi)
For the Beef Marinade:
- 1 lb. boneless sirloin or beef short rib
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
- 1 Tbsp. mirin (optional)
- 1 tsp. toasted sesame seed oil
- 1 tsp. fish sauce
- 1/2 tsp. sesame seeds
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/4 cup carrots, julienne for garnish
- 2 scallions, chopped for garnish
- 3 Tbsp. roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish
- Lettuce leaves (romaine, or leafy green and red)
- Short-grained sticky rice, cooked
- Slice the beef into thin strips (about 1/8″) across the grain and place in a gallon Ziploc bag. As a tip, it is easiest to thinly slice beef when it is very cold. Sometimes I place the beef in the freezer for about 30 minutes before slicing.
- In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the marinade until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the marinade into the Ziploc bag, seal and shake well until all the beef is coated. You can let the marinated meat sit sealed in the bag for 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator to marinate as long as overnight.
- Prepare the garnishes by cutting a carrot into 2″ matchstick size pieces (julienne). Chop the scallions at an angle (it’s visually appealing), and finely chop the peanuts. Prepare the rice. Sticky rice works best in the wraps, but jasmine tastes great.
- Preheat a charcoal or gas grill on high heat. Place the thinly sliced meat on the grill (or grill pan with holes) and cook for about 1-2 minutes on one side, then flip and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.
- Serve with a bowl of rice and some lettuce or directly on lettuce wraps. If using lettuce wraps, place a small amount of rice on the lettuce, then 1-2 slices of beef, some julienned carrots, scallions and chopped peanuts. Wrap tightly and enjoy! If you like it a little spicier (I do!) just add some chili paste.