Bulgogi – traditional Korean bbq beef, our authentic home recipe!

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Finally.

Here it is.

What so many of you have requested and been waiting for.

Mother’s bulgogi (Korean bbq beef) recipe.

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Let me tell you something about my mother’s cooking. There is no binder of recipes, no handwritten notations, no secret stash of recipe cards like some of your mothers have so thoughtfully kept and which you hope to one day inherit. No, all of my mother’s recipes are stored in the sometimes useless gelatinous mess inside her skull (and of course, I say that in THE most loving way possible, despite her penchant for putting the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the pantry, and filling the half-empty SUGAR tub with SALT, ARGH!), the same way my grandmother’s were, both women taught by standing by their mother’s side and learning to hone their instincts, not through weights and measures, but through colour, sight, touch, smell and taste.

Despite my mother attempting to teach me in this manner, my love of purchasing cookbooks and baking have meant that as I’ve grown up, my cooking method has varied greatly from hers. While I have some of her instincts and can eyeball some of my ingredients fairly decently, I am still desperately in love with my measuring spoons, cups and kitchen scales and cannot bear giving them up.

What this means is that mother and I often butt heads when I’m trying to take down a recipe of hers, from her insisting that ‘halmoni’ (grandmother) would be rolling around in her grave at my determination to measure everything to my telling her that her sheer refusal to measure is the reason that dish X/Y/Z turned out utterly bizarrely. To be honest, to her credit, though she rarely measures anything, there is an astonishing accuracy to her cooking, and any different outcomes are 99% due to forgetting or not having an ingredient, and trying to substitute something else in it’s place.

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The bulgogi recipe was something I mastered fairly early on in my cooking journey – it’s extremely easy and straight-forward, and you can marinate batches of this and leave them in the fridge or freezer to be defrosted and cooked for a quick meal later, but despite the ease of this recipe, it took awhile for me to get right (according to my mother) as she outright refused to give me measurements, instead getting me to slowly mix in one ingredient at a time, tasting along each stage and seeing how each addition built upon the flavour. As I got the hang of it, I understood why my mother insisted upon teaching me in this manner.

Nothing is ever the same.

Though the ingredients rarely vary, the produce itself does. For example, one time we may buy an extremely sweet Nashi/Asian pear, but the next time we make it, the pear we’ve bought may turn out to be more watery than sweet. The meat can vary in thickness, depending on which butcher we’ve purchased from, and though we usually use the same brand of soy sauce, there have been a few occasions where we’ve been caught out with a different brand that has a different level of pungency and saltiness to our regular variety.

It is for all these reasons that my mother cooks the way she does, and why she values her own kitchen intuition above any kitchen implement that they can create.

However, since the techno-whizzes have yet to create computers that engage any senses other than sight, I’ve taken the liberty of writing down the basics of our recipe for your ease of use. Just remember that, like most marinates, it’s best to taste the marinade along the way, tweaking it to suit your tastebuds so you end up with a final product that is perfect for you!

I can’t stress this enough, PLEASE don’t buy those atrocious ‘Korean bbq marinade’ bottles they sell, that sh*t is disgusting and to be honest, putting in the work to make it yourself will result in a FAR more pleasing product. Just be warned that when you are making it yourself, doing things like replacing the ingredients or using utterly foreign additions (for example, I’ve seen one bulgogi recipe that involved SHERRY. You have GOT to be kidding me, my grandmother would start spinning in her grave if she saw that – and I’d bloody well like to hear a native F-O-B Korean SAY sherry, let alone use it!) will result in a completely different end product.

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(Bulgogi – Korean BBQ beef)

Ingredients (to marinate 1kg beef)
1kg thinly sliced beef sirloin (sliced to about 2-3mm thick) *
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium-sized brown onion, peeled
1 nashi/Asian pear, peeled
1 sweet apple, such as fuji, grated
2/3 cup Korean soy sauce (‘kanjang’), but you can substitute it with Japanese tamari soy or Chinese light soy sauce in a pinch
2 tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
2-4 tbsp caster sugar (this will depend on the sweetness of your pear)
2 spring onions, washed and finely sliced
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

* – Most Asian butchers will be able to slice the beef for you if you let them know. If not, then the way to do it yourself is to half freeze it so that the piece of beef is almost solid through, then use a sharp kitchen knife to slice pieces, about 2-3mm thick, against the grain. If the beef thaws and becomes soft and hard to slice during this process, just pop it back in the freezer to firm up for an hour or two before continuing.

1. Use your hands to squeeze the juice from the apple over the sliced beef and set aside. Using an extremely fine grater, turn the onion and pear into pulp (alternatively, you can just blend till liquid but this makes the marinade a bit watery), then mix together with the soy sauce and crushed garlic, then taste for sweetness. If it’s not quite sweet enough for your tastes, add all the sugar, but if it’s close, just add 1-2 tbsp of sugar, mix and taste again.

2. Add the sliced meat to the bowl, then pour the marinade over the top, then add the sesame seed oil, sliced spring onion and cracked pepper and massage all the marinade into the meat for about 1-2 minutes, making sure none of the slices of beef are stuck together and that the marinade has been distributed evenly throughout.

3. Pour into an airtight container and store in the fridge for at least a few hours, ideally overnight, and cook over a griddle or in an unoiled non-stick frying pan – the reason for that is that the pan juices are extremely tasty, and can be very nice poured over your bowl of rice!

Though the common translation of this is ‘Korean bbq beef’, a direct translation of the name is actually ‘fire meat’. It really should not be cooked over a traditional Western bbq as the meat is sliced so thin that you’ll lose a lot of it through the grill! Instead, if your bbq has a flat plate then use that or a flat griddle pan, or just use your frying pan in a pinch!

Serving Information

While this is quite tasty, it’s not exactly a dish that you eat on it’s own – it should be served (at the very least) with a bowl of rice and an assortment of kimchi and other banchan.

Bulgogi is extremely tasty to serve cooked together with other ingredients – some of our favourite veggies to add to the pan when cooking bulgogi are enoki mushrooms (about 1-2 bunches with the roots trimmed, washed and patted dry), (mung) bean shoots, grated carrot or baby bok choy, briefly blanched and drained.

Another great addition is some ‘dang myun‘, or cellophane noodles made with sweet potato flour (very different in taste and texture to regular Chinese cellophane noodles), which can be boiled, rinsed under cold water, drained and added to the pan when cooking the bulgogi, they will absorb the pan juices and become delicious!

The final way that bulgogi can be enjoyed is in the Korean ‘ssam’ style – as a lettuce leaf wrap. Take a few crisp lettuce leaves, washed and spun dry, then place a spoonful of rice in the middle, a piece of bulgogi, ‘ssam jang‘ (a fermented soybean/chilli paste specially made for this style of eating) and a few banchan, then wrap up and enjoy! If you can be bothered, grilled garlic cloves taste GREAT in this combination, so if you’ve got a grill pan, peel a few cloves, pop them on and leave to cook through before adding them to the spread!


Others who have tried this recipe:

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing! I’ve made this a couple of times now – it’s definitely worth the effort. Once was for a dinner party and everyone enjoyed it. There were A LOT of pan juices both times I made it. The beef cooked, but it didn’t really brown. Is that normal? I cooked it in a wok.

  2. Hey that seems to be a very legit bulgolgi recipe and I love your description on the bottled stuff they sell around markets (although I have tried one bottled kalbi marinade and it was pretty darn good, had real pear in it).

    I had a question, what if you can’t find a korean pear? Those only seem to appear here in SoCal like… seasonally and very randomly.

    By the way I linked your blog to my food blog and I was wondering if you can do the same, thanks!

  3. Hi Ellie, I would like to try out your recipe, but can you please tell me what I do with the apple pulp once I’ve squeezed the juice from it? Thanks. PS think you have a great blog can’t wait for you to post more new recipes.

  4. @Anna – How much the dish browns does depend somewhat on the soy sauce that you are using, but it doesn’t affect the overall dish much! As for the pan juice, one of our favourite ways to enjoy it is to mix some rice and kimchi into it and just spoon it up! After all, it’d be a shame to let all that delicious pan juice go to waste :)

    @Clifton Su – Thanks for the compliment :) If you can’t locate a nashi / Korean / Asian pear, then you’re best bet would be to substitute it with a Fuji apple…or, if you cannot get one of those either, add another onion and a little more sugar to make up for it. It will alter the flavour a bit, but not too much :)

    @Lochy – Thanks hon :) The apple pulp serves no real purpose, you can’t add it to the dish as the solids will burn quickly when you’re cooking the meat. Personally, I pop it in the fridge and blitz it into a smoothie or stir it into bircher muesli the following morning to make sure it doesn’t go to waste :)

  5. I used this recipe for my English speaking test. I don’t konw whether I did well or not, but it’s obvious that your recipe helped me a lot. Thanks.

  6. Thank you for a great recipe! I have wanted to learn how to make this for years.

  7. Adeline says:

    Love the blog. Great job. I know exactly what you mean about the mom’s measuring, my mom is the exact same way. She would put out her little hand, show me with the other about how much, and give the gutteral “maybe about thiiiis much”. Not exact by any means, but certainly makes me appreciate it when she makes it since mine never comes out the same way as hers.

  8. Juyeon – Thanks hon, I’m glad you found the recipe useful :)

    Melany – My pleasure! I hope you enjoy it as much as my family does :)

    Adeline – LOL! Glad I’m not the only one who suffers with this :) Perhaps it’s a generational thing? I agree that it’s amazing that our mothers can get the flavours consistently right again and again without the dependence on written recipes and measuring utensils :)

  9. Ian aka filoguy2010 says:

    Annyeong haseyo! hehe (Eventhough I’m not Korean)…
    Wow, your bulgogi looks delicious! I reckon I would love to try out your recipe if I can get a chance to. I’m from Australia too. I love korean foods especially tteokbokki which I’ve made some last year and I also enjoyed korean bbq too. I also eat home-made instant noodles like Dosirac, Samyang’s Beef Ramen and other foods… Then I am not allow to eat korean ice-creams or any ice-cream brands because of my health problems or something like that (eventhough I had a fatty liver so I should be careful with the foods, I should’ve eat more lower cholesterols too)…

    Anyways, I want to make beef bulgogi one day! =)

  10. Ian – best of luck with the health issues, I hope you get a chance to try this recipe soon :)

  11. Wow Ellie, I stumbled upon your web site looking for a traditional bulgogi recipe!

    I’m a 22 year old Korean-born girl that was adopted by American parents at the age of 3 months. Lucky for me, I had parents that were well traveled/cultured and had been to Korea before.

    They always tried to make me authentic food as a treat when I was a kid. So now I’m bringing nostalgia to the table tonight. Thanks for the wonderful recipe!

  12. @Miso – My pleasure :) I hope you enjoyed this recipe as much as my family does!

  13. Hi Ellie, I’ve been looking for a bulgogi recipe and i would like to use this for our breakfast special next week (although it may not be traditional to serve this for breakfast). Since I have used beef two week ago, would this recipe be great with pork loin? Thanks…

  14. Hi Ellie,

    Wish me luck. This is my first time to make Bulgogi. I love traditional and family recipes. I blitzed the apples and pears though but ran the mish-mash through a sieve which gave me a bit of juice. They’re in the fridge now and marinating overnight. I’ll update you with how it turns out. Thanks for the recipe! :lol:
    Ziggy recently posted..How to make Miso in Filipino and confuse yourself altogether

  15. Hi Ellie,

    Just to give you an update. (My goodness why do I feel obliged!) My bulgogi was good but it failed to pass the sweetness level. I should have added more brown sugar. I tasted the pears, they’re sweet but I think not sweet enough to sweeten the beef. We went to a Korean restaurant last night here in Melbourne and I ordered bulgogi which confirmed that yes, mine needed much more sweetness.

    I’m onto your Kimchi Jigae now. LOL. I am getting addicted to Korean food.
    Ziggy recently posted..On Filipino Street Food – Where did the first Filipino barbecue originate

    • Ahh, that’s a definite point! We generally find that the pears are sweet enough, but on occasion when they’re more watery than sweet, then it is a good idea to add more sugar :)

  16. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but I made this, literally to the letter, and it turned out so bitter tasting that I could not serve it. I went to a large Asian grocer to get all the ingredients you suggested and it just didn’t work. I also wish I would have cooked it over a flame because even though I drained the meat for a good while after marinating, cooking it on a very hot cast iron griddle basically steamed it in its juices and left an impossible-to-clean mess behind.

    I know you are a talented cook so perhaps I did something wrong and maybe you could help me. It tasted sort of good at first bite but then after swallowing, there was a very strong, bitter aftertaste. Are there any of the ingredients that could cause this?

    Again, I’m know you are an accomplished cook so any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Jennie,

      I’m a little confused as there is literally not a single “bitter” ingredient in the marinade which would impart this in the flavour.

      1kg thinly sliced beef sirloin (sliced to about 2-3mm thick) *
      5 cloves garlic, crushed
      1 medium-sized brown onion, peeled
      1 nashi/Asian pear, peeled
      1 sweet apple, such as fuji, grated
      2/3 cup Korean soy sauce (‘kanjang’), but you can substitute it with Japanese tamari soy or Chinese light soy sauce in a pinch
      2 tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
      2-4 tbsp caster sugar (this will depend on the sweetness of your pear)
      2 spring onions, washed and finely sliced
      Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

      I know your comment says you followed the recipe to the letter but something has gone wrong here if you’re sensing any bitterness at all – the only two flavours you should taste in the marinade are sweet and salty. Also, your comment re “impossible-to-clean” mess is a little concerning. Yes, a lot of juice comes out when you cook this in a frying pan of any type but Koreans typically love that juice and even mix it into our rice. If there was an “impossible-to-clean” mess then again I’m afraid something is going wrong at your end. Unfortunately I can’t observe exactly what ingredients you used or your technique but as this is a recipe we’ve been making almost weekly for as long as I remember, I promise you that the recipe has no issues.

    • Yes, this reply is three years late…

      I have not tried this recipe yet (looking forward to it!), but I have some ideas on what may have gone wrong for Jennie way back when.

      Every so often, I get a bad bulb of garlic. The cloves will look a little odd and smell fine when raw, but then they smell horrible when cooked. I think it comes from garlic being cut too high so that the cloves aren’t protected. If you taste bad, cooked garlic, it can be nasty and a little bitter.

      She could have gotten a much stronger onion or the wrong variety.

      If her meat ended up steaming, perhaps the heat on the pan was much too low.

  17. Wow this is an awesome site! Love Korean food but never tried cooking it before. My husband loves this bulgogi recipe almost as much as I do. It’s been a great way to introduce him to the not-so-spicy side of Korean food. I prefer the spicy though and I’m wondering if U have a recipe for “ossam bulgogi”. I’m not pretending to know how to spell it, but it’s made with pork and some kind of seafood (squid?). Anyway I absolutely love it but since I no longer have access to Korean food I hope U might be able to suggest a recipe. I don’t think it’s a traditional dish so no worries if U can’t.

    Thanks again for a superb site.

    • I’m so glad to hear that you and your husband have been enjoying this recipe! Ossam bulgogi isn’t one that I’m familiar with but I’ll ask my mother about it and see what we can do :)

      • Hiya, had to reply as I love Ossam Bulgogi. Oh = Ohjingo (squid), Sam = samgyupsal (pork belly I think in English?). Cooked liked regular bulgogi except with a spicy sauce. It’s delicious, would love to see a recipe here!

  18. Your recipe really helps me in preparing bulgogi for my husband. He likes this dish right after we tasted in local Korean restaurant. I find Korean dishes are so nutritious and delicious. Do you have any other easy-to-prepare recipe which help a new housewife like me?

    • Hi Lois,

      Your best bet might be to look around my archives and see what I have listed – I could make a few recommendations but I’m not sure about what your tastes are like or how comfortable you are with Korean cooking so the best judge would be yourself :)

      Cheers,
      Ellie

  19. first of all, thankyou for sharing a family recipe!! i never knew that bulgogi uses nashi pear (i’ve tried homemade kimchi with nashi pear but not bulgogi) – will definitely try this recipe soon!

    and totally agree on that whole buying instant marinades- making your own marinade is much much better. again, thanks for sharing ellie! :)
    Fanny recently posted..Quickie : Tomatoes!

  20. I LOVE ;-) bulgogi. I’ve not seen a recipe with the apple and pear and look forward to using that. Otherwise, this is pretty much how I make it, and it is yummy!!

  21. @falloutkee here http://t.co/LIwlEORG

  22. This recipe is pretty darn close to what I had when I lived in Soul Korea, but the key is to use backstreets and eat at mom and pop places, you can get some of the best food in this tiny places and its really cheap.

    I made one change to the recipe. After allowing the marinate to sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then I used a food processor and added 8 ounces of mushrooms, sugar, balsamic vinegar, red cooking wine and some black pepper. When i cooked the Bulgogi i used the mushroom sauce to cook it in and it really added some nice extra flavors to the mix. I also found after cooking the Bulgogi that letting it cool and putting it back in the refrigerator for an hour or so allowed the flavors to meld.

    Sadly here in the US it is hard to find good Chimchi, unless you find a specialty store. One of the best things about Bulgogi is having Kimchi with it,

    Ted

    • Hi Ted,

      The mushroom sauce sounds interesting, but would probably mystify most Koreans – and I don’t think I could ever do that to a recipe that has been handed down from my grandmother purely for the fact that it has sentimental value and I believe that would change it from being bulgogi to a dish that is “bulgogi-inspired”. I’m also not sure about putting it back in the fridge after cooking as I find this congeals any fat and makes the texture of any marinade coating the meat unpleasantly gritty.

      As for the kimchi (chimchi??), you can find our family recipe for this dish on the blog if you feel inclined to give it a try.

      Cheers,
      Ellie

  23. Oh my gosh!!! I made this last month and my whole family LOVED IT!!! I wanted to find a recipe and make this dish at home since it is a fav. of mine and hubby’s when we go out on dates. Then I Made some when I went to visit my parents and in-laws and they loved it too. I have several family members who have lived in Korea and they thought this was FANTASTIC! Thanks so much for sharing!

  24. Hi there – I returned last week from a 5 week tour through Korea and I am going through serious Korean food withdraws! Instantly when I came home I looked up the kiwi salad dressing recipe and I found your site, and I made the dressing, and it came out delicious! Not exactly what I remembered, but I am not a talented cook so I could have done something wrong, but oh well, it still was eaten up really fast! And now I have a craving for Bulgogi and doing a search for the recipe – I came across your website again! Fate! I have the meat marinading right now and can not wait to get it on the griddle and eat it all up! I havent searched your site yet, but do you have a recipe for pajuhn and kung na mool gook pap (bean sprout soup)? I may try my hand at making them as well.

  25. Hi Ellie-

    I’m starting a new hot dog stand and make hot dogs based on region and cultures, one of the things I came across while researching this, is the Korean style hot dog which is Bulgogi served on a bed of lettuce with pickle slices. I’ve never tried this dish but it certainly sounds and looks very good. When making larger amounts, or in trying to reduce the amount of time and work, could you substitute apple and pear juice from the can or bottle instead of doing all of the grating?

    Thanks,

    Marcie

    • Yes, you would just have to be careful what variety of pear and apple has gone into the juice as fuji apple juice would work but granny smith apple juice would not.

  26. Dear Ellie,
    I have a question… When should we add the sesame seed oil, in the marinade?
    Thx!

  27. About to make Bulgogi marinade. Intrigued by the use of pears in a marinade but given the other ingredients, why not? http://t.co/yLvyLozx

  28. Followed this recipe to the letter – awesome results! Thanks for posting this :)

  29. I tried your recipe today and my family loved it! Thanks for sharing! :lol:

  30. Thanks so much for posting these recipes. Such an amazing introduction into Korean cuisine! I made your bulgolgi recipe today and it was delicious. However, I did find it was very soy forward. I compared it to some other recipes floating around which alternatively featured a more conservative ratio of soy to cooking wine or water. Perhaps I’ll try a bit let soy in the future for my tastes. Also, on a more general note, the flavor of the marinade depends heavily on the sweetness of the nashi. Even 4 tbsp of sugar and some maple syrup couldn’t compensate for the sweet tang of a ripe pear. Just my two cents! Take care and thanks again!

  31. Thanks much for this. I laughed my head off at your description of your mother’s and grandmother’s cooking style; I annoyed the cr*p out of my Korean stepmother following her around the kitchen writing everything down, that’s how I learned to make Yaki Mandu! She thought I was completely mad, and asked once whether if she scratched her a** would I write that down too! I never managed to learn her bulgogi recipe so this is really appreciated! Also, I’m allergic to sesame so the only way I get to enjoy this wonderful food is by making it myself! I use either sunflower or peanut oil instead, and just leave out the seeds.

  32. Would this work being cooked in a crock pot. Thanks

    • Crock pot as in a slow cooker? Well, it would “cook” – but the meat would just be stewing in it’s own juices. Because the beef is sliced thinly, it doesn’t take long to cook so you’re better off just using a frying pan.

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