Bulgogi (Korean Marinated Grilled Beef)

Every family has their own special recipe for bulgogi. This one is from my mom, but I have added a few of my own finishing touches. My mom used mostly sirloin for her bulgogi, but my favorite cut of beef to use is ribeye, for the nice marbling. If you cannot find thinly sliced meat from a Korean butcher, you can partially freeze a steak and cut it by hand.

For the sweetening element, I like to use both pear and sugar, as pear acts as both a tenderizer and a sweetener, and the brown sugar helps the meat caramelize nicely when grilling. I add fish sauce for a hit of umami, and a bit of soju or sake for a subtle fragrance. At the end, I also like to add a few generous grinds of black pepper for a little kick. The marinade’s sweet undertones blend well with peppery notes. Don’t be afraid to taste your marinade and adjust the flavor as you go—add more sugar or garlic, whatever you like!

My mom had a small iron grill covered in tin foil, fueled by just a few pieces of hot charcoal. It was just big enough to cook a small portion of bulgogi to perfection. The tinfoil would catch the bulgogi juices, which she’d pour over rice for an extra flavorful bite. I cook mine in a griddle pan instead, as I prefer to cook the meat in its own juices, but I serve it the same way. The juices are also easier to pour from the pan.

Ingredients

Serves 2 to 4

  • 1 pound ribeye or sirloin (or other prime cut of beef), trimmed
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 small Asian pear, or Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and quartered
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 1-inch knob of ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sake or pure soju
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce or anchovy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

TO GARNISH

  • 5 sprigs chives, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon mixed black and white sesame seeds

Method

  1. Place the ribeye steaks in the freezer for about 2 hours, until partially frozen. Remove from freezer and use a sharp knife to cut the meat into slices about 1/8 inch thick. (Alternatively, buy pre-sliced bulgogi meat from your Korean grocer.) Place into a medium bowl.
  2. In a food processor, combine the soy sauce, pear, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, brown, sugar, sake, fish sauce, and mirin. Process until smooth.
  3. Tip the marinade into the bowl with the meat and mix well, preferably using your hands, massaging the marinade into the meat. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour or overnight. Remove from the fridge and mix in the sliced onions. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Heat up a griddle pan or skillet over high heat. Alternatively, heat up a charcoal grill and place a specialty bulgogi griddle pan, fine mesh grate, or sheet of aluminum foil over the grates. Once hot, cook the bulgogi in batches, flipping often, until desired doneness is reached, about 2 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and plate, garnish with chopped chives and sesame seeds. Serve with rice, kimchi, and ssam leaves, or whatever you like!

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