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This bulgogi recipe for Korean barbeque beef yields unbelievably tender, juicy, and flavorful caramelized meat. The magic is in the marinade, which is a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and umami flavors to help tenderize the thinly-sliced meat!

beef bulgogi bowl with rice and kimchi

When I lived in the DC area, my favorite place to head to for amazing Korean food was in Annandale, Virginia. If you’re familiar with the area, you’re probably aware that it’s known for fabulous, authentic Korean food!

I became a regular at one Korean BBQ restaurant, and I must have asked them at least 10 times what their secret is to the best, most tender bulgogi. They shared the secret with me! And I’m going to let you in on it.

The trick to getting out-of-this-world tender, flavor-packed beef bulgogi is two-fold: 1) use a gorgeously marbled steak like ribeye, and 2) add a grated Asian pear to the marinade. It’s as easy as that!

Ribeye was the obvious part of that equation, but the Asian pear was new to me. The acid in the fruit helps to tenderize the meat as it marinades. Absolutely brilliant, right?

You can frequently find Asian pears in the produce section of a regular supermarket. If not, you could head to a local Asian grocery store to look for them. However, if you can’t find Asian pears, Bosc pears make a good substitute.

With this recipe, you can make restaurant-quality Korean beef bulgogi right in your own kitchen!

korean barbecue beef with rice and vegetables

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • Melt-in-your-mouth tender meat. Splurge on a good cut of meat here. Ribeye is my personal favorite because of the marbling, but top sirloin also works well. And even though it’s a pricier cut of meat, it’s still probably less than you’d spend eating out at a KBBQ restaurant!
  • Flavorful marinade. The magic really is in the marinade with this recipe.
  • Leftovers reheat well. Because the meat is so thinly sliced, it reheats really quickly too!

Beef Bulgogi Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions

Ingredients Explained

In this section I explain the ingredients and give substitution ideas where applicable. For the full recipe (including the ingredient amounts), see the recipe card below.

Bulgogi Marinade Ingredients

bulgogi ingredients
  • Soy sauce – This adds salty, umami flavor. To make it gluten free, you can use tamari sauce or coconut aminos instead.
  • Brown sugar – Brown sugar adds sweetness with rich notes of molasses. You can substitute with coconut sugar.
  • Rice wine (mirin) – Look for this at your local Asian supermarket, or find mirin on Amazon.
  • Toasted sesame oil – For a rich, nutty flavor.
  • Gochujang – Gochujang is Korean red chili paste. If you can’t find it, you can substitute with crushed red pepper flakes.
  • Garlic and ginger – These aromatics add depth of flavor.
  • Black pepper – Adds a touch of piquant flavor.
  • Onion – Onion adds savory flavor and helps tenderize the meat.
  • Asian pear – Asian pear is the secret ingredient that makes Korean bulgogi melt-in-your-mouth-tender! We grate the pear and add it to the marinade. If you can’t find Asian pear, Bosc pear is a good substitute.

Beef Bulgogi Ingredients

beef marinated in bulgogi sauce with vegetables
  • Ribeye – Look for a well-marbled steak. As a budget-friendly option that’s still delicious, you can opt for top sirloin.
  • Avocado oil – We add oil to the hot skillet that we cook the meat and vegetables in. You can also use vegetable oil, or any mild or neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point.
  • Onion, carrot, and scallion – These vegetables add depth of flavor, a bit of texture, and a pop of color, but they’re backstage to the star of the show: the meat!
  • Sesame seeds – We use sesame seeds as a garnish, but it’s optional.

Instructions

How to Thinly Slice Steak for Bulgogi

how to thinly slice ribeye steak for bulgogi
  1. To be able to slice the steak as thin as we need to, it helps to partially freeze it first. Freeze the steak until it’s firm, but not fully frozen, about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Very thinly slice the steak across the grain.
  2. Around 2mm-thick slices is perfect. Check out the gorgeous marbling – that will help keep the meat juicy!

Pro Tip: Look for a beautifully marbled ribeye or top sirloin steak for the best flavor and tender, juicy meat.

How to Make Beef Bulgogi Marinade

how to make beef bulgogi marinade
  1. Peel and mince the garlic and ginger.
  2. Grate the pear and onion.
  3. Mix together all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Add the steak and stir gently to coat.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or up to 8 hours. This is how the meat looks after marinating for 4 hours; notice how its color changes.
  6. Remove the steak from the marinade and lay it out in a single layer on paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Remove any larger pieces of pear, onion, garlic, or ginger that are on the steak.

How to Cook Korean BBQ in a Cast Iron Skillet

how to cook korean barbecue beef in cast iron skillet
  1. Preheat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over high heat. When the pan is scorching hot, add 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add 1/4 of the meat in an even layer, making sure not to crowd the pan.
  2. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, and then flip the meat and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. The meat should be caramelized but still tender when it’s done. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate, and cook the remaining meat the same way in 3 more batches. (Note that if you have an exceptionally large pan, you may be able to cook the meat in just 2 batches instead of 4.)
  3. Once all the meat is cooked, turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, carrot, and half of the scallion.
  4. Cook until the vegetables are caramelized and starting to soften, about 1 minute, flipping them constantly.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked beef.
  6. Top with scallion and sesame seeds, and serve!

Storage and Reheating

Once it’s cooked, you can store the meat in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

To reheat bulgogi, it’s best to use high heat for a very short period. Let the meat sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes first. Then you can briefly reheat it in a very hot oven (around 500F) or a very hot skillet (on high heat) until warm. Additionally, bulgogi reheats well in an air fryer; it takes about 2 minutes at 400F.

front view of beef bulgogi bowl with rice and kimchi

Tips

  • Start with a great cut of meat. Look for a beautifully marbled ribeye, or alternatively top sirloin.
  • Very thinly slice the meat. The trick here is to partially freeze the steak so you can thinly slice it easily.
  • Look for an Asian pear to grate into the marinade. Or use a Bosc pear if you can’t find an Asian pear (also called a Korean pear).
  • If you have a grill, use it! A cast-iron skillet works great, but the traditional way to cook bulgogi is over fire. (Its name literally translates as “fire meat”.) Make sure your grill is very hot so the meat caramelizes nicely. And be careful not to overcook it; bulgogi is thinly sliced and cooks fast!
  • Make a bulgogi bowl. Serve the cooked beef on top of steamed rice with kimchi and other sliced veggies for a delicious, fun, and beautiful meal!
korean barbecue beef spread with rice and vegetables

Korean Barbecue Recipe FAQs

Why is Bulgogi so Good?

It will blow your mind how tender and delicious this meat is, and its sweet, salty, savory flavor profile takes it over the top!

There are a few reasons for this:

  • It uses a good cut of meat with marbling, commonly ribeye, which is tender and juicy to begin with.
  • The meat is sliced super thin, which helps it stay tender.
  • It’s marinated in a savory, sweet, and salty marinade that not only helps to flavor the meat, but you guessed it – it tenderizes the meat even more.
  • The caramelization factor. Because of the sugar in the marinade, the meat not only takes on a gorgeous char, but it also caramelizes as it cooks.

What Does Bulgogi Taste Like?

All in all, it pretty much tastes like bliss.

Korean bulgogi is tender enough to melt in your mouth, no knife required! It has a great balance of sweet, savory, and salty flavors with a touch of spice, not unlike teriyaki in Japanese cuisine.

Is Teriyaki the Same as Bulgogi?

They’re similar, but no, they are not the same.

Japanese teriyaki and Korean bulgogi both contain soy sauce and sugar so they have a similar flavor.

Both may contain garlic, ginger, and/or sesame oil. However, teriyaki contains a bit more mirin than bulgogi.

Additionally, teriyaki frequently has sake. On the other hand, gochujang (Korean red chili paste) and Asian pear are commonly found in bulgogi but not teriyaki.

What Cut of Meat is Best for Bulgogi?

Ribeye or top sirloin with nice marbling works well for Korean barbeque beef.

Can You Marinate Bulgogi too Long?

Yes! As meat marinates, the reason it becomes tender is because it’s actually breaking down. It’s possible to break down the meat too much by marinating it too long.

I like to marinade beef bulgogi for 4 hours, but up to 8 hours is fine.

What do You Eat with Beef Bulgogi?

Any time I’ve had bulgogi it was served with steamed rice, lettuce leaves, and kimchi. Sometimes other pickled vegetables, steamed eggs, and/or Korean potato salad were included.

How Can I Make a Beef Bulgogi Bowl?

Serve the meat on top of steamed rice. Add a bit of kimchi, sliced vegetables (such as cucumber, carrot, or cabbage), and sprinkle on a little scallion and sesame seeds. Voilà – you have a bulgogi bowl!

More Asian Recipes to Make

korean barbecue beef recipe

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Beef Bulgogi Recipe (Korean Barbeque Beef)

5 from 1 vote
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Other Time1 hour
Servings: 6 servings
This bulgogi recipe for Korean barbeque beef yields unbelievably tender, juicy, and flavorful caramelized meat. The magic is in the marinade, which is a perfect blend of sweet, salty, and umami flavors to help tenderize the thinly-sliced meat!

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Ingredients
 

Marinade:

  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari sauce or coconut aminos for gluten free
  • 4 tablespoons light brown sugar lightly packed (or coconut sugar)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine mirin
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (adjust to taste)
  • 5 large cloves garlic peeled and minced
  • 2 inch piece fresh ginger peeled and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 small onion peeled and grated
  • 1 Bosc pear grated (except the core)

Other:

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless ribeye or top sirloin
  • 2 tablespoons avocado oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions green and white parts, thinly sliced, divided
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Serving Suggestions:

  • Prepared rice
  • Kimchi
  • Sliced fresh vegetables such as carrot, cucumber, cabbage, etc.

Instructions
 

Prep the Steak:

  • In order to be able to slice the steak as thin as we need to, it helps to partially freeze it first.
  • Freeze the steak until it’s firm, but not fully frozen, about 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Very thinly slice the steak across the grain. Around 2mm-thick slices is perfect.

For the Marinade:

  • Stir together all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Add the steak and stir gently to coat.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or up to 8 hours.

To Cook the Steak:

  • Remove the steak from the marinade and lay it out in a single layer on paper towels to absorb excess moisture. Remove any larger pieces of pear, onion, garlic, or ginger that are on the steak.
  • Preheat a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet over high heat. When the pan is scorching hot, add 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add 1/4 of the meat in an even layer, making sure not to crowd the pan. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, and then flip the meat and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. The meat should be caramelized but still tender when it’s done. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate, and cook the remaining meat the same way in 3 more batches. (Note that if you have an exceptionally large pan, you may be able to cook the meat in just 2 batches instead of 4.)
  • Once all the meat is cooked, turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, carrot, and half of the scallion. Cook until the vegetables are caramelized and starting to soften, about 1 minute, flipping them constantly.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked beef.

To Serve:

  • Sprinkle the remaining scallion and the sesame seeds on top.
  • Serve.

Notes

  • Nutritional Information: Information for this recipe was calculated without the serving suggestions.
  • To Reduce the Carbs: Use keto brown sugar instead of regular brown sugar. This will lower the carbohydrates to 11g per serving (13g total carbs minus 2g fiber).
  • Gluten Free Version: Use tamari sauce or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.
  • Grill It: A cast-iron skillet works great, but the traditional way to cook bulgogi is over fire. (Its name literally translates as “fire meat”.) Make sure your grill is very hot so the meat caramelizes nicely. And be careful not to overcook it; bulgogi is thinly sliced and cooks fast!
  • To Make a Bulgogi Bowl: Serve the cooked beef on top of steamed rice with kimchi and other sliced veggies for a delicious, fun, and beautiful meal!
  • Storage: Once it’s cooked, you can store the meat in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
  • Reheating: It’s best to use high heat for a very short period to reheat bulgogi. Let the meat sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes first. Then you can briefly reheat it in a very hot oven (around 500F) or a very hot skillet (on high heat) until warm. Additionally, bulgogi reheats well in an air fryer; it takes about 2 minutes at 400F.

Nutrition

Calories: 418kcal | Carbohydrates: 21g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 69mg | Sodium: 913mg | Potassium: 519mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 1819IU | Vitamin C: 7mg | Calcium: 55mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutritional information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximate.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Korean
Keyword: Beef Bulgogi, Beef Bulgogi Bowl, Beef Bulgogi Recipe, Bulgogi, Bulgogi Bowl, Bulgogi Recipe, Korean Barbecue, Korean Barbecue Beef, Korean Barbecue Beef Recipe, Korean BBQ, Korean BBQ Beef, Korean BBQ Beef Recipe, Korean BBQ Recipe, Korean Beef Bulgogi, Korean Bulgogi, Korean Bulgogi Recipe

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This post was first published on An Edible Mosaic on September 25, 2015. It was updated with more information on April 26, 2024.

Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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Recipe Rating




2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    So juicy and flavorful, this meal is definitely a go to for me
    Now!

  2. Alexandra robertson says:

    i lovvvve bulgogi and any Korean food ;D

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