Beef Bulgogi is a Korean meat dish made of thinly sliced beef. It’s a Korean BBQ main dish served with Banchan (Korean sides) at Restaurants. This is how to make, easy bulgogi recipe with a sweet and garlicky sauce packed with umami flavor! Learn all the marinate secrets to super tender Bulgogi!
Korean bulgogi is so good! Try our other Asian recipes that you can make in your house easy, like these Chicken Fingers, Chicken Lettuce Wraps, or quick Chow Mein Noodles. Bulgogi beef is easier than you think and you can grill them on skewers for a Korean BBQ feast!
What Is Bulgogi?
Bulgogi beef is thinly sliced meat marinated in a Korean sauce and cooked over high heat. Traditionally, Bulgogi is cooked over an open fire using a BBQ grill wire mesh topper. However, most home cooks use a stove-top griddle or pan to stir-fry the meat. Traditional Bulgogi is served with a side of rice, although you can make Korean tacos or lettuce wraps with the meat. This beef bulgogi recipe came from a Korean lady who served this Korean beef dish at large church functions. You will love this Korean bulgogi, it’s so flavorful!
What Cut of Beef is Used for Bulgogi:
Beef chuck roast or ribeye steak is the best cut of beef to use for Korean Bulgogi. They are well-marbled and tender from the marbled fat. Another cut that can be used is a flank steak or London broil, which is easy to slice. Bulgogi meat is cut into thin slices, so look for a moderate thickness to your steak for easier slicing. Sometimes you can find pre-cut Bulgogi meat in Korean grocery stores, but it is so easy to slice your own.
What is Bulgogi Sauce:
Bulgogi sauce is a mixture of sugar, soy sauce, fresh garlic, black pepper, and thinly sliced onion. This bulgogi sauce recipe uses additional ingredients like wine vinegar and bottled Korean bbq sauce for maximum tenderization. You can buy Korean BBQ Bulgogi Sauce at Walmart or Asian markets. Typically, a Korean bbq sauce will have apple juice or pureed pears, which tenderizes the meat.
Tips for Thinly Slicing Beef:
The key to getting evenly thin slices is to use a Mandoline slicer. It is best to freeze the beef before cutting it for easier slicing. Simply freeze the steak in its original package for about 40 minutes to three hours depending on how thick your steak is. If you’re starting with frozen beef, simply thaw it for about 1-2 hours until the edges soften and it is still partially frozen. You can also cut beef using a sharp knife, just make sure you’re starting with a partially frozen steak before cutting against the grain, otherwise, slicing can get slippery.
Bulgogi sauce and beef are all you need to get started. Typically, a bulgogi marinade is made from soy sauce, sugar, fresh garlic, onion, and black pepper. Additionally, some recipes will call for a grated Asian pear or kiwi which have an enzyme to tenderize meat in a very short time. Usually, bottled Korean bbq sauce has fruit pureed right into it for a sweet taste, so with additional rice wine, you can get super tender meat! Also, be sure to go easy on the kiwi since that has a much stronger enzyme than pears.
- Beef- like ribeye, sirloin, brisket, or chuck will work for making bulgogi.
- Sugar- any granulated sugar will work. For a healthy Bulgogi option use honey as the sweetener.
- Rice or Red Wine- works as a meat tenderizer.
- Korean BBQ Sauce- is packed with Umami flavor and fruit for sweetness.
- Soy Sauce- is savory and salty adding the classic Korean touch.
- Garlic- Koreans love garlic! Add finely minced or crushed garlic to the marinate.
- Black Pepper- seasons the beef and is a classic spice.
- Onion- can be replaced with a thinly sliced leek, scallion, or green onion. Thinly slice the onion for flavoring the marinade.
- Sesame Oil- is more of a flavoring oil that is extracted from toasted sesame seeds. Don’t fry with sesame oil because it smokes when cooking at high temperatures. Use a little for the marinade only.
How To Make Bulgogi:
Once you have the ingredients the preparation is easy! Slicing the beef can be the most time-consuming part. Using a meat slicer or Mandoline makes it so much easier than using a knife. After prep, cooking the meat is fast because the beef slices are so thin it takes minutes! Like steak, you don’t want to flip it too often, turn once for each side to brown nicely, and don’t overcrowd the pan, you don’t want it to steam but brown.
- Heat the pan over high heat, you want a grill effect.
- Drizzle with cooking oil that is safe for high heat.
- Cook meat on high heat with the onion (from the marinade.)
- Leave on the pan to brown before flipping, you may need to work in batches if you don’t have a large cooking surface like a griddle.
- Plate on a platter and serve with your favorite side. Garnish with green onions and toasted sesame seeds for a nutty flavor.
Cook’s Tip: use long tongs or chopsticks to flip the meat, you don’t want the oil to splatter on your hands.
What To Serve With Beef Bulgogi:
There are so many ways how to eat bulgogi! What goes best is a side of rice but you can also host a Korean BBQ food bar by serving a variety of sides like rice, grape leaves for wraps, red pepper paste, and marinated vegetables. Here are some more serving suggestions;
- Fermented cucumbers or cabbage, like Korean Kimchi
- Ramen noodles, dumpling soup, or fried rice
- Serve Bulgogi with brown rice, red beans, seaweed sheets, or over french fries
- In lettuce wraps or as a bulgogi bowl topped over rice (salad)
- Tacos or an Asian burrito with slaw
- Seasoned and marinated vegetables or Steamed Broccoli or snap peas
- Chicken Bulgogi- replace beef with the same amount of boneless and skinless chicken thighs.
- Spicy Pork Bulgogi- cut thick pork belly strips and broil for 10 minutes, flipping in between.
- Ground Beef Bulgogi- brown ground beef in a skillet and pour the bulgogi sauce over the meat crumbles. Cook until reduced (about 2 minutes.)
- Spicy Bulgogi- add 2-4 tablespoons of red pepper flakes (preferably Korean red pepper flakes) or chili garlic sauce to taste.
- Vegetarian Bulgogi- Use a mixture of button and oyster mushrooms, a little onion, and tofu if desired. Marinating the vegetables is not necessary.
- Salmon Bulgogi- use the marinade for fish and baste with it during roasting.
Bulgogi can make an easy make-ahead meal once you do all the prep. You can either freeze it in the marinade until needed or keep marinated in the fridge until ready to use. Marinated bulgogi is best in the fridge for up to 3 days, if you’re using kiwi in your marinade you’ll have to reduce the kiwi and marinating amount due to the strong enzymes in kiwi.
Once cooked, Bulgogi can keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. To reheat bulgogi it is best to steam leftovers by wrapping them up in foil and baking until warmed (8-15 minutes) or microwaving covered.
What Is Bulgogi Flavor Like?
Bulgogi steak is full of Umami flavor! Homemade bulgogi sauce is savory, sweet, and garlicky! It is not spicy unless you add a spicy red pepper paste or flakes.
Substitute for BBQ Bulgogi Sauce?
Korean BBQ sauce can be located at Walmart, Amazon, or in Ethnic sections of grocery stores. If you have an Asian grocery store you might be able to find it. It has a different flavor profile from regular BBQ sauces as it is soy sauce based. To substitute for Korean bbq sauce use your favorite teriyaki sauce with some apple juice and ginger. You can also grate a ripe pear or part of a kiwi.
Is Bulgogi Sauce gluten-free?
This recipe for beef Bulgogi can be gluten-free if you use gluten-free soy sauce like Liquid Aminos. Be sure to look at the beef bulgogi marinade ingredients to ensure it is gluten-free.
BEST Bulgogi Tips:
- Use Honey for the sugar for a healthier sweetener.
- I do not drain the marinate when cooking, instead, I briefly strain the meat before placing it on the hot griddle by lifting it up from the bowl. To prevent extra smoke give the meat a good dap against paper towels.
- Bulgogi’s meaning is “fire meat”, which basically means a grilled type of Korean dish from marinated meat slices.
- Serve Bulgogi with “Gochujang,” which is a spicy red pepper paste perfect as a topping or dipping sauce (only go light because it can be spicy!)
- Cooked Bulgogi meat is perfect for meal planning as you can arrange it into plastic food containers layered over rice. It can keep for days in the fridge and makes great leftovers.
- I used homemade pear-cider vinegar for the wine or apple cider vinegar called for in the recipe. You can really use any fruit vinegar or cooking wine for that.
Have you tried this Korean Bulgogi recipe? I would love to hear from you, be sure to leave a comment down below!
How To Make Bulgogi:
- 1 large cast-iron griddle
- 1 kitchen tongs
- 1 mixing bowl (for marinating beef)
- 5 lbs beef chuck roast
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (or rice or red wine)
- 15 oz Korean BBQ Sauce
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1 head garlic (peeled and crushed)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 onion (thinly sliced)
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- Thinly slice the beef* and place into a large mixing bowl.
- Add all the Bulgogi sauce ingredients and toss to coat. Marinade for 24 hours.
- Heat pan or griddle over high heat. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of oil.
- Cook meat in its marinade (briefly strained) for about 5 minutes per batch. I cooked the beef in about 3 batches.
- Place bulgogi beef on a platter and serve with a side of rice.