Korean BBQ: It’s not a phase
Sweet. Sticky. Spicy. Those 3 words sum up what the Korean BBQ Holy Trinity is, and what people keep coming back for.
If I don’t have your attention by now, I honestly don’t know what more it could take.
Whether it’s through the experience or the taste alone, Korean BBQ is sure to make a lasting impact and to create memories on those who get to experience it. Its “eat as you cook” approach makes it a great “eating option” if you have people over, as everyone can all share, cook, and enjoy food as they talk. Indeed, traditional Korean BBQ is usually done on a charcoal or a gas BBQ that’s built inside of a dining table, so people basically just grill their protein of choice right in front of them.
Let’s talk about meat.
At its core, Korean BBQ is defined by the act of grilling thin cuts of meat over live fire.
The key signature of Korean BBQ resides in rendering fats and the art of charring meat. Lots of meat. If there’s one thing that you must understand, it’s that even though the cuts are cut thin, you often end up eating more than you should and would normally have simply because you just lost count.
The most common proteins you’ll find on Korean menus are beef and pork, but you’ll easily find marinated chicken as well, as an option. Truthfully, the protein does not make that big of a difference. As long as it’s either fat, sweet, or finger-food sized, you just know it’s going to be good.
Something that makes Korean BBQ stand out from American BBQ is the way the meat cuts and muscles are used. American BBQ often works with specific isolated muscles, or muscle groups cooked whole, while Korean BBQ will often require you to cut thin slices from the muscle groups, which will provide you with different textures and flavor depth in a single bite. Beef short ribs or Boston butts slices are a great example of that. You would never see these cooked whole on a Korean menu, but you can find them easily being offered in ¼ inch slices at your nearest restaurants.
People often associate Korean BBQ with a very sweet flavor profile, but really, it focuses on flavors such as honey, soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic to yield a very tasty and sticky texture on all cuts of meat.
This result is created with the combination of honey and white sugar, which, in turn, make for the perfect ingredients to obtain nice grill marks and a nice charred crust on the edges.
That said, working with ¼ inch meat slices, means that the slices can be marinated in no time and then, just thrown on the grill for a quick sear. As long as you caramelize the sugars and char the edges, you should bring forth the Korean-style BBQ flavor that people crave for and perfectly balance the sweet with the spicy, and the bitter with the savory in your meal.
Korean BBQ Specialities: Kalbi
Kalbi is the traditional soy and sesame short rib slices that you can find in your local Korean restaurant. It’s a real treat to do at home as it requires very little ingredients, is easy to grill, and makes for an easy dinner that will please just about anyone.
Ask your butcher to slice down a beef short rib in ¼ inch slices, then marinate these slices in a sauce using soy sauce, garlic, sugar, sesame oil, and pepper flakes, and then, you can even add a little dab of rice vinegar to give some funkyness to the flavor, and you’re good to go.
Here’s what you need to recreate my Kalbi sauce recipe:
- ¾ cup soy sauce
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 garlic clove, minced
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- Pepper flakes (optional)
Trust me, the result is worth it.
On another note, while short ribs are usually cooked low and slow, kalbi is cooked over high heat and in little to no time. As soon as your strips are seared and charred on the edges, you’re ready to feast.
That said, I will always encourage you to cook kalbi over charcoal or live fire rather than gas as the smokiness will add another layer of flavor. (A simple kettle is more than enough for you to nail this cooking method.) The meat is going to be a bit tougher than your usual short rib, but it will carry a very deep sweet and buttery flavor that will make this whole biting process very enjoyable.
Serve the kalbi over rice, fermented kimchi, and a side of steamed and grilled bok choy and you will have yourself a great traditional Korean BBQ dinner. You could also use a Boston butt or bone-in chicken thighs to get an equally delicious meal.
It’s not a phase
While most saw the rise of Korean BBQ as a fad, it’s here to stay. It’s not a phase.
Korean BBQ is a great style to fall back on if you have people over as it’s very festive and allows you to enjoy the time you’re spending with your guests as you cook. Also, its simple, yet distinctive, flavor is always a crowd pleaser and there’s just something about licking sticky sauce off your fingers that makes Koren BBQ so addictive.
If you’re lucky enough to have a Korean BBQ dining table, or a BBQ such as the Hamrforge El Padre, that provides the overall experience of playing with live fire as you eat, it just seals the deal even more.
Eating healthy food, enjoying a live fire, and having a good time, what’s not to like?