Bulgogi first originated from the Goguryeo era (37 BC-AD 668), though it is often regarded as a variant of Galbi (which we will discuss later). Bulgogi literally means “fire meat” in Korean.
In Bulgogi, beef is cut into thin slices and marinated in Bulgogi sauce (a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil/seeds, onions, garlic, ginger, and other spices). Most Bulgogi sauce recipes include Asian pear; the reason for this is that the enzymes in the fruit tenderizes tough meat fibers and make it softer and thereby easier to chew. Bulgogi marinade varies from family to family depending on personal preferences. Some variations include Bulgogi sauce made with Doenjang (soybean paste) while some add gochujang which really brings out a nice spicy flavor.
The dish is traditionally grilled using charcoal or firewood at your own table – grilling an open fire is one of the most enjoyable things to do in Korea! Bulgogi is best eaten with a bowl of steamed rice and various vegetables.
Bulgogi is one of the most popular Korean dishes around the world, especially due to its low-calorie content. Bulgogi has become well-known outside of Korea (even KFC has Bulgogi starting this year), but there are many other delicious Korean dishes worth trying out.
Bulgogi is great for BBQ parties with friends due to the ease of preparation. Bulgogi is also delicious served cold or at room temperature, so you can pack it in your lunch box! Bulgogi goes well with other Korean dishes such as Kimchi, Doenjang Jjigae (soybean paste stew), Bibimbap (mixed rice), and many more!
When making Bulgogi, remember that patience really does pay off – allow Bulgogi to marinate overnight before grilling which will bring out a much deeper flavor – brushing Bulgogi with oil when cooking will help keep Bulgogi moist and add that lovely crispiness you see when eating fresh Bulgogi.
Bulgogi Marinade Recipe: Ingredients (Makes Bulgogi marinade for 2-3 servings)
1. Bulgogi Sauce: Mix together Soy sauce, sugar, sesame sauce, and sesame oil/seeds in a bowl until the color is even. Add chopped onion, garlic, ginger, and Korean pear slices – mix well. Set aside while you slice your meat into thin pieces (cut beef into long slices against the grain then slice into small pieces). Bulgogi must be thinly sliced or it will end up tough to chew! (Note that Bulgogi is eaten with cooked rice so cook Bulgogi thoroughly when using this method.) Bulgogi can also be cooked by grilling over firewood which gives off quite an aromatic smell; place Bulgogi directly on top of the fire and brush lightly with oil for crispier Bulgogi. If you want Bulgogi to take on a smoky fragrance, try wrapping Bulgogi in foil and grilling over the fire.
2. To make Bulgogi sauce: Mix together soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds/oil, and onion; add garlic, ginger, and pear (optional) – mix well. Bulgogi marinade can be served as-is or covered in saran wrap and put in the fridge overnight to allow Bulgogi to marinate longer (don’t forget about it though!)
1. Place thinly sliced beef into a bowl then pour Bulgogi Sauce over top; cover the meat with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Bulgogi Sauce will be absorbed by the meat as it sits.
2. Bulgogi can be eaten as is or wrapped in saran wrap and placed into the fridge overnight to marinate longer (if you forget about Bulgogi overnight, don’t worry – Bulgogi will still taste good even if it’s less flavorful than usual.) Bulgogi sauce becomes more flavorful after sitting overnight so if you have time, leave Bulgogi to marinate overnight at least once! If you’re not going to eat Bulgogi for a long time, put plastic wrap directly on top of the meat then place it in the freezer – this way Bulgogi won’t dry out from being exposed to air for too long.
3. When ready to cook Bulgogi, heat up the frying pan/grill to medium heat. Add oil and spread it around the grilling area. Bulgogi will be cooked for 1-2 minutes on each side. Bulgogi is easily burnt so don’t move Bulgogi until you’re sure Bulgogi isn’t stuck to the grill anymore – Bulgogi should sizzle when you put Bulgogi on the grill. Bulgogi is cooked when you see juices around the Bulgogi meat – don’t over-cook Bulgogi or Bulgogi will get tough to chew! Bulgogi can also be boiled in water for 10 minutes before being fried, but this removes its juiciness so keep that in mind if you are cooking Bulgogi with this method. Bulgogi can also be cooked in the pan which takes about 1-2 minutes on each side; Bulgogi is best-served medium/medium-rare (not well done). Bulgogi should be cooked to the desired doneness otherwise Bulgogi will taste tough – cooking Bulgogi longer than 2 minutes on each side will dry it out so keep that in mind!