Bulgogi – Korean Beef BBQ (불고기)

Bulgogi - Korean Beef BBQ (불고기)

Bulgogi – Korean Beef BBQ (불고기)

Bulgogi – Korean Beef BBQ (불고기) is probably one of the best known Korean Beef BBQ dish other than Kimchi. In this bulgogi recipe, I offer several substitutions and variations that you can try. They will all taste good but I think it is good to have options in case you don’t have all the ingredients or if you prefer one ingredient over another. I start with the most authentic recipe for Korean Beef BBQ – Bulgogi and then add options/variations.


  • 1 lb Thinly sliced beef (top sirloin or any tender loin area)

Make Marinade as follows:

  • 3 T soy sauce (Kikoman)
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1 T honey [ 2 t sugar is also ok ]
  • 2 T rice cooking wine [sake or leftover red wine is also ok]
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 1 t ground black pepper
  • 2 t toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 T chopped green onion
  • 2 T pear puree [ pear is a tenderizer – 1 T chopped kiwi or 3 T minced onion will also work] Another emergency fix is to add 2 T or so of diet coke if you find that the meat is too tough. Always good to cook a little piece beforehand and see how it tastes.
  • Optional veggie ingredients – traditionally, Koreans just have the beef by itself but you can add some sliced onions, mushrooms (shitake, white, oyster), bell peppers and even sliced carrots as you cook the meat.

So, let’s start with the meat.

Beef slices

Beef should look like this – thinly sliced, marbled.. sirloin works best

Beef for Bulgogi is sold in almost all Korean super markets but probably is not always available anywhere else. You can ask your butcher to cut it for you or if not, you can use thicker slices of meat.  Just make sure it is a tender and also has some marble to it.

1. Now, make the sauce by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together except for any optional vegetables such as onions or mushrooms.

sauce for marinade

Sauce for Marinade

My favorite tenderizer is the kiwi. It’s not traditional since kiwi is not a native Korean fruit but it really makes the meat melt in your mouth. Be careful not to use too much as it can actually make the beef almost crumble into nothing in your mouth.

chopped kiwi for bulgogi

Chopped Kiwi

2. Mix in the bulgogi beef into the sauce prepared above – in a bowl big enough to hold the beef. Make sure the sauce is well mixed with the beef. You will need to use your hands here and just massage everything together.

You can make it well in advance and leave it in the fridge overnight. Or if you are short on time (as is always the case with me.. ), making it just a few hours ahead works fine too. It also works if you marinate it even 30 min. before. I’ve done that many times and most people don’t even seem to notice the difference. :)  But of course, meat will taste better if you give it time to marinate and absorb all that good flavor.

beef that's been marinated

Beef with the marinade

3. OK! You are now almost there! You have couple options in cooking the amazing bulgogi. The easiest and simplest way is to just cook on your stove top. You can heat up your favorite frying pan on high heat and just pan fry/stir fry the meat until it’s slightly brown on both sides. Your pan should be hot enough so that the meat sizzles as it touches the pan. Also, if you put too much meat into the pan and/or the heat is too low, you will end up with a lot of the meat juice leaking out of the bulgogi and you end up with Bulgogi stew. You can add your sliced vegetables to the pan about a minute after you start cooking the Bulgogi.

The most authentic and traditional way to cook Bulgogi ( Korean Beef BBQ ) is on top of a charcoal grill- you will either need a fine steel mesh or tin foil to cook the meat because otherwise it will fall through. Bulgogi is supposed to be well cooked and tastes great if it’s a little burnt… You can also broil it on the top rack of your oven (Broil temp)  but remember to keep a very close watch so it does not burn!

Finally, Bulgogi can be eaten with some rice and salad or with Ssam and Ssamjang. Slices of raw garlic can also be enjoyed in the Ssam or grilled together with the Bulgogi.

Yummy eating!

P.S. I have recently (11/10/11) made some bulgogi and used red wine instead of the rice wine, light brown sugar instead of white and added a swirl of diet coke. The results were fabulous! My husband told me that it was actually the best bulgogi I ever made!! So try these substitutions if you want some extra yummy bulgogi.


  1. New Yorker says

    Hi, I live in NYC and I’m always looking for good and MODERN Korean recipes – that don’t take all day to make – since I’m a busy gal! I think my bulgogi recipe (from my mom) is pretty good, but my bulgogi always falls apart. I don’t know if I am manually marinating and manipulating the meat too much? Or, if I buy frozen bulgogi meat from the Korean grocery store in K-Town, by the time it defrosts, it just falls apart. After I cook it, it ends up looking like ground beef!!!

    Is it me? Please help!!!

    • says

      Hi! I’m totally with you about not having the time to cook .. having been a working mom the last 20 years, I was ALWAYS short on time!! Some people actually like the bulgogi to kind of fall apart but if you say it’s like ground beef then something is not right. Yes, you could be handling it too much. You don’t really have to mix the meat and sauce a lot- just enough so that the sauce gets in between the meat pieces. It could also have something to do with the cut of beef – what are you using? Are you using any kind of tenderizer? Korean pear, chopped onions, chopped kiwi, coke are some tenderizers that Koreans use. It could be that you are putting too much of that. If not, I’m also wondering if the meat has been frozen incorrectly (defrosted and frozen multiple times) which may end up with ice crystals in between the meat which can end up breaking up the meat too much. Respond with some more info and I would love to find the problem with you!

  2. New Yorker says

    Thanks for your quick response!

    Well, I buy the meat in K-Town, so it’s highly possible that it is a freezing issue, as I do see ice crystals when I defrost the meat all the time.

    As for tenderizer, my aunt told me to use soda – so I use diet coke! It also makes it a bit sweet, so I can use sugar. Do you think that’s the problem?

    • says

      Diet coke is a pretty powerful tenderizer. I usually use it as a last minute thing when the meat seems to be too tough. Don’t let it marinade in diet coke too long. Also, if the meat has lot of marble in it then the chances are you won’t need any tenderizer. So try not using any. If it still falls apart, I guess that prob. means it’s a freezing issue..

  3. claire cocciole says

    We are currently designing a traveling museum exhibit for the Smithsonian Institution, entitled “Animal Connections: Our Journey Together.”
    I am contacting you to request permission to use this photo we found on your website:


    The photo would be used on a museum educational panel, helping visitors understand the relationship between animals and humans. Could you please let us know if we can have preliminary permission to use this photo? The Smithsonian will eventually seek formal permission as well as credit information. Could you also let us know if you have a higher resolution version of this image?

    Thank you in advance and looking forward to your answer,
    Claire Cocciole

    Quatrefoil Associates, Inc.

    • says

      Hi Claire,

      Thank you so much for contacting me. Let me look into the photo (it’s been a while since I wrote the post..) and will contact you shortly via email. Talk to you soon!

  4. MommyTaco says

    Hi, we have recently relocated to S. Korea and am loving all of the flavors when we go out to eat. I really want to try making bulgogi from home now that I have seen your recipe and how easy it is!

    I do have a couple of questions: Do we need to do anything to prepare the meat before the marinade? For example, should I cut it into strips or leave it as whole slices during marinade/cooking? Also, can I follow the same recipe above for pork bulgogi? I have seen this in our grocery store and have only been pan-frying it with no marinade (like a pork chop).

    • says

      Hi! No, you don’t need to do anything with the meat before the marinade. Because it’s so thinly sliced, it will basically break into pieces as you mix them with the marinade. The standard pork bulgogi marinade is made with the spicy gochujang (chili paste) – and I do have a post about that. http://kimchimari.com/2012/02/25/pork-bbq-dweji-bulgogi/ But if you want to make it non-spicy, you can certainly use the same marinade but add some chopped ginger to the sauce to get rid of any unwanted gamey taste of pork. Good luck and thanks for stopping by!

  5. says

    This looks amazing!! I hope you don’t mind that I’ve reblogged it on my own blog? I’d just made a post about TALKING about Bulgogi so seemed only right to have an awesome recipe to check out too!

    I will be making this as soon as I get to the grocers! Can any butcher slice it that thinly for you or just Korean or Asian grocers? My only Korean grocer is 30+ miles away T_T

    • says

      Hi! Of course, I don’t mind as long as you give me credit – which you did! So, thank you~
      Yes, any butcher can slice it thinly for you – they will have to slightly freeze the sirloin for easier slicing. But sometimes if the grocer only has a slicer only for deli meats, they will not want to contaminate it and will not do it for you. Otherwise, I don’t see why not. Good luck!

  6. Paula says

    Hello! I’ve been wanting to cook beef bulgogi but my problem is that i live in a place where alcoholic drinks are not allowed. So is there any substitute for rice wine? Red wine and sake?and also i found this bulgogi sauce at a korean store, is it a good idea to use that one? Thanks. :)

    • says

      Hi! Sure, you can do without the wines – try using some fruit juices (apple juice/grape juice mixed) and some rice vinegar. Prob. 1 T is enough for 1 lb. As long as you get the sweet and saltiness right, it should taste pretty good. If the marinated meat looks too dry, just add water – that works too. Hmm.. bottled bulgogi sauce prob. has a lot of unnecessary ingredients in it and won’t taste as good. And that will most likely contain alcohol. Good luck!


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