Introduction: Bulgogi

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Bulgogi is surprisingly easy to make even without one of those in-table grills. Mmmmm, bulgogi.

Step 1: Slice Beef

Get a nice big, SHARP knife, and cut the thinnest slices you can off of your hunk of meat, making sure to cut across the grain. (A good butcher can do this for you, but I don't always think that far ahead.)
Cutting the meat when it's well-chilled (or even frozen) helps to get nice even slices. Don't fret if you can't see through them; just do the best you can at cutting them thin.
The cut of meat you select isn't terribly important; just try to get a decently-sized cross section for your slices. I've also used bison roasts to good effect.

Step 2: Marinate With Brown Sugar and Garlic

Acquire a suitable bowl or pan, preferably with a lid as you'll be leaving it in the refrigerator for a while.
Finely chop a large handful of garlic and place in a prep bowl. Fill another prep bowl with a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar.
Designate one hand for meat, and one hand for toppings. This should make cleaning up raw meat-contaminated things much easier.
Sprinkle the bottom of the bowl with a layer of garlic and sugar, then add a single layer of beef slices, making sure not to overlap.
Sprinkle with more sugar and garlic, then continue alternating layers of meat with sugar and garlic.
Place bowl in the refrigerator for at least one hour; overnight is fine as well.

Step 3: Get a Good Ginger Grater

One of the few Williams-Sonoma products worth the price is their ginger grater. I got mine about 10 years ago, so it's survived many years of heavy use. It is intelligently designed: there's a silicone foot to keep it from sliding around, and a moat to catch all of the ginger juice. Like all ceramic ginger graters, it magically comes clean under running water.
While I love my Microplane zester for grating garlic and zesting citrus, it quickly gets clogged with ginger fibers. The ginger grater leaves you holding a nice little package of inedible ginger fibers when you're done grating, and won't get clogged. It grates garlic nicely, though doesn't manage to lyse as many cells as the Microplane.

Step 4: Add Remaining Marinade Ingredients

Grate a knob of ginger and a couple of additional garlic cloves. Mix with soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil; here I've used a bit over 1/3c soy, brought the volume up to 1/2c with vinegar, and added about 1/2t of sesame oil.
Pour this mixture over the marinating meat and mix thoroughly. Return the meat to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours; overnight is also fine. Bonus points for mixing agin during marination.

Step 5: Grill Meat

Prepare your grilling area and implements. A proper charcoal or gas grill is preferable, but if you don't feel up to it your broiler will do the job admirably.
Load the meat onto a cookie sheet in a single layer, and place directly under the broiler on High. Keep a close eye on this until you get the hang of it, because these thin slices cook quickly. Don't bother with flipping the meat unless you really care. If you're using a real grill, again make sure to put the meat on in a single layer and pay close attention to avoid over-crispification.
Remove the meat when it's still moist and soft, but has begun to go crispy/carmelly at the tips and smells good.

Step 6: Eat Immediately!

The best reason NOT to cook bulgogi under the broiler is that it requires too many batches; a grill generally has more surface area. It's best not to stand on ceremony, and just eat the meat as soon as it's done.
I didn't get the chance to take a nice picture of the completed pile of meat because it all disappeared far too quickly. That's the first batch in the bowl, though; the vultures descended as I returned the baking sheet to the oven.



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    34 Discussions

    I've been trying to capture a decent bulgogi flavor, but apparently I've been doing it wrong by using a wok. It tends to steam the meat more and doesn't give it that nice charred texture. Thanks for making this clear!

    1 reply

    I'm a burgeoning wok user and the one thing I've found is that the typical stove top just cannot get the wok hot enough. I've found that the key to good wok cooking is INTENSE heat otherwise you really are just steaming and not getting the really delicious caramelization and texture that wok cooking is famous for. I've been using the propane base for my turkey fryer and it's works incredibly well. I made a crispy orange beef the other day and it was spot on. Stir fried vegetables also come out just right. You have to get that wok HOT!!!

    My Korean mother-in-law, at first tickled that there would be a bulgogi instructable, would like to comment: Tell them that there's no vinegar in bulgogi. Rice wine maybe, but not vinegar.

    4 replies

    Thanks for the input! I got my recipe via a Korean roommate, and it's possible she just substituted rice wine vinegar (which we always have around) for rice wine she'd otherwise have had to specially purchase. It's always good to know when you're cutting corners, so you can decide whether it's a good trade-off or not. I'll have to do a side-by-side comparison one of these days to see how that substitution changes the taste/texture. She also told me to use grated Asian pear, which apparently acts as a meat tenderizer, but we rarely have that either. Does your mom have an opinion on that one?

    my mom makes homemade bulgogi( another korean word, meaning "bull or beef" and "meat". Basically cow meat) an i don't think she uses vinegar or rice wine. she uses soysauce, sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, sesame oil, and some water.

    oh, and my mom likes to stir fry bulgogi, about 3 inch pieces.

    For the marinade you should also add in 1 pureed Korean Pears. The kind that are like 1.5lbs, individually wrapped (like $5 each!), and is packaged at the peak of perfection. My mom is from the countrysides of S. Korea and she would always use these pears. The only chance of finding high quality ones is by checking local Asian markets, but they're necessary if you want to add a natural fruity sweetness to your meat.

    1 reply

    I've cheated and gotten the pre-sliced beef and marinade from my favorite asian market before, and loved it. In the process of making it on the grill, I thought it would also work pretty well cooked fajita-style on a hot skillet. As a midwesterner from a city historically known for its stockyard and bbq, I'm really surprised there aren't more korean bbq's around. I think they'd all love it if they only knew about bulgogi.

    1 reply

    It's not really cheating as long as you cook it yourself! ;)
    I like the fajita-style theory- you'd have to keep it really hot to sear it well, though.

    Yeah, I figure it 's just a matter of time before Korean BBQ infiltrates the heartland. People will love it!

    try grating an pear in the marinade, i have had it at a Korean dinner and it adds a nice flavor

    1 reply

    I've been told that adding asian pear helps tenderize the meat. Sounds great, but I rarely have them sitting around.

    Easy to make and quick to disappear. You will love the smell and taste. Mmmmmm actually yesterday I tried it and loved it so much - thanks

    I'm not familiar with kaegogi. How is it made, and how does it differ from bulgogi?

    yes, i'm half Korean, and my mom is Full Korean. Kaegogi is made of ket, or dog. Get, which sounds about the same means "crab". Never go to a korean person and say,"I like ket matsal ( matsal is meat)!" They'll think you eat dogs. This happened to me when i went to korea and visitedd some relatives.