A simple but flavorful marinade of soy sauce, Korean spicy paste, and sweet Asian pear makes this Korean beef bulgogi a stand out dinner.
My friend Michelle loves food. It’s just one reason we’re good friends. She’s also half Korean. Combine her love of food with her love of her Korean heritage (she has her PhD in Korean Women Studies—WHOA) and I have a built-in advisor on everything delicious about her flavorful heritage.
It seems that Korean has been on a steady upward climb in the Asian flavor field and has quickly become on par with Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food. Michelle and her husband were the first ones to take us to try Korean food. It’s become such a favorite of mine that I’ve celebrated my past three birthdays with a dinner of beef bulgogi and all the little Korean side dishes called ban-chan.
Michelle has made us her Korean dinner a handful of times, and that’s how I discovered it’s really so simple to make at home. Because most of the prep is done ahead of time thanks to the marinade, the actual cooking of the meal happens so quickly that it’s perfect for that “what the heck is dinner gonna be” weeknight meal.
What’s in Beef Bulgogi?
Korean Beef Bulgogi is a spicy marinated, thinly sliced beef that can be either grilled or cooked in a skillet or stir-fry pan, whichever suits your fancy.
There are a two key ingredients that make this dish distinctly Korean: Asian pear and gochugang.
Asian pear can be found in most grocery stores when in season, or at specialty Asian markets. They’re rounder and more plump than a traditional pear and help tenderize the beef while adding a sweetness to the bulgogi marinade.
Gochuchang is a fermented paste that adds a savory and spicy richness to the marinade. I feel like in many cooking circles its set to become the next Sriracha for adding flavor while cooking. I’ve used it in several fast marinades for chicken and pork and have found it totally delicious every time. You can find it in most grocery stores Asian aisles, or specialty Asian markets.
Thinly sliced beef is the hallmark of bulgogi. The marinade works its magic in as little as 30 minutes or overnight if you like to prep ahead. We add the onions directly to the marinade to infuse flavor to the meat even a little more.
The thinly sliced beef cooks quickly to create a caramelized coating to the beef and onions. I’m not kidding when I am telling you right now that simply writing this description is making my mouth water. I know it’s the standard lingo most bloggers say, but this time, it is all real.
How to Make Beef Bulgogi
The key to making great Korean beef bulgogi is preparing the meat properly. You’ll first need to wrap the flat iron steak in plastic wrap and freeze it for 1 to 2 hours. Then, thinly slice the steak across the grain and place it in a bag with the sliced onion.
Make the bulgogi marinade by blitzing all the ingredients together in a food processor. Pour the bulgogi sauce over the beef and onions and let it marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to cook the beef bulgogi, preheat a cast iron skillet and add a drizzle of canola oil. Add the meat, onions, and bulgogi marinade to the hot pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the meat begins to caramelize and the onions are cooked through.
I like to garnish my Korean beef bulgogi with chopped green onions and sesame seeds, but it’s also delicious as is.
What to Serve with Korean Bulgogi
One of my favorite parts of the entire dinner is the assorted ban-chan, or Korean side dishes. At most Korean restaurants, a selection of them are served before or alongside the meal to eat with or nibble on before.
For this dinner we served dried seaweed, this spicy Korean cucumber recipe, kimchee that I purchased from the Korean market and this recipe for Korean glazed potatoes that have a sweet delicious flavor you’d never expect from a potato. We didn’t do my favorite Korean broccoli that is so simply dressed with a bit of sesame oil.
Next time it’s happening for sure.
Serve it all over bowls of hot white rice, or make wraps with leafy lettuce leaves with bits of the assorted ban-chan to make hand held Korean lettuce tacos.
Do I Have to Use Asian Pears?
No, although I highly recommend using them if your supermarket carries them. But if you can’t find Asian pear, a Bosc pear or even a sweeter variety of apple will work too.
What’s the Best Beef for Bulgogi?
I’ve used flank steak today, but any quality cut of beef that has marbling will often work. If you’re unsure which cut of beef to buy, head to the butcher’s counter at your grocery store and ask for their recommendation.
Can I Use This Recipe to Make Pork Bulgogi?
Yes, I’ve used this same bulgogi marinade to make pork bulgogi instead of beef and it was equally delicious. I use thinly cut pork loin (1/8 inch) instead of pork belly to keep it on the healthier side, but either option will work.
Can I Make This Recipe in Advance?
You can prep the steak and let it soak in the bulgogi marinade overnight, but I don’t recommend cooking the beef bulgogi until you’re ready to serve it. Reheated beef bulgogi isn’t nearly as good as it is straight from the skillet.
Tips for Making Korean Beef Bulgogi
Don’t skip freezing the flat iron steak, otherwise it’ll be impossible to slice it as thinly as it needs to be. Thinly sliced steak is key, as you want the meat to cook quickly in the hot skillet.
The longer you marinate the beef, the more flavor it will have. If possible, I highly recommend letting the beef and onions marinate overnight. 30 minutes will work, but overnight is best.
Finally, because you’ll be cooking the meat and onions over high heat, you’ll want to use a neutral flavored oil with a high smoke point, such as canola or vegetable oil. Olive oil can’t withstand that high of a temperature, so avoid using it for this beef bulgogi recipe.
More Easy Asian Dinner Recipes You’ll Love
- Korean Beef Bulgogi Bowls
- How to Make an Easy Asian Hot Pot
- 7 Spice Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowls
- Sesame Shrimp and Asian Greens Rice Bowls
- Instant Pot Orange Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Korean Beef Bulgogi
- 1 1/2 pound flat iron steak
- 1 onion peeled, quartered and sliced
- 1 Asian pear peeled, cored and chopped
- 1 small shallot chopped
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 2 green onions chopped
- Sesame seeds , for serving
- White rice , for serving
- Wrap the flat iron steak in plastic wrap and freeze for 1-2 hours to firm up.
- Thinly slice the flat iron steak across the grain into about 1/8-inch slices. Place the beef and chopped onion in a gallon freezer bag or a large bowl and set aside.
- In a food processor, combine the Asian pear, shallot, garlic and grated ginger until smooth. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, gochujang and black pepper and pulse until combined. Pour into the gallon freezer bag or large bowl with the steak and onions and mix to combine. Refrigerate for 30 minutes up to overnight.
- When ready to cook, preheat a cast-iron pan or large skillet over high heat and then add the oil. Add the meat, onions and marinade to the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the meat begins to brown and caramelize and the onions are cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.
- Garnish with chopped green onion and sesame seeds. Serve with rice, kimchi, Korean pickled cucumbers and Korean glazed potatoes.
More Steak Recipes to Make
- The Best Steak Fajitas
- Beef with Broccoli
- Sirloin Steak Sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce
- Ramen Noodles with Marinated Steak and Broccoli
- Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
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