A Beginner’s Guide To Korean BBQ

korean bbq guide

In today’s segment of “What’s That?” we are going to dive into one of the more intimidating culinary experiences: Korean BBQ.

What makes Korean BBQ so unique?

For starters, unlike most dining out experiences, YOU are doing the cooking. Below, we will give you all the tips and tricks to impress the company with whom you are enjoying this action-packed meal.

Lay of the Land

Before we even dive into the meats, let’s first get a lay of the land. Your two main tools are going to be a pair of tongs, to handle and the meat, and a pair of heavy duty scissors (yes, scissors), to cut the meat once it is cooked. We recommend using one pair of tongs to handle the raw meat and a secondary pair to flip and hold the meat once it’s cooked.

This next tip may sound like common sense, but just make sure to cut the meat from the bottom up when holding it with the tongs.

Now let’s talk sides. At any Korean BBQ joint you will be served banchan. Banchan is a variety of tasty Korean side dishes that range from kimchi, to soybean sprouts, and everything in between. We will cover banchan more in-depth in future articles, but just know that these are included for free with your meal and are unlimited, so do not be shy in asking for the re-up!

Additionally, you will have a variety of sauces to add to your BBQ. Some of the classics are a spicy soybean & chili paste, as well as a sesame oil with salt and pepper.

Time to talk about the star of the show: the meats! (and seafood). The variety of meats will vary from restaurant to restaurant but there will always be a few mainstays:

  • Bulgogi: Bulgogi to Korean cuisine is like a hamburger to American cuisine, iconic. This thinly sliced ribeye is marinated in sauces that will have your flavor buds exploding from sweet, yet salty & meaty goodness.

  • Pork Belly: Essentially this is bacon, with extreme amounts of fat. Pork belly packs a lot of flavor. You may see it in different varieties from classic pork belly to garlic, marinated, and spicy. You really cannot go wrong with any of the flavor choices.

  • Brisket: The last (But certainly not least) cut we will cover is brisket. Brisket will be extremely thinly sliced, which means that you will have to keep a keen eye on your grill to make sure it isn’t burning. Just remember, a little pink in the middle won’t kill you.

For those who may be looking for alternatives to red meat, other popular options at Korean BBQ are chicken (which usually comes in a variety of marinades) and shrimp.

So, now you have your meat cooked. You might now be asking, “How do we eat it?” and “Why do I have a pile of lettuce on the table?”

First of all, that lettuce is going to be the main device to get that delicious meat into your mouth. Quite simply, put a slice a meat in the middle of that lettuce, add any sauces or banchan that you desire, and fold it up like a taco. That is protein Korean BBQ-style!

how to eat korean barbecue

Basic Tips & Common Mistakes

  1. Ask for a new grill! When your grill starts to get black and covered in burnt sauces, don’t be shy! Ask for a new grill and the staff will happily change the top out.
  2. Meat management is of the utmost importance. Don’t be the “chef all-star” who is flipping the meat every 15 seconds. Let one side cook and then flip it just once. Additionally, make sure you are paying attention to the grill and not letting anything burn. That is the ultimate sin in Korean BBQ.
  3. Less is more. This pertains to the sauces and how much you fill your lettuce wraps. Try not to get too lost in the sauce. These sauces pack serious flavor, so just a dab will do. They are meant to play a supporting role, letting the true star of the show, the meat, shine. Additionally, you don’t need to stuff your lettuce with every banchan and three types of beef. It’s simple. The idea should be that these are lettuce poppers which you can eat, ideally, in one or two bites.
And that’s it! With all of this knowledge you are now ready to impress the next time you go to Korean BBQ.

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