15 Korean BBQ Must-Haves for an At-Home Experience
Korean barbecue is an awesomely delicious and fun experience. But some of us don’t want to put on real pants. So how do we get that delicious dining experience from the comfort of our sweatpants home? Don’t worry, Umamicart is here to make it happen!
There are a lot of ingredients that can go into Korean BBQ, but not all of them are necessary. So we are breaking down all the must-haves, ingredients you need, and things you definitely should try. Your tummy will be rumbling by the end of this read, but your cart likely will be full.
What Is Korean BBQ?
Let’s start with the basics. Korean BBQ is all about meats cooked on an open flame, which is usually on a charcoal grill in the middle of the dining table.
Once cooked, the popular method is to wrap the meat in lettuce and rice and serve with banchan, or sides. Bulgogi (불고기), or “fire meat,” is one of the most common beef options served. The standard sides will usually consist of kimchi, green onion salad, and dipping sauces.
The idea is that you have these hearty, flavorful proteins as the main attraction, with the vegetables and sides providing palate cleansers. The sauces add to the umami flavors and provide contrasts to the marinades on meats. We know you’re already drooling, but there’s so much more to know.
What Is the History of Korean BBQ?
The origins of Korean BBQ can be traced back to the Goguryeo Dynasty in 37 A.D. The bulgogi was known as maekjeok (translated to skewered meat). This turned into seoryamyeok that eventually became neobiani. Long story short, neobiani turned into the bulgogi meats that are served for Korean BBQ today.
What can you expect on the BBQ grill now? Thinly sliced meats that have been marinated before grilling. Everything will be served with an array of banchan and fresh vegetables.
But what else should I look for?
Flavor. All the flavor your tastebuds can handle!
What Should I Buy for Korean BBQ at Home?
Korean BBQ has a lot of staple items and flavors that tie into each other. If you don’t like them all, that’s understandable. The most important part is having the correct flavor profiles pair well with each other. So if there are ingredients that you like and others you would instead substitute, do it.
1. Beef Bulgogi
As we said before, bulgogi translates to “fire meat,” referring to the open flame they’re cooked over. Marinades are generally a sweet and sour soy sauce base and require thinly-sliced meats.
You’ll want to use high-quality beef as those fats just melt so nicely over the hot coals. Prime cuts are always the best, but choice cuts will work just fine.
Planning to splurge? Ribeye and NY Strip cuts are perfect.
On a side note, if you need a good recipe for marinade, we’ve got you covered.
- Two cloves of garlic – minced
- One tbsp grated ginger
- One tbsp brown sugar
- Three tbsp San J Organic Shoyu Soy Sauce
- One pound of sliced marbled beef
- One tbsp toasted sesame seeds – for garnish
- Two scallions, finely chopped – for garnish
Simply combine the ingredients and marinade the meat for at least 30 minutes.
Running out of time? CJ Korean BBQ Sauce is made with Korean pears and apples for a naturally sweet and savory flavor.
Pork, specifically pork belly, also known as samgyeopsal (삼겹살), might be one of the softest and heartiest proteins on the market. Thinly sliced, it cooks fast and exudes rich fatty flavors.
In other cuisines, you’ll find pork belly cut thick, and cooked low and slow. In Korean BBQ, the thin slices allow for faster cooking. However, it can be compared to burnt ends in American BBQ, caramelized hearty pieces of grilled perfection.
3. Beef Short Rib
Beef short rib, known as galbi on Korean BBQ menus, is one of the top items. In fact, many menus charge a higher premium to include galbi with the dish. The meat is packed with flavor and marinated in a sauce with guk-ganjang (Korean soy sauce) as the base. We’re talking salty, rich, hearty umami goodness!
Onions are a wonderful addition to the grill. The caramelized, sweet flavors cut through some of the saltier fat of the meats perfectly. Eat them raw, or wrapped up with lettuce and meat if you prefer a little more bite.
Pickled onions are another Korean staple item that works well with any dish. They’re sour and sweet and work well at balancing many rich flavors already present in Korean BBQ.
5. Bean Sprouts
Bean sprouts offer a mild earthy flavor but are perfect for soaking up the flavors of sauces. They’re considered banchan and provide a nice texture difference, crunch to the softer meats.
Zucchini is a classic side dish for Korean bbq that offers some heat for the salty richness of the meat. Another popular banchan, zucchini, is used as a side dish with Korean chili flakes.
Similar to zucchini, spicy cucumber salad, oi muchim, is a classic side. It is spicy and sweet, with a sour balance. Cucumbers are the perfect vessel for the flavors of the dressing and provide a wonderful crunch when eaten with your choice of protein.
Lettuce is an absolute necessity in Korean BBQ. Red leaf lettuce is best, for aesthetics and function. This mild-flavored lettuce is wide and strong enough to hold a tasty piece of grilled meat and kimchi for a savory crunch. It’s perfect for wrapping around hot-off-the-grill meats and soaking up sauces.
Cabbage can be subbed in for lettuce if you prefer, but even if you don’t sub it, you can still expect it on the table. Kimchi is pickled cabbage and always deserves a spot on the table during Korean bbq. The tart flavors of the pickling liquid are absorbed nicely into the mild cabbage.
Kimchi provides crunch and sour contrasts to the heartier flavors already present.
Nevertheless, if you prefer cabbage to lettuce, that can work too. You’ll have to adjust the way you serve, as it will be more similar to cups than wraps. However, the crunch from cabbage can be a pleasing textural contrast to soft meats.
Cabbage is also wonderful at absorbing the dipping sauce, so dip away!
10. Green Onions
Green onion salad, pa muchim, is another staple banchan. It’s spicy, crunchy, and has a fresh herbaceous quality that contrasts nicely with the spice.
11. Soybean Paste
Ssamjang is a thick spicy red sauce made from soybean paste mixed with a few other ingredients. It is a traditional sauce to serve with anything served on lettuce in Korean cuisine. It’s a spicy, slightly sweet sauce with a strong garlic backbone.
12. Hot Pepper Paste
Gochujang is a Korean chili paste, and one of the more popular sauces for spicy flavors. It has a spicy-sweet base with a prominent salty note. Paired with the flavors of Korean BBQ marinades, gochujang provides a subtle heat that amplifies all the savory notes on the table.
For Korean cuisine, garlic is one of the most popular ingredients. For Korean BBQ, you’ll use it in almost everything.
Garlic makes up part of the base for most marinades and will provide some of the strength behind some of the spicy sides and sauces. You can enjoy pickled garlic as a banchan option.
14. Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil also makes up the base for a lot of sauces and marinade for Korean BBQ. It provides a subtle but noticeable nutty flavor with a bit of contrast and balance for salty and sweet flavors.
In contrast, sesame seeds are an excellent finisher for meats and sauces. Yes, throw some sesame seeds on top of your dipping sauces for a little nutty flair. It will be more aromatic intensive than flavorful, but there will be a nutty brightness that you can appreciate.
For vegetarians, tofu is the perfect addition to have at the table. You can offer it as a banchan in a spicy sauce or use it as a meat replacement in some of the more tangy marinades. It will work either way, as the creamy textures of the tofu can balance the spicier notes of Korean BBQ.
Do I Need To Use Beef for Korean BBQ?
While beef is a standard albeit requirement of traditional Korean BBQ, no, you don’t have to use beef. Food is meant to be enjoyed and interpreted, and modified when needed. If beef is off the menu for you, try substituting tofu for meats or other vegan proteins.
The best part? You can still enjoy most, if not all, the traditional sides and sauces. For some sauces, you will have to actively search for a vegan option. Not eating meat shouldn’t mean you can’t enjoy great Korean BBQ.
How Can Korean BBQ Be Made Vegetarian?
Korean barbecue CAN be made vegetarian. Yes, at the center of Korean BBQ is a whole lot of meat. But replacing that meat with other options is possible and a lot easier than most might think.
Opt for Tofu
So the most straightforward replacement for meat is tofu. As we said above, tofu can be used as the main viand or the banchan. Luckily, tofu has plenty of options: silken, soft, medium, firm, extra firm, and super firm.
Firm tofu will grill the best as soft varieties can be added to the side to soak up all the different dressings and sauces. If tofu isn’t your thing, but you really want something meaty for a galbi or bulgogi replacement, try portobello mushrooms.
Mushrooms are a fabulous vegetarian replacement for meat. They’re firm and stand up to many of the same cooking techniques as meat. They’re also texturally pleasing to the palate, much like the soft textures of meat will be. Tofu also has a lot of the same rich and hearty qualities as animal proteins. You won’t even realize meat isn’t on the table.
Include More Vegetables
You could always substitute plenty of vegetables for meat or add a lot more to the table. All of the banchan can still be enjoyed, so maybe you just opt out of anything on the grill. Or, try eggplant or potatoes in place of meat.
Since you’re grilling at home, a grill basket would be a great investment for vegetarian-heavy options. You’ll be able to add all the flavors of the char and traditional marinades without having to use skewers. Grill baskets also allow all the heat to pass through.
The Bottom Line
Korean BBQ has a lot of tradition at heart, but there are so many banchan dishes to explore.
To dig in Korean-style, toss some kimchi and garlic cloves onto the grill. While that cooks, grab a lettuce leaf to make a ssam, or “wrap,” and top it off with rice, meat, and your favorite choice of sauce. Just remember to have fun and enjoy all the wonderful flavor combinations on the table!
Looking for all your favorite meats and banchan sides? Head over to Umamicart for all your high-quality Asian grocery needs delivered straight to your door.