Korean BBQ is a unique experience of grilling meat and veggies at the table. Due to its versatility, it is perfect for meat-lovers, pescetarians, and vegetarians. You can even have it indoors!
But it is essential to know how to do Korean BBQ the Korean way for the best experience. Therefore, we’ve come up with this definitive guide to walk you through your next palatable adventure. So get ready to take notes as we entertain you with everything you need to know of this customisable feast!
Learn what meats to grill first, what to order and etiquette at KBBQ restaurants. Finally, try grilling Korean BBQ at home with our easy recipes!
- What is Korean BBQ?
- Calories in K-BBQ
- Korean BBQ Meats
- Korean BBQ Side Dishes
- Korean BBQ Sauces
- Popular KBBQ Starters and Sides
- K-BBQ Cooking Tips
- Grilling times for Korean BBQ
- How to eat Korean BBQ
- Korean BBQ etiquette
- Korean BBQ at Home
- Heat source
- Smoke from grilling Korean BBQ at home
- KBBQ Portion size
- Korean BBQ at Home (Easy Korean BBQ Recipe)
What is Korean BBQ?
Korean BBQ, or gogi-gui (고기구이), is the method of grilling marinated meat at the dining table. Korean BBQ restaurants usually have gas or charcoal grills built right into the tables. The meat is traditionally served raw to customers to grill on their own. However, the BBQ meats can also come marinated.
You can have Korean BBQ almost everywhere, even in the comfort of your home! All you need is a portable stove to grill on. For example, it is common to find people enjoying Korean BBQ at the park in Korea.
Korean BBQ vs American BBQ
Korean barbecue commonly uses small cuts of meat. Meanwhile, most Western barbecues utilise big cuts such as pork ribs and whole chicken. Also, Western barbecues usually involve smoking the meat beforehand, but Koreans start with raw marinated meat.
It is pretty similar to the Western barbecue as they both involve grilling meat. However, the two differ mainly in the meat cuts used.
Korean BBQ has been gaining popularity lately due to the growing interest in Korean pop culture. Many K-dramas, movies and variety shows have well-promoted it and attracted people worldwide to try Korean BBQ. For instance, you can now enjoy Korean BBQ in London! Plus, this Korean cuisine offers delicious combinations of flavours, so it easily wins the hearts of many.
Its popularity is also partly thanks to the unique experience that Korean restaurants offer to their customers. Undisputedly, it is a rarity to cook your food at a restaurant and eat as much as you like. However, some people's lack of communal dining has made Korean BBQ an enjoyable thing to do on weekends.
Calories in K-BBQ
A Korean BBQ meal has around 1200 calories depending on the grilled meats and side dishes.
However, it is not entirely unhealthy since it has a lot of protein and a ton of healthy side dishes. It will be the ultimate cheat meal you’ll never regret!
Korean BBQ Meats
Here are some of the most common Korean BBQ meats you’ll see on a menu. Beef is one of the standard proteins used in Korean BBQ. However, pork is usually the star of the show when it comes to Korean cuisine. You can also opt for chicken if you’re not a big fan of beef and pork.
In Korean BBQ, beef is one of the most popular choices of meats to use. Take a look at some of the delicious cuts you can get at a restaurant. Alternatively, you can also make it at home.
Galbi is short ribs that are cut thin across the bone. Flanken-cut short ribs make the best galbi. However, you can also opt for boneless short ribs for a thicker cut if that is your preference. Also, keep in mind that these bad boys cook quickly and require intense heat to char.
Bulgogi is thin slices of beef marinated for a few hours before grilling over high heat. In addition, bulgogi also refers to the marinade used for Korean BBQ meat, usually sweet and savoury. Common cuts are thin slices of sirloin, ribeye, or brisket.
Deungsim is a steak cut usually made with ribeye or sirloin. Ribeye steak cuts typically give the best marbling, but sirloin steak cuts can be tender and juicy. You can add these steak cuts to the grill if you’re feeling a little fancy.
Chadolbaegi is a paper thin-sliced brisket. Brisket is usually a tough piece of Korean BBQ meat, but you can enjoy it thin for your grill meal. Simply dip it in sesame oil, salt, and pepper sauce and let it melt inside your mouth.
Chefs will marinate short ribs that looks a lot like a finger. Hence, nookgansal is known as finger short ribs. It is less commonly eaten but makes a great option as a meal starter since it is light.
Chimasal is a flank steak cut from the cow's abdominal muscles. It has very little fat marbling and cooks quickly. Therefore, a lot of people consider it one of the leanest cuts of beef.
Samgyeopsal is pork belly that is usually non-marinated, but you can also marinate it. It is served either thick or thinly sliced. This pork item is a favourite of many Koreans, and it is a staple for every barbecue meal. A must order from the menu!
Hanjungsal is a pork jowl that can also be marinated or plain. It has more flavour than any other pork cut. However, it is less accessible than samgyeopsal since a whole pig only provides about 200 grams of hanjungsal!
Moksal is the Korean term for pork chops derived from the pig's neck. However, you can also get moksal from the pig’s shoulder. Restaurants typically serve them in bite-sized pieces and are one of the popular cuts for barbecue.
Galmaegisal is pork skirt meat sliced into thin strips after being grilled. The meat tends to be chewy and tougher than other pork cuts. However, it offers a generous amount of juiciness and tenderness despite having minimal fat.
It is also known as spicy pork bulgogi but slightly different from beef bulgogi. Instead of marinating with bulgogi sauce, Korean cooks usually marinate dwaeji bulgogi with gochujang sauce instead. Thus, it is pretty spicy, so we recommend eating it with rice and vegetables.
Like beef bulgogi, chicken bulgogi is chicken thighs marinated in bulgogi sauce.
This variation consists of chicken thighs marinated in a spicy gochujang sauce. Once grilled, barbecue patrons usually wrap the thighs in stretchy mozzarella. Chicken is not that popular in Korean BBQ, but we'd say this is a must-try!
Dakgalbi is spicy grilled chicken with galbi sauce. It is similar to beef galbi and is a popular choice among Koreans when it comes to chicken. You can go for boneless chicken thighs or chicken fillets and marinate them with the sauce.
Korean BBQ does not leave seafood-lovers left out, either! Admittedly, seafood is not as popular as the previous proteins, but it is available in almost all Korean BBQ restaurants. Thus, you can enjoy this Korean speciality with all kinds of seafood as well.
A popular grilled squid dish is Ojingeo-gui which is a Korean grilled squid. You can enjoy it with the tangy gochujang sauce. You can either grill it whole or cut it into smaller pieces. Smaller squids are more tender, so they are easier to cook.
You can also make scallop galbi instead of chicken or beef galbi. Just marinate the scallops with galbi sauce, grill, and enjoy!
Gochujang Saewu-gui is a must-try if you’re thinking of having prawns for Korean BBQ. The gochujang gives it a burst of flavour and spice. Moreover, you will only need a few spoons to marinate the shrimps.
The perfect way to enjoy this omega-3 rich fish for Korean BBQ is to make salmon bulgogi. The sweet and savoury sauce does wonders to the fish. You can grill it any way you want. Grilling salmon with the skin helps hold the thin flesh together and keep it from drying out.
Korean BBQ isn't just about the meat, but also about the vegetables! They add more texture and highlight the flavour of the meats. Not to mention that they'll make your meaty meal healthier too.
You will need lettuce is to wrap up the grilled meat. However, you can include any type of lettuces to go with your meal as there is no specific lettuces Koreans use. Common lettuces for Korean BBQ are romaine, iceberg, butter, red leaf, and green leaf.
Perilla is a flat, wide leaf from the mint family yet isn't minty. Instead, it has more of a herby flavour similar to anise. You can also use the leaf to wrap the grilled meat.
It is a universal fact that green onions work well with all kinds of dishes. For example, some shredded green onions can add freshness and flavour to your barbecue dishes. You can also make a green onion salad as a side dish!
Bell peppers surely add colour and crunch to the barbecue dishes. Different colours of peppers provide different flavours and sweetness. You can have them raw for maximum crunch, but grilling them would be fine as well.
Other Crunchy Vegetables
You can add more crunch to your meal with other crunchy vegetables such as radishes, cucumber, and carrot sticks.
Korean BBQ Side Dishes
Banchan (side dishes) are an essential part of Korean dishes, including Korean BBQ. Korean BBQ restaurants will offer a variety of side dishes that you can enjoy with your grilled foods. Most of them will also help break up the greasy taste of meats while enhancing the meaty flavour.
It is a green onion salad that pairs well with grilled KBBQ meats. The scallions are julienned and seasoned with sesame oil, gochugaru (chilli flakes), and sesame seed. Koreans will eat this pamoochim with non-marinated meat such as samgyeopsal.
Garlic and green chillies
We’re here to inform all garlic lovers that garlic is perfect for your grilled meat. While this might be new to you, Koreans enjoy Korean BBQ with grilled garlic. Couple it with some green chillies, and you'll get some superior sides for your dish.
Sangchu-geotjeori is a Korean lettuce salad that also goes perfectly with the meat. It also involves the special ingredient, gochugaru. Therefore, it is a little spicy, salty yet sweet.
Perilla leaves can be stir-fried, but for Korean BBQ, they are usually used as wrappers. Besides that, they can be pickled and made into a sweet and salty side dish known as Kkaennip Jangajji. The leaves will also add a unique aroma and taste to your meat dish.
Another typical way of enjoying KBBQ meats is to have it over rice. However, rice can make you feel full quicker. Therefore, we recommend having it in tiny amounts to save space for more grilled meat and other yummy sides.
Korean BBQ Sauces
What’s a Korean BBQ without sauces? Sauces and seasonings are must-haves so you can customise your barbecue dishes. Plus, they have the power to make your grilled meat taste even better!
Ssamjang means "wrap sauce", which is the sauce you put on your wrap. It is made from doenjang (soybean paste), gochujang (pepper paste), green onions, sugar, garlic, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Therefore, it is both sweet and savoury with a kick of spice.
Sesame oil, salt and pepper sauce
This savoury sauce goes well with non-marinated pork belly or beef. Its flavour is milder than the ssamjang sauce, so it brings out more of the taste of your grilled ingredients. You will need two teaspoons of toasted sesame oil, a pinch of salt, and ground black pepper to make it.
Toasted sesame oil
This dipping also works great with non-marinated meat, especially pork. Sprinkling a tiny bit of salt can also enhance the meaty flavours.
Wasabi soy sauce
This sauce pairs well with char-grilled marinated pork or beef. The level of spiciness depends on the amount of wasabi used. The more wasabi you put, the spicier the sauce will be. However, too much wasabi can be too overwhelming, so make sure you put the right dose into the soy sauce.
Popular KBBQ Starters and Sides
There are other popular dishes that you can enjoy with Korean BBQ meat. Although some can be main dishes by themselves, they are also great as starters or sides.
Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine served with almost all main dishes. It is a traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables. The most common kimchi usually consists of napa cabbage or Korean radishes seasoned with chilli powder, scallions, ginger, and garlic. Its sour and spicy taste will significantly complement the grilled meat.
Kongnamul consists of soybean sprouts seasoned with sesame oil, soy, scallions, and garlic. It usually has a mild seasoning flavour with a hint of nuttiness from the soybean sprouts. However, it is also common to add gochugaru and soy sauce to make it spicy.
It is a yellow pickled radish typically inserted in gimbap (Korean seaweed rolls). It is crispy, sweet, and tangy, making it a refreshing side for any meal.
Jeon is a savoury Korean pancake made from vegetables, fish, or meat. The classic ones are pajeon (green onion pancake) and kimchi jeon (kimchi pancake). However, there are other kinds of jeon, such as haemuljeon (seafood pancake), dubujeon (tofu pancake), and gamjajeon (potato pancake). You can also find sweet ones called hwajeon made from edible flowers and honey.
Gim is "seaweed" in Korean, and there are tons of seaweed side dishes that are great for Korean BBQ. Korean seaweed is light and crispy like the Japanese Nori with a sweet and salty flavour. Some popular seaweed side dishes are miyeok muchim (seaweed salad) and doljaban muchim (seasoned seaweed). Apart from these, gim can also work as a wrapper for the meat.
Potato-lovers, you can bring in potato dishes as a part of your Korean BBQ feast! Korean cuisine has a variety of potato or gamja dishes such as potato salad and gamja bokkeum (stir-fried potatoes). You might also love gamja jorim, a sweet braised potato dish.
When it comes to egg dishes, gyeran mari is one you should include in your meal. It is rolled omelette mixed with finely-diced vegetables. Besides that, you can also try gyeranjjim, which is a savoury egg custard dish served on a little pot.
Korean fried chicken is famous for its crunchiness and thick, sweet, and spicy coating. It is considered a main dish and makes a great appetiser when shared with friends or family. However, you can order or make fried chicken with Korean pickled radish if you want a heavier dish to accompany your barbecue dishes.
Some rice dishes can also complement the grilled foods such as gimbap (Korean rice rolls). Besides that, you can also use leftover kimchi and rice to make flavourful kimchi fried rice. Again, the barbecued meat and vegetables can enrich this particular dish.
K-BBQ Cooking Tips
If you're dining at a restaurant, the server will usually assist you with the grilling. However, it is better to know the basics of grilling so you can also cook it on your own. Learning these basics will also help you grill Korean BBQ at home.
How to make sure the grill is on?
You can easily make sure the grill is on by looking at the switch located at the side or under the table. Most electric grills are on when the power light is on. On the other hand, most traditional grills are on when the switch is toggled down. However, you can always call for the server to ensure it is on.
How to adjust your grill settings?
You can adjust the settings through the screws attached to the grilling tablet or the switch. It can differ according to the grill types, but the servers are usually ready to assist you.
What should you grill first?
It would be best to grill the non-marinated meats before the marinated ones. This will minimise smoke, which will help to reduce the smell on your clothes!
What's the best way to grill KBBQ meats?
The best way to grill the meat is by grilling them in the middle of the grill. This is because that is where the meat gets cooked the most. Be sure not to flip it too much to keep juice loss to a minimum. Only flip it once the top of the meat starts to sweat. If there are some burnt pieces, simply cut them off with scissors.
How to keep the meat warm?
You can also place cooked pieces of meat on the edges of the grill to keep them warm. No worries, they won't get further cooked! However, it is best to enjoy the meat ASAP once cooked.
Grilling times for Korean BBQ
Nobody likes burnt and overcooked pieces. Hence, we have provided the approximate grilling times to give you the perfect finished meat. These are the cook times for each ingredient based on medium heat.
There's no exact time to cook chicken, and the time required depends on the size. Each side will usually take 5-6 minutes to grill for the most part. It will usually take around 8-12 minutes to cook on each side for bigger portions.
Each side of thin slices and small cuts of pork only requires 2-3 minutes of grilling to be perfectly cooked. You can grill it for about a minute or less on each side to have it rare. If you prefer medium, cook each side for about 1-2 minutes.
Similarly, the grilling time for beef depends on the portion size. However, it should take around 2-3 minutes to cook it thoroughly. Cook each side for 1-2 minutes for medium and a minute or less to have it rare.
Squids take around 2-4 minutes to cook. You only have to grill it until the flesh is almost opaque and crisped around the edges. It is best to avoid overcooking squids as they can become rubbery when overcooked.
Scallops require 5-8 minutes of grilling in total, depending on your preference. You can know that it is fully cooked once the scallop turns opaque.
Shrimps take around 5 to 7 minutes to cook. The outer part will turn pink while the meat is opaque once cooked.
Grill salmon skin-side down for 3-5 minutes on each side without disturbing it. The salmon is cooked once it easily flakes apart.
Most vegetables take about 3-5 minutes to cook on the grill. However, you should note that denser vegetables will take longer to cook.
How to eat Korean BBQ
There’s no perfect way to eat Korean BBQ, but the best way is to do it like the Koreans! This traditional Korean way is known as the ssam style.
Ssam means "wrap", and it is the method of having tiny amounts of ingredients wrapped in a larger component. Locals would prepare the wraps one by one on the spot, and eat them in a single bite.
- Grill your preferred meat. You can cut the meat into tinier pieces if they are too large for a single bite. Most restaurants provide special scissors to cut your meat, but kitchen shears will work if you're barbecuing at home.
- Wrap the meat in lettuce and perilla. Traditional Korean restaurants will usually serve you lettuce in a basket for this. Remember to make it small so it can fit in one bite!
- Top or dip the wrap with your preferred sauce.
- Pop it into your mouth and brace yourself for the burst of flavours it offers.
- Do it all over again!
Korean BBQ etiquette
Everyone can enjoy Korean BBQ, but it is also essential to know the eating etiquette at Korean restaurants. It may not be a serious thing in other countries. However, you should take note of these when dining in Korea.
Best bites for loved ones
In Korean culture, giving your loved ones the most sought-after pieces of meat is a sign of affection. Therefore, it is a Korean tradition to prepare the perfect ssam for your loved ones and feed it to them.
It is rude to stick your chopsticks in rice, but you can place them atop your rice bowl. Alternatively, you can make a DIY chopstick rest whenever you're putting down your chopsticks.
You can grab the leaves with your hands and use chopsticks to put in meat and other ingredients.
Tipping your servers can be considered rude in Korea. Therefore, you don't have to tip servers unless you dine at a Korean restaurant in America.
Don't get greedy!
Wasting food is never a good idea, so you should just order as you go. Plus, many Korean BBQ restaurants will charge you for leftovers. But, of course, you can always request more if needed.
When drinking with people older than you, make sure their glass is filled first. Then, keep both of your hands on the bottle when pouring for them. Alternatively, you can place your free hand on the pouring arm.
Never pour your own drink unless you’re dining alone. Then, once you've poured for the elders, wait for them to pour for you.
Turn your head slightly away from the elders while drinking and never look at them directly when they sip.
Apart from the food, drinks also play a role in providing the best Korean BBQ experience. The dishes go well with a variety of drinks, including alcoholic ones. However, you might want to settle for light drinks as Korean BBQ ingredients are already rich in flavour.
Most Koreans would enjoy Korean BBQ with Soju, beer, or a mixture of both known as Somaek. You can also mix Soju with Yakult (yoghurt drink) or Melona ice cream. If you want to make it more traditional, some sweet and milky makgeolli (rice wine) would be great.
It is very occasionally for Korean BBQ restaurants to offer soda. But this doesn’t mean your barbecue dishes would not go well with some fizzy drinks. In Korea, a popular carbonated drink called Chilsung Cider tastes like Sprite.
You can make top your meal with a healthy drink, such as fresh fruit juices. Some popular choices are apple juice, orange juice, and watermelon juice.
Skip all the fancy drinks and go traditional with a nice cup of tea. For example, Boricha (roasted Barley tea) is one of the popular drinks for Korean BBQ. Besides that, you can also opt for green tea or lemon tea.
Korean BBQ at Home
Traditionally Korean BBQ is eaten at restaurants and not at home. However, with the cuisine’s popularity, more people are leaning towards grilling Korean BBQ at home. Follow these simple tips and easy Korean BBQ recipes to do so!
Charcoal makes the best Korean BBQ dishes, but you can't use it indoors. Moreover, it can be quite a struggle to light up charcoal.
Induction is a good option since it is safe and easy to clean. However, it does not provide as much heat as Korean BBQ at home will require. Therefore, you will need an induction specific metal which can be tough to find in Korean BBQ grill pan shapes.
A portable butane stove is the best option, and you can use it indoors provided that there is proper ventilation. Some also have combination stoves with the grill attached to them. However, it is best to get a butane stove with a detachable setting from the same company. They'll fit perfectly and allow you to detach the grill for cleaning afterwards.
A great portable butane stove we recommend is Iwatani's portable butane stove and their detachable grill pan. Although it is pricier than other stoves, it heats up quick and the meat cooks a lot more evenly on the plate. In addition, they also have other high-quality grill plates for cuisines like yakiniku (Japanese BBQ).
Smoke from grilling Korean BBQ at home
Smoke is the main reason why traditionally Koreans do not make Korean BBQ at home. Here are some ways to reduce the smoke when grilling KBBQ in your home.
- Make sure that your windows are open while you are grilling.
- Get a hood fan to suck up all the smoke when grilling indoors.
- Grill the non marinated Kbbq meats first.
- Take regular breaks from grilling on high heat.
- Change or clean the grill plate if it gets too smoky.
You can choose to marinate your meats beforehand or cook them without a marinade. Both options are common in KBBQ. If you would like to marinade your meats, you should at least prepare this 30 minutes before grilling. However, it is best to marinade the night before.
Homemade KBBQ meat marinade recipe
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup Asian pear juice
- 2 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1-2 pcs scallions, chopped
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
- 1½ teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
Our Favourite Marinades
Store-bought Korean marinades save a lot of preparation time. This is especially the case if you’re making Korean BBQ at home for a large party. Here are our favourites to use.
- CJ Korean BBQ Bulgogi Marinade
- Chung Jung One O'Food Korean BBQ Bulgogi Sauce
- Bibigo, Korean BBQ Sauce
KBBQ Portion size
Portion out ½ to 1 lb of meat or seafood per guest you are serving.
For vegetables, you will want to have half a lettuce or 10-15 perilla leaves per person.
3-4 small side dishes are good for sharing between 4 people.
Prepare about 1 bowl of cooked rice per person. 1 cup of uncooked rice will make 3 cups of cooked rice.
Just like in a restaurant, make sure you have the right utensils to go alongside your Korean BBQ at home.
Have a few long tongs available at the table. This will help your guests grill their own KBBQ meats while also keeping raw and cooked meat separate.
Same with the tongs, we recommend having scissors handy so that you can easily cut larger pieces of meats into bite-size portions. Cutting the meat on the heat can also help it cook faster and more evenly.
Korean BBQ at Home (Easy Korean BBQ Recipe)
- 2 lbs bone-in short ribs (thinly sliced)
- 1 lb brisket (thinly sliced)
- 1 lb pork belly (thinly sliced)
- 1 small bowl kimchi
- 1 small bowl pamoochim
- 1 basket lettuce
- 1 basket perilla leaves
- 1 cup crunchy vegetables
- 4-6 cups cooked rice
- Marinate your meats with your choice of the marinade (optional) overnight.
- Start by choosing your preferred marinated or non-marinated meat. Then, start up the grill. Preheat the grill on high heat for 10-15 minutes. Then, turn the heat down to medium heat.
- Cook your non-marinated meat first. Grill each side of meat for about 2-3 minutes. Then, proceed with marinated meat by grilling each side for 2-3 minutes. Cut the meat pieces if needed.
- Place cooked meat on a plate or leave them at the edges of the grill to keep warm. Have the side dishes and dipping sauces prepared on the table.
- Place a leaf of lettuce in your palm. Next, add a layer of perilla leaf for double wrapping. Then, add a piece of meat or two. Finally, add some sauce and vegetables before wrapping them up into a packet.
- Top or dip it with ssamjang or other preferred sauce. Then, pop it into your mouth and savour each bite.
- You may skip steps 4-5 to enjoy the Korean BBQ meats without wrapping. Instead, you can enjoy your Korean BBQ at home with other preferred side dishes such as rice or noodles.
- Reduce the portion of short ribs to 1 lb if you use boneless short ribs.
- You can replace brisket with sirloin or ribeye.
- The meats can either be marinated or non-marinated.
- Grilling times can vary depending on preference.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and is only a rough estimate.
Crazy for Korean food? Follow us on Instagram @honestfoodtalks to make sure you get the latest trendy K-recipes!