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Korean BBQ Demystified

By Edited Oct 25, 2015 0 0

Korean BBQ is quickly becoming a very popular form of ethnic food in the United States and around the world.  "Korean BBQ" is a little bit of a misnomer as it's more grilling than BBQ.  But unlike most restaurants that serve BBQ or grilled foods, most of the cooking in a Korean BBQ restaurant will cook the meats for you at your table.  This unique factor, plus the wonderful flavors and marinades of the foods, is one of the main reasons why millions of people enjoy the various forms and meats of Korean BBQ.

However, like eating at most ethnic restaurants, Korean BBQ can be a little confusing and intimidating to those who are unfamiliar with this type of cusine.  But don't let that hold you back; Korean BBQ truly is some good eats.  Here are some descriptions to demystify this cusine and make it more accessible to everybody, experts and beginners alike:

Korean BBQ, at it's most basic form, can be separated into marinated meats and non-marinated meats.  We'll talk about marinated meats first.

  • Beef
    • Bulgogi (불고기)  is one of the most well-known meats of Korean BBQ and literally means "fire meat."  It is thinly-sliced beef (usually sirloin) that, prior to cooking, had been left in a slightly sweet soy-sauce based marinade.  
    • Galbi (갈비) is probably the other well-known Korean BBQ meat.  Like bulgogi, it has been marinaded in a soy-sauce mixture.  However, it uses short ribs.  It is one of the most popular meats amongst Koreans.
    • Jumulleok (주물럭) is similar to galbi but has been cut into smaller pieces.  It name is derived from the Korean word for "to rub or knead" because traditionally,  the marinade is rubbed into the meat with the preparer's hands.
    • All of the above can be eaten with rice.  However, they are also eaten as part of a lettuce wrap.  In the lettuce wrap, ssamjang, a brownish-red paste is added in addition to the meat.  The lettuce wrap may also contain various veggies and grilled peppers and garlic, among many other things.
  • Pork
    • Dweji Bulgogi (돼지불고기) is thin slices of pork ("dweji" is the Korean word for "pork").  However, unlike its beef counterpart, dweji bulgogi is marinaded in a spicy sauce.
  • Chicken
    • Dak Galbi (닭갈비) is made of chicken ("dak" is Korean for "chicken").  However, unlike the beef galbi, dak galbi is a very spicy dish.  It is also cooked with various other ingredients such as rice cakes, noodles, cabbages, sweet potato, etc...  Once most of the food is eaten, one would take some rice and then stirfry that into the remainder of the food.  While it is not as commonly found as other Korean BBQ meats outside of Korea, it is very flavorful and filling.  In Korea, the Chuncheon region is famed for its dak galbi; there is even an entire street (called "dak galbi street") where both sides of the street is lined with nothing but dak galbi restaurants.

These are some of the well-known non-marinated Korean BBQ meats:

  • Beef
    • Chadol baki (차돌박이) is very, very thinly sliced unmarinated beef.  It is so thin that it practically cooks immediately upon placing on a grill.  
  • Pork
    • Samgyapssal (삼겹살) is one of the most popular Korean BBQ meats amongst Koreans.  It is pork belly (aka unsalted bacon).  The word samgyapssal means "three layered meat," which makes sense because when you look at the meat, there are in fact three distinct layers on the meat.  It is generally thick cut, although there have been trends of making it thing as well. 
  • Both of the above non-marinated meats can be dipped into a seasame oil/salt/pepper mixture (called gereumjang) before eating.  It can also be eaten with the aforementioned ssamjang as part of lettuce wraps.

Korean BBQ is also typically served alongside banchan (Korean side dishes). Many restaurants also serve the meats alongside bowls of  egg casserole and doenjang jjigae, a soup made of fermented bean paste.  Depending on what you order, you may also have small dishes of ssamgjang, gereumjang, garlic, and peppers and a big bowl of lettuce.  One tip: take the garlic and place it on the grill.  The heat will carmelize the garlic and mellow/sweeten it up a little.

Those are some of the most common meats that make up Korean BBQ.  However, this is by no means a complete list.  There are many other meats available as well.  If you have questions, feel free to ask your server at the Korean BBQ restaurant; although some servers may not be able to speak English well, they generally are more than willing to share their food and culture with you if you ask.  Whatever you get, enjoy!

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