What Makes Korean BBQ a Unique Culinary Experience??
Time to read 4 min
Time to read 4 min
Korean BBQ (KBBQ) has soared in global popularity, captivating food lovers with its rich flavors and cultural charm. What makes KBBQ special? Why has it become so popular? This blog will dive into the heart of Korean BBQ, shedding light on what makes it so special and why it has won over so many fans across the globe. Join us as we explore the smoky, savory world of KBBQ.
In the traditional Korean BBQ setting, the meat is grilled right at the table and this shared grill is a focal point of KBBQ.
A typical Korean BBQ setup, with a shared grill in the middle of the table. At KBBQ restaurants, it is common to find an exhaust pipe to suck out all the smoke.
The communal grill at Korean BBQ allows diners to enjoy meat off the grill at any moment, ensuring every bite is freshly cooked. This setup also allows guests to manage their own cooking pace, deciding when to add more meat to the grill or pause to relish what's on their plate. This flexible, eat-as-you-go style not only suits each diner's preferred pace of dining but also facilitates a natural flow of conversation, enriching the shared experience.
Pork belly being grilled over charcoal
In a restaurant setting, a server may take on the task of grilling, but it is just as usual for diners to cook their own selections. This interactive practice includes passing around plates of raw meat and taking turns cooking the meat, all against the backdrop of a sizzling grill and rising smoke.
Whether it's thinly sliced beef brisket or thinly sliced and marinated bulgogi (beef ribeye), Korean BBQ tends to use thin cuts of meat. Thinly slicing meat has practical benefits, as it allows the meat to cook quickly and evenly on the grill, which is essential given the interactive and social nature of Korean BBQ - Thin slices ensure that the meat cooks through without taking too much time, keeping the flow of the meal going and allowing diners to enjoy a variety of meats and flavors throughout the meal.
The tradition of cutting meat into smaller pieces has given rise to a diverse range of beef cuts in Korean cuisine. While the typical number of beef cuts in the US stands at around 22, the French and English boast about 35. Korean butchers take it even further, with up to 120 different cuts, although modern practices commonly utilize around 50 of these.
Thin slices of beef brisket take just a few seconds on a hot grill to cook through
Historically, Korean cuisine has favored spoons and chopsticks as the primary eating utensils, while knives were not traditionally used at the table. Consequently, Korean cuisine required meats to be cut into chopstick-friendly pieces before serving. For certain larger cuts, like Galbi or a thick slab of pork belly, the meat is initially grilled as a whole and then snipped into smaller, bite-sized pieces right at the table, often using tongs and scissors—a common sight at Korean BBQ restaurants.
Tongs and scissors are a common sight in Korean BBQ
Korean BBQ is famed for its marinades, particularly the sweet and savory blend used in Bulgogi and Galbi, as well as the spicy variant used in dishes like Jeyuk Bokkeum (Spicy Bulgogi) and our Spicy Duck.
Marinated LA Galbi (sweet and savory)
The sweet and savory marinade typically combines soy sauce, rice wine, and fruits like pears or apples with garlic, ginger, and onion.
Marinated Jeyuk Bokkeum (spicy, sweet and savory)
The spicy marinade heats things up with chili powder and paste, in addition to garlic, ginger, and onion. These marinades soak into the meat, ensuring deep flavor that, once grilled, gains a rich, smoky character.
For enjoying meats that are not marinated, Korean cuisine has a wide selection of diverse and unique sauces to choose from. Below are two of the most popular dipping sauces in KBBQ - for a longer list, check out our blog on KBBQ Dipping Sauces covering how to make them and d what cuts of meat they are paired with. Please let us know if you have new pairings to suggest! (firstname.lastname@example.org)
An ultimate KBBQ sauce that is a combination of key sauces used in Korean cuisine - doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) and gochujang (chili paste).
Seasoned Soy Sauces
Crafted from a soy sauce base with a mix of sweet and sour flavors from vinegar and sugar, and enhanced with fresh ingredients like chopped green onions, sesame seeds, minced garlic, and Korean chili pepper for added depth.
In our next blog, we will explore the diverse ways to savor Korean BBQ 'Ssam' style, where tender pieces of meat are enfolded in leafy vegetables, delicate sheets of pickled daikon, and soft, rolled rice cakes.
Be sure to check out our other blog entries on Banchan (side dishes) commonly served with KBBQ, and on the diversity of Kimchi beyond the well-known fermented cabbage version. We also have an extensive list of recipes for you to browse! Subscribe to our newsletter below for the latest updates and never miss a bite of our culinary journey.