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Beef Bulgogi – Once Upon a Chef

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Korean-style beef bulgogi is tender, flavor-packed, and easy to make at home.

Bulgogi, pronounced bool-goh-gee, is a popular Korean barbecue dish that translates to “fire meat.” It’s made of thinly sliced marinated meat, typically beef, grilled on a barbecue or stovetop griddle. Bulgogi is not really spicy; “fire” is a reference to the hot cooking surface. In many Korean restaurants, tables are outfitted with grills in the center so customers can cook the bulgogi meat themselves and eat it straight from the grill – a fun, communal experience. Bulgogi is typically served with steamed rice, lettuce wraps, chili sauce, and other Korean accompaniments.

Bulgogi is an easy dish to make at home, too. In this version, adapted from Cooks Illustrated, I marinate well-marbled ribeye in a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, shallot, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Because the meat is thinly sliced, it only needs one hour to marinate (although it’s fine to leave it overnight, too). Instead of grilling the meat, which can be tricky unless you have a flat-top grill, I cook it in a cast iron or nonstick pan. The sound of bulgogi sizzling on the stove is pretty enticing, so don’t be surprised when your family starts lurking around the kitchen. Conveniently, it cooks in under 10 minutes, so the troops won’t get too restless!

What You’ll Need To Make Beef Bulgogi

bulgogi ingredients

Bulgogi can be made with many cuts of meat, including ribeye, short ribs, sirloin, or tenderloin. Ribeye is ideal as it’s well-marbled with fat, making it tender and tasty.

Step-by-Step Instructions

If time allows, place the steaks on a large plate and freeze until semi-firm, about 35 minutes. This makes the steaks much easier to slice.

Slice the steaks against the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices. If you’re not sure where the grain is, look closely at the meat; you’ll see lines running in one direction across it. Those are muscle fibers. Cut perpendicular to the lines to break up the muscle fibers and make the much more tender.

thinly sliced rib-eye on cutting board

Combine 1½ tablespoons of water and the baking soda in a medium bowl. The baking soda acts as a tenderizer, and also helps with browning and caramelization. Add the beef slices and toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.

sliced meat in baking soda solution

Meanwhile, in a mini food processor or blender, combine the vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, shallot, ginger, and red pepper flakes.

bulgogi marinade ingredients in mini food processor

Process until smooth.

blended bulgogi marinade

Pour the mixture over the beef and toss to coat evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.

tossing sliced meat with bulgogi marinade

Turn on the exhaust fan. In a large (12-inch) cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil until very hot and shimmering. Your pan should be hot enough so that you hear a sizzling sound as the meat touches the pan. This helps the exterior of the meat caramelize while keeping the inside tender and juicy. Add half of the beef slices in a single layer and cook, without stirring, until browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes.

cooking bulgogi

Stir the meat and continue stir-frying until the beef is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the beef to a serving platter and cover to keep warm; repeat with the remaining beef (no need to add more oil to the pan), adding any marinade left in the bowl to the pan right before stirring the meat.

stir-frying bulgogi

Transfer the second batch of beef to the serving platter and sprinkle with the scallion greens and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

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Beef Bulgogi

Korean-style beef bulgogi is tender, flavor-packed, and easy to make at home.

Ingredients

  • 1¾-2 pounds ribeye steaks
  • Heaping ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil, plus 2 teaspoons more for cooking
  • 1½ teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 small shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh ginger, from a 1-inch knob
  • Heaping ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 scallions, dark green parts only, thinly sliced, for serving
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, for serving

Instructions

  1. If time allows, place the steaks on a large plate and freeze until semi-firm, about 35 minutes (this makes them easier to slice). Slice the steaks against the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices.
  2. Combine 1½ tablespoons of water and the baking soda in a medium bowl. Add the beef slices and toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a mini food processor or blender, combine the 1½ tablespoons vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, shallot, ginger, and red pepper flakes; process until smooth. Pour the mixture over the beef and toss to coat evenly. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  4. Turn on the exhaust fan. In a large (12-inch) cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil until very hot and shimmering. Add half of the beef slices in a single layer and cook, without stirring, until browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir the meat and continue stir-frying until the beef is just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer the beef to a serving platter and cover to keep warm; repeat with the remaining beef (no need to add more oil to the pan), adding any marinade left in the bowl to the pan right before stirring the meat. Transfer the second batch of beef to the serving platter and sprinkle with the scallion greens and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 707
  • Fat: 55 g
  • Saturated fat: 21 g
  • Carbohydrates: 14 g
  • Sugar: 11 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 44 g
  • Sodium: 1,073 mg
  • Cholesterol: 154 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

Gluten-Free Adaptable Note

To the best of my knowledge, all of the ingredients used in this recipe are gluten-free or widely available in gluten-free versions. There is hidden gluten in many foods; if you’re following a gluten-free diet or cooking for someone with gluten allergies, always read the labels of your ingredients to verify that they are gluten-free.

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