If you haven’t hopped in the Korean BBQ trend, maybe it’s time for you to try them out now. The Korean Wave is sweeping the world by storm as South Korea’s cultural economy continues to export pop culture, music, TV dramas, and entertainment all over the world. As a result, Korean cuisine is getting popular as we see Korean actors and actresses enjoying their food in Korean dramas and movies. One type of cuisine that made us drool is Korean BBQ. The popularity of Korean barbeque joints out there can help you get prepared for a feast and a food coma.
What is Korean Barbeque?
Korean BBQ, also known as gogi-gui, refers to the Korean method of grilling meat, such as pork, beef, or chicken on gas, electric, or charcoal grills laid into the dining table itself. The fun comes with grilling your barbeque meats yourself and making a lettuce wrap out of it, with side dishes and sauces.
Components of a Korean Barbeque Meal
You’re probably familiar that so much space is taken up during dining in a typical Korean BBQ tabletop. The spread is sumptuous, and for first-timers, how to eat it can be confusing. Let’s break it down to components, shall we?
The smoky richness of charred meat and fat is the foundation of the Korean barbeque. The other elements at the table are delicious and play significant roles, but it’s the meat that takes center stage. Here’s a selection of common Korean barbeque meats:
- Bulgogi – Bulgogi is a thinly sliced beef marinated with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, pepper, and garlic. It’s the most popular variety of Korean barbeque. It’s traditionally cooked in perforated dome griddles, but cooking it in a pan has become common.
- Galbi – Galbi means short ribs, and it’s slightly sweet. It’s beef marinated in a sauce that may contain soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and sliced onions.
- Chadolbegi – Chadolbegi is a thinly sliced beef brisket that is not marinated. It’s so thin that it can cook almost instantly once you place it in a heated pan.
- Samgyupsal – Made from unsalted pork belly, samgyupsal is tender and fatty. It’s eaten more frequently than the chadolbegi because of pork’s lower price.
- Dwaeji bulgogi – This is spicy pork in red pepper sauce, which is called gochujang.
- Dak galbi – Dak galbi is a spicy marinated chicken in a gochujang-based sauce.
- Dak gui – Dak gui is non-marinated grilled chicken.
2. Banchan (side dishes)
When you take a seat at a Korean barbeque joint, the servers will place down a bunch of tiny dishes with bite-sized portions of food. They are side dishes called banchan in Korea. The number of side dishes served varies per restaurant, but usually, there are at least four. These side dishes help boost your appetite while you wait for the meats to cook, but they are also eaten with the meat, not just as appetizers. Commonly served banchan include:
- Kimchi – This is a Korean staple that is never absent in a Korean barbeque, just as well as other any Korean main course. This traditional side dish is made from salted, spiced, and fermented napa cabbage or radishes. Kimchi is typically seasoned with chili powder, garlic, ginger, and scallions. At first bite, it may taste too sour (or too spicy for some), but it makes a great compliment to all the grilled meat you will be chomping on. If you can’t eat kimchi on its own, eat it with the meats.
- Bean sprouts – These are soybean sprouts dressed with sesame oil and a light savory sauce
- Stir-fried zucchini – This is a summer side-dish that goes well with marinated meats like bulgogi and kalbi. It’s diced and seasoned with shrimp fish sauce that adds a tangy taste.
- Spicy cucumbers – Get refreshed with the crunch of cucumber as you nibble on the meats, but the spicy kick will leave you wanting for more.
- Seaweed salad – Dried seaweed are savory, and it’s great to munch on and cleanse your palate. It goes along well with meat and rice.
- Radish kimchi – This is spicy like kimchi, but the radish makes it crunchy and slightly sweet.
As if the banchan and meat are still not enough, there are soups and other snacks that go along with a Korean barbeque menu, such as:
- Soondubu jjigae – This is a spicy and soft tofu soup filled with different veggies and big chunks of tofu that melts in the mouth.
- Dwenjang jjigae – It means soybean paste soup. It’s hot and bubbly, and usually contains zucchini, tofu, and onions.
- Ssamjang – Translating to English as wrapped thick sauce, this sauce lives up to its name. It’s usually slathered on lettuces, which are then wrapped around grilled meat pieces. It’s a sauce that combines the savory soybean paste and the hot gochujang.
- Lettuce – Make a ssam (lettuce wrap) with your barbeque. Lettuce serves as a handheld wrapper for grilled meats and also a refreshing vegetal contrast to the greasy meat. Wrap up meat with some of your favorite side dishes inside the lettuce. Then, dip it into ssamjang, and you’ll be amazed by the explosion of flavors.
- Rice – Rice is a key component to any Korean meal (and most Asian and Oriental cuisines). You can even include some rice in your lettuce wrap.
- Japchae – These are Korean stir-fried glass noodles. These taste sweet and savory and comes with colorful vegetables and seasoned meat.
- Corn cheese – These are corn kernels with melted mozzarella cheese, which creates a perfectly addicting side dish.
- Steamed egg – Eggs served in an earthenware pot, and they are soft as a pillow.
With much food comes a good drink. Koreans love to finish a Korean barbeque meal with alcohol, specifically soju, which is Korean rice wine. This is Korea’s national drink that is colorless, and vodka-like. It’s the Korean equivalent of the Japanese sake. Soju can be flavored – in fact, flavored soju is popular – and it can be available in flavors like mango, yogurt, peach, lychee, and kiwi.
Tips for Eating Korean Barbeque
When you’re out in a Korean barbeque restaurant, bring these tips with you so you can dine like a local.
1. Grill the non-marinated meats first, then the marinated ones second
When you cook non-marinated meat, you’ll have a clean slate for cooking your sauce-ridden marinated meats. This is a good practice to prevent the grill surface from getting too charred from the sugary marinades, and to prevent the flavors of marinated meats to transfer to non-marinated ones.
2. Change grills
In case you may want to cook a new batch of non-marinated meat after grilling marinated ones, you can ask the server to change your grill. You can also request for a grill change if there are too many charred pieces and food bits of meat stuck into the grill.
3. Don’t hesitate to refill banchan
Banchan arrives in small pieces, so if you need a second (or more) servings of kimchi, radish kimchi, bean sprouts, spicy cucumbers, or whatever side dish are available – ask the server. It’s a norm to ask for another serving if you want to.
4. Make sure the meat is cooked
You may like your steak pinkish, but the meat in Korean barbeques must be cooked well.
5. Don’t overpack the grill
Usually, the built-in grills in Korean barbeque restaurants are small, with only enough room for a few pieces. Avoid overlapping your meat, so each piece cooks evenly.
6. Don’t overfill the lettuce
You may have a large lettuce leaf, but it’s best not to let it overflow with meat and banchan because these lettuce wraps are made to be consumed in one bite only.
7. You may want to bring a change of clothes
Your clothes and hair will smell like barbeque after you eat. You may want to bring some change of clothes or at least a perfume or cologne to mask the meat scent.