Satisfy your Korean BBQ craving with this easy Korean Beef Bulgogi Recipe that uses thinly sliced rib-eye beef marinated in a flavorful homemade bulgogi marinade.
What is Bulgogi
Bulgogi is a Korean dish made of marinated slices of beef, pork, or chicken that’s grilled on a barbecue or on a stove-top griddle. Whenever we visit a Korean restaurant or a Korean BBQ, we make sure to order the beef bulgogi for the kids as they are on the sweet side and the meat is thinly sliced which is easier for young kids to chew and enjoy.
It was only this year that I really attempted to make beef bulgogi at home. The hubby actually thought I bought the beef bulgogi from the store already pre-marinated as it was really good.
Pre-marinated Store-Bought Beef Bulgogi
You can buy pre-marinated beef bulgogi from Korean supermarkets like H-mart and even Costco carries marinated bulgogi now but after making it at home, I actually prefer my beef bulgogi recipe. Costco uses thicker slices of meat for their bulgogi and I prefer it thinner. Their marinade is also different.
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The Beef to use for Bulgogi
The cut of meat to use for bulgogi can either be rib-eye or sirloin. I’ve only used rib-eye for my beef bulgogi so far and have found it to be really good that I may now just use the sirloin I bought for another recipe.
At Asian supermarkets, you can buy pre-sliced rib-eye but if you don’t have one nearby, buy a thick cut of rib-eye from your local supermarket and slice it thinly yourself.
Slicing Beef for Bulgogi
To slice the rib-eye for your bulgogi recipe, I recommend putting the meat in the freezer for about 1-2 hours until the meat has firmed up but not too hard that you can’t slice it. This would greatly depend on the temperature of your freezer so do check up on it. Once the beef is firm, thinly sliced the rib-eye against the grain for your bulgogi recipe. If it’s too hard to slice, let it thaw a little bit before slicing.
I have tried making the beef bulgogi with the pre-sliced rib-eye I bought from 99 Ranch Supermarket but I’ve also sliced the meat at home from the rib-eye I got from Vons supermarket. I personally prefer the pre-sliced rib-eye for my bulgogi as it is really thinly sliced but I don’t live near an Asian supermarket so I am looking into getting a meat slicer as I make beef bulgogi all the time now.
Bulgogi Marinade Recipe from Scratch
Preparing the bulgogi marinade from scratch is very easy as long as you have the bulgogi ingredients ready. The ingredients for bulgogi marinade sauce are soy sauce, water, brown sugar, rice vinegar, minced garlic, sesame oil, and grated Korean pear. You can also add sliced onion, carrots, and green onions to your bulgogi sauce to make it even more flavorful. I personally prefer having them especially the green onions.
The brand of soy sauce I prefer using when making a bulgogi marinade is Kikkoman Low-Sodium Soy Sauce but if you’re using a Filipino brand soy sauce like Datu Puti Soy Sauce, I recommend using 5tbsp. of soy sauce versus 6 tbsp. so your beef bulgogi won’t end up being too salty.
Korean Pear in Bulgogi Marinade
The star of the beef bulgogi marinade is the Korean pear which gives it that sweet flavor. It is not the same as the western pear that’s actually pear shape. The Korean pear is round. You can find them at any Korean supermarket or at other Asian supermarkets. I’ve also seen Korean pear at Costco and Target in packs of 3 but I’m happy that they are also at my local Vons supermarket now.
While the Korean pear gives the beef bulgogi its sweet flavor, the sesame oil adds this wonderful aroma. And the green onions add even more depth of flavor to the whole bulgogi dish. You can grate the pear or what I do is use a food processor to minced the pear before adding it to the bulgogi marinade. I try not to overdo it so they come out minced rather than mostly liquid.
How to Make Bulgogi Marinade
To make your bulgogi marinade, start by adding all the liquid ingredients in a big bowl where you will be marinating your beef bulgogi. Peel the skin off the Korean pear then grate it using a microplane grater or a small food processor then add it to the marinade. Using the same food processor or your handy knife, mince the garlic and add to the marinade. Add some thinly sliced carrots, sliced onions, and cut your green onion into 2″ long. Mix the ingredients for the bulgogi marinade together then add your thinly sliced beef.
Note that you can skip adding the onion and carrots especially if your kids don’t like them, this beef bulgogi recipe will still taste delicious. I do recommend having the green onions in the bulgogi marinade though, it really adds to the flavor, you can just take it off when serving, if needed. If you love onions, you can add more than what’s on my bulgogi recipe. When I prepared this, I run out of onions but usually have cooked it with onions.
You can put together the recipe for Korean beef bulgogi marinade in less than 5 minutes and when the marinade is ready, add your beef slices. Make sure to separate the beef slices so each slice would get the flavor of the marinade.
Cover your bulgogi and leave it in the fridge to marinate. When marinating your beef on the bulgogi marinade, 1-2 hours would suffice as your beef is already sliced thin and can easily absorb the bulgogi marinade.
Store-Bought Bulgogi Marinade
If you want to skip making the bulgogi marinade from scratch, you can buy the bulgogi sauce from the store. I HAVE NOT personally used them but here are some varieties of store-bought bulgogi marinade I found online. I don’t mind a little shortcut every now and then. If you guys end up using any of these, let me know what you think of it.
- Born with Seoul Bulgogi Marinade
- CJ Korean BBQ Original Sauce – Bulgogi Marinade
- Chung Jung One Korean BBQ Bulgogi Sauce
- Seoul Bulgogi Sauce and Marinade
Cook the Beef Bulgogi
To cook the beef bulgogi, make sure to heat your pan well before adding the marinated beef so you can get a good sear on the beef. I cook the bulgogi in batches but it won’t take long as this is rib-eye and thinly sliced. Make sure not to overcrowd your pan either. Once I’ve cooked all of the beef, I place all of it back in the pan for a final quick reheat or sear as the 1st few batches of cooked beef may have already gotten cold.
You can serve beef bulgogi with Korean side dishes like kimchi or make it a beef bulgogi bowl by putting rice over a bowl topped with beef bulgogi, toasted sesame seeds, and chopped green onions.
Easy Korean Beef Bulgogi Recipe
- 1 lb. ribeye beef, thinly sliced
- 5-6 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp water
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 4 tbsp Korean pear or half a pear (peeled & grated)
- 1/4 of onion, sliced (optional)
- 1/8 cup of carrot, julienne (optional)
- 2 pcs. green onions, cut 2" long
1. Prepare your beef: Put your rib-eye in the freezer for 1-2 hours until firm before slicing it thinly or buy thinly sliced beef from the Asian supermarket.
2. Prepare the beef bulgogi marinade by mixing the liquid ingredients in a bowl big enough to put all your sliced beef to marinade in.
3. Peel and grate your Korean pear and add them to the marinade. Add minced garlic to the marinade as well as thinly sliced carrots & onions. Cut some scallions 2" long then add to the marinade.
4. Thoroughly mix all the marinade ingredients then add your beef & let it marinate for 1 to 2 hours, not longer, especially not overnight.
5. Cook the beef bulgogi in a pan in batches (with the carrots, onions, and scallions from the marinade). Make sure the pan is hot enough so the beef can get a good sear. Since the beef is thinly sliced, it won't take long to cook both sides. Transfer them to a serving bowl. Once you've cooked all the beef, put all the beef back unto the pan just for a quick reheat before serving as the first batch may have already gotten colder.