If you’ve never tried Korean BBQ, you need to go RIGHT NOW. Let us teach you how to enjoy it to the fullest!
by James Bbang 🍞
Trying Korean BBQ for the first time may seem like a daunting task. There’s a grill on the table, and you get to choose the meat you want to cook, right in front of you, from a sometimes confusing menu.
All of us here at Team SnackFever are well-seasoned Korean BBQ consumers (you could say well-marinated). We’re here to give you some in-depth tips on how to have one of best dining experiences — especially where we are, in Koreatown, Los Angeles!
Without further ado, here’s our ultimate guide to Korean BBQ.
First, choose your restaurant.
There are SO MANY RESTAURANTS here in Koreatown. But most Korean BBQ restaurants follow one of two models.
- All-you-can-eat (AYCE)
- Ordering cuts of meat a-la-carte/combination deals
The prices for AYCE restaurants can range from anywhere as low as $10 and upwards of $40. For the other type of restaurant, the cost of plates vary based on meat quality and type.
Price, quality, and how much you feel like eating should be the main factors in choosing your restaurant. Don’t forget to also check reviews of the restaurant, too.
Once you’re at the K-BBQ restaurant of your choice, here’s where the fun begins. Get ready…
Don’t fill yourself on the banchan (side dishes) before the meat is ready!
It’s almost like a trap. Before the meat is even put on the grill, you’ll be hit with a various, colorful arrangement of delicious banchan.
Don’t get us wrong — we love banchan, and you can’t help but appreciate the variety. But stay focused on why you’re here! It’s about the meat.
Begin with the non-marinated meats.
Why? Marinated meats have quite a strong taste, and we don’t want such a dominant flavor profile right at the beginning. Let’s ease into the feast!
Non-marinated meats were the traditional “Korean BBQ” with the table grill. Marinated meats were usually cooked separately, but nearly everything belongs on the table nowadays!
Here are some staples you should try:
- Beef brisket (차돌, pronounced cha-dol) is usually your starter. These thinly-sliced cuts aren’t marinated, and they cook quickly!
- Pork belly (삼겹살, pronounced sahm-gyeop-sahl) comes in both non-marinated and marinated options.
- Short rib (갈비, pronounced gal-bee) traditionally is marinated, but you can also enjoy non-marinated cuts at certain restaurants, too.
- Bulgogi (불고기) is another traditional marinated BBQ dish, but with boneless, thinner slices.
These are just the basic options every restaurant should have. That said, you DEFINITELY should…
Ask for recommendations!
Each restaurant, especially as you pay for more expensive options, will have special cuts or options unique to them.
Certain places may specialize in pork, and they may offer (pricier) cuts of jowl or collar meat, for instance. Others may specialize in beef, and they might offer ribeye steaks! You can even find restaurants featuring chicken galbee (닭갈비, pronounced dalk-gal-bee) and grilled seafood, too!
One of the KBBQ restaurants we visited recently offered all-you-can-eat fried chicken and steamed pork. That was awesome. 😂
When it gets time to cooking the meat, be sure to…
Space the meat well on the grill.
It’s all about efficiency! Spread the meat out and make sure all the pieces are being cooked evenly.
Once all pieces are cooked, move them to the side and get the next plate on the grill! That way, you’ll have a constant stream of meat. 😋
You can also…
Let the waiter or waitress cook the meat.
The servers at many higher-end Korean BBQ restaurants will actually cook the meat for you! If that’s the case, let them take over the tongs. They know their meats best!
It’s all about the sauces and wraps.
Non-marinated beef pair well with the sesame oil & salt mix to really bring out the flavor. You can also add a bit of chili sauce to kick things up a notch! Pork belly also pairs well with a bit of sea salt.
Some places will give you a soy sauce/radish/onion sauce that’s on the sweeter side, but with a bit of spice.
Here’s the 101 on some of the wrap options you’ll see:
Rice paper, or tteok is literally a sheet of rice. It’s a great substitute for a bowl of our favorite grain that you can use to wrap a piece of meat in.
Sliced radish adds a sweet, refreshing and vinegary crunch to every bite. Include a slice with your rice wrap for a great mix of texture and flavor!
Ssam (lettuce wrap) is the old-school (and healthier) Korean way of eating meat. Take a leaf of lettuce, maybe a sesame leaf (kkaennip), a dab of ssamjang (spicy bean paste sauce), wrap it all up, and take it all in!
Image via Maangchi
Just fondue it.
Some BBQ restaurants, most notably Quarters, will place a small bowl of cheese at the edge of the grill. This is not a mistake. Fondue is a huge food trend in Korea, and we’ve jumped on it, too.
Image via Yelp
We recommend dipping both non-marinated and marinated pork for a wonderful, gooey experience.
Ask for grill changes when necessary.
Your grill is bound to get dirty with charred meat bits (especially following the marinated meats). Most restaurants will switch it out automatically, but feel free to ask for a change any time.
Wash things down with some kimchi or bean paste jjigae.
In true Korean fashion, it’s not a full meal without some sort of stew. Most Korean BBQ restaurants should offer either or both kimchi and bean paste jjigaes with the meat.
Share a hot bowl of steamed egg.
If you need a change of pace from meat, a hot bowl of steamed egg (계란찜, pronounced gyeranjjim) is just right! The next time someone asks how you’d like your eggs, you’re going to wish for these black bowls.
Grill the kimchi.
I am one with the kimchi, and the kimchi is with me.
Kimchi is so versatile — you can consume it at nearly any stage of its fermentation shelf life. But have you tried placing it on a grill? It somehow gets even better.
Give me noodles or give me death.
Seriously, if you can take noodles on top of all the meat, that’s impressive.
Cold buckwheat noodles (냉면, pronounced naengmyun) are a great addition to all the meat, especially in the summer. Or winter. Any time, actually.
And this is how our friend AngelaMinjiKim eats Korean BBQ
Last but not least…
Don’t wear clothing you’ll keep on for a long time.
You’re grilling meat right in front of you, in an enclosed space. That’s going to leave you carrying quite a scent by the end of the meal.
Just in case that may be an issue, be sure to pack an extra change of clothing, or even some fragrance to combat the meat smell. 😆
We hope that covers everything. Do you have any other tips to share? Let us know how your Korean BBQ experiences go in the comments!