Grilled beef kalbi, kimchi potato salad, gochujang wings…a Korean BBQ sounds pretty perfect for your next grilling session, right?
The usual Korean BBQ experience is heavy on the communal aspect, as mŏkbar chef and owner Esther Choi shared with us in our guide to ordering Korean BBQ like a pro. While we’re in the midst of a pandemic, takeout and delivery are still options, but if you crave a more active experience, you can also take matters into your own hands.
We’ve included both traditional Korean BBQ options and more modern interpretations to choose from, with plenty of sides to mix and match—plus, a couple of desserts and even an on-theme cocktail you can make in a big batch for all-day patio sipping.
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Forget Arby’s; we have the meats—chicken, pork, and beef, in various iterations. For those who don’t eat any of the above proteins, though, you can simply grill up shrimp skewers or slabs of tofu brushed with our Korean dipping sauce for an easy option that’s still packed with flavor and perfect for pairing with any of our Korean BBQ sides.
Korean barbecue may bring beef to mind first and foremost, but Korean grilled chicken is just as fabulous. Garlic, ginger, soy, and sweet malt syrup combine for a flavor somewhat like teriyaki, but maybe even better. Get our Korean Grilled Chicken recipe. (You could also try adding a little lemon juice, as in Korean Bapsang’s Dak Bulgogi recipe.)
Korean Rice Syrup, $10.30 from Amazon
If you have trouble finding the Korean malt syrup called for, try this as an alternative.
Sweet-salty-savory bulgogi is one of the best possible ways to prepare beef, but since we’re talking about outdoor grilling here, we have to go with kalbi. The thinly sliced Korean short ribs are marinated in a mixture accented with pineapple juice, soy sauce, malt syrup, and soju before being grilled to charred, juicy perfection. Since the meat is fairly fatty, watch out for flare-ups. Get our Beef Kalbi recipe.
Similar to—and directly inspired by—kalbi, these succulent short rib skewers are a little less traditional, but just as dazzling. Thin slices of beef are marinated in soy, rice vinegar, garlic, sesame oil, and Sriracha before being threaded satay-style on skewers and grilled over charcoal. There’s no good reason not to use gochujang instead of the Sriracha if you have it (which you totally should). Get our Korean Short Rib Kebab recipe.
Chung Jung Gochujang, $12.09 from Amazon
Spicy, savory, and slightly sweet, this packs a ton of flavor.
If your heart is torn between southern BBQ and Korean BBQ, make like Jiyeon Lee and Cody Taylor of Heirloom Market BBQ and combine the best of both. Their smoked pulled pork is slathered in a habit-forming gochujang-based sauce with a surprising secret ingredient: lemon-lime soda. David Chang’s mom uses it in her kimchi, so don’t be afraid to try it; besides, plenty of southern BBQ sauce recipes and ham glazes include cola. Get the Spicy Korean Pork Barbecue recipe.
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Another fusion option with classic American cookout style and tons of delicious Korean flavors, these spicy chicken burgers are tasty on their own thanks to garlic, ginger, scallions, and soy sauce mixed into the meat. The addition of kimchi-enhanced slaw and a fiery Sriracha mayo (but go ahead and swap in gochujang again) really push them over the top. Get our Kimchi Chicken Burger recipe.
Starters & Sides
There are lots of things you could serve in conjunction with any of the above dishes, including kimchi (a must) and whatever simple grilled vegetables you like (perhaps dressed with a little soy and sesame oil), but if you’re after specific recipes, these are some of our top choices.
Yes, you probably already have enough meat on the menu, and yes, you would probably expect grilled chicken wings at a summer BBQ, but if you’re going all out on a Korean-inspired feast, these crispy fried wings would be a very welcome addition. The secret ingredients include potato starch and Wondra flour—but if you’d like a live-fire rendition, try this grilled gochujang wings recipe. If your grill is already full and you want to fry, get the Korean Chicken Wings recipe.
Gold Medal Wondra Flour, $7.99 from Amazon
A semi-secret ingredient for super crisp fried chicken.
What is a cookout without potato salad? A sad affair, some would say. This kimchi-spiked potato salad with gochujang, scallions, and sesame seeds along for the ride is creamy, spicy, chunky, and delicious with anything, including regular old baby back ribs. Oh, and there’s bacon in it too (but you can omit it if you’re trying to provide some meatless options). Get our Kimchi Potato Salad recipe.
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Japchae often contains meat and egg, but it doesn’t have to. With a little leap of imagination, you could think of this as a pasta salad—it’s just as good at room temp as warm, and it’s full of veggies and a sweet-savory sauce, but no gloppy mayo to speak of. Plus, the sweet potato noodles are gluten-free and the dish is vegan, so almost everyone can enjoy it. Get our Korean Stir-Fried Sweet Potato Noodles recipe.
Related Reading: Gluten-Free Pasta Salad Options for Summer
Add a fresh, oniony, spicy bite to your spread with this scallion salad, balanced out with a touch of sugar and nutty toasted sesame oil. Soaking the julienned scallion slivers in a bowl of ice water before drying and dressing them helps make them curl for a more eye-catching presentation, removes some of their sting, and washes off any slimy residue, so don’t be tempted to skip that step. Get the Korean Scallion Salad recipe.
This easy dipping sauce is made from just three ingredients: gochujang (yes, it’s good in everything), honey, and rice vinegar. Simpler than traditional ssamjang, but still so good—make a double batch and drizzle it on all your grilled meats and veggies (and any plain rice you may have on the side). Get our Korean Dipping Sauce recipe.
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In addition to the kimchi you should absolutely offer as a side, one or two types of pickles are also great, especially for those who shy away from spice. These sweet-salty, crunchy cucumber pickles from David Chang are ready in under an hour and add a great contrast to any grilled meat. (Ditto David Chang’s pickled beets, pickled turnips, and pickled carrots.) Get the Momofuku Cucumber Pickle recipe.
It’s definitely a good idea to make rice and set out a platter of lettuce leaves for your spread too; per Choi, ““My favorite way to eat is to wrap a lettuce leaf around a piece of meat, then add a dab of ssamjang and maybe a little scallion salad.” Build your bites however you like.
“Every Korean barbecue experience should include some soju,” according to Choi (she likes Tokki brand). You can sip it straight, but watermelon is a summer all-star, so combining them in a drink just makes perfect sense. Spicy ginger liqueur, simple syrup, and fresh lime juice join the party. Get our Watermelon Soju Cocktail recipe.
Related Reading: 11 Watermelon Drinks to Keep You Hydrated & Happy
To close things out, you’ll probably want something light (because you’ll be stuffed)—and cooling (because it’s summer…and you may have meat sweats)—but you can do better than plain old ice cream. These ice pops are easy to make ahead of time, refreshing, and sweet.
Red bean desserts are common in many parts of Asia, including Korea (where you’ll find chapssaltteok and danpatjuk), but an interesting change of pace for most American palates. These frozen treats are creamy and sweet with some whole beans providing pops of texture. Get our Red Bean Ice Cream Pop recipe.
Sweetened Red Beans, $9.68 from Amazon
Add a new dessert ingredient into your rotation.
If you’ve ever had a Melona bar, this is a homemade version—and if you haven’t had the pleasure, now you can. Honeydew melon and cream combine for a refreshing, fruity treat. Get our Honeydew Melon Ice Pop recipe.
Related Reading: 7 International Ice Pops That Break the Mold