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Mom’s Korean BBQ Marinade

restaurant version
attack of chopsticks: restaurant version

You’ve probably had Korean BBQ ribs like the ones above at a restaurant before with your friends, right?  If not, you are missing out and you should immediately gather some friends and go.  If you already have, it should be nice to know that the dish is very easy to make at home.

Kalbi was the first proper Korean dish I made.  It’s super easy to make, super easy to play around and change it around to make your own, super easy to incorporate into another dish.  Kalbi and soju (cheap Korean liquor) makes for good times, guys.  Even for some eclectic, awkward mix of people like these:



I’ve seen many variations on this but the below is the easiest and easily the best (it’s my mom’s recipe).

Kalbi Marinade

1 pack of sliced short ribs (or any other cut of beef–doesn’t have to be the best cut either.  Then again, why would you marinate the best cut of beef?)

1/2 cup soy sauce (there are many types of soy sauce out there–I’d stick to Korean or Shoyu, Japanese variety.  Shoyu is the most common kind, regular Kikoman and Yamasa being this.)

1 cup water

1 large onion, chopped or sliced

1 tablespoon scallion, chopped

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon sugar

Optional: fruit or mushroom–I like slices of pineapples to grill with meat during summer, grated Asian pears during winter.  Kiwi is another popular addition.

  1. Mix all ingredients in a big bowl.
  2. Pat down tightly with your hand.
  3. Let it sit in the fridge for roughly 3 hours.
  4. Grill or pan fry.  Enjoy with rice and side dishes.  Like this:
Table grilling meat!

Table grilling meat!

with various side dishes

with various side dishes

enjoy with rice, but don't pick up the bowl like this guy is doing, it's bad manners

enjoy with rice, but don't pick up the bowl like this guy is doing, it's bad manners. (Sorry, George, don't mean to call you out but it is true. Besides, your face is not really visible.)

You don’t have to have a very cool table grill like I do.  It works better with a regular grill and it works fine with just a pan.  You want to use high heat and flip the meat only once.  It cooks pretty quickly because these are only about 1/2 inch thick but you still want to see nice grilling marks.  But if you are a self-respecting grilling connoisseur, you’d already know that, wouldn’t you?  (Actually, there is some debate around this but that discussion is for another post.)

This marinade is fun to play with because it is so forgiving.  Not much will go wrong with soy sauce and sweet combination.  I’ve used maple syrup instead of sugar to great success.  You can add Korean spicy sauce called gochujang or hot red pepper flakes to give it a little kick.  Vegetarians out there can use this marinade for tofu (use a firm kind, especially if you’re grilling), portobello mushroom, summer squash and zucchinis.  Chicken and salmon work well, too.  Anything you can grill, you can marinate in this.  Sometimes I hear people boasting Sprite as the best secret ingredient, saying that the sweetness helps the sauce and the bubbles make the meat more tender, but doing so results in more commercial, restaurant tasting kalbi.  I like home style.

To be continued with a totally different dish using this marinade in a future post!


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