Korean Grilled Beef Lettuce Wraps (Bulgogi)

Bulgogi makes me ask: Why haven’t I heard more about Korean grilling? It is beautifully simple; thin sliced beef with a quick marinade, served in a lettuce wrap.
*And then it is topped with with kimchi. I’m not sure I’m sold on the kimchi part. But the rest? Genius.

For bulgogi, you want a tender cut, one that would be used for American steaks.  My favorite is rib eye, but New York strip or sirloin are also good. The steak is sliced very thin, marinated in a sweet soy marinade, grilled quickly, wrapped in lettuce, and served. It is quick enough to cook on a weeknight, and uses pantry ingredients (though my parents may differ).  And the taste? My wife demanded I make it again. She’s the one who usually asks for me to cook more vegetables.

The only hard part about Bulgogi is slicing the beef. You can cut the beef yourself, 1/4″ to 1/8″ thick, from a small roast.
*This requires a steady hand. Steadier than I am able to muster. The one time I tried to slice the beef myself, they were anywhere between 1/2″ thick to 1/8″ thick…sometimes in the same slice.

I go to my local Asian market; they carry thin-sliced rib eye in the freezer section. If you don’t have an Asian market nearby, see if the meat counter at your local grocery store can thin-slice a roast for you.

Recipe: Korean Grilled Beef Lettuce Wraps (Bulgogi)

Adapted From: SavorySweetLife.com Bulgogi 

Cook time: 8 minutes

Ingredients:
Marinade:

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 green onion, sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Grilled ingredients:

  • 1.25 pounds thin-sliced beef (1/8″ thick, and use a tender cut that would work as a steak. I bought ribeye. Sirloin and new york strip are also good choices.)
  • 1 large onion, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into planks

Lettuce wrap and toppings:

  • 1 head Boston bibb lettuce, separated into leaves and rinsed
  • 2 green onions, sliced thin
  • white rice 
  • Sriracha sauce (As a substitute for kochujang)
  • Kimchi (if you’re up for it – it is an acquired taste)

Directions:
1. Marinate the beef: Whisk the marinade ingredients until the honey dissolves; Pour 1 cup of the marinade over the thin-sliced beef, and marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours. (I like to do this in a zip-top bag, so I can turn and toss the beef occasionally while it marinades). Reserve rest of marinade for brushing the vegetables and as dipping sauce.

Marinade ready for the beef
Yep, that’s thin all right
Marinating the beef in a zip-top bag
Brushing the onions with the marinade

2. Prepare the grill: Prepare your grill for cooking in two zones, one on high heat and the other on medium heat. For my gas grill, I preheat with all the burners on high for 15 minutes. Then I clean the grill grate with my grill brush, and oil the grates with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Finally, I turn half the burners down to medium, and leave the other half on high.

3. Grill the onions, peppers and beef: While the grill is preheating, brush the onions and bell peppers with some of the reserved marinade. When the grill is preheated, put the onions and peppers over the medium heat and grill for 4 minutes. Flip the onions and peppers, then carefully lay the beef slices over the high heat section of the grill. Grill for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the beef is well browned on the side facing the heat, and cooked through on the top side. (The beef is so thin it does not need to be flipped.) Remove the beef to a platter, then let the onions and peppers cook for another minute or two (total of four minutes on the flip side of the onions and peppers.) Remove the onions and peppers to the platter with the beef. Pour the remaining marinade over all the grilled ingredients, toss to coat, and let rest for five minutes.

4. Serve: Chop the onion slices in half, and the peppers into 1/2″ thick slices. Serve, passing the beef, onions and peppers with the lettuce and toppings so the diners can make their own lettuce wraps.

Notes:
*This is a brinerade, really; the soy sauce gives it enough salt to brine the beef. It’s better if it can brinerate for one to two hours. But on weeknights, I toss the beef and the marinade, then start preheating the grill, and the fifteen minutes of marinating is enough to flavor the beef.

*In the pictures I’ve flipped the beef to show the grill marks, but you don’t need to do that. The beef is so thin that, to brown properly, it needs to spend all the cooking time with one side down.

*If you look closely at the pictures, you’ll see that I am not grilling any bell peppers.  Whoops…

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Korean Grilled Short Ribs (Kalbi)
Grilled Thin Pork Chops, Quick Brinerated

Adapted from:
Adapted From: SavorySweetLife.com Bulgogi

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8 Comments

  1. Team Lane /

    Mr. Vrobel,
    This is an amazing blog you have here. Thanks so much for all of the wonderful information you have provided here. I was wondering do you think this brinerade would work well with chicken or turkey? Thanks again. Take Care.

    Very Respectfully

  2. @Team Lane:

    Absolutely! I use a very similar brinerade in my Quick Brinerated Boneless Skinless chicken.

  3. Lovely and colorful recipe i loved that and nice details shared in the post . great idea for food and make tips very easy so i just try make this food. thanks for remind

  4. @Romantic Dinner:

    Thank you!

  5. Your description of slicing the meat made me laugh – so true! It helps me to freeze the meat slightly and then pull out that rarely used electric carving knife.

    We’ll pull this out once our summer lettuce shows up. Thanks again, Mike. Great recipe!

  6. @Stephanie:

    You’re welcome. And..I recently bought a 12 inch slicing knife, which is helping – but I still can’t get as fine of cuts as I would like. You’re right, I should slightly freeze the beef.

    Oh, who am I kidding. I’ll be buying this from the Asian market for the foreseeable future…

  7. Anonymous /

    We followed your recipe tonight, it was awesome!!!!

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