Local Specialties korean bbq local cuisine korean food South Korea

What Is Korean BBQ? Enjoy Korean BBQ The Right Way Like A Local - Updated 2020

what is korean bbq
Rachel
Rachel
Updated

The Korean Wave is intensely sweeping the world by storm as South Korea’s cultural economy continues to export pop culture, entertainment, music, TV dramas and movies all over the world. Because of this, Korean cuisine is gaining more traction these days. One popular type of Korean cuisine we often see actors and actresses enjoying in Korean dramas and movies is Korean BBQ. Seeing them tuck into the sumptuous meal may make you want to drool, but do you know what exactly is Korean BBQ? What is the best way to enjoy this delectable cuisine? Let this article answer all your questions and enhance your understanding of Korean BBQ so that you can enjoy it the right way: like a local would.

1. What is Korean BBQ?

Korean BBQ
Source: Pixabay

Korean BBQ, known locally as gogi-gui (고기구이), refers to the Korean cuisine method of grilling meat such as beef, chicken or pork on gas or charcoal grills inlaid into the dining table itself. There are many ways in which these meat dishes can be prepared, whether marinated or not. Bulgogi (불고기) is the most representative form of Korean BBQ. It is usually prepared by marinating thinly sliced beef sirloin or tenderloin cuts. Galbi (갈비) is another popular form of Korean BBQ. Here, short ribs of meat such as beef, pork or chicken, may be marinated in a sweet and savoury sauce. The meat dish is served to customers raw and is later left to cook on the tabletop grill before you can dig in!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

2. How and what to order in a Korean BBQ restaurant?

You have probably seen images of the sumptuous spread of a typical Korean BBQ tabletop on TV or in the cinema, and may be amazed by how much space is taken up during dining. Learning how to dig into this generous spread can feel like a confusing or daunting task, especially for first-timers. Even if you have been devouring the dish one too many times, you may have not tucked into it the right way if no one properly taught you how. Questions may have run through your mind. What should you order? Do you wait for the server to grill and flip the meat for you, or should you do it yourself? And is it fine to ask for more side dishes if you finish them? All these questions are legit concerns that you should certainly address!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

a. How to order the best meal?

보리네 생삼겹살
Source: Photo by Flickr user wizardbearr used under CC BY-ND 2.0

There doesn’t exist a ‘best Korean BBQ meal’ experience across the board. What you deem a prefect Korean BBQ experience depends entirely on your personal preference for the type of meat served during your main course, and how you like it to be prepared. To begin, let the server know whether you wish to eat beef, chicken or pork. Then decide on the way the meat should be served. Do you want pork ribs, brisket, beef tongue, pork belly or chicken barbecue? All of them are delicious in their own way, but for a start, you may want to try ordering the non-marinated pork belly, known locally as samgyeopsal (삼겹살), which is a favorite of many Koreans.

In Korean restaurants, the quantity of meat you order is determined by headcount. As most meat servings for each person can be quite generous, you may wish to order only one serving when you have 2 people dining in. This way, you can order a variety of different meats to share and enjoy. Don’t forget to order some rice to pair with the meat. Or, for a healthier version, you can also wrap the bulgogi or kalbi together with the lettuce leaves (saam). Savour the tangy delicious “ssamjang” sauce as you pop it into your mouth!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

b. Let the experts do the grilling

Korean bbq grilling
Source: Pixabay

Now that you have ordered your favourite dishes, it’s time to begin your eager wait for your glorious meal to be served. But do you grill them yourself after the server brings your food? The server will usually ask if you want to grill them yourself, otherwise they will be more than willing to help you with the task. My take? Let the experts do the grilling! The best places will offer to do it for you since they know when is the best time to flip the meat and when the meat is cooked to perfect for optimum enjoyment. But if they don’t, don’t fret. Look out for droplets of water pooling up on the meat before flipping them. Don’t wait too long, or else the meat becomes too dry and tough to properly savour!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

c. The side dishes are so yummy! Can I ask for refills?

Korean barbeque-Galbi-14
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user by karendotcom127 used under CC BY 2.0

Sure you can! Of course, that’s provided you are actually dining in the Land of the Morning Calm AKA South Korea. This is because Korean restaurants in certain countries may restrict you to just one serving of side dishes per meal. It doesn’t hurt to check with the server first before you order more.

If you haven’t already noticed, there is almost always a variety of side dishes served alongside the main dish in any Korean meal. These side dishes are called banchan. Koreans believe the small plates of banchan—which are light and not too greasy—help to boost your appetite. Furthermore, banchan is said to also aid in the digestion of the main dish of meat or rice that you consume. So while the banchan will be served before the main course, they are meant to be sampled throughout the meal, and not just eaten as appetizers.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

d. I’m done with the meat parade. Is that all?

Korean cuisine-Kimchi bokkeumbap
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Audrey used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Now that you have stuffed yourself with all the tasty grilled meat you can take, is it time to ask for the bill? Well, not quite. I’m sure you probably have some leftover grilled meat that you really can’t stuff anymore, or some unfinished rice for that matter. Instead of wasting food, why not order some bokkeumbap, or Korean-style fried rice (볶음밥). Here, the server will help you fry the leftover rice with the meat on the hot grill! It is a simple dish well-loved by locals. Kimchi (a traditional side dish made from fermented vegetables) plus egg are usually added to enhance the flavour of the dish. Partake in this meal with your friends and family and savour this authentic, local flavour you won’t reject although you are already full!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

3. Common Korean BBQ side dishes

Checking out what side dishes will be served before your main course in a Korean BBQ restaurant can be an exciting affair. This is especially the case given the multifarious selection of banchan you can look forward to. While a comprehensive list of wholesome Korean side dishes is simply too long to be included in this article, here are some of the more common side dishes you will come across in a Korean BBQ meal.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

a. Kimchi

Kimchi 김치
Source: Photo by Flickr user Craig Nagy used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Needless to say, kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine, as you can spot it alongside almost any Korean main course. The traditional side dish is made from salted and fermented vegetables. These are typically napa cabbage and Korean radishes that are generally seasoned with chilli powder, scallions, garlic and ginger. At first bite, the pickled cabbage or radish may taste a tad too sour for some, but slowly chew the vegetable and the satisfyingly spicy taste may hit you unknowingly. Nonetheless, kimchi makes a great complement to all the grilled meat that you are chomping on. Consider giving it a try even if you aren’t a fan of spicy or sour flavors!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

b. Stir-fried zucchini

Stir-Fried Zucchini and Ground Pork seasoned with Tobanchan and Soy sauce
Source: Photo by Flickr user Kakei.R used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Stir-fried zucchini, or hobak bokkeum, is a summer side-themed dish that goes very well with meat dishes such as bulgogi and kalbi. Aesthetically diced and seasoned with saewoojeot, which is shrimp fish sauce, the end result is a plate of delightful tangy sides to whet your appetite. Its serving styles may vary. Sometimes, it is also tastefully garnished with sesame seeds!

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

c. Sweet and sour radish salad

Radish salad
Source: Pxfuel

As its name suggests, this sweet and sour radish salad is a Korean side dish which powerfully showcases both sweet and sour flavours at the same time. By popular demand, the dish is usually made spicy with red pepper chilli flakes (gochugaru). Other seasonings such as garlic and saewoojeot are also added. The final product being a refreshingly crunchy side dish that will keep you asking for more.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

d. Stir-fried anchovies

Kkwari-gochu-myeolchi-bokkeum
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user 차차PD used under CC BY 4.0

Stir-fried anchovies, or myeolchi bokkeum, is made by stir-frying tiny or medium-sized anchovies in a small amount of oil. They are then mixed into a thickened sweet and savoury sauce. Gochujang (Korean red chilli pepper paste) is also added sparingly for that extra, slightly spicy kick. Combined with the natural saltiness of the anchovies, this calcium-rich dish not only adds crunch to your meal, but also enhances it with an assortment of sweet, savoury and spicy flavours.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

e. Dried seaweed

Dried Sea Weed Sheet Macro February 21, 2013 2
Source: Photo by Flickr user Steven Depolo used under CC BY 2.0

Dried seaweed, or gim, is thin, paper-like dried seaweed or laver usually eaten with rice. This savoury delight is rich in calcium, vitamins and carotenes. It is a popular side dish that goes along well with rice and the meat in your grill. This side-dish is nutritionally packed with mineral salts and is a good source of iron.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

4. Any drinks to go along with your meal?

Soju time!
Source: Photo by Flickr user Graham Hills used under CC BY 2.0

Of course, with so much food (meat, rice and vegetables) going around the table, it’s natural to ask for a drink or two to complete your meal. It may seem like a no-brainer that you should just order your favourite drink, like carbonated drinks, fruit juice or a caffeine fix, to make for a satisfying meal. Of course, you’re free to do that, but you won’t be eating like a local if that was the case.

Koreans love to complement the grilled meat and side dishes with alcohol, or more specifically, soju—Korean rice wine. The national drink of Korea is a colourless, distilled vodka-like liquor which contains around 20% alcohol. It is the Korean equivalent of the Japanese rice-wine called sake.

Before you sip your soju in a shot glass, remember this! Never pour yourself a drink at the Korean table. An older member of the group will most probably hand you a shot glass, which you should accept with both hands to show your respect for your senior. When you drink, avoid eye contact with the person that pours the soju for you by turning your head politely to the side.

To add on to the fun, you can consider ordering the soju bomb. It consists of a shot of soju that you drop into a glass filled with 70% Korean light beer. Don’t forget to join in on the usual Korean drinking games too! It may feel reminiscent of the kind that you see in Korean dramas and movies. They are not only easy and fun, but will surely help to liven up the night and keep the drinks flowing!

Watch this video to learn more about basic Korean drinking games:


See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

5. Is Korean BBQ expensive? Where can I find them?

Compared to a simple Korean meal such as the bibimbap (mixed rice) or kimchi noodles, Korean BBQ is relatively more expensive. Essentially, it is due to the fact that meat prices are on the rise and the Korean BBQ is a large format meal where you get to eat an array of different foods as opposed to a single main dish. So it is wise to enjoy Korean BBQ with a bunch of friends for the simple reason that you get to try more foods and split the cost!

Depending on the number of people sharing the meal and what you order, a typical Korean BBQ meal will set you back by at least 10,000 KRW (9.20 USD) per head in a cosy family-run Korean restaurant. Of course, the price goes up if you decide to dine in a traditional classy Korean restaurant for the ambience and everything else. The more people you invite, the lower your cost per head. Best to go in a group of four to six people for variety and economies of scale!

Hunting down a good Korean BBQ restaurant in Kimchi-land is also quite easy, given its widespread popularity and communal dining concept. You are bound to find at least one such restaurant round every corner. Just see if there’s a crowd (or queue) in the restaurant before you step in!

For an overview on how you can enjoy Korean BBQ the right way like a local, watch this informative video:


See our full list of recommended Hotels in South Korea and also compare the prices with airbnbs in South Korea

Enjoy your meal and have fun!

Now that you have a better understanding of Korean BBQ, it’s time to head out to a nice Korean restaurant to put what you have learnt into practice. Stop drooling over the grilled meat and sides eaten by the hunky actors and pretty actresses in Korean shows. Experience and appreciate the local culture firsthand by eating and enjoying the food at a Korean BBQ. Jal meokkesseumnida (Bon appetit)!

Share your Korean BBQ dining experience with us in the comments below! What are some of your favorite Korean BBQ haunts? Do you like the taste of kimchi?

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

Get Trip101 in your inbox

Unsubscribe in one click. See our privacy policy for more information on how we use your data

Still Need Travel Insurance?

You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101

*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.

Rachel has forgotten when and exactly how she caught the travel bug. What she does remember is the triumphant feeling she enjoys when she sees the fascinating world out there with her own eyes. She...Read more

Have a question? Ask fellow travellers and travel experts here.
 Want to contribute as a Local Expert?
Explore South Korea
Good things are meant to be shared!