What Is a Korean Barbecue?

C. K. Lanz

Korean barbecue, or gogi gui, refers to the Korean grilling method for cooking pork, beef, and chicken. The method is distinguished by the use of a gas or charcoal grill that is typically built into the dining table itself, where diners prepare their own thinly sliced meat. Although the most common form is for grilling beef short ribs, or galbi, Korean barbecue is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of marinated and non-marinated meat and seafood dishes. Korean barbecue is normally served with a series of side dishes, or banchan, such as green onion salad or lettuce with cucumbers and peppers.

Pork belly is used in Korean barbecue.
Pork belly is used in Korean barbecue.

The two most common Korean barbecue dishes are bool kogi or bolgogi and kalbi kui. Bool kogi is thinly sliced rib eye steak that is glazed with a sweet and salty marinade. Kalbi kui is a meal of beef short ribs that are sliced and butterflied to allow for quick grilling rather than hours of smoking normally necessary to tenderize this tough meat. In addition to beef, Korean barbecue includes pork belly and chicken. Seafood like oysters, clams, and eel are also prepared using this grilling method.

Black pepper is often added to Korean barbecue for additional flavor.
Black pepper is often added to Korean barbecue for additional flavor.

Preparing a proper Korean barbecue involves more than just grilling meat. When the platters of meats arrive at the table, the diner grills for himself or herself. As the meat is so thinly sliced, grilling can take less than two minutes. Once grilled, the meat is rarely consumed as is. Instead, it is usually made into a rollup with soft leaves of green lettuce as wrappers and other ingredients like white rice, scallions, and soybean or red pepper paste.

The grill used for Korean barbecue is a charcoal or gas-burning brazier that resembles a big flower pot. It is usually built into the center of the dining table, but some restaurants will bring a portable version to the diner instead. Depending on what is being grilled, the grill will be equipped with a wire grate or a grid with holes or slits within a raised rim that collects juices. Lump charcoal is the traditional fuel, but gas grills are increasingly common.

Types of non-marinated Korean barbecue include chadolbegi and samgyeopsal. The former is made with beef brisket that is sliced so thinly that it grills almost instantly. The latter dish consists of unsalted bacon sliced a bit more thickly with scissors prior to grilling. The bacon is often fatty and rolled up with kimchi and mushrooms after grilling.

Although some Korean barbecue dishes are non-marinated, the majority are. Typical marinades tend to incorporate salty soy sauce and sweet sugar, mirin, or Asian pear. Sesame oil lends a nutty taste, and garlic and black pepper add fragrant flavoring. Korean barbecue pork or seafood can be especially spicy due to the common use of chili powder and hot bean paste in these dishes. Complementary beverages include plum, wild strawberry, and rice wine.

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Discussion Comments


I do like Korean barbecue but it does have some downsides. The prices are high, so it's not something I can have every week. The other downside is that I have to go there on a weekend or an evening because I have to go home and shower afterwards. All of my clothes smell like barbecue afterward.


Korean barbecue is amazing!

My friend took me to a Korean barbecue restaurant in Virginia last week. I was not expecting much but left the place very impressed. First of all, there is so much meat served and the quality of the meat is very good. They had different options on the menu but we chose the option with multiple type of meats so that we could get a taste of everything.

We had brisket, bulgogi, galbi and steak. I think the beef brisket was best -- not too fatty nor dry. It was also great that we got a variety of sauces and vegetables on the side to have with the meat. We even grilled some of the slice onions.

I will definitely be going back there when I crave barbecue.


This reminds me of Japanese hot pot. It's not a grill, but a similar cooking station at the center of tables in hot pot restaurants. It usually has water or broth boiling in the center and customers cook their own meats and ingredients.

Some people dislike the idea of having to cook their own food, but I personally think that this is a great concept. People can decide exactly how they want their meal. Plus, neither Japanese hot pot, nor Korean barbecue require long cooking times. Since the meat is thinly cut and prepared to cook, it only takes a few minutes for the meal to be ready.

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