On our second night in Korea, Chris went out with a co-worker while I slept off the jet lag sickness in our Korean Love Motel. He came back and was so excited, he woke me from my slumber to tell me all about the experience he had.
The reason for the excitement? A Korean BBQ Restaurant.
Like I mentioned in my last guide, Eat Your Way Through a Korean Kimbap Restaurant, I foolishly knew nothing about the food in Korea until I got here. Living in Korea has introduced me to not only a whole new cuisine, but a new way of eating. With many places being ‘cook your own food’ it really lets you fully immerse yourself in the dining experience.
What is a Korean BBQ Restaurant?
A Korean BBQ Restaurant is a magical foodie haven. Every table has its own built in personal grill that is heated by gas or charcoal. You do all of the cooking, with some help from the wait staff.
How to Find a Korean BBQ Restaurant?
They are everywhere in Korea, so finding one is not a tough task. If you are having a hard time deciphering a Korean BBQ Restaurant from another eatery, follow these clues:
- There is a giant furnace outside with coals burning (these are the coals that will soon be at your table heating your food)
- Tables with strange silver tubes coming down from the ceiling (these are exhaust pipes that sit above your cooking food to pull the smoke out)
- The sign. Many Korean BBQ restaurants will say 갈비 (galbi)
What to Order?
Food will be at your table before you even sit down. Lots of different banchan (side dishes) are served at a Korean Barbecue Restaurants, and it always varies by restaurant. Soup, onion and vegetable mix, garlic, kimchi, tofu, seaweed and marinated crab are some of the sides you will typically find.
You always order together, there is no “I want this, he wants that” ordering in Korea. Since there is only one grill, you are going to need to share. For those of you like me (who don’t like sharing food), fear not, there will be plenty of food to go around.
Depending on how many people you have, order a couple of dishes of meat and keep ordering more as you finish and determine what you like. When it is just two people, we typically start with two orders of meat and see how we are feeling when we are done.
Types of Meat to Order
Very thin strips of marinated beef or pork
Galbi – 갈비
Pork or Beef Rib Meat
Very thinly sliced beef brisket
Thin Strips of Beef Rib Meat
Samgyeopsal 삼 겹살
Thick Pork belly (kind of like very thick bacon)
How to Grill the Meat?
The waitstaff will put the first batch of meat on the grill for you, but then it is time for you to take over. Usually, one person will be the grill master, but it is nice to take turns so one person isn’t fully responsible for the meat. You will have tongs and shears to flip and cut the meat to your liking.
Leave the meat in the center (where the grill is the hottest-duh) and let it cook. I know it is hard when you have the power of the grill in front of you, but don’t flip the meat too many times, it will end up dry!
When the meat is grilled, put the pieces either directly onto your plate or leave them along the outer rim to keep them warm. If the waitstaff doesn’t do it for you, ask for a clean grill in between batches of meat.
Other things you can grill: Garlic, onions, tofu, kimchi
How to Eat it?
Wrapped in Sangchu aka Greens: All meat comes with a tray or basket of greens. Take your cooked meat and wrap it in the leaf for a tasty little treat. Put whatever you want in the wrap; bean paste, onions, garlic, kimchi. There is no wrong way to eat this. Stuff whatever is on your table into the wrap, and pop the whole thing in your mouth!
Straight from the grill to your mouth: The meat is usually marinated in something delicious, so there is no need to wrap it in anything if you don’t want. Dip it in the sauce provided or just pop it in your mouth when its done cooking.
Think you’re done? Nope!
If you want to eat Korean barbecue like a true Korean, the meal is not over when all the meat has been consumed. Order Doenjang jjigae (된장 찌개), a miso-based bean paste stew or Mul Naengmyeon (물 냉면) spicy, cold buckwheat noodles, after your meal because, you know, you want to leave stuffed!
It may seem mystifying and strange at first, but don’t be intimidated by a Korean BBQ Restaurant! Whether you are visiting Korea or have found a Korean joint in your town, give it a try!