My parents opened up their very first restaurant in 2001. They started out with a small Japanese sushi restaurant and then soon after, opened five other very successful businesses. Our most popular restaurant has been our All You Can Eat (AYCE) Korean Barbecue restaurant, which my parents recently decided to sell.
Before I permanently say goodbye to a favorite piece of my childhood and young adulthood, I wanted to share all the tips and tricks I’ve learned from eating AYCE Korean BBQ almost every night, working every summer, and seeing my parents perfect their beloved business.
1. Preparing For Your Meal
One of the most notable memories I have of Korean BBQ is the smell that seems to linger with me after I finish my meal. I have slowly but surely learned that wearing a sweater and a shirt under will save you from that smokey smell. Note to everyone: never wear your nice Sunday clothes to Korean BBQ.
Also, bring a couple of friends – you’ll definitely get more bang for your buck. By bringing more friends, you can order more meat and cherish the wonderful experience AYCE Korean BBQ is with everyone.
2. Those Wonderful Little Side Dishes called “Banchan”
Depending on where you go for AYCE KBBQ, you may get anywhere from four to 14 of these lovely small side dishes called “banchan.” “Banchan” refers to small dishes of food that is served alongside any traditional Korean meal, and it is usually eaten with rice. At my family’s restaurant, we serve seven different kinds of “banchan” with unlimited refills.
“Banchan” can include the classic Korean kimchi, which are pickled cabbages or radishes, and even the famous Korean glass noodles called japchae. However, don’t spoil your meal in just relishing over the side dishes; you came here for the meat, of course.
3. The Star of the Show: The Meat
When choosing what kind of meat you’d like, you should consider the most popular meat items: kalbi (short ribs), bulgogi (marinated beef), and sangyupsal (pork belly). From my experiences of working at the restaurant and trying every kind of meat that my parents had to offer, these three were the most popular.
Kalbi is a classic and a Korean staple food. The sweet, marinated taste of these short ribs are always ordered right off the bat; our customers ordered so many that we even had to put a limit to them! The thick and juicy cut of the beef draws people to KBBQ all the time.
Bulgogi is a very close second to kalbi. A thinner option to kalbi, bulgogi is also a marinated meat and is usually served with caramelized onions and carrots. This was always my sister’s favorite; she loved to dip it in some bean paste sauce.
Sangyupsal is, in my opinion, the best option to go with in terms of pork. There are two cuts that the meat can take form in: thin and regular cut. The regular cut comes out in strips of thick pork belly with bones at the ends of the meat. The thin cut looks like rolls of meat and cooks within five seconds. Both are non-marinated options that taste delicious with some hot sauce or jalapeños.
Some other favorites of mine are chadol (beef brisket), daechang (calf intestine), and daegi bulgogi (BBQ spicy pork). If you’re on the adventurous side, you can always try beef tongue, large intestines, and abomasum.
There’s more to KBBQ than just meat, side dishes, and rice. You can combine all of those together to make your own lettuce wraps and other delicious Korean food combinations.
To make some delicious lettuce wraps, kindly ask your server to bring out some “samjang,” which should include lettuce wraps, a bean paste sauce, spicy peppers, and garlic. Using the ingredients, start by putting your meat of choice and some rice on the lettuce or rice paper. Spread enough bean paste sauce to cover the base of the meat and then start customizing your lettuce wrap! I generally like to put kimchi, white radish, and jalapeños on my lettuce wraps.
If the AYCE KBBQ restaurant you chose has the option of soups, you can make your own rice stew. My family’s restaurant had the option of daengjang chigae (bean paste soup) and soondoobu (soft tofu soup) for the customers eating AYCE. If you put your bowl of rice in these soups, you’ve got yourself some stew.
5. Some Miscellaneous Pointers
When cooking your meat, strategically place them throughout the grilling pan to ensure maximum meat cooking; the faster you feed your party, the happier your party is!
If your meat is grilling faster than your party can eat it, push them off to the side to prevent the meat from charring and let the uncooked meat sizzle. Best of both worlds!
If you have to cut your meat, grab the meat from the top and start cutting from the bottom so that you don’t have to keep picking up and dropping the meat. This trick saves you time to eat as well as gives your hands a break.
6. Always End Your Meal With Authentic Korean Ice Pops
After all that heavy meat and smoke, you’re going to want something cold and refreshing. If the KBBQ restaurant of your choosing has ice cream available, definitely try some! If not, try some at your local Korean supermarket or Galleria.
I definitely recommend Melona for all those people who really like the taste of melons. If not, Samanco, which is a fish-shaped ice cream, has vanilla bean ice cream with a layer of sweet red bean paste.
My Last Remarks
Whatever tips and tricks you may have picked up from me, always remember that any AYCE Korean BBQ experience is worth the try. Seeing all these pointers in work and development has definitely been life-changing for me.
As I send off and say goodbye to one of my homes away from home, I cherish every lesson I’ve learned and am so grateful that I had the chance to share it with you all.
Last but definitely not the least, I am thankful for parents who created a business that has allowed for such a great experience to take place. I commemorate this memoir of a great era to them.