Going to eat Korean barbecue for the first time can be overwhelming — you’re sure to see cuts of meat that you didn’t know existed, as well as a variety of different marinades that might seem foreign. Here to the rescue is a general guide for some of the most commonly ordered items.

Welcome to the world where umami has a whole different dimension – it’s not for the faint of heart.


Galbi (갈비)

korean barbecue

Photo courtesy of @byeol_byeol0414 on Instagram

A crowd favorite, galbi refers to beef short ribs with a sweet marinade. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to pick up the meat by its bones.

#SpoonTip: Eat with a forkful of cold buckwheat noodles (물냉면) for a refreshing companion to your sizzling, savory-sweet meat.

Bulgogi (불고기)

korean barbecue

Photo by Daisy Kim

Typically made from thinly-sliced, beef sirloin, bulgogi literally translates to “fire meat.” This refers to the way in which it is traditionally cooked — on a gridiron over an open flame. However, cooking it on a stovetop in a standard pan is also common.

Bulgogi is marinated in a sweet, soy sauce-based mixture. It’s easy to make and is highly versatile — you can even order a bulgogi burger at any McDonald’s in South Korea.

Spicy pork bulgogi (돼지불고기)

korean barbecue

Photo courtesy of @koreanfusion on Instagram

This is beef bulgogi’s hot cousin. Typically made from pork shoulder (but also made with pork belly or pork loin), its marinade is basically the same as beef bulgogi’s with the addition of hot pepper paste.

No Marinade

Beef brisket (차돌박이)

korean barbecue

Photo courtesy of @ninemuse on Instagram

My personal favorite, beef brisket is a delicately thin cut of meat and cooks quickly. It will be served slightly frozen in a cylindrical shape. Make sure to unroll the meat as it thaws, and eat it as soon as it is evenly browned all the way through. The trick is to not overcook it, or it can become stringy and slightly chewy.

#SpoonTip: Dip in a mixture of sesame oil and salt for extra flavor.

Pork belly (삼겹살)

korean barbecue

Photo courtesy of @ashleysojin on Instagram

This is basically thick, unsalted bacon. Need I say more?

#SpoonTip: Grill kimchi with the pork belly and eat together for a spicy kick.

Side dishes (반찬)

korean barbecue

Photo courtesy of @danahn17 on Instagram

Before the meat is served, the entire surface of your table will be covered with a colorful array of side dishes referred to as banchan. Banchan is typically an assortment of pickled vegetables, such as kimchi, and can also include japchae (Korean glass noodles), dried squid, and stir-fried fish cakes.

The selection will vary depending on the restaurant, but there are a few common side dishes that you can be sure to expect.

Each dish is seasoned and tends to be on the salty side to perfectly complement your steaming bowl of rice.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the meat lover’s paradise, the only thing left to do is to experience it for yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and you might be surprised to discover how much your horizons have expanded.