HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


BBQ: Korean vs. American?

Just curious -- How is this Korean BBQ different from regular BBQ food? I love BBQ but have no idea what Korean BBQ is

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Korean BBQ is a very different breed. Meats, often thinly sliced for quick cooking, are seasoned in a savory-sweet marinade of sesame oil and sugar (among other ingredients). Diners quickly cook their own meats on a grill located in the middle of the table and eat it in lettuce. American BBQ is usually sweet-sour, involving large cuts of meat that are slow-cooked and portioned out later by the individual grillmaster.

    No BBQ is complete without its sides and whereas Americans emphasizes sweet and creamy with cole slaw, macaroni salad, baked beans and the like, Koreans accompany their BBQ with mixed banchan: assorted vegetables, pickles and kimchi. Flavors are salty, sweet, spicy and engaging. Apples and oranges my friend.

    2 Replies
    1. re: JungMann

      Not sure where the term korean BBQ came from but I believe it may have been mis-labeled. Korean BBQ is really grilling of meats. BBQ by definition is long and slow and that is not how most korean BBQ is served/prepared.

      One thing that people have pointed out is the addition of sugar to the marinade. I think many mediocre korean resturant over use sugar (and salt) in not only to the marinade but to many of the panchan. Korean BBQ should not be overly sweet or overly cooked (for the standard stuff). When I get Kopchang (chitterlings) I tend to cook it a little longer.

      One thing that is unique and it may be another thread, is that unlike most ethic resturants every korean place I've been to seem to cater to korean customers. There are never that many non-korean customers. Not sure why korean food has yet to cross over to more of main stream (e.g., chinese, thai, vietnamese)

      1. re: Soup

        This is a good question, why Korean food is not more popular. My very adventurous family is reluctant to eat Korean, though I love it. (I only get them there on my birthday.)

        The panchan, some of them, are more different from American food than lots of other things. Some of the main dishes are also perhaps farther away from what Americans are used to... but as I type this, I think, is it really more distant than Thai, which everyone loves?

        My family loves Indian, Pakistani, and Ethiopian, not to mention Thai and Chinese-- Vietnamese is a little more distant-- but about the only places they won't go upon suggestion is Korean and Filipino. We tried Nigerian once, and okay, we didn't go back, but I think that was partly the particular restaurant, which had a very narrow menu.

    2. Almost all American BBQ is tomato based. Asian BBQ including Korean and Japanese is soy and sesame based. The sauces are not "thick", and usually are more of a marinade than something you pour on during the cooking. Oddly enough some of the other seasonings are the same, onion, garlic, sometimes brown sugar (teriyaki), green onion, salt, pepper.... Of course you are not likely to find ginger in a western sauce...but you might.

      JungMann is correct, they are very different animals - and both delicious.

      4 Replies
      1. re: KaimukiMan

        to see what Korean BBQ is google some recipies for Kal-bi or Bul-Go-Gi (variations on spelling). ummm....gettting hungry!

        1. re: KaimukiMan

          "all" american bbq is not tomato based.

          Many people(like myself) do not even use a sauce on their ribs, etc . Just a spice rub before it goes in the smoker.

          1. re: swsidejim

            or some are mustard or vinegar based

            1. re: bitsubeats


              I love true american bbq(slow and low in a smoker), and I also really like Korean bbq. I cant get enough bulgogi when I go.

        2. Actually, Korean barbecue doesn't have to involve sweetness at all, but everything depends on the meat and the marinade that one might find preferable (according to the kitchen and the clientele). Some cuts of meat don't require any marinade at all prior to cooking; those are usually dipped in a mixture of sesame oil, salt, and pepper.

          1. korean bbq can be anything to bulgogi to grilled beef intestines...so it isn't necessarily sweet and there are also different dipping sauces. I like the sesame oil mixed with s&p, but I prefer homemade daengjang mixed with gochujang anyday of the week. Korean bbq is also different than american, cause you cook while you eat and there are way more veggies eaten during the meal. For example, you usually wrap the slices of meat in a package consisting of (this is how my family eats it....everyone is different) lettuce, sesame leaf, chinese watercress, seasoned julienned green onion, grilled garlic, and your dipping sauce of choice

            eta: when the meat isn't marinaded with a sweet base, its usually grilled as is, sometimes without any salt. It doesn't need salt, bc that's what the dipping sauces are for

            1. I'm getting hungry again. Nothing like a whole clove of fresh roasted garlic coated with some sesame oil and corse salt right off the grill pan... sometimes it even makes it into the lettuce wrap... hahaha

              Forgive me for speaking in broad generalities earler, certainly there are a wide range of ingredients in western/american bbq, just as there are in asian and even Korean BBQ.

              1. Korean BBQ is actually a method of grilling. Before gas (natural/propane/etc) was widely available in Korea, homes were heated using ondau, a form of charcoal brick that burnt very slowly. Stoves were mostly non-existent so the ondau served as a heat source for cooking also. Some type of wire mesh would be placed over the ondau container and many meats and vegetables would be grilled this way. In some homes (well to do) a type of table/stove that had an ondau container with a vented metal cover built in would be used during meal time to cook as the family ate. This gave birth to the cook at table type dining seen in many Korean restaurants today.

                1. One of my all time favorite cuisines -- and yes, the Korean server always looks at my (obviously non- Asian) persona rather quizzically when I ask for extra kimchi before the meal is even served. The "look" is often followed by an, "Are you sure????" I'm not sure why more folks don't try/enjoy Korean food -- do ya think it might be 'cause of the ad infinitum number of garlic cloves in the 3-day marinade that many of the meats and veggies are subjected to? But then how do you explain the crowds at Gilroy? Go figure.

                  1. as others have pointed out, korean bbq isn't really barbecue at all, but grilling. in general, when korean dishes are described as "korean _____ (insert well known western food item)," the comparison isn't very accurate. why koreans insist on calling haemul pajun "korean pizza"....how a griddled battered seafood and green onion pancake can be compared to pizza i have no idea. or "korean spaghetti" for jjajang myon. NO! i think it's just misleading and confusing for the korean food initiate.

                    side note: do you prefer to grill the garlic with the meat, or eat it raw wrapped in the ssam (the lettuce/meat bundle)? i actually prefer it raw. it's all gonna waft out your pores, anyway.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: augustiner

                      raw with sashimi and ggaenip and grilled with samgyupsal, or any other meat

                      1. re: augustiner

                        Definitely raw, with sliced hot green chilis or jalapenos all bundled in the ssam with a nice hot ssamjang.

                      2. Yes, if you're going by the American definition, Korean BBQ is grilling. The term Korean BBQ was invented in American Korean restaurants to market Korean food to Americans. I doubt as many folks would try a new cuisine called "Korean Grilling" or "Korean Rice and Vegetables."

                        The Koreans I know in Korea are puzzled too when they find that Americans refer to their grilling techniques as "BBQ." Korea actually has a separate slow cooked method that is real BBQ--Korean BBQ chicken is amazing, as is slow smoked pork and duck.

                        Korean grilling sauces aren't all soy-based either. Some of them (my favorites) are gochujang (red pepper paste) based. They're spicy and sloppy. And I am salivating typing about them.

                        1. All I know is that I love Korean BBQ, or should I say grilling...and everyone whom I have ever introduced it to has gotten addicted along with me and become a partner in crime chowhound at certain Korean restaurants. It is also something that can be done easily at home once one is familiar with Korean flavor principles.

                          Um re: kochujang, it actually is soy based---it is fermented soy bean paste ground together with Korean red chilies. And all the more yummy for the meats!

                          I think Korean BBQ is good for low carbers, too! Long live kimchee!