Americans love barbecue but we’re certainly not the only ones. While grilling meat is a beloved tradition in cultures around the world, Korean barbecue inspires a cultish reverence.
Eating at a KBBQ restaurant is an immersive experience. The meat is brought to the table raw and cooked on a grill embedded in your table. This lets diners grill proteins to their preferred temperature and creates an intimate experience with their meal. But all that responsibility can be daunting. How will you know what to order and how to eat it?
We asked Chef Yeong Gon Kim, who developed the menu for new NYC hot spot, Grand Seoul, for a quick guide. Read below to learn the basics, then collect your friends and venture out for your very own Korean meat party.
The stars of Korean barbecue tend to be beef and pork, but you’ll often see duck and perhaps some seafood like shrimp offered on a menu. Kalbi or Galbi are ribs, and you’re going to see a lot of them pork and beef, marinated and plain. There will also likely be beef ribeye, pork belly, pork shoulder, beef brisket and a wide variety of other cuts so be adventurous with, so try many and find your favorite.
Start by cooking the non-marinated proteins so you don’t muddy them with the flavors of the marinade for other meats on the grill. Your server will most likely start the grilling process and if they insist on seeing it through, then let the professionals work in peace. However, it’s common practice for them to leave the table and allow you to cook the meat to your party’s preferred temperature.
Wraps & Sides
Once your meat is cooked to everyone’s liking, follow Korean custom by wrapping a few bites in one of the lettuce leaves sure to be on your table. Next, turn your attention to the many different little side dishes and condiments surrounding you known as banchan or bansang. Yeong Gon Kim recommends: “adding soybean paste, kimchi and radish. You can add some rice too.”
You’re also likely to find spicy fish cake, seaweed salad and spicy marinated cucumbers, so take advantage of yet another opportunity to experience rich flavors you otherwise may never have known you love. Kim also champions mixing it up by adding your meat to another dish like cold noodles for, “a burst of sweet, salty and savory flavors.”
In case you haven’t yet noticed, KBBQ is all about the communal experience of cooking and eating food with a group of friends, so drinking is traditionally a huge part of the fun. It’s not uncommon to be offered a tower (yes, tower) of beer for your party and this can be especially fun if the restaurant stocks popular Korean beers like Hite and OB. However, Kim says, “KBBQ always tastes better with some soju,” which you’re guaranteed to encounter since it’s the national drink of Korea.
Order a couple bottles of this clear grain-based spirit and enjoy the sights, smells and flavors coming from the grill.