What goes with BBQ Pork?
We had a great time filming and the video turned out wonderful, but I have a lot more info to share on the topic! More than would fit in the video, so here’s a detailed guide on how to eat Korean barbecue in a Korean restaurant:
Sitting down to the table
In serious Korean BBQ places, the grill is actually built into the table. Most Koreans think charcoal BBQ tastes best, and in these restaurants there’s a grill pit in the middle of the table where they can put in a bucket of preheated red-hot coals. But many Korean BBQ places use electric or gas grills, too. They are sometimes built into the table, or are separate units that sit on top of the table.
In Korea many restaurants have traditional Korean tables that are close to the floor, and you sit on a thin cushion on the floor while you eat. Traditional Korean ondol heating comes up from the floor, so Korean tables are low, but a lot of Korean restaurants have tables and chairs, too.
When you sit down to order, the server may bring you a damp, hot (or cold) towel to refresh your hands with, while you look at the menu. You’re going to be eating with your hands for this meal!
Most Korean BBQ restaurants offer both beef and pork on the menu. Some places specialize in one or the other, and you can often tell which by looking at the sign outside. If there’s a picture of a pig on it, they specialize in pork. If there’s a picture of a cow on it, they specialize in beef. Sometimes you’ll see a picture of a duck, too! But usually a pig or cow.
When it comes time to order there’s usually a choice in quality and between marinated and non-marinated cuts. Generally speaking, beef is more expensive than pork, and non-marinated, top quality steak beef is more expensive than marinated beef.
Types of marinated cuts of beef offered can include bulgogi (thinly sliced sirloin or tenderloin in a soy sauce-based marinade), and soe-galbi (marinated beef short ribs). There are 2 types of soe-galbi served in North America: LA galbi, marinated beef short ribs sliced thinly across the bone, and soe-galbi, a more traditional style of marinated beef short ribs. In traditional soe-galbi the meat is filleted out from the bone in a thin strip, marinated, and then rolled back onto the bone. When it comes time to grill it, they roll the meat out on the grill. After it’s been cooked, it’s cut into small bite-sized pieces.
Marinated cuts on the menu will sometimes have “yangnyeom” in the name, which means “seasoned” or marinated.
Non-marinated cuts of beef includes sirloin, tenderloin, rib eye steak or other top quality cuts. Many Koreans love nicely marbled cuts of beef, and these cuts are called kkotdeungsim (꽃등심). These cuts often have “kkot” (꽃) in the name, which means “flower.” It refers to the beautiful way the fat marbles into the meat, like a fully bloomed flower. The most expensive cut of beef is Han-u (한우) which is only available in Korea and even hard to find there. Whenever I visit Korea, I get some Han-u and and have my own BBQ at home. I buy it from a trusted place and make sure it comes with a serial number and bar code that’s traceable back to the farmer that raised the cow.
Non-marinated cuts of pork include samgyeopsal (삼겹살, layered pork belly cut into thin strips) or dwaeji-moksal (pork shoulder). Pork belly strips made up of 3 to 5 layers of alternating meat and fat look gorgeous on a platter and samgyeopsal is one of the most popular cuts to order. If you order dwaeji-moksal, your server will put a few chunks of pork, about 5 inches wide and a half inch thick, on the grill. After they’re cooked, your server will bring some scissors to the table and cut the meat into bite size pieces for you.
Non-marinated cuts on the menu will often have “saeng” (생) in their name, which literally means “raw, ” but in the case of meat it means non-marinated.
Samgyeopsal (layered pork belly)
Beyond a few names like bulgogi and galbi, many restaurants have their own names and descriptions for the different kinds of meats they offer, so it won’t always be the same from restaurant to restaurant. Prices on the menu are per serving, so order one serving per person at the table. Some people like to get some pork and some beef in one meal to get a variety of meat, and if you do that, your server will change the grill between switching the meat. I personally prefer to get one or the other, but it’s up to you.
Besides meat they’ll usually have some small-plate items on the menu, too. You can order some of these if you want, but most Koreans will order meat and & booze up front and then one of those later.
There’s only one drink for me when I have barbecue: soju. It’s a clear, slightly sweet, Korean alcoholic beverage made with potato or tapioca starch, although traditionally it was made with rice. At 20% ABV it’s stronger than beer, but not as strong as other hard liquors. You drink it in a shotglass. You can order beer, makgeolli, or any Korean herbal booze on the menu, too. Another popular booze, called somaek, is like a cocktail mixed with soju and beer. If you are a non-drinker, you can order pop soda or just request a glass of water, that’s fine.
In Korean culture, respecting elders is very important, and there are a few little complicated rules when drinking with people older than you. Their glass must be filled first, and they should never pour it themselves. A younger person should always pour for them, one hand on the bottle, and the other hand supporting the pouring arm or on the bottle as well.