The Go-To Cut Of Steak For Making The Most Flavorful Bulgogi

Imagine tender, flavorful slices of beef marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, pear, garlic, and onion that become caramelized as they cook in a hot pan or on a grill. Then, they're served on a bed of rice or wrapped in lettuce leaves with a variety of side dishes including kimchi. Are you salivating at the thought yet?

Bulgogi is a quintessential Korean meal. It's a dish so widely loved and ingrained in the culture that it is made by nearly every Korean family and appears on the menus at many restaurants. Since the 1920s, bulgogi has been commonly found throughout South Korea, thanks to the increasing availability of beef over the decades. As Koreans immigrated to the United States, they often recreated the recipe in their new homes.

While meat prepared for bulgogi can be bought at Korean grocery stores, some prefer to prepare the dish from start to finish. An important aspect of getting the beef ready for marinating is to slice it thinly. A trick for this is to wrap the beef filets in plastic wrap, place them on a metal baking sheet, and then put them in the freezer until they start to freeze. Cold, partially frozen meat is easier to slice thinly, and the beef slices become ever so tender while marinating. Something else that makes a difference in the flavor and tenderness of the cooked bulgogi is the kind of steak cut used.

Flavorful and tender meat

While rare Hanwoo beef may be the most desirable cut of meat for bulgogi, not only is it expensive if purchased in Korea, but it is also rarely exported to the United States, per Smithsonian Magazine. Never fear — there are other high-quality options readily available at a nearby grocery store or butcher shop. Though top sirloin is a common selection for bulgogi, ribeye is preferred because of its marbling, juicy flavor, and smooth texture. As an alternative, any piece of steak that is tender and full of flavor, such as sirloin, tenderloin, and chuck eye, should do the trick.

In a recipe for bulgogi that chef Peter Serpico shared with Smithsonian Magazine, one pound of sirloin is marinated with soy sauce, garlic, pineapple juice, and other ingredients. However, he added that ribeye is often used for the dish because of its higher fat content and tenderness. The bottom line: No matter which cut of steak is purchased for bulgogi, the well-marbled and tender ones are best.