The Best Banchan To Try For Korean BBQ Beginners

The interactive element of a Korean BBQ is what makes it such a fun dining experience for the whole family. Want to barbecue marinated slices of beef to make smoky bulgogi (barbecued beef) on a tabletop grill while sipping soju? Yes please! And while it's true that marinated cuts of meat, like pork belly, beef brisket, and skirt steak, take top billing in a typical Korean BBQ, there's also an abundance of supporting veggie side dishes, known as banchan. If you're a Korean BBQ beginner, the best banchan to try first has to be grilled kimchi, according to expert John Bach, Executive Chef and Founder of Seoul Food KBBQ Catering in Los Angeles.

Bach says, "... if you really want to experience an enhanced Korean BBQ, throw a few leafy pieces of kimchi on the grill and cook it on both sides for a few minutes. You can throw that in your ssam bite or just top a piece of any meat with it for a marvelous single bite."

Grilling kimchi is a common practice in Korea because it lends the edges of the fermented cabbage a scrumptious caramelized note and somehow intensifies its characteristic umami flavor that develops through the fermentation process. Typically served alongside pork belly (samgyeopsal), the grilled kimchi takes on a yummy smokiness that complements the savoriness of the protein and provides textural interest.

Grilled kimchi is killer on a ssam bite

The U.S. is the second-top global buyer of Korean kimchi, after Japan, highlighting how this tangy, vibrant side dish is now a popular mainstream pickle among Western palates. This is why kimchi is a great place for newbies to start when eating banchan; it's a familiar food among the sometimes overwhelming bits and pieces of a classic Korean barbecue. Better yet, grilling the pickled cabbage is a breeze — just pop a few slices directly onto the grill until it takes on some color before flipping it over. Then enjoy your barbecued kimchi alongside your grilled meats or put them in a ssam, which is a leafy-vegetable wrap that usually contains meat, a spicy soybean and red pepper condiment called ssamjang, and a banchan of your choice. Much like assembling a taco, making a personalized ssam at the table is an enjoyable task and means you can create a mini wrap that features your favorite elements of a Korean barbecue. These might include a creamy potato salad, pickled radishes, or seasoned soybean sprouts. Just make sure to assemble a compact ssam because it should be eaten in a single bite.

Once you get more familiar with the many types of Korean banchan, you could try sigeumchi namul, a simple dish made of blanched spinach that's coated in a garlicky, sesame oil dressing, or oi muchim, a spicy, pungent salad made with fresh cucumber and gochugaru, a smoky red-pepper ground spice powder.