Karl’s Beef Bulgogi with Lettuce Wraps

Adapted from a KimchiMari recipe

For this Sunday’s Korean Dinner, I decided to make separate starch and meat main dishes, because my son-in-law is again avoiding starches. I am making beef bulgogi  and a vegetarian japchae. That way my diners can adjust their servings as it pleases them. In addition I am serving three vegetable sides: chive stem kimchiKorean cucumber salad; and a Korean bok choy dish.

Karl’s Beef Bulgogi with Lettuce Wraps

Karl’s Beef Bulgogi with Lettuce Wraps

Bulgogi is marinated and grilled meat—usually pork or beef—with a Korean flair. Usually sirloin or rib eye is the meat of choice, but I have some leftover tri-tip—a California favorite. Bulgogi is usually serve by itself or with a side of rice, lettuce wraps have become popular. Since I already had a starch dish for this meal, I decided to go with the lettuce.

Bulgogi may be sweet or spicy, but most of the traditional recipes I found online left out the gochugaru. The secret ingredient for bulgogi marinade is Asian pearEnzymes in the pear act as a tenderizer without discoloring the meat, like an acid would.

It is important to use Korean soy sauce in making this dish. You want to find “regular soy sauce” (whe-ganjang which is darker, less salty and slightly sweet) rather than “soup soy sauce” (josean gajang which is lighter and more salty). Although the name whe-ganjang implies that it is “soy sauce from Japan,” it still has a different flavor from Japanese soy sauce.

Karl’s Beef Bulgogi with Lettuce Wraps


1½ lbs. beef tri-tip

Bulgogi Marinade

½ Asian pear
4 Tbs. Korean soy sauce
2 Tbs. sesame oil
1 Tbs. brown sugar
8 cloves garlic, mashed
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, grated
1 Tbs. yellow onion, grated
¼ tsp. black pepper, fresh cracked

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 Tbs. dark sesame oil
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced pole to pole
½ tsp. Kosher salt

½ cup carrot, cut into matchsticks
4 green onions, sliced finely

½ Tbs. toasted white sesame seeds
1 head Boston lettuce, separated into individual leaves and rinsed


1. Cut the beef into ¼ inch thick slices, across the grain.

Tip: I cut my slices rather large (1×4 inches) to make them easier to skewer and grill. I intend to cut these into smaller pieces for the second round of cooking.

Note: A beef tri-tip is an oddly shaped piece of meat—a long thin triangle with the grain running along the short side. I had the thin tails of a tri-tip leftover from when I had used the center cut for another meal.

2. Peel, core and grate the Asian pear.

Tip: I used the small outward-poking holes of the box grater.

Note: To save your fingers, you may keep the pear whole and peel off only half of the skin. This gives you something to hang on to as you are grating and it has the added benefit of keeping your fingers away from the sharp edges.

3. Place the grated pear in a small bowl and mix in the rest of the marinade ingredients.

4. Put the beef and marinade in a covered bowl or quart plastic bag to marinate for 1-2 hours.

Note: Do not marinate the meat for more than one hours. The enzyme (calpain?) is very active and it will turn very thinly sliced meat into mush. If you want to marinate your meat overnight, leave out the pear pulp and add it to the marinade one hour before you plan to start grilling.

5. Remove the meat from the marinade, pat it dry, and string it on skewers.

Tip: Reserve the marinade, you will be adding some of it to the pan during the second round of cooking.

Note: If you are using bamboo skewers soak them in water for 30 minutes before using.

6. Place your skewers directly over the heat and grill each side for 8-10 minutes, until well browned and cooked through.

Tip: You may use your broiler or grill pan, but I used my gas grill.

7. When the meat has cooled, remove it from the skewers and cut it into small bite sized pieces.

8. Shortly before serving, put the vegetable and sesame oils in a large sauté pan over medium high heat.

9. When the oil is shimmering, sauté the onions with the salt for 5-7 minutes, until just starting to pick up some color.

10. Add the carrots to the pan and continue sautéing for another minute.

11. Stir in the beef, most of the green onions, and continue cooking for one more minute.

Tip: Reserve a tablespoon or two of the green onion tops for garnish.

12. Add some of the leftover marinade to the pan and continue stir frying until the contents are warmed through and coated with the sauce, another minute or two.

13. Transfer the beef bulgogi to a serving bowl and garnish with the sesame seeds and green onions.

14. Serve warm with the lettuce on the side.

Tip: I supposed it would be equally good cold, but it never had the chance to cool off.


Filed under Beef, Main Dishes

4 responses to “Karl’s Beef Bulgogi with Lettuce Wraps

  1. Pingback: Karl’s Vegetarian Japchae | Jabberwocky Stew

  2. Pingback: Korean Cucumber Salad (Oi Muchim) | Jabberwocky Stew

  3. Pingback: Karl’s Garlic Chive Stem Kimchi | Jabberwocky Stew

  4. Pingback: Karl’s Bok Choy Doenjang Muchim | Jabberwocky Stew

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