Ahhh, Korean BBQ. That delightful and trendy culinary experience that tantalizes the carnivore’s taste buds. It’s a wonderfully simple meal that requires minimal cooking, and contrary to the name, doesn’t actually require a grill. You don’t even need a hotplate or anything like that to make Korean BBQ at home. Just cook the meat and veggies in a pan!
I’d had Korean BBQ at restaurants with my sister’s friends and my mom, but never with my dad. The first time I made this for him, he was skeptical. I’d formed my “recipe” from many hours of watching Korean dramas and reality TV, eventually forming a cohesive picture after catching glimpses of ingredients and the general process of in-home Korean BBQ-ing. (One can only stand to watch so many scenes of K-Pop stars gleefully chowing down on pork belly and kimchi in their homes and makeshift camping sites before one wants to take a stab at it at home.) Well, let’s just say that my dad took one look at the glistening pork belly and had one taste of the savory samjang before he was hooked!
Having recently gone to Flushing, Queens, to visit my grandparents, where Korean restaurants and H-Marts are abundant, I figured today was as good a time as any to make Korean BBQ. Plus, I needed something to go along with my plastic container of fresh kimchi—hauled on the QM20, NJ Transit, and the Septa aaaaall the way back to my apartment in Philadelphia. (That’s true dedication, folks.) The kimchi quality definitely makes a difference with this recipe, so sample one or two brands/kinds before you commit. The jarred stuff is really only good for adding to instant noodles, soups, or making kimchi pancakes, so whenever I have a container of the fresh stuff, I know that I’m in for a crazy few days of BBQ and unwise levels of rice consumption.
The following recipe serves two, or makes one ginormous meal for a starving college student, with leftovers:
- ½ of a large head of red-leaf lettuce, leaves whole
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 rashers of pork belly, ½ inch thick
- 1 onion, cut into ¼ inch slices
- Large handful of fresh mushrooms (any kind you like!), sliced
- 1 cup kimchi
- 3-4 tablespoons Samjang paste – to taste (it’s the one in the green container!)
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 long hot green pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced
First, prep your ingredients! The pork, mushrooms, and onions get cooked at the same time, and by the time everything’s ready, you want to eat right away.
The base will be the lettuce leaves, and the condiments are going to be the scallion, pepper, and garlic, along with the samjang and kimchi.
(Full disclosure here, my samjang was pretty janky and went kind of dark in the back of the fridge. Normally it’s a nice light brown color.)
Once that’s all ready…
Heat a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat and add the slices of pork belly to the pan along with the onions.
Let those cook for a minute or so. When they’re slightly golden, flip them onions!
Let the pork belly cook until it’s caramelized on one side. When it’s golden, flip dat belly!
At this point, there’s an ample amount of grease in the pan. Use chopsticks or a fork to lift away some of the blood and fat that may have accumulated at the edges of the pork belly slices. What’s left will be your nice pork fat to fry the mushrooms in. Add the mushrooms to the pan.
At this point the onions should be done. Remove from the pan and add the rest of the raw onion. If your pan is larger, you may be able to just cook them in one go.
Flip the pork belly again to make sure both sides are evenly caramelized. Change the position slightly so you can shift the mushrooms and onions into the cooking grease.
The pork belly, depending on thickness, might be finished before the onions and mushrooms have gotten a good level of color. Just let everything cook until it’s nice and caramelized. Then transfer everything to a plate.
Use kitchen shears to cut the pork belly slices into 1-inch segments.
Now—the building of the lettuce wraps. Take a piece of pork belly and shmear some of that samjang goodness on it. Place that in a piece of lettuce, along with some mushroom, onion, a bit of scallion, pepper, and garlic. Then top off with a piece of kimchi. Stand by with rice.
Then comes the somewhat tricky part—Koreans eat the BBQ bundle all in one bite. This can be very easy or very difficult, depending on one’s ability to stuff one’s face…use your own judgment, but one bite really is the best way to enjoy the cacophony of flavors. Food separatists be gone! This recipe ain’t for you.
Supplement your lettuce wraps with rice, if desired. You can even add a little pat of rice into the lettuce itself. Enjoy this recipe! It’s an excellent way to avoid paying $20-40 for a similar meal at an expensive Korean restaurant. Substitute beef, chicken, tofu, whatever you want!
Quick Korean BBQ with Pork Belly
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 2 rashers pork belly (½ inch thick)
- 1 onion (cut into ¼ inch slices)
- Large handful of fresh mushrooms (any kind you like, sliced)
- ½ of a large head of red-leaf lettuce (leaves whole)
- 1 cup kimchi
- 3-4 tablespoons ssamjang paste (to taste)
- 1 scallion (thinly sliced)
- 1 long hot green pepper (deseeded and thinly sliced)
- 3 cloves garlic (sliced)
- Prep all of your ingredients. Heat a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the slices of pork belly along with the onions. Brown the pork and caramelize the onions.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook them in the pork fat. Continue to cook until everything (the pork, onions, and mushrooms) are caramelized and tender. Use kitchen shears to cut the pork belly slices into 1-inch segments.
- To eat, take some of your pork belly, onions, and mushrooms and lay them on a lettuce leaf. Add kimchi and samjang. Then add some raw scallion, pepper, and garlic. Eat it all in one bite with some rice!