There’s nothing quite like gorging yourself on delicious food at a Korean BBQ. The succulent grilled meats, the tang and crunch of fermented kimchi and pickled vegetables, all paired with the sinus-clearing soju enjoyed around a sizzling hot plate is a feast for the senses that just can’t be beat.
However, if you’re like me and came across Korean BBQ in your mid-twenties, the style of dining can be a tad confusing – particularly if a la carte with table service is what you’re used to.
Here’s a couple of things I wish I knew before sitting down to dine at my first Korean BBQ.
1. If you don’t know what meat to order, start here:
Korean BBQ menus are divided, usually, by animal and then into marinated or unmarinated cuts. Keep it simple on your first go round and order samgyeopsal (pork belly), sogalbi (beef short ribs), bulgogi (marinated slices of beef tenderloin or sirloin), or galbi (rib-eye steak). Don’t go overboard on ordering meats, the meat is cooked and shared by the table and you can always order more.
2. It’s not DIY … mostly
The staff at a Korean BBQ will get your meat started for you, and come over and turn it when it’s ready. However, it’s not a faux pas to turn the meat yourself if you want to – and you will be given tongs for this purpose. While we’re on the topic, the hot plate is not just for meat – any of your vegetables and side dishes can also benefit from a speedy sear over the coals.
3. The side dishes come with unlimited refills
Dotted about your table in small bowls are side dishes, or banchan. Banchan can include any number of delicious treats but usually involves kimchi, some style of onion salad, various pickles and vegetables. Not only are they each a taste explosion but they’re also refilled forever.
Among the banchan are also condiments. Sesame oil and ssamjang (a spicy paste made from soybeans and red chilli) in particular are essential to a good Korean BBQ. Dunk your hot meat straight from the grill into the sesame oil with a dot of ssamjang for a flavour out of this world.
4. Use the lettuce leaves
Nope, that huge plate of lettuce leaves is not a minimalist salad – it is a clue to one of the best ways to enjoy all the flavours of Korean BBQ at once! Take a leaf and load it up with your meat, some banchan, a smear of ssamjang and then close the lettuce leaf up into a bite-size bundle and pop the whole thing in your mouth at once. Your world will be changed.
5. Finish with noodles
Something I only found out about later is that the best way to round out a feast of Korean BBQ is with a bowl of cold Korean noodle broth. Add any leftover cuts of meat or marinade from the grill to perfectly wrap up your Korean BBQ experience.
Recovering caffeine-addict and serial bruncher Eliza Murray feels most at home typing away in a cozy cafe with her re-mortgaged avocado toast nearby. When she isn't reporting on the latest Instagram-shattering glittery food trends, she can be found experimenting with new gin garnishes (hello strawberries!) or biting into an entire wheel of brie (no shame). She tweets @theothereliza