Korean barbecue has been growing in popularity in the West for some time and is likely to continue its growth. The love of this style of cooking is largely the result of the spices used. Let’s take a look at some of the best Korean BBQ spices for you to use to nail the flavor.
Made from a blend of ingredients that includes fermented soybeans and glutinous rice along with chili peppers and salt, gochujang is arguably the best-known condiment from Korea. It is also a key ingredient in Korean barbecue. It has a mild spicy bite from the peppers along with a fermented tanginess and a subtly sweet note. You can find many gochujang versions these days, including extra spicy ones, but the classic version is what you should use for barbecue.
Similar to the miso paste used in Japanese cooking, doenjang is made with fermented soybeans. It has a pungent flavor and aroma that enhance umami notes in a range of dishes, including Korean barbecue.
Korean soy sauce is called ganjang and is a byproduct of doenjang in much the same way that the original Japanese soy sauce came from the miso-making process. Soy sauce is used both in marinades for Korean barbecue and in dipping sauces. Like doenjang, soy sauce is an essential source of salty and umami flavors.
The name of this condiment translates to “spicy dipping sauce.” It consists of soybean paste and garlic with chili peppers, sesame oil, and green onion. Ssamjang often accompanies Korean barbecue and gives it an intensely savory flavor as well as a pleasant mouthfeel. The sesame oil also enhances the meaty notes while adding a strong nutty element.
One of the fundamental ingredients in cuisines from all over the world, garlic plays a crucial role in Korean barbecue as well. It is an important addition to the savory flavor profile. Grilled or pickled garlic sides are among the many accompaniments of a Korean barbecue dish. Garlic is intensely earthy and aromatic such that it enhances the flavors of the proteins and the other spices.
Called gganip in Korea, perilla leaves come from a plant in the mint family related to Japan’s shiso. Despite the similarity, perilla leaves do have a different flavor profile from shiso. Perilla leaves have a lot in common with another member of the mint family: basil. Both herbs have strong licorice notes accompanied by a grassy, herbaceous flavor. When making bulgogi, it is traditional to use perilla leaves to wrap the pieces of meat.
Also called bae, Korean pears have similar characteristics to Western pears but with a crisper and juicier texture. These pears are native to Korea and other parts of Asia, like China and Japan. Korean pears are sweet with mild acidity. They are great as meat tenderizers and show up in Korean barbecue marinades for precisely that reason. In most cases, the pureed fruit or juice will be used.
You will see sesame oil used in many Korean main and side dishes, and Korean barbecue is one of the key ones. Sesame oil is commonly used in the marinade but is sometimes added after the other liquids since some cooks believe that it can hinder the meat’s ability to absorb. Sesame oil has an amber color and an intensely nutty flavor. In addition to being used in the marinade for Korean barbecue, it may also be used in the dipping sauce.