Bulgogi sauce is a Korean BBQ sauce or marinade with a slightly sweet, umami flavor. Use this recipe to make the Korean condiment at home using simple pantry ingredients!
There are many delicious Korean dishes that are popular worldwide. Here in the United States, there are Korean restaurants in every big city, serving foods like galbi jjim (braised short ribs), bibimbap, and of course, Gochujang sauce.
But of all the many Korean foods to choose from, bulgogi Korean BBQ is arguably one of, if not the most popular dishes in the U.S..
Bulgogi is a dish featuring strips of marinated and seasoned meat, and it’s incredibly delicious. There are seasonings on the meat itself, but I think the bulgogi marinade is what makes the dish so flavorful!
I’ll be sharing my bulgogi flanken short ribs recipe with you in a couple of days, so be looking for that! Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the Korean BBQ sauce.
Bulgogi sauce or marinade
Cuisine: Korean / Asian
Bulgogi has sweet and savory flavors, with hints of pear or apple, ginger, and garlic. In my version, I use applesauce, but the flavor is still fruity and fresh.
Now, in case you're wondering why I didn’t just share this Korean BBQ sauce recipe in the upcoming bulgogi beef post; I could have. Honestly though, it’s great for so much more than a marinade or dipping sauce for Korean barbecue.
I think you’ll want to have this recipe handy to use for other purposes, so it definitely deserves a post of its own. Truth be told, as I'm writing this, my plan is to use it in my shrimp stir fry tonight. #newrecipetest
First, I’ll show you what ingredients you’ll need to make homemade bulgogi sauce. You may even have everything already because my recipe uses simple pantry ingredients.
You can whip up a batch in less than 5 minutes, for a fresh tasting condiment that’s better than any store-bought brand. I'll also share some ideas of other ways you can use it as a sauce or marinade.
Ingredient notes and substitutions
- Soy Sauce: This is the primary ingredient in bulgogi sauce. It gives the condiment a wonderful umami flavor. If you prefer, use low sodium soy sauce, and if you’re gluten-sensitive, use tamari instead.
- Brown Sugar: The sweetness in the marinade comes from both the fruit and a bit of brown sugar. I use brown sugar for the additional molasses flavor, but white granulated sugar could be used instead.
- Applesauce: Bulgogi sauce is traditionally made with Korean pears or apples. I use applesauce because it helps to thicken the sauce, and prefer the flavor over pear. Feel free to use a pea ror apple.
- Sesame Oil: This is the traditional oil used for almost every Asian recipe. If you need a substitute, you could use vegetable oil, but you'll be missing the toasted, nutty flavor.
- Scallion (green onions): There are just a few needed for a little bite of flavor. Good substitutes are chives, or the white part of leeks.
Making bulgogi marinade
There’s absolutely nothing better than the fresh flavor of grilled marinated meat and that’s the first use for bulgogi sauce. It adds flavor and tenderizes the meat.
Making it couldn’t be simpler; just add the marinade ingredients to a blender and puree for a couple of minutes, until it’s a smooth consistency.
Some people heat the ingredients in a pan on the stove first, to dissolve the sugar. Personally, I don’t think that's necessary for a marinade.
However, if you’re planning to use the bulgogi sauce for dipping, that’s different. The marinade may be a little too thin, so you'll need to cook it down for a few minutes.
How to convert marinade into Korean BBQ sauce
- Make the bulgogi marinade. Just make the recipe as shown in the recipe card below.
- Simmer to reduce and thicken. Add the marinade to a saucepan and set it over medium high heat. Let it come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and let the sauce cook for about 5 minutes, or until it reduces and thickens to the consistency you like for a dipping sauce.
Other uses for bulgogi sauce
As a marinade: Because bulgogi can be made with any type of meat, this recipe makes a fantastic marinade for just about any type of protein! Bulgogi beef is the most common, but don't let that stop you from using it on chicken, pork, lamb, or anything else you'd like.
Here are a few other ideas for using it:
- Add a couple tablespoons of sauce to a pound of ground beef for meatloaf or bulgogi burgers. Or, simply brush the sauce on top.
- Use in place of traditional stir fry sauce the next time you make a pork stir fry like Jeyuk Bokkeum.
- Make a pot of Instant Pot basmati rice and drizzle some of this Korean BBQ sauce on top. Yum!
Bulgogi Sauce | Korean BBQ Sauce
- ½ cup soy sauce or light soy sauce
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce (See Note 1)
- 2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (approximately 2-inch piece, peeled)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 tablespoon sesame oil
- 4 scallions (green onions) trimmed and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon Gochujang (optional for heat)
- Using a blender or stick blender, purée all the marinade ingredients together until smooth. Use as-is as a marinade for bulgogi beef or other meat.
- To use as a dipping sauce, add marinade to a saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until marinade reduces and thickens to desired consistency. Allow sauce to cool before using.
- Traditionally an Asian pear is used, if they are hard to find, a sweet Bosc pear or apple works. I often times use applesauce if on hand as well.
- Recipe yields 1 ¾ cups of marinade (enough for 2-3 pounds of meat), or when reduced, approximately 1 ¼ cups (20 Tbsp) of sauce.
- Nutritional information shown is for 10 servings (2 tablespoon each) of sauce.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.