Why It Works
- A food processor makes quick work of this savory-sweet marinade that pairs perfectly with beef for Korean-style barbecue.
- Unlike thick-cut short ribs that are better-suited for braising, flanken-style beef short ribs are ideal for marinating and grilling due to their increased surface area and thinness.
When we published a list of our possibly unpopular, but very correct food opinions, it felt really good to get some long-held weight off my chest, including my stance that American barbecue is overrated. Like camping, I like the idea of American barbecue—unfussy, communal feasting centered around large pieces of meat is definitely something I'm very into—but once I'm in it, I quickly transition to being over it. I like when the smoke is imparted to food with a can't-quite-put-your-finger-on-it restrained touch. With American barbecue it's front and center. I quickly hit the palate fatigue wall, and I've come to terms with the fact that it's just not my bag.
Korean barbecue, on the other hand, is my 20-pounds-over-the-weight-limit checked luggage. It's more varied, brighter, funkier, tastier, and straight-up more fun. Don't agree with me? How many times have you gone to a pulled pork and brisket joint to warm up for a night of group karaoke? I rest my case.
When it comes to the iconic dishes of Korean barbecue, beef galbi is up there at the top of the list. "Galbi" translates to English as "ribs," and at Korean-style barbecue restaurants in the United States, the term has become overwhelmingly synonymous with beef short ribs cut through—rather than parallel to—the rib bones into long, thin pieces. At Korean markets and barbecue spots, this cut is known as "LA-style," as it exploded in popularity in the Los Angeles Korean community, breaking from traditional Korean meat butchery. For butchers working in the Western European tradition, this cut is known as "flanken-style."
The thinness and large surface area of LA-style galbi make it a great cut for marinating (which is a surface-level treatment), and quick, direct-heat grilling. Unlike the spicy-sweet profile of Korean barbecue dishes like buldak (Korean fire chicken), beef galbi is a dish that focuses on the balance of sweet and savory. Soy sauce is the backbone of the marinade, providing salinity and umami; it also gets sweet notes from fresh Asian pear and brown sugar; allium bite from onion, garlic, and scallions; subtle bitterness from sesame oil and seeds; and background floral heat from fresh ginger and ground black pepper.
The best part is how quickly this marinade comes together in a food processor. I start by processing an Asian pear with all of the aromatics, except for the scallions, into a coarse purée. Soy sauce, water, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, and black pepper then get added to the mix, with the water taming some of the saltiness of the soy sauce. To finish off the marinade, I stir in thinly sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds, which I lightly crush between my fingers as I sprinkle them in. That's all there is to it. This is a marinade that works for both beef galbi and beef bulgogi, and it's a recipe that I learned from Beverly Kim, one of the chefs I worked for while cooking in Chicago.
Once the marinade is good to go, pour it over the short ribs and let them hang out in the fridge for at least an hour, and up to 24 hours. When you're ready to feast, fire up the grill. Most of the tabletop grills that you find at Korean barbecue restaurants are of the gas persuasion (permits for indoor charcoal-grilling are very hard to come by, and exhaust systems for charcoal grilling are expensive), so if you own a gas grill, you certainly can use it without losing credibility. However, I prefer grilling over charcoal, and charcoal-grilled galbi is really tasty.
Whichever grill set-up you use, you want to cook these short ribs over high heat. I usually turn this into a full Korean barbecue feast, and like to set mesh wire racks over the regular grill grate so that I don't sacrifice smaller pieces of meat to the coal gods. After removing the short ribs from the marinade—brushing off any excess marinade in the process—place them directly over the coals.
Keep a good eye on them, turning them frequently as they cook. This promotes even cooking, and prevents the sugars in the marinade from burning. You are looking for beef that is cooked through but still juicy, and lightly charred on the surface. All of this happens in less than 10 minutes.
Once the galbi is cooked, load the pieces up onto a serving platter with a pair of kitchen shears for cutting the meat off the bone and into small, bite-size pieces. As with other Korean meals, there are a lot of items you can and should have at the table to serve along with galbi: rice, lettuce, and perilla leaves for wrapping, savory-spicy ssamjang for dipping, and an assortment of garnishes and banchan side dishes.
For the Galbi:
1 medium onion (about 7 ounces; 200g), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Asian pear (about 6 ounces; 170g), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (see notes)
5 garlic cloves (25g)
1-inch piece (1/2 ounce; 14g) fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup (240ml) soy sauce
1/2 cup (120ml) water
1/4 cup (50g) packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) mirin
1 tablespoon (6g) freshly ground black pepper
4 scallions (80g), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons (30ml) toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons (12g) toasted sesame seeds, lightly crushed
3 pounds (1.4kg) flanken-style beef short ribs, about 1/2-inch-thick (see notes)
For the Galbi: Combine onion, Asian pear, garlic, and ginger in the bowl of a food processor and process to a coarse purée, scraping down sides of food processor bowl as needed, about 30 seconds. Stop processor and add soy sauce, water, brown sugar, mirin, and black pepper to food processor bowl. Continue processing until liquids and sugar are well-combined with vegetables, 15 to 30 seconds longer. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl, and stir in scallions, sesame oil, and sesame seeds.
Place beef in a gallon zipper-lock bag or large baking dish, and pour marinade over the short ribs. Toss to evenly distribute the marinade, then seal bag, removing as much air as possible (if using baking dish, wrap tightly with plastic wrap). Transfer short ribs to refrigerator, and marinate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate.
Remove short ribs from marinade and wipe off excess. Place directly over the hot side of the grill. If using a charcoal grill, leave uncovered; if using a gas grill, cover. Cook, turning occasionally, until beef is cooked through and lightly charred on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes total (3 to 4 minutes per side). Transfer to a serving platter and allow to rest for at least 2 minutes before serving.
For Serving: Serve short ribs immediately with a pair of kitchen shears on-hand for cutting the meat off the bone and into bite-size pieces. Pass ssamjang, lettuces, garnishes, and banchan at the table.
Bosc pear or apple can be substituted for Asian pear.
Flanken-style beef short ribs are thin, long pieces of short rib that have been cut crosswise through the rib bones. They can be found at Korean markets, where they are usually labeled "LA-Style Galbi," or can be cut to order at good butcher shops.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The grilled short ribs are best enjoyed immediately. The marinade can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to two days. The short ribs can be marinated for up to 24 hours.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 85g||109%|
|Saturated Fat 36g||181%|
|Total Carbohydrate 53g||19%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 2mg||8%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|