Why It Works
- The bulgogi sauce is used as a glaze on the seared patty, adding flavor without changing the texture or cooking process.
- We use both kimchi and its brine to make a piquant mayo topping—you won't want ketchup!
- Crunchy, colorful vegetables finish off the assembly to make it a visual feast.
We've all experienced fusion fails—two dishes that, individually, are perfectly delicious, but when mashed together leave you wishing for a refund. One of the safest routes to success is to combine two foods that have some fundamental elements in common. Bulgogi, Korea's world-famous grilled meat dish, uses thin strips of beef that are marinated and seared, so why not apply those flavors to a burger? We're not good at making up names like "Cronut," so we're simply calling this a "bulgogi burger."
The key here is not to mess with the flavors of bulgogi, nor to deviate from the essential techniques of great burgers. It's an approach that works. We know, because we've previously crossed bulgogi with burritos and nachos. Kenji has also played with a related idea before with his cheesy, gooey Kim-Cheese Burgers.
Let's start with the star of the show, the marinated beef. Classic bulgogi recipes use an assertive marinade of soy, ginger, garlic, and gochujang (Korean chili paste) to flavor and tenderize strips of meat. In case of our burger, though, we don't want to mix the marinade into the ground beef; that'd change the texture of it, leading to some kind of Korean sloppy Joe (which actually does sound kind of delicious, but not what we're after here). Instead, we want to work with freshly ground beef that has a decently high fat percentage (about 20%), remains cold, and is loosely packed. We then try to handle the beef as little as possible when forming the patties. All together, these steps deliver a burger with a wonderfully loose, tender, and juicy structure. Making an indentation in the center of each patty with your thumb is another smart step, preventing them from bulging as they cook.
We set up our grill for two-zone indirect cooking, meaning the coals are all piled on one half of the grill grate (on a gas grill, just turn half the burners on high and leave the others off). We start the patties directly over the coals, which puts a nice sear on them. Once they have a good crust on the outside, and before they're fully done on the inside, we move them to the cooler side of the grill. It's at this point that we start glazing the patties with our homemade bulgogi sauce, flipping and glazing repeatedly to build up a nice coating. Once the burgers are done, about 120°F (49°C) in the center for medium-rare, we remove them from the grill, sprinkle them with toasted sesame seeds, and let them rest for a few minutes.
At this point, it's time to build the burgers. We go for a thick slathering of kimchi mayonnaise on both the tops and bottoms of toasted sesame buns. The mayo is as simple as it sounds—mayonnaise spiked with minced kimchi and a splash of its funky brine. It's easy and quick and loaded with flavor.
On top of that we pile some finely shredded red cabbage, which adds some great crunchy raw texture and a nice punch of color, then lay rounds of danmuji (pickled daikon radish) on that. We use our recipe for homemade danmuji—it's easy but it does require some advance prep—or you could use a store-bought version, available at most Korean markets (you also can find it in Japanese markets as takuan). If you have a lot of cabbage and kimchi mayo left over, you can mix them together to make a tasty slaw, or use the mayo as a dipping sauce for fries.
And if a name more clever than "bulgogi burger" occurs to you, let us know. We're ready to go full Cronut by trademarking this thing and turning it into a worldwide fad. A lifetime supply of these burgers could be your reward...or, you know, a cut of the profits, if you'd be crazy enough to turn down the burger offer.
For the Bulgogi Sauce:
1/2 cup (120ml) soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons (20ml) gochujang (spicy Korean red pepper paste)
3 large cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger (from about one 2-inch knob)
1 tablespoon (15ml) rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup (50g) brown sugar
2 teaspoons (10ml) toasted sesame oil
For the Kimchi Mayo:
1 cup (215g) mayonnaise
2 tablespoons (30ml) kimchi brine
1/2 cup finely diced drained kimchi (100g)
1 teaspoon (4g) sugar
1 tablespoon (15ml) toasted sesame oil
1 small clove garlic, grated or minced
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, finely chopped (about 40g)
For the Burgers:
1 1/2 pounds (680g) fresh ground beef chuck (about 80% lean)
Vegetable oil, for oiling the grill
2 tablespoons (10g) toasted sesame seeds
4 sesame seed buns, split
2 cups (about 200g) finely shredded quartered and cored red cabbage
1 recipe danmuji (Korean pickled daikon radish), prepared following the recipe but using thin rounds of daikon instead of strips
For the Bulgogi Sauce: In a small saucepan, mix soy sauce, gochujang, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and brown sugar together. Bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer, and cook until thickened enough to coat a spoon, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, add sesame oil and let cool. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
For the Kimchi Mayo: In a medium mixing bowl, stir together mayonnaise, kimchi brine, kimchi, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and scallions until well combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
For the Burgers: Form beef into 4 patties, about 1/2 inch wider than the burger buns. Using your thumb, press a depression into the center of each patty to prevent bulging during cooking.
Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over half of coal grate. Alternatively, set half the burners of a gas grill to high heat. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate.
Place patties directly over hot coals, cover with vents open, and cook, turning occasionally. When patties are well charred and the centers register 110°F (43°C) on an instant-read thermometer, move them over to the indirect zone. Brush each with the bulgogi sauce on both sides. Continue cooking burgers, flipping and brushing with sauce occasionally, until they register 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare or 130°F (54°C) for medium.
Remove patties from grill and brush with more sauce on both sides until well glazed and coated. Sprinkle all over with sesame seeds and let rest 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast burger buns over moderate heat on grill until light golden brown. Spread bottom and top buns with kimchi mayonnaise. Layer bottom buns with half the cabbage followed by the danmuji, and patties. Brush top side of patties once more with bulgogi sauce, then top with remaining cabbage, close top buns, and serve.
If you're using a gas grill, turn half the burners on high and leave the others off for two-zone grilling.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 56g||72%|
|Saturated Fat 15g||76%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||10%|
|Total Sugars 11g|
|Vitamin C 20mg||100%|
|*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.|