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Korean Vs. American Barbecue

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The more one learns about Korean Barbecue, the more one realizes that it’s not terribly like the smoked and sauce slathered meats and fares we are accustomed to in the United States. However, as one who enjoys the many styles of cooking and flavors of the world, I feel both forms of “barbecue” are equally adept at soliciting a mouthwatering response from the diner.

What makes it “Korean”?

Depending on where you dine, your dish can take on some variations, but the gist of it is this: thinly sliced meats are cooked at the center, hot portion of a table-top skillet while vegetables are cooked slower on the outside ring. From there we talk of sauces, pastes and pickled side dishes. Mind you, there are authentic ways to eat this tantalizing style of food, but as long as you walk away happy, you can be forgiven any faux-pas (tip: start cooking your vegetables before you put your first piece of meat on the grill).

A chief component of this style of cooking is the fact that the meat is cooked rather quickly. Since the meats are sliced thin, overcooking would produce tough morsels and possibly mar the taste of the chosen meat. For example, a strip of beef less than a half inch thick will quickly turn into leather in the hands of an inexperienced chef. Timing is of the essence, and when the clock is watched arduously (some say no more than 2 minutes per side), flavor remains intact and ready to mingle with the mouth and toppings of choice.

What do you eat with Korean Barbecue?



Any number of Korean specialties that sound appetizing to you! There are soy sauces, spiced bean pastes, pickled onions, pickles, fermented vegetables, other pickled vegetables and more. Additionally, the diners often place the meat, sauces, and toppings inside of a lettuce leaf, wrap it together, and deliver it to the mouth in one giant, colorful bite.

Again, depending on which establishment you frequent and whether or not they adhere strictly to tradition, there could be other dishes such as rice, sticky rice, and a more Americanized Korean BBQ side, bread.

What are the similarities between Korean and American BBQ?

Sure! Korean barbecue centers heavily around meat, as does American barbecue. Many different sauce toppings are noted for both types of barbecue. Side dishes have variety and complexity that compliments the main course. Vegetables are used to add color and flavor to the entrée. The time used to cook the meat is extremely important. However, American and Korean barbecue cooking times are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

What are the differences between Korean and American BBQ?



The first and most striking difference is the amount of time the meat is allowed to cook and the temperature at which the meat is cooked. For this comparison, I am going to speak strictly of smoking the meat (the American style). Americans ardently adhere to the maxim “low and slow.” Pitmasters in the US believe that this is the key to producing tasty, delicious barbecue. It allows the bonds in the meat and the fats to break down, rendering the meat succulent and packed with flavor.

Additionally, unlike American barbecue, Korean barbecue has the diner cooking their own food. This is important, because many faithful American smokers believe that there is an art and a science to the entire process of cooking that one can’t simply pick up on the fly. Korean barbecue strips this down with it’s fast preparation. There is little mystery about the cooking process outside of the sides and sauces provided by the restaurant.

Finally, another notable difference is that American barbecue often uses a “rub” of spices to cover their meats. One could argue that the pastes and sauces are similar to a rub, but most Korean Barbecue purists don’t “rub” anything onto the meat. However, there is a long tradition of marinating meat in Korean Barbecue, so the concept of pre-flavoring the meat is not foreign to the cooking process.

Final thoughts

Though there are differences when it comes to Korean and American barbecue, diners will find some familiar trends between both styles. While Korean barbecue is not truly “barbecue” in the strictest sense, it will likely find a friend among American-style barbecue and meat lovers the world over. If you are given the chance, I highly recommend trying quality Korean style barbecue.  As always, my goal has been to enlighten, illuminate and inspire. I hope this article helped you and have a great day!

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