Beef Bulgogi is one of Korea’s most well-known and loved dishes. Traditionally, it is made with thin slices of beef that have been marinated in a sweet and savory sauce.
While classic Korean beef bulgogi is not spicy, the addition of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) introduces a delightful heat that has given rise to this spicy variation of beef bulgogi.
This dish has become a global favorite, showcasing the rich and diverse flavors of Korean cuisine. Our recipe is the perfect blend of sweet, spicy, and savory. The unique marinade not only imparts flavor, but also helps to tenderize the beef.
If you’re new to Korean cooking, our easy beef bulgogi recipe is a good place to start!
Fun fact: Bulgogi means “fire meat,” referring to the traditional method of grilling or stir-frying marinated beef.
How To Make Spicy Beef Bulgogi
Serving size: 4 portions (~1/4 cup each)
Marinade time: 30 minutes
Prep and cook time: 15 minutes
- 1 lb. ribeye or sirloin beef, sliced paper thin*
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- Green onions, chopped (for garnish)
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
*Freeze the beef for about 2 hours before slicing. This makes it much easier to slice the beef into thin pieces.
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp. gochujang paste
- 1/2 cup Dr. Pepper or Coca Cola – this helps to tenderize the beef
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp. honey
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
Step 1: Add the prepared marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine.
Step 2: Add thinly sliced beef and onions, using tongs or hands to mix until the marinade thoroughly coats the beef and onions. Cover and allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
Step 3: Preheat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the marinaded beef and onions and continuously stir fry for 4-6 minutes while the meat goes from bright red to brown and the onions become translucent. Expect the marinade to be a bit thick and tacky, this is due to the sugar content. You want to keep your spicy beef bulgogi moving around to avoid burning your meal.
Remove from pan and serve immediately
Substitutions and variations
- Meat – The meat is endlessly versatile in this dish. If you’re not a fan of beef bulgogi, you can easily make pork bulgogi with the same marinade. Try swapping out the rib eye or sirloin with ground beef, shrimp, pork, or tofu.
- Onion – If you do not have an onion on hand, you can chop the white stems off of 5 large green onions or scallions. Chop them into 1/2 inch pieces.
- Red pepper flakes – You can also use Korean red pepper flakes or 1 Tbsp. of ground chipotle pepper powder or chili powder.
- Gochujang paste – There really is no substitute for this ingredient. Gochujang paste has an umami flavor thanks to the fermentation process. But, if you want a spicy kick with medium heat that plays well with the original bulgogi flavor, try a drizzle of Sriracha sauce over the finished dish.
- Dr. Pepper – You can use another cola, or the more traditional method of using pureed Asian pear or pureed apple as a meat tenderizer.
- Honey – This can be swapped out for the same amount of a sweetener of your choice like brown sugar, corn syrup, or agave nectar.
What to serve with spicy beef bulgogi
This bulgogi beef dish really isn’t complete without a large assortment of sides and garnishes. We like serving ours with white rice and quick-pickled veggies. A beef bulgogi rice bowl also makes for great leftovers the next day.
Here are some ideas of what to serve your beef bulgogi with:
- Warm cooked rice
- Cauliflower rice
- Quick pickled radish or another quick pickled veggie
- Seasoned cucumber
- Soft-boiled egg
- Lettuce leaves
- Sesame seeds (garnish)
- Green onion (garnish)
Recipes tips and FAQ
- Marinade – For easy clean up, combine your marinade and beef in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. For better distribution, squish the outside of the bag then place it flat in the refrigerator.
- Beef – The ideal meat for this dish is ribeye or sirloin sliced thin for maximum absorption of the marinade. Asian markets often sell pre-sliced beef for around the same price you may pay for 1 lb. of beef at a typical grocery store. If you are unable to find pre-sliced beef, place the meat in the freezer for a few hours before cutting to help achieve those extra-thin slices.
- Cola – Dr. Pepper is used as a tenderizer in this recipe. Cola is high in acidity with a pH of around 2.7 which makes it perfect for tenderizing meat. More common tenderizers like lemon juice have a pH of 2. Drawing inspiration from the traditional use of Asian Pears in beef bulgogi marinade recipes, Dr. Pepper cola was chosen for its caramel, fruity, and vanilla flavor profile.
- Ginger – The flesh around the ginger root is very thin and easy to scrape away. You can use the side of a spoon and a fine cheese grater to easily mince the ginger. If you need to, you can use dried ginger root instead.
- Gochujang – This can be found in any Asian grocery store or supermarket with an international/global flavors section. You can also find it online. A couple brands we like are Chung Jung One or Sempio. Be aware, there is a difference between gochujang sauce and paste. This recipe calls for the paste, which is typically sold in a jar or tub.
What are the best cuts of beef for spicy beef bulgogi?
The optimal choice for beef bulgogi is thinly sliced rib eye or sirloin for enhanced tenderness and flavor absorption.
How can I adjust the spice levels of this beef bulgogi?
Customize the spice intensity to your liking by tweaking the quantity of gochujang paste and red pepper flakes. For an extra-spicy meal, add some cayenne powder.
Can I used frozen beef for beef bulgogi?
Yes, you can make this recipe even easier by freezing your marinated beef for later use. Thaw in the refrigerator before cooking.
How to store beef bulgogi
Store cooked spicy beef bulgogi in an airtight container for no longer than 3 days in the refrigerator and up to 3 months in the freezer. Pull leftovers in from the freezer the day before and allow it thaw in the refrigerator before heating.
This recipe is a personal favorite in our household. If you try our beef bulgogi recipe or any variations of it, be sure to let us know in the comments how you liked it!
Spicy Beef Bulgogi
- 1 large skillet non-stock, 12 inches
- 1 medium bowl
- Sharp Knife
- 1 lb. ribeye or sirloin sliced paper thin
- 1 medium onion sliced
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 3 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
- 2 Tbsp. gochujang paste
- 1/2 cup Dr. Pepper or Coca Cola
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp. honey
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger peeled and minced
- Add the marinade ingredients to a large mixing bowl, whisking to combine.
- Add thinly-sliced beef (see notes) and onions to the marinade. Use tongs to mix until beef and onions are thoroughly coated. Marinade for at least 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
- Preheat 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add the slices of meat and onions and continuously stir fry for 4-6 minutes or until the meat cooks through and onions turn translucent. The marinade will be thick and tacky. Be sure to keep the beef moving to avoid burning.
- Remove from pan and serve immediately with your choice of sides and toppings.
- Slicing the beef – To make it easy to slice the beef extra-thin, freeze it for about 2 hours beforehand. This firms up the beef making it easy to slice.
- Sides – Serve this beef bulgogi with white rice and kimchi. We also love to pair it with quick-pickled veggies like carrots, radish, cucumbers, or hot peppers.
- Toppings – Chopped green onions and toasted sesame seeds are delicious garnishes over your finished beef bulgogi.