I love interactive meals, where I set out an assortment of yummy things and let everyone assemble their own. Korea has an entire food culture built around this concept, known as ssam. Ssam basically means wrapped, and the wrapper of choice is usually some type of lettuce. A dizzying array of toppings and side dishes are also set out, including different kinds of kimchi, some fresh garlic and chili to really punch up the flavors, maybe some roasted seaweed sheets, and of course steamed rice, all tied together with a savory and spicy sauce known as ssamjang. But what anchors this spread is Korean BBQ Short Ribs.
Never Had Korean BBQ?
If your mental image of BBQ is getting up early to season large cuts of meat and then slow cooking over some hardwood for the majority of the day, this will blow your mind. Korean barbecue is about quickly grilling small, thinly sliced pieces of meat. AND many times it’s done indoors at the table. So it’s almost like a communal thing, where everyone can take turns being the pitmaster. Korean Barbecue is fun, interactive dining, which can be as simple or elaborate as you like.
Today I’m going to show you how to prepare Kalbi, or Korean style short ribs, which is one of the most popular barbecue meats. These Korean BBQ Short Ribs tick a lot of boxes: fast and easy to make, few ingredients, fresh delicious flavors, and a crowd pleaser. Depending on what you decide to serve with your barbecue, this can easily transform into a quick weeknight meal-which is what I’ll be showing you.
My Korean BBQ Short Ribs first soak in a sweet and tangy marinade, then get a quick sear, and finally are served with a few key ssam accoutrements. Let’s get started.
This dipping sauce is a star in its own right. Vivid red, with heat from the gochujang and umami from the miso, kicked up with a little garlic and scallions. It makes a nice thick paste that clings to the Korean short ribs, so your hands stay clean as you make your bbq wraps. Leftover sauce makes a great accompaniment for any simply cooked meat or seafood and a great dip for cut veggies.
Korean Short Ribs Marinade
I use thinly sliced flanken cut short ribs for this recipe, which are sometimes called Korean or LA cut. The ribs are cut across the bones, rather than between the bones. This cut gives more surface area to absorb the marinade, allows the ribs to be cooked quickly, and makes it easy to create bite sized pieces. Rinse them first because they can have little pieces of chipped bone stuck to them.
The marinade for these ribs is very easy to make. While the kiwi may surprise you, fruit is used fairly often in Korean marinades. The kiwi adds both fruitiness, and its enzymes help to tenderize the ribs as well. However, you could also use a pear, either American or Korean. Because kiwi has very strong enzymes, it will continue to break down the meat fibers as it marinates. Marinate the meat for a maximum of 24 hours, otherwise you’ll end up with a mushy texture.
You can grill these at the table, but truthfully, I prefer how quick and easy it is to pass them under the broiler for a few minutes, especially for a weeknight meal. The marinade has a high sugar content, so whichever cooking method you use, be sure and keep a close eye on the ribs. A few charred spots add great flavor, but you don’t want them to be completely burnt.
Now For Ssam Fun!
Once the short ribs are cooked and the sauce is made, it’s time to lay everything out and let everyone create their own ssams. I set my pared down BBQ table with the grilled meat, some fresh lettuce leaves, steamed rice, kimchee, the ssamjang sauce, and a veggie side dish like Korean bean sprouts.
To make your own little package of goodness: take a lettuce leaf, add some rice and beef, top with kimchi, and then drizzle with some of the ssamjang sauce. Eat and repeat!
If you’re looking to make a more elaborate feast, here are a couple of suggestions to round out the meal: some pork gyoza, another vegetable side dish like the miso maple delicata squash, perhaps a noodle like the mushroom japchae, and if you’re so inclined, maybe some tofu stew to wash it all down!
This is such a fun and delicious dinner, I know you will love it. Give it a try, and then rate the recipe or drop a comment down below. Please post some beautiful pictures of your own Korean Short Rib Ssam on insta; we wanna see! Tag us @funkyasiankitchen.
Craving more Korean food? You can find more Korean favorites here!
- 3 lbs short ribs (cut across the bone)
- 1 ripe kiwi or small pear
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 Tablespoon chopped ginger
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- ⅓ cup Chongju or sake
- 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 green onions, minced
- 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
Ssamjang Dipping Sauce:
- 2 Tablespoon gochujang chili paste
- 4 Tablespoons soy bean paste, either korean doenjang or miso
- 2 scallions minced
- Two cloves large garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons Mirin
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Ssamjang Sauce
- Lettuce Leaves
- Sliced Chilies (optional)
- Sliced Garlic (optional)
- Steamed Rice
Make Ssamjang Sauce:
- Mix the soy bean paste, gochujang, scallions, garlic, mirin, water, sugar, and sesame oil in a small bowl with a fork until smooth.
- Store in the fridge until ready to use.
For the Ribs:
- Trim excess fat from the ribs and rinse them under running water to remove any bone fragments and blood. Drain off the water and then transfer the ribs to a container.
- Peel the kiwi and then put it in a food processor or blender with the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sake, brown sugar, and black pepper. Process until it is a thick, smooth paste. Pour it over the ribs and then add the green onions and sesame oil.
- Mix well, making sure each of the slices is coated with sauce. Marinate overnight (or a minimum of 2 hours and a maximum of 24 hours).
- You can cook the ribs either on a grill, under a broiler, or in a fry pan.
- I like to broil the ribs when I want to cook all of them fast and bring the platter straight to the table.
- Move a shelf to the top oven rack and set the oven to broil on high. Lay the ribs in one layer on a baking sheet that has been covered with a sheet of aluminum foil (you want to use a baking sheet that has a lip to catch the accumulating juices).
- Broil the ribs for 5 minutes. (Watch the ribs for the last couple of minutes as different ovens may have different broiler strengths.)
- Cut the ribs into bites sized pieces with a pair of scissors or a knife. You can either cut the meat off of the bone or leave the bone-in and cut the meat into riblets. Stack the ribs onto a platter and serve with the dipping sauce and other accompaniments.
- To make a ssam, take a leaf of lettuce and top with a little steamed rice, a piece of meat, a dab of ssamjang, and a little kimchee. Roll it up and enjoy!
*Kiwi has very strong enzymes. Marinate the meat for a maximum of 24 hours, as the enzymes will continue to break down the meat fibers. You do not want mushy meat.
Keywords: Korean ssam, short ribs, lettuce wraps, ssamjang sauce, kimchi, korean food