Korean BBQ Tips & Etiquette
If you haven’t had Korean barbeque before, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the new and unfamiliar elements: the tables with built-in grills, the variety of meats, the sheer number of side dishes – the novelty of cooking your food yourself! It might seem strange if you’ve never done it before, but cooking meat yourself is an expected and enjoyable part of an authentic Korean BBQ experience.
Dining at a Korean BBQ restaurant is most often a social affair coupled with a delicious meal, and cooking the meat adds an interactive element to the group dynamic, opening up avenues for communication, cooperation and connection. (Plus, cooking your meat yourself allows you to control exactly how and in what order your meat is cooked.) Several traditions, tips and etiquettes developed alongside Korean BBQ dining; keep reading for a rundown!
– If raw onions are provided, start by rubbing the onion all over the grill. It will spread oils across as well as season the grilling surface, for less sticking and more delicious, even cooking.
– Don’t overflip the meat. Overflipping will prevent a nice char from forming, and can also dry out the meat. A good rule of thumb is to look for drops of moisture accumulating on top, before flipping and sealing in those juices. Ideally, pork should be flipped just once, while beef can be flipped a few times. An exception is chadolbaegi (paper-thin sliced brisket); because it is so thin it cooks very quickly, and should be moved around the grill frequently to prevent overcooking.
– Use the provided scissors to cut meat into bite-size pieces.
– Move cooked meat to the cooler outer edges of the grill, in order to prevent overcooking while keeping them warm.
– Offer the first finished morsels of meat to any elders and loved ones at the table.
– If your grill becomes too charred or crusted over with bits of BBQ, or if your charcoal looks in danger of burning out, don’t be afraid to ask for a fresh grill. Your server will usually do these without asking, but if they haven’t yet they will be happy to change them out for you.
For Banchan (Side Dishes):
– Don’t hoard banchan, but don’t avoid it, either. Banchan are meant to complement the grilled meats, and are not the main attraction. Enjoy bites of banchan while you are waiting for your meat to cook, and add bits to your ssam, too.
– That said, feel free to order more banchan if there are any you especially enjoy – most KBBQ restaurants provide free refills.
– You can eat ssam (lettuce wraps) with your hands! Just be sure to use chopsticks to place the fillings in it.
– Eat ssam in one bite. If your ssam is too big to eat in one bite, use less fillings and/or a smaller piece of lettuce.
For Drinking, and More:
– Koreans usually do not pour their own drinks and instead wait for someone else to pour their drink. When someone pours your drink, receive it with both hands touching the glass, especially if the person pouring is an elder.
– When drinking with older people during your KBBQ meal, it is a sign of respect to pour their drinks for them using both hands – with one hand on the bottle and the other hand on the elbow or chest, or both hands on the bottle. And when drinking with respected elders, you should drink while turning your face away slightly and shielding your mouth with your free hand.
– Even though shot glasses are provided with soju, don’t feel like you have to take shots throughout your meal! Many take the first glass of soju in one shot, but take their time with subsequent glasses. If you feel like you need to slow down, leave your glass at least half-full as it is an unspoken rule to only offer refills when a glass is empty or nearly empty. Because of soju’s neutral, smooth flavor, it is best enjoyed in sips throughout your meal.
– A popular way to enjoy alcohol during your KBBQ meal is to make somek - a combination of soju and beer (mekju). Essentially a soju bomb, somek is very smooth and refreshing.
– Don’t order dessert! KBBQ restaurants rarely carry desserts, since meals are intended to be filled to the bursting with grilled meats, banchans, soups, rice, alcoholic beverages, good company and conversations.
– Don’t be surprised if your hair and clothes retain some of that smoky, BBQ-y scent afterwards. Though we make every effort to ventilate our restaurant very well with plentiful and powerful vent hoods, by its very nature as indoor tabletop BBQ, it is inevitable that some scents will cling to you and your clothing. Don’t worry, it washes out easily!
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