Everything you need to know about Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ

Everything you need to know about Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ

Everything You need to know About Korean BBQ and Japanese BBQ. What are the differences?

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Everything you need to know about Korean and Japanese BBQ

It’s a tough BBQ war – Japanese vs Korean BBQ. Both taste good and look very similar – they cook meat and vegetables on grilled top. To make it clear, I’ll deconstruct each BBQ and compare both features so that you can learn everything you need to know about Korean and Japanese BBQ.


Everything you need to know about Japanese BBQ vs Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

In a typical Korean BBQ restaurant, every person gathers around a grill, which is mostly placed in the middle of a table. You will be served with plates of meat (raw), as well as other side dishes, like banchan, and then everyone can start to cook and eat their own food.

Style

1) Bulgogi: made with beef sirloin or tenderloin. The meat is sliced thinly and marinated. Marination is an important step.    

2) Galbi: made with beef short ribs. Bulgogi is the most popular form of Korean BBQ and the one with which westerners are more likely to be familiar.


How it’s cooked

Traditionally grilled with different fuels, like electricity, gas, and charcoal. Table top cooking, cook together with family and friends.

Who cooks

Typically at American BBQ, only 1 person grilled the foods. But everyone participates grilling at Korean BBQ.

Sides

Unlike Japanese BBQ, a bunch of small dishes (called “banchan”, mostly pickles like Kimchi) is automatically come with. Pickled vegetables, potato salad, braised fish, noodles, etc. They are refillable and free! It’s not meant to be an appetizer. You do eat those with meats – putting them on the lettuce with meat and wrapping to eat, though you can eat it as appetizers, too.

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Banchan
  • Kimchi: Pickled vegetables from napa cabbage, radish to cucumbers, and spicy to sweet. It goes well with meats and more as you know.
  • Namul: vegetable side dishes including green leafy vegetables, starchy root varieties, sprouts, green beans, and occasionally even fruit. The ingredients are used in raw, pickled, fried, sautéed, blanched, or dry form. You must have them!
  • Japchae (Stir-fried starch noodles): It literally means “mixed vegetables.” But the main ingredient of this classic dish is Korean sweet potato starch noodles (dangmyeon), also known as glass noodles. Sweet and yum!
  • Heongpomuk (mung bean jelly): It’s a “clear froth jelly”. It’s tasteless without sauce – it’s for the texture.
  • Eomuk bokkeum (fried fishcake): Among banchan, the most common is probably fishcake. Sweet and good.
  • Saewoo or myulchi bokkeum (fried dried shrimp or anchovies): a dish of tiny dried shrimp or anchovies stir-fried in a sweet soy syrup.


Despite all the banchan, they do have more side dishes to offer.

  • Jeon: also known as Korean pancakes. Not an American sweet pancake. It’s more likely vegetable pancake, though they could put all kinds of proteins like seafood.
  • Gamjajeon: Korean pancake prepared with grated or puréed potatoes, while some varieties may include scallions, chives, carrots, or onions. The pancakes are usually small and round.
  • Soondubu Jjigae (Spicy soft tofu soup): tofu with choices of protein (beef, seafood etc.). It’s a meal by itself.
  • Dwenjang Jjigae (Soybean paste soup): a bunch of vegetables and tofu soup. Homie dish.
  • Tteokguk: a soup made with sliced rice cakes, usually in beef broth.
  • Steamed Egg: steamed and served in the small pot like the soup. I should say it’s more like an egg soup.
  • Lettuce: make a ssam (lettuce wrap): Wrap a piece of meat with some banchan and spicy sauce in the lettuce and eat!
  • Gim gui: a crispy roasted seaweed with salt and sesame oil. Soo good!


Meats

Various meats, yet a majority of which are pork and chicken. Not a lot of beef unlike J-BBQ, yet beef ones like Galbi (short ribs) and Bulgogi (tenderloin) are more known for K-BBQ. I find excellent pork dishes in K-BBQ. Like Japanese BBQ, you see items like intestines and beef tongue. Most meats are marinated already.

Unlike Japanese, you don’t find high-end quality meats generally. Marination basically covers the poor quality of meats. I see a few high-end Korean BBQ in LA, but the quality of beef is nothing like A5 Kobe Beef.

Having said that, you must try “Galbi” (marinated short rib) and “spicy pork” out of all. Those are something very unique and delicious meats!

Unlike Japanese BBQ, they provide scissors for the bigger cuts of meat (pork belly, kalbi, and chicken).


Vegetables

They do offer simple cut vegetables, but not as much as Japanese one since they already have “banchan”, side dishes, on the table.


Sauce

Mostly spicy seasonings. Less dipping sauces than Japanese BBQ since most of the proteins are already marinated.


Serving style

It is customary for the meat to be bundled in lettuce along with a few toppings, such as spicy paste and kimchi, and eaten like a wrap.


Tips

  • Bunchan will fill you up, so don’t go crazy on ordering meats from the beginning. Start from 2 meat items, and go from there since you can always order more. Order less than what you think you need is a key.
  • Go with a large group so that you can try various dishes and maybe soju.
  • Start with light flavored ones: non-marinated meats such as brisket or pork belly, then move onto richer tasting marinated meats.
  • Request the grill changes as needed. You often see the button on the table to call the server up!
  • You will smell like BBQ afterward. Plan accordingly. 
  • You could finish it off with cold beef broth noodles!

Japanese BBQ

The reason why Japanese BBQ looks similar to Korean BBQ was simply Koreans in Japan introduced their BBQ to Japan originally. Japanese liked it so much, so adopted it and gave their own twists. But there are some big differences between Japanese BBQ and Korean BBQ. 


Style

1) Teppanyaki – food grilled on an iron plate like Benihana
2) Yakiniku – originated from Korea. So this is the one I compare with Korean BBQ.

How it’s cooked

Traditionally grilled with different fuels, like electricity, gas, and charcoal. Table top cooking, cook together with family and friends.

Who cooks

Typically at American BBQ, only 1 person grilled the foods. But at Korean BBQ, everyone participates grilling.

Sides

The sides don’t come automatically like banchan – mostly Korean ones like kimchi and sanchu (not so much “Japanese” ones). Japanese BBQ restaurants charge you the sides. Banchan at Korean BBQ comes automatically and free. 


Meats

Beef is the predominant protein and some intestines for J-BBQ. In J-BBQ, pork and chicken aren’t as popular as K-BBQ.

This is one of the biggest differences from K-BBQ: Japanese BBQ uses high-end quality meats like Kobe beef. Hence, they offer very little marinated meats unlike Korean BBQ. Japanese BBQ is all about the high quality of the ingredients. Naturally, Japanese BBQ is a lot more expensive than the Korean one.

Some of the popular Japanese BBQ meats:

  • Beef tongue (tan): It often comes with lots of green onions on top of the meat and dip with lemon salt. You could find really high quality ones.
  • Short rib (karubi): Korean “Galbi”. The same marination as Galbi, but the quality of meat for Japanese BBQ is just no comparison to the Korean one.
  • Skirt steak (harami): If you want something light, not so greasy one, this is the choice for you.
  • Shoulder (rōsu), chuck (kata rōsu), tenderloin (hire)
  • Offal (horumon): The internal organs of cows is popular. You’ll see intestine, tripe, liver etc.
japanese bbq meat japanese bbq vs korean bbq


Sauce

Dipping sauce – sweet, spicy, lemon & sesame oil, seasonings like salt, matcha powder etc. There are more than Korean BBQ since many of the meats for Japanese BBQ are high-quality and served without marinade to emphasize the flavors of meats. Miso is often accompanied with guts.


Serving style

Unlike K-BBQ, the lettuce doesn’t come with it. Of course, you can order it with additional cost to eat like K-BBQ – it’s just an option. Once the meat is cooked and ready, it is handled with chopsticks and then dipped into a sauce for additional flavor.


Tips

  • Yakiniku meat is typically thin cut, so you need to be extra careful about cooking. Some cuts like rib and sirloin will only take a few seconds to cook. Tenderloin needs to cook a little longer on lower heat.
  • Unlike K-BBQ, banchan won’t come automatically. You must order every side dish, which sucks about J-BBQ. You see many Korean items.
  • J-BBQ is typically a lot more expensive than K-BBQ due to the meat quality they offer. You could get an amazing Galbi at J-BBQ.
  • A lot more varieties of protein than K-BBQ. Bring a lot of people to try out a lot. However, unlike K-BBQ, the meat portion comes a smaller portion, which makes it easier to try various dishes at J-BBQ.
  • Your bill goes up quicker than K-BBQ since the smaller portion, higher quality meats and no “free” banchan.

For your judgment call

Don’t get me wrong – both are good. However, I just can’t ignore the fact that Japanese BBQ offers higher quality on meat. To help your judgement, please visit and compare the high end BBQ restaurants so that you can taste what I’m talking about:

Japanese: Tsuruhashi, Seikoen
Korean: Park’s BBQ

Conclusion: BBQ war - Japanese vs Korean BBQ. I do love bunchan, but Japanese BBQ offers a lot better meat quality than Korean. I like both, but if I have to choose the winner - I go for Japanese BBQ! 


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