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Korean Sesame Grilled Beef with Asian Pear Dipping Sauce Recipe

Course: Main Course
Total Time: Under 2 Hours
Skill Level: Moderate
Cost: Moderate
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Korean Sesame Grilled Beef with Asian Pear Dipping Sauce

Photo by: Joseph De Leo

Korean food is probably the best-kept secret in Asia. From the moment we landed in Seoul, my wife and I ate extraordinarily well. And despite the time of year (winter) and the weather (frigid), everywhere we went we had barbecue. Most of the meat is grilled to order on a tabletop brazier, which helps warm your frozen fingers as you eat.

Korean barbecue comes in two main varieties: kalbi kui, Korean Grilled Short Ribs, and bool kogi, thin shavings of beef steeped in a sweet-salty sesame marinade and grilled crisply over charcoal. The sugar and sesame oil caramelize during the cooking, giving the meat a candied sweetness. The dish takes its name from the Korean words for “fire” and “meat.” The meat is cooked on a grill that looks like a perforated inverted wok.

In Korea, bool kogi is eaten like moo shu or fajitas, using a lettuce leaf instead of a pancake or tortilla. You roll the meat (and often a grilled garlic clove) in a romaine lettuce leaf, dip it in sauce – here an Asian pear sauce – then pop it into your mouth. The contrast of sweet and salty, of pungent and fruity, of crisp vegetable and chewy but tender meat is unique in the world of barbecue.

Yield: Serves 6


For the beef and marinade:

  • 2 pounds beef tenderloin tips, or boneless sirloin
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sake, rice wine, or sherry
  • 2 tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, separated into leaves, rinsed, and spun dry

For the asian pear dipping sauce (makes about 2 1::2 cups):

  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • ½ cup sake or dry sherry
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 small Asian pear, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 4 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and finely chopped
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted


1. If using tenderloin tips, butterfly them to obtain broad flat pieces of meat; each should be about 4 inches long and wide and ¼ inch thick. If using the sirloin, cut it across the grain into ¼-inch slices. Whichever cut you use, pound the slices between two sheets of plastic wrap with the side of a cleaver or with a rolling pin to flatten them to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Place the meat in a large non-reactive baking dish and set aside while you prepare the marinade.

2. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a small bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the mixture over the meat in the baking dish and toss thoroughly to coat. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, for 1 to 2 hours.

3. Preheat the grill to high.

4. When ready to cook, oil the grill grate. Arrange the pieces of meat on the grate and grill, turning with tongs, until nicely browned on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer the meat to a platter when it is done.

5. Pour the dipping sauce into 6 small bowls, one for each diner. To eat, take a piece of meat and wrap in a lettuce leaf. Dip the leaf in the dipping sauce and eat at once.

Asian Pear Dipping Sauce and Serving Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients in a medium-size bowl and stir until thoroughly mixed and the sugar is dissolved. Divide the sauce among as many small bowls as there are people, so each person has his own for dipping, and serve immediately.

© 1998, 2008 Steven Raichlen

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

763kcal (38%)
165mg (16%)
31mg (52%)
465mcg RAE (15%)
100mg (33%)
2773mg (116%)
12g (61%)
35g (55%)
6mg (32%)

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