I’ll preface this post by saying that I am a quasi-vegetarian who can take or leave meat most of the time. It’s not something I go out of my way to cook or order in restaurants, and I’d usually just as soon choose a veggie-centric meal over a nice steak.
But even I, an apathetic omnivore, can appreciate the delicious art of Korean barbecue.
While living in Korea, one of my favorite weekend rituals was meeting up with friends for a night of drinking and BBQ. Here’s how it works: you sit at a big table with a grill in the center. Once seated, the waiter will fire up the grill as you choose from a menu of various cuts of beef and pork. Platters of raw meat arrive at the table, which you cut apart with scissors and grill yourself (unless you’re in a fancy place, in which case they’ll do it for you. Those weren’t the kinds of places we frequented). The meal comes with various banchan, or side dishes, and you can order extra rice to go with your grilled meat. Beer and soju (Korean rice liquor) round out the meal nicely.
Korean barbecue, though, is bigger than the sum of its parts. You don’t eat barbecue alone, or even as a couple. It’s about getting together with a group of family or friends, and creating a meal together. It’s a lot more leisurely than a typical sit-order-eat dinner, allowing for plenty of time to catch up with your companions.
The ring around the grill, pictured above, is actually egg with kimchi in it. As the grill heats up, it cooks the egg and makes for a nice combo with the meat, rice, and onions.
It even has its own set of rules and etiquette. So if you’re meeting friends for barbecue, keep these dos/don’ts in mind:
Do take turns grilling the meat.
Is it more fun to drink soju and enjoy your dinner while your friend slaves away over the hot grill? Yes, of course. But good barbecue etiquette dictates that people take turns grilling so no one gets stuck with it all night.
Don’t eat burnt meat.
It’s considered not only rude, but also dangerous to eat burnt meat off the barbecue. So as tantalizing as those little charred bits might be, proper etiquette dictates that they be tossed aside.
Do mix your alcohol.
Cass and Hite are two of the cheapest, most popular beers in Korea and they are omnipresent in barbecue joints across the country. So is soju, which is kind of like Korean vodka. It is not only accepted, but also encouraged, to add a shot of soju into your glass of beer. For reasons I still don’t understand, Cass with soju tastes exactly the same as Cass without it. If you’re not looking to pack a double punch, you can also mix your soju with “cider,” which is actually a super sweet, Sprite-esque soda.
Don’t pour your own drink.
In Korea, it’s considered rude to pour your own drink. Just sit there and look pathetic until someone tops off your Cass.
Most major US cities now have Korean barbecue restaurants, so even if you can’t make it to the source, I highly recommend giving it a try. It’s the perfect way to bond with friends before a night out.