Last updated February 22, 2018
This recipe for grilled kalbi – Korean short ribs – uses two special ingredients to tenderize the meat and add authentic sweetness to the vinegar & soy sauce.
I was fortunate enough to live in South Korea for a short time. I absolutely fell in love with the country, its people and its food. One of my favorite dishes is kalbi ribs.
Is it Kalbi or Galbi?
I asked this same question many years ago and was told that it’s both. The K and G are used interchangeably. The characters in the Korean language of Hangul are not the same as English characters, so when the words are translated, they are spelled out based on their sound. Phonetically, the Hangul word 갈비 translates to kalbi or galbi. And kalbi or galbi basically translate to mean ribs.
Short Ribs – the cut matters
In America, when we think of short ribs, we think of big beefy chunks of meat attached to a short bone. These usually require a long cook on a smoker or in a braising liquid. Korean short ribs are cut form the same section of the cow, but they’re cut in the opposite direction, across the bone – flanken style.
This results in a thin slice of beef, similar to a really thick slice of bacon with 3-4 small bones nestled inside. Since the meat is so thin and so marbled, it can be cooked up fast over direct heat, just like a juicy steak.
Korean kalbi marinade
Now that we have the right cut, let’s talk marinade. Traditional kalbi marinades include pureed apples and/or Asian pears. Both of these fruits have enzymes that act as natural tenderizers.
When I first developed this recipe, I tried pureeing apples and pears in the blender, and I didn’t like the grainy texture. Now, I use baby food. The texture is smooth and it’s all natural. I always buy the Gerber 1st Foods® varieties. They come in 1/4-cup containers, which is the exact amount needed for this recipe.
Other ingredients in the marinade include soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, onion, garlic, sesame oil and a few seasonings. When I’m really craving grilled kalbi and I don’t have all the ingredients on hand for this recipe, I sometimes cheat and use the premade Korean BBQ kalbi marinade. (Don’t tell anyone.)
I prefer to let the ribs marinate overnight because I really love to soak the meat with all of those Asian flavors. If you don’t have the time or patience, you can do a quick 30-minute marinade. They just won’t be quite as amazing.
Korean style BBQ is a little different than the states. Most of us have big outdoor charcoal or gas grills. In Korea, however, it’s very common to find small barbecue grills indoors. In fact, many Korean restaurants have grills right at each table. Guests are traditionally served raw marinated meat like kalbi, bulgogi and pork belly, and they grill it up and enjoy it along with banchan – small bowls of rice and raw and pickled vegetables, such as kimchi.
Once your meat has marinated, it’s time to fire up the grill. You can use charcoal or gas. You want to create high heat. Pull the ribs from the marinade and place them directly over the heat.
Don’t walk away. Since there is sugar in the marinade and the ribs are fatty, you may experience a few flare ups. With a long set of tongs, move the ribs around the grill for 5-7 minutes. Then, flip them and continue cooking another 5-7 minutes. I love when the fat morsels get nice and crispy, so I prefer to cook them the full 7 minutes per side.
These can also be cooked over a campfire. Build your campfire with hardwood or charcoal. Weave the beef onto long metal skewers. Hold over the fire, turning occasionally for about 10 minutes. These are way more fun than hot dogs.
Grilled Kalbi - Korean Short Ribs
This recipe for grilled kalbi - Korean short ribs - uses two special ingredients to tenderize the meat and add authentic sweetness to the vinegar & soy sauce.
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup pear baby food
- 1/4 cup apple baby food
- 1/4 cup minced white onion
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp chili pepper flakes optional
- 1/4 tsp ginger powder
- 2 lbs Korean or flanken short ribs
- 2 cups white rice
- 2 green onions
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- In a large zip-top bag, mix together the soy sauce, brown sugar, apples, pears, onion, water, garlic, rice wine vinegar, salt, pepper, chili pepper flakes, ginger powder and sesame oil. Add the short ribs and marinate overnight.
Preheat the grill to high. Grill the ribs for 5-7 minutes per side over direct heat.
Serve with white rice and a sprinkle of sliced green onions and sesame seeds.