Traditionally Beef Bulgogi is a Korean BBQ recipe. This version skips the grilling and instead infuses ground beef with all of the delicious and savory flavors of classic bulgogi. These Ground Beef Bulgogi Bowls are sweet, savory, and slightly spicy.

What is bulgogi?

Bulgogi, which is Korean bbq, translates as “fire meat.” More traditional Beef Bulgogi is made of marinated thinly sliced beef that gets seared on a grill or in a ripping hot pan until charred.

For this recipe we’re skipping the “firing” and cooking everything in one pan using ground beef.

This less-traditional beef bulgogi features ground beef cooked with onion, ginger and garlic then tossed with a classic bulgogi sauce (what’s usually the marinade). To pack the bowls, I serve this flavorful Korean ground beef with charred shredded carrots, quick pickled cukes, tender rice and bibb lettuce leaves. 

Learn more about the history and evolution of Bulgogi and Korean cuisine.

blue bowls filled with ground beef over rice, carrots and cucumbers

Bulgogi Sauce/Marinade 

The marinade for bulgogi varies, but traditionally it consists of black pepper, garlic, onion, ginger, sesame oil, sesame seeds, soy sauce, sugar and rice wine (mirin). Oftentimes Asian pear or pear juice is added as well—it contains a tenderizing enzyme. 

But since we’re using ground beef, there’s no need to tenderize! This recipe does a few things differently; it skips the pear and adds gochujang. Gochujang is not traditional but it is Korean and I find it adds a nice savoriness.

If you don’t have gochujang you can add a few teaspoons chili garlic sauce for some kick. Lastly, I use honey instead of brown sugar which makes for a more wholesome, just-sweet-enough dish.

One of the reasons I love using ground beef for bulgogi is because all of the nooks and crannies capture this sweet and savory sauce—so good!

ground beef, onion, garlic, ginger, oil, honey, gochujang, soy sauce measured out on a table

What you’ll need for bulgogi bowls: 


  • shredded carrots 
  • English cucumbers 
  • rice vinegar 
  • cooked rice
  • lettuce cups

Other topping options:

  • Quinoa instead of rice
  • Avocado
  • Kimchi
  • Scallions (green onions)

Ground beef & healthyish cooking

Ground beef can absolutely be a part of healthy home cooking! It’s a great protein to keep on hand for quick weeknight meals like meatballs, tacos, and even bulgogi. Not only is it convenient, but when you cook with fresh, high-quality beef, you’re also supporting American farmers and ranchers.

Did you know, 91% of beef farms and ranches are family-owned? All the more reason to add beef to your weekly meal plan!  

blue bowls filled with ground beef over rice, carrots and cucumbers

Are these bulgogi beef bowls gluten-free?

As long as you use tamari in place of the soy sauce and gluten-free gochujang then these beef bulgogi bowls will be gluten-free! If you can’t find gluten-free gochujang, simply add two to three teaspoons chili garlic sauce to the bulgogi sauce mixture.

Tamari is much saltier than low-sodium soy sauce, I recommend starting with two tablespoons and adding more as needed. 

Ground Beef Bulgogi Bowls

Print Recipe
5 from 4 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 40 mins
Yield 6 servings (4 ½ cups beef mixture) about 3 cups carrots
Category Main Dish
Cuisine Korean
Author Lauren Grant


Savory, spicy and slightly sweet, these ground beef bulgogi rice bowls are the perfect weeknight meal. Adaptable, versatile, quick and easy—everything a great weeknight dinner should be!


Pickled Cucumbers

  • 2 english cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • ¾ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • kosher salt and cracked black pepper


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 (10-ounce) bags shredded carrots


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup grated onion
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 pounds 90% lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, or tamari if gluten-free*
  • 3 tablespoons gochujang, gluten free if needed
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoon mirin or rice wine**

Serving, optional

  • white sesame seeds
  • bibb lettuce
  • cooked rice
  • sambal oelek (chili garlic sauce)
  • kimchi


Pickled Cucumbers

  • Whisk together ¾ cup rice vinegar, ½ cup water, 1 tablespoon honey and ¾ teaspoon salt until salt has dissolved. Add 2 sliced cucumbers and set aside. 
    cucumber ribbons in a bowl


  • Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add 2 (10-ounce) bags carrots and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to brown, about 10–15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. 
    shredded carrots sauteéd in a sauté pan


  • Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in now empty skillet over medium. Add 1 cup grated onion, 4 teaspoons garlic, 4 teaspoons ginger and ½ teaspoon black pepper; cook until starting to brown, 3 minutes. 
  • Add 2 pounds ground beef and cook, breaking up into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink; drain beef.
  • Return beef to sauté pan and stir in 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons honey, 3 tablespoons gochujang, and 2 tablespoons mirin; cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.
    ground beef in a sauté pan with a spatula
  • Season to taste with additional gochujang, soy sauce, and honey.. 
  • Serve bulgogi in lettuce cups with pickled cucumbers, carrots, and rice. Top with sambal oelek, if desired.


Rice: for six people cook 1½ cups white rice.
Pickled Cucumbers: I don’t like throwing pickling liquid away after making homemade pickles. These cucumbers use a small amount of pickling liquid (to reduce waste). Because if this, the cucumber slices will need to be lightly tossed occasionally to ensure each piece gets pickled. If you don’t want to do that—double the pickling liquid. 
Honey & Soy sauce: I list a range on the amount of honey and soy sauce used because both of those are very much about preference. I prefer to use 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) of each—it’s more bold and flavorful. For a lower-sodium and lower-sugar option, use 3 tablespoons of each. 
Cooking the carrots: stir the carrots occasionally, not constantly, to achieve slightly charred carrots (flavor!). You want the carrots to get to the point where they almost start burning. Only do this in a pan you trust can handle it—stainless steel high quality pans are best.
You may need to use a steel wool to clean the pan. If you don’t care about getting char on the carrots—just cook them until tender, 8–10 minutes. 
Cut down the cook time: you can get dinner on the table faster if you pull out a second pan. Cook the carrots in a large skillet while you cook the ground beef in a large sauté pan.
What’s the difference between a skillet and sauté pan? Sauté pans have straight vertical sides while skillets have shorter rounder sides. Since this recipe uses 2 pounds of ground beef, it’s best to use a sauté pan (keeps things from flying out).


Serving: 1/6 of the recipe (¾ cup beef mixture + carrots and cucumbers)Calories: 333kcalCarbohydrates: 24gProtein: 35gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 93mgSodium: 1075mgFiber: 4gSugar: 14g
Keywords beef bulgogi, bulgogi, ground beef bulgogi
Did you make this recipe?Leave a comment below and tag @ZestfulKitchen on Instagram and hashtag it #zestfulkitchen!
blue bowls filled with ground beef over rice, carrots and cucumbers

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This sponsored post is in partnership with the Iowa Beef Council. As always the thoughts, opinions, recipe, photos and content are all my own.

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About The Author

Lauren Grant is a professional culinary food scientist, food writer, recipe developer, and food photographer. Lauren is a previous magazine editor and test kitchen developer and has had work published in major national publications including Diabetic Living Magazine, Midwest Living Magazine, Cuisine at Home Magazine,,, and more.

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How many stars would you give this recipe?


  1. 5 stars
    made this for our weekly meal prep and oh my! we can’t get enough of it. It makes a lot, which is so helpful for quick meals throughout the week. Delish!

  2. 5 stars
    Delicious, flavorful, and on the dinner table in 45 minutes. Really enjoyed this recipe and will be adding it to our rotation!