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.
Table of contents
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.
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!
What you’ll need for bulgogi bowls:
- grated white or yellow onion
- garlic & ginger
- lean ground beef
- low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)
- gochujang, or gluten-free gochujang if needed
- mirin or rice wine
- shredded carrots
- English cucumbers
- rice vinegar
- cooked rice
- lettuce cups
Other topping options:
- Quinoa instead of rice
- 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!
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
- 2 english cucumbers
- ¾ cup rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 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
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- 2 pounds lean ground beef 90% lean
- 3 –4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, or tamari if gluten-free*
- 3 –4 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons gochujang, gluten free if needed
- 2 tablespoon mirin or rice wine**
- White sesame seeds
- Cooked rice, bibb lettuce cups, kimchi for serving
- Whisk together rice vinegar, ½ cup water, 1 tablespoon honey and ¾ teaspoon salt until salt has dissolved. Add cucumbers and set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high. Add 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.
- Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in now empty skillet over medium. Add onion, garlic and ginger; cook until starting to brown, 3 minutes.
- Add 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 soy sauce, honey, gochujang, and mirin and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes; season with salt and additional gochujang to taste.
- Serve in lettuce cups with pickled cucumbers, carrots, and rice.
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).
This sponsored post is in partnership with the Iowa Beef Council. As always the thoughts, opinions, recipe, photos and content are all my own.