Butcher and chef Chris Turner marinates thinly sliced beef short ribs in a mixture that includes garlic, onion, Asian pear, mirin, soy sauce and sesame oil to create authentic Kalbi Korean Barbecued Beef Short Ribs. Recipe below.
On a recent visit to our favorite butcher shop, The Butcher & Larder, we saw butcher Jimmy Shay working over thin slices of beef short ribs with the back edge of a cleaver. When we asked what he was up to, he said he was tenderizing them so that fellow butcher Chris Turner could turn them into the “most amazing, authentic kalbi, Korean barbecued beef.” We immediately asked Chris if he would share the recipe—and story behind it—here. Happily, he said yes:
I started cooking in the summer of 1988. I was fresh out of high school and a punk rocker with no future, not even college. I picked up my first kitchen job at a place called Hometown Cafe in downriver Detroit. I started as a dishwasher making minimum wage. Hey, it was a job that wasn’t retail or a factory. Those were some of the only options for a young punk in my position.
I didn’t mind the work. I could go in, earn a wage and always have a meal at the very least. The Hometown Cafe was an American/Korean cafe serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. This was my first exposure to Korean food. Sang, the woman who ran the kitchen, showed me the process of making kimchi, cucumber salad and other Korean favorites. This was the place where I learned to properly make rice. Or at least Korean sticky rice. Had I been a smarter man in those days I would have written those recipes down.
Now years later and almost twenty years spent cooking in various kitchens, from Detroit to Denver to Chicago, I find myself working for Robert and Allison Levitt at their shop The Butcher & Larder. I’ve worked with Rob and Allie for almost ten years now. I was their Sous Chef during the mado years, and now I sling meat at their butcher shop. This gives me the chance to explore various cultures’ meat and cooking recipes. Recently, I’ve renewed my love for Korean food—especially Korean barbecue. One of my personal favorites is kalbi, a thinly sliced and marinated beef short rib that is quickly grilled over high heat. I find this to be delicious anytime of the year, but it really goes down well in the summer, during grilling season. Traditionally, kalbi is served with steamed rice and leaf lettuce and of course, kimchi.
Start with the right short ribs. Find yourself the best quality beef short ribs from your butcher. If you happen to have a Korean market near you, you can find beef short ribs pre-cut for kalbi. If not, ask the butcher to cut the short ribs 1/2-inch or so thick across three or four or the rib bones.
Now tenderize them. With the non-blade side of a French knife or small cleaver, pound the short ribs out, starting at the bone and working towards the outer edge of fat. (More on this in the recipe.) This thins the short rib out and tenderizes the meat. Now they are ready for the marinade.
This recipe will make enough marinade for 5 to 10 pounds of short ribs. You can easily scale back the recipe, but for me, if I’m going to take the time to make these, I’m going to make a lot. A person can really throw down some kalbi, especially if there is ice cold beer or Soju. This dish is dangerously addictive and great for summer grilling parties.
Kalbi Korean Barbecued Beef Short Ribs
Serves 6 to 12 people—see Kitchen Notes
5 to 10 pounds kalbi-cut beef short ribs
For the marinade:
1 medium white onion
3 cups mirin (see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
12 cloves of garlic
1 Asian pear or 2 kiwis (see Kitchen Notes)
1/4 cup maple syrup or 1 bottle Mexican Coca-Cola
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
Tenderize the short ribs. Working with one piece of short rib at a time, lay the rib horizontally on a cutting board in front of you. Using the non-blade side of a French knife or small cleaver, pound the short ribs out, keeping your knife perpendicular to the length (see photo above). Start at the bone and work towards the outer edge of fat. You don’t have to go crazy here, but you do want to thin the meat and fat out a bit.
Make the marinade. Give the onion, pear and garlic a good chopping or place in food processor and pulse to mince them. Then add all other marinade ingredients to food processor or combine everything in a mixing bowl and stir until all the ingredients are incorporated together. Place short ribs in a large plastic container or several plastic zip lock bags. Fold in the marinade to coat each piece of short rib evenly. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 2 hours and up to 24.
Grill the kalbi. Prepare grill for high heat, with a zone for indirect grilling as well. Grill ribs over high heat until kalbi is just cooked through, but with some charring. As the fat renders, you’ll get a good deal of flare-ups. This is good—it will give you the charring. But move pieces around, on and off direct heat, turning frequently until done. Transfer to a platter and serve.
Okay, this is Terry again. Let me start by saying these short ribs were amazing. Sweet, tangy, savory and full of flavor and smoke, but with no heat. Chris marinated a big batch of short ribs for The Butcher & Larder, and we made off with two pounds of them. I grilled them according to Chris’s instructions and they served three of us (with leftovers) for a delicious Memorial Day dinner. While kalbi is traditionally served with rice, leaf lettuce and kimchi, it went wonderfully with Marion’s potato salad and Brussels sprouts slaw.
Serves how many? This recipe is simplicity itself to downsize (or upsize). The math isn’t even difficult. But make a big batch—the leftovers are worth it.
Wait, isn’t mirin Japanese? Yes, it is. Mirin is a Japanese rice wine that is an integral part of Japanese cuisine. It’s also an illustration of Asia’s porous borders when it comes to food. Good ingredients are good ingredients, and they tend to get passed around. You can find mirin in Asian markets and in many supermarkets (in Asian stores, you’ll get larger bottles at smaller prices, because it’s an everyday necessity, not a novelty).
Don’t skip the Asian pear or kiwis. According to Chris, either of these is what makes the dish authentic in flavor.