Kalbi (galbi) marinade is the perfect complement to Korean style short ribs. Once you master this kalbi sauce, you’ll realize it’s so versatile, you’ll use it with chicken, pork, other cuts of steak and even tofu!
You might also love my mandu (Korean dumplings) recipe!
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Why you’ll love this recipe!
As a reader said, you’ll love this kalbi sauce because “It is really delicious and not that hard to make!” Need I say more? She even said it’s better than the restaurant she frequents in Koreatown and they should add this to their menu. What???!!!
If that’s not enough, this recipe has a wonderful history, making it a tried and true kalbi marinade sauce. In 2016, after feasting with my husband’s Hawaiian family and reminiscing about my mother-in-law’s once a year Korean food feasts, we took pictures of the prized family recipes.
Just for fun – here is a picture of the original family recipe.
Since then, I’ve been practicing and studying their recipes and am proud to share my version of the Hong family kalbi marinade recipe with you. This post covers the marinade and then head over to my post on how to grill the flanken-style ribs (it’s so easy!).
Ingredients you’ll need
Certain elements make this marinade quintessentially Korean – the garlic, sesame seeds and sesame oil and the sugar. Plus one ingredient that I often use – either a grated Asian pear or a mashed kiwi. Both help to tenderize the meat.
- Soy Sauce: We use low-sodium soy sauce – usually Kikkoman – but use whatever you’re used to using in your cooking. There are a lot of choices of soy sauce if you visit a specialty market – and the flavors do vary among brands.
- Sake: I always keep a bottle of inexpensive sake in my refrigerator specifically to use for marinades. You can probably find one at both your local big box supermarket and definitely at a specialty Korean, Chinese, or Japanese market.
- Sesame Oil: Available easily in large grocers or specialty markets.
- Sesame Seeds: Most of us have some tucked in the back of our spice cabinet – be sure they are fresh – rancid ones are not a good thing!
- Gochugaru: The Korean version of ground red pepper – similar to cayenne, which you could use as a substitute in a pinch. I recommend the gochugaru!
- Asian pear: Sometimes you’ll see these in your regular local grocer but they are always available at a Korean, Chinese or Japanese market. They look like big yellow apples. Or use Kiwi.
How to make this recipe
Once you gather the ingredients, it’s as easy as mixing it all together.
1. Prep each ingredient. Be sure to give the sesame seeds a quick toast – even if they say they are already roasted, I like to freshen them up a bit. Don’t forget to grate your Asian pear!
2. Add all the ingredients to a bowl or large measuring cup and whisk it together.
3. Then pour it over your ribs.
See my kalbi marinade web story for a quick visual guide to making this recipe!
Expert Tips and FAQs
- Pro-tip: During one preparation of these ribs, I was out of Asian pear and kiwi. Since I use sake in the kalbi marinade sauce, the ribs still came out tender after a nice long bath in the marinade. It was one of my best batches ever – tasted just like I remembered when my MIL used to make them. I really like the Asian pear but don’t despair if you can’t find it.
- I prefer low sodium soy sauce, but regular will also work.
- Toasted sesame oil is great but regular, not toasted, is also ok.
- Pre-toasted sesame seeds are available in Asian markets but they are so easy to toast. Just toss them in a small fry pan over medium heat for a few minutes and they will be toasted. Just don’t walk away – it happens quickly!
Many recipes for marinating the flanken ribs for kalbi or galbi suggest soaking or washing the ribs. I choose not to do this unless I see bone shavings all over the ribs. It does draw out excess blood but it’s not clear to me why that’s necessary. It’s fundamental to the meat. If you do see excessive bone shavings from cutting the flanken ribs, then by all means rinse them off.
I recommend 6-8 hours or overnight. If possible, turn them over once or twice to be sure they are completely and evenly soaked with marinade. In a pinch, a couple of hours could do the trick but then I would recommend the extra Asian pear or kiwi for tenderizing the meat. Notice the color of the ribs after marinating for 8 hours:
If you use a gluten-free soy sauce, then this recipe should be gluten-free. Of course, check all labels to be sure no unexpected additives are in the sesame oil or sake.
The obvious answer is no – you never use a marinade that has had raw meat in it. But if you boil it up to a rolling boil and are sure it has reached at least 165 degrees or higher, the harmful bacteria will dissipate.
In addition, you’ll see some light brown stuff rise to the top and when you discard that, you’ll be left with a nice dark basting sauce for your rice or meat.
See the sauce in the upper right? That’s the marinade after thoroughly boiling and straining it.
This kalbi sauce recipe pairs well with chicken, pork, tofu and definitely other cuts of steak. So double the recipe and keep it in the refrigerator for another night of grilling!
Other Korean recipes on OMG! Yummy
Want to read more about our family’s Hawaiian food traditions?
Grilled Korean Short Ribs – see all the methods for cooking these marinated ribs!
“I don’t want to disparage my favorite Korean restaurant, Cho Sun Galbi, but this marinade is amazing. They really need to add this to their menu! Seriously, I make a lot of Asian food, but I usually don’t make the sauces, I purchase them at the Korean or Japanese market, I decided to make this sauce bc the story behind it was so inspiring. It is really delicious and not that hard to make! I added extra Asian pear and marinated overnight. I didn’t need extra sauce, the meat was so flavorful and tender. My teen daughter whom I call a carnivore loved it, and she is very picky so I feel so proud. I can’t wait to make it again.”
Jill L-RReader and Korean Food Lover
Supplies for this recipe
Most of my must-have supplies for making this Kalbi marinade sauce are food related. I prefer low-sodium soy sauce. A good bottle of sesame oil is always in my pantry. Sesame seeds come in handy for this recipe and bread baking and more. And finally, I love this glass baking dish with a tight fitting cover for marinating these ribs or when I need to transport a casserole style dish to another home.
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- 3/4 cup soy sauce, low-sodium recommended but not a must
- ¼ cup rice wine (sake)
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 stalks green onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, slightly crushed
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ Asian pear grated on fine grater or in blender or ½ kiwi, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon gochugaru (Korean spicy pepper powder), optional
- Place all ingredients in a medium sized bowl or at least 2 cup measuring cup.
- Whisk together well.
- Pour over ribs and let marinate 6 - 8 hours or overnight.
- I prefer low sodium soy sauce, but regular will also work.
- Toasted sesame oil is great but regular, not toasted, will also work.
- Pre-toasted sesame seeds are also great but if not, just toss them in a small fry pan over medium heat for a few minutes and they will be toasted. Just don't walk away - it happens quickly!
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 611Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 6899mgCarbohydrates: 67gFiber: 11gSugar: 35gProtein: 25g