Bulgogi meatballs take the fabulous flavors of Korean barbeque and make it easier to achieve at home. These lush little beauties are great as sliders or served in lettuce cups.
Bulgogi, one of Korea’s most popular beef dishes made of very thin slices marinated and then grilled at a very hot tableside grill, is often served in restaurants. At home, getting the thin bits of beef crispy is hard to mimic and often results in overcooked and anemic-looking meat, so we took the flavors of bulgogi and made mini meatballs for sliders or to top rice bowls.–Kim Sunee & Seung Hee Lee
What does bulgogi mean?
Literally speaking, bulgogi means “fire meat” because the beef is barbequed, giving it a distinctly crisp and caramelized texture. Bulgogi sauce is another part of what makes this dish so special—a blend of soy, brown sugar, Asian pear (or red apple), garlic, ginger, ground black pepper and sesame oil. This gives a slightly salty, mildly sweet and nutty, savory flavor that you’ll want to slather on everything, not just meatballs.
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1/4 (about 1/4 cup) Asian pear or Bosc or Bartlett pear, grated
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 3 tablespoons minced scallion
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup homemade dried bread crumbs or panko
- 1 pound ground beef preferably chuck and short rib
- 1 pound ground pork or veal
- 8 small slider buns such as brioche or sesame buns or lettuce leaves and steamed rice
- Cheddar mayonnaise, mustard, Ssamjang for topping (optional)
- In a large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, pear, garlic, scallion, black pepper, and sesame oil.
- Add the egg, bread crumbs, and ground meats and mix just to combine all the ingredients, being careful not to overmix.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).
- Roll the meat mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake until golden and cooked through, but still tender, rotating the baking sheet once during cooking, 18 to 22 minutes.
- If making sliders and adding cheese, top the patties with cheese about 2 minutes before the cooking time is over. Toast the slider buns and top with the meatballs and your favorite toppings. Alternatively, meatballs can be served with lettuce leaves and rice, or on top of rice bowls.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These meatballs make a wonderful dinner main. Savory, with a hint of sweetness, these bulgogi meatballs are tender, moist, and just downright delicious. The recipe is easy to put together and cooking them in the oven is a snap and allows you to roast a veggie as a side at the same time.
These meatballs are little flavor bombs perfect in sliders, on top of mashed potatoes with sauteed garlic mushrooms and with stir fried vegetable rice bowls. I made a big batch of (41) mini meatballs on a Monday and my family and I enjoyed the leftovers all week long.
Big batch cooking is a great way to keep the family satisfied while making my week a whole lot easier. My kids and I have been so inspired by these delicious bulgogi meatballs that we are going to eat at a local Korean BBQ restaurant as soon as possible to try some authentic restaurant-style bulgogi.
Many of us would agree that meatballs are generally crowd-pleasing. These juicy, flavorful bulgogi meatballs are no exception—they’ll be adored by all. I love the combination of sweet and salty, and the wonderful aroma of garlic sesame oil. They are wonderful by themselves, but I served mine on top of rice bowls with stir-fried lettuce, with the pan juices drizzled over them.
Another plus—it couldn’t have been easier to make them. I just used a fork to mix the ingredients, and formed the meatballs by hand. I got 40 meatballs out of this recipe (about 1-1/4” in diameter), and all fit on a half-sheet pan for oven baking. They browned nicely and cooked perfectly in 18 minutes.
My family really enjoyed this Korean inspired meal of bulgogi meatballs. It came together easily with ingredients that are readily available. The pear is an interesting addition and since you only use 1/4 of a pear, the 3/4 left makes a great snack while you’re working on dinner.
I think this recipe would be over the top awesome if it included a sauce to drizzle over the meatballs and rice. I served three meatballs and rice in a lettuce leaf. Each person got 2 lettuce leaves.
Simple and quick to put together with pantry ingredients, these bulgogi meatballs are tasty and versatile. I didn’t notice the Asian pear in them at all, but felt the combination of brown sugar, soy and sesame oil added so much flavor. Green onion and garlic gave additional flavor but I feel more garlic would have been welcome. I didn’t add salt as I thought the soy sauce would’ve been enough but definitely would add at least 1 tsp of salt when making them again.
It made exactly 40 meatballs, which I baked and we ate them as an appetizer with drinks. The next day, I served them with sesame noodles and a combination of vegetables. Quite good that way!
The flavor of these bulgogi meatballs was wonderful. It was a delicious combination of oriental flavors. Flavors were not overwhelming, but not bland either. Meatballs were moist and held together well.
I was totally unfamiliar with the taste of bulgogi and frankly I am unsure whether I like it. The taster/tester whom I live with said he thought they were a 9, brimming with fantastic flavors. I used beef and pork and opted to make it into meatballs rather than sliders. It made a lot. I didn’t really detect any flavor from the Asian pear so next time I would use a Bartlett pear.
I chilled them for an hour and baked the bulgogi meatballs in the oven. I got about 40 meatballs that were a bit smaller than golf balls. I served them wrapped in lettuce leaves and thought that they would actually make a good party appetizer if you like the flavorings which are rather assertive. Not one of my favorite things to eat but glad that I now know what they are.
I’ve taken to making meatballs recently, and particularly like recipes that give oven-baked instructions. As much as I enjoy getting the nice browned sides from pan-frying them, it’s not worth the need to constantly watch them, not to mention the resulting oil-splattered countertops. This break from typical Italian-seasoned meatballs with tomato sauce was also welcomed. I enjoyed the different flavors of the bulgogi meatballs and getting to try a variety of accompanying sauces. My boyfriend and I tried several sauces and our favorite was Dijon mustard, and store-bought Korean BBQ sauce was second-best. These would make a fun appetizer to serve alongside a few different choices.
Originally published March 19, 2021