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Chicken Bulgogi Recipe

For this chicken bulgogi recipe, we’re using a fabulous homemade Korean bulgogi marinade, keeping the boneless chicken pieces whole and grilling them to perfection.

The flavors are sensational hot or cold. If you don’t have a grill, you can pan sear the chicken.

cooked chicken bulgogi on plate with rice p

This is a simple and very flavorful Korean chicken recipe. Once marinated, the chicken cooks in a flash so it’s an easy recipe for busy weeknights. And there are lots of different ways to serve the chicken. Stay tuned. 

 

What is chicken bulgogi?

Bulgogi, translated as ‘fire meat’, is a Korean BBQ dish typically made with thinly sliced marinated beef (ribeye mostly) and caramelized on the grill.

Chicken bulgogi – also called Dak Bulgogi – is made with chicken instead. Dak means chicken in Korean.

The flavors in the chicken are infused with the bulgogi marinade made of soy, brown sugar, pear, onion, garlic, mirin and sesame oil. The recipe calls for an Asian pear, but I use a regular pear and it works well. The pear acts as a tenderizer.

I based the marinade recipe on one from Food Network by Judiaann Woo. It’s the same one I used in our popular sous vide Korean beef short ribs recipe (also called Kalbi or Galbi). Sweet, salty, garlicky and nutty – delish!

Step by Step Instructions for Korean chicken bulgogi

chicken thighs on cutting board
Flatten chicken with the heel of your hand or the bottom of a small saucepan for even cooking. Trim excess fat (most will burn off on grill so no need to fuss too much). If pieces are large, cut in half lengthwise. The boneless thighs pictured above are small so no need to cut.
brown sugar, soy, water, garlic, rice vinegar, pepper, green onion, pear, sesame oil
Gather bulgogi marinade ingredients: pepper, sesame oil, mirin or rice vinegar, garlic, soy, brown sugar, water, pear, green onion.
bulgogi marinade ingredients blended in bowl
Place marinade ingredients in a bowl and blend with an immersion blender (or other blender). If you don’t have a blender, just chop green onion and pear finely and mix all ingredients together.
chicken marinating in bowl
Marinate chicken for 4-6 hours in the fridge (ideally) or at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
marinade cooked down in pot
Remove chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Strain marinade into a small saucepan and boil for a few minutes to get rid of impurities and slightly thicken.
marinated chicken on cutting board
Brush one side of chicken with cooked marinade. Lightly sprinkle with salt. Spray with oil to avoid sticking on grill.
chicken on grill
Grill chicken on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes (or less if very thin), depending on thickness. Brush on more marinade when you turn the chicken or reserve it to drizzle on the chicken bulgogi.
cooked chicken bulgogi on cutting board 1
Transfer chicken to plate or cutting board and let rest for a few minutes. Then dig in!
cut open pieces of chicken

How to serve this Korean BBQ chicken

One traditional way to serve chicken bulgogi is in a lettuce wrap. Kimchi, gochujang (a hot deep red Korean chili paste), scallions or sesame seeds can be served along side. I’ve discovered a few other great ways to serve the chicken:

The chicken is delicious served cold or at room temperature as well has hot off the grill.

What to serve with chicken bulgogi

If you are not serving the chicken wrapped in lettuce leaves, try it over jasmine or basmati rice along with one of these sides that pair well (not Korean style but still yum).

And check out these 5 easy Korean side dishes by Pioneer Women. Or these 15 vegetable side dishes by Korean Bapsang.

Tailor To Your Taste

There are several variations and substitutions you can use for the bulgogi marinade, chicken and cooking method.

Marinade

  • Substitutes
    • Instead of the pear, add an apple or even a kiwi or pineapple. They will all act as tenderizers.
    • Instead of brown sugar, use honey or agave.
    • For a gluten free marinade, use tamari instead of soy sauce.
    • If you don’t have mirin or rice vinegar, use lemon juice.
  • Add 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds to the marinade if you like.
  • If you want a lot of extra sauce to drizzle on rice, double the marinade (or use 1.5 times the amounts in the recipe)
  • Want to try spicy chicken bulgogi? Add a tablespoon of gochujang or 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes. This will also give the chicken a deeper reddish color.

Chicken options

  • The most tender, flavorful option is boneless skinless chicken thighs.
  • Chicken breasts are good too, but have a tendency to dry out on the grill, so don’t over cook them. The marinating will help keep them moist.
  • Another option is to use chicken tenders. True to their name, they are the most tender part of the breast meat. Because of their small size, you will only need to marinate for 30 minutes and grill for about 2 minutes.

Cooking Method choices

  • Grill: For this chicken bulgogi recipe, grilling is by far my preferred choice because you get better caramelization and grill marks, there is no pan to clean up and you can cook the chicken in one batch.
  • Pan fry: This is a good (and common) alternative if you don’t want to crank up the grill or if you don’t have one. Instructions are in the recipe notes.

Shortcuts

  • Marinade: I like to blend the bulgogi marinade with an immersion blender to avoid chopping the onion and pear finely and to make a smoother glaze. But it’s fine if you skip that and just whisk together the ingredients.
  • Marinating time: 2-4 hours is fine for small chicken thighs or breasts. To reduce the time, marinate the chicken at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.

Make Ahead

  • The marinade can be made several days ahead (but don’t marinate the chicken more than 12 hours or it can turn mushy)
  • Make the recipe hours ahead or the day before and serve it cold or bring it to room temperature. You can also warm it in the microwave for a minute.
chicken bulgogi over rice on plate f
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5 from 6 votes

Chicken Bulgogi Recipe

For this chicken bulgogi recipe, we're using a fabulous homemade Korean bulgogi marinade, keeping the boneless chicken pieces whole and grilling them to perfection. The flavors are sensational hot or cold. If you don't have a grill, you can pan sear the chicken. 
Prep Time8 mins
Cook Time6 mins
Marinating3 hrs
Course: main
Cuisine: Korean
Servings: 3
Author: Cheryl, Two Kooks In The Kitchen

Equipment

  • Grill (or cast iron pan)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 pounds (680g) boneless skinless chicken thighs, Note 1
  • Garnish (optional) – chopped green onion, chives and/or toasted sesame seeds.

Chicken Bulgogi Marinade

  • Double (or 1.5x) recipe if you want extra sauce to drizzle on rice. (Note 2 for substitutes)
  • 1/4 cup 50g) brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (58 ml) light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) mirin or rice wine
  • 1/4 Asian or regular pear, peeled, cubed
  • 1 large green onion, chopped (or 2 thin ones)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (6 cloves)
  • 1/2 tablespoon (4.5g) sesame oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  • MAKE BULGOGI MARINADE: Option 1: blend all marinade ingredients in food processor, immersion blender or blender for 1 minute until smooth. Option 2: Finely chop pear and green onion, then mix well with the remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.
  • PREPARE CHICKEN: Lay chicken thighs on cutting board. Pound them to an even thickness with the heel of your hand or bottom of a small saucepan. Trim excess fat (no need to obsess as most will burn off).
  • MARINATE CHICKEN: Pour marinade into large zipper lock bag or bowl along with chicken. Toss chicken around to ensure meat is well covered with marinade. Seal bag or cover bowl and place in fridge for 2-4 hours (up to 12 hrs). If short on time, marinate on counter at room temperature for 30-45 minutes).
  • MAKE GLAZE/SAUCE: Remove chicken from bag/bowl and pour reserved marinade into a small saucepan. I like to strain it through a sieve but that's optional. Boil marinade on medium high for 2-3 minutes to eliminate impurities and thicken it slightly. If you doubled the marinade recipe, you will need to boil it for 4-5 minutes.
  • GRILL CHICKEN (see Note 3 for pan sear method): Clean grill and spray with oil (or dip paper towel in oil and brush on grill grates). Heat BBQ to medium high (about 450F/232C). Pat chicken with a paper towel. Brush on a bit of glaze on one side. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Grill chicken for 2-3 minutes on first side. Flip over, brush on a little more glaze. Continue grilling for another 2-3 minutes, depending on thickness. Don't over cook the chicken (if thin, 2 minutes per side is likely fine). Temp should be 160F/71C.
  • SERVE: Remove to platter or cutting board and brush on more glaze if you have any left. Serve wrapped in lettuce or over rice. Garnish with chopped green onions, chives and/or sesame seeds if desired.

Notes

  1. Chicken options: Instead of boneless chicken thighs, you can use chicken breasts or chicken tenders. For the breasts, pound to 1/2 inch/1.2cm thickness and cut in half lengthwise. 
  2. Substitutes for marinade ingredients
      • Instead of the pear, use apple, 1/2 kiwi or 1/4 cup pineapple. They will all act as tenderizers. If you have none of these, leave it out.
      • Instead of brown sugar, use honey or agave. 
      • Instead of green onion, use regular onion
      • Instead of mirin or rice vinegar, use lemon juice.
      • For a gluten free marinade, use tamari instead of soy sauce.
    • Other variations for marinade:
      • Add 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds to the marinade if you like.
      • Want to try spicy chicken bulgogi? Add a tablespoon of gochujang or 1/2 tsp of red chili flakes. This will also give the chicken a deeper reddish color. 
  3. Pan sear method (instead of grilling)
    • Heat a cast iron pan to medium-high (8/10). (Cast iron pan is better than non stick if you have one). Add a tablespoon vegetable oil. Pat marinated chicken with paper towel. Sear chicken for a couple minutes on each side. Don’t crowd the pan. You will likely have to do 2 batches. Add boiled glaze/sauce and toss to coat chicken. Serve. 
  4. Make Ahead:
    • The marinade can be made several days ahead (but don’t marinate the chicken more than 12 hours or it can turn mushy)
    • Make the recipe hours ahead or the day before and serve it cold or bring it to room temperature. You can also warm it in the microwave for a minute. 
  •  
Nutrition values are estimates. 

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Chicken Bulgogi Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 394 Calories from Fat 108
% Daily Value*
Fat 12g18%
Saturated Fat 3g19%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 4g
Cholesterol 215mg72%
Sodium 1332mg58%
Potassium 661mg19%
Carbohydrates 25g8%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 21g23%
Protein 46g92%
Vitamin A 99IU2%
Vitamin C 2mg2%
Calcium 49mg5%
Iron 3mg17%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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