Korean Barbecue Dos and Don'ts


Who could resist the multiple sensory pleasures of Korean barbecue: the spicy, salty flavors and the combination of textures and temperatures (crisp lettuce juxtaposed with succulent grilled meat and fish), not to mention the hands-on fun of going through a pile of lettuce leaves, wrapping your own individual little barbecue "sandwiches" and popping them into your mouth. And then there's the fear factor of watching an iron basket of fiery charcoal travel from kitchen to table. Just close your eyes and pray, "Please don't let the busboy slip on that errant piece of kimchi and doom us all."

At a recent dinner at Shin Chon Kalbi (43-01 Queens Boulevard) in Sunnyside, Queens, not only did we enjoy a wonderful meal of grilled short ribs and pork and a steaming bowl of bibimbap, but we were also treated to an unsolicited, though thoroughly elucidating, seminar from our waitress on how to properly eat Korean barbecue.

"I see a lot of people who don't know what they're doing," our waitress told us, rolling her eyes. Clearly bothered by the dining transgressions she sees day in and day out, she proceeded to educate us on a few Korean barbecue dos and don'ts.


LettuceDO tear off a small piece of lettuce ("face up," with the bottom of the rib facing down) to wrap around the freshly grilled meat and make a bite-size sandwich.

DON'T grab an entire leaf of lettuce to form a Chipotle-caliber Korean burrito.


ChanpanDO taste the complimentary assortment of banchan, small plates of kimchi, pickled vegetables, and other side dishes typically brought to the table just after ordering.

DON'T try to stuff the banchan into your barbecue/lettuce sandwich. Leave them as side dishes to savor on their own. In other words, keep the sandwich simple: lettuce, meat, bean paste, shredded scallion or leek, and garlic (see below).


Garlic DO eat the garlic, often served in a small bowl with sliced green chiles. First, roast the garlic atop the grill, and then add a slice to your barbecue sandwich, if you are so inclined.

DON'T eat the garlic raw. Our waitress commented, without explanation, that garlic is considered by Koreans to be more healthy when it has been cooked. It also tastes better grilled, not to mention the fact that you will be doing your significant other a favor by avoiding raw garlic.



I was eating Korean BBQ with my mom two weeks ago (I have had it many times, but always we some Koreans in tow who make sure I eat in proper Korean form) and we were also "taught" a few things by the waitress as well.

The one thing I remember clearly is that if you order two different types of meat and even if both plates of raw meat come together to the table at the same time, Don't mix the two on the same grill top. Eat one dish and then they change the grill top for the next plate of meat.

The American desire to "throw" everything together on the grill does not apply in Korean BBQ.


I was at that restaraunt last weekend. Recieved pretty much the same lecture too. Food was excellent, I would highly recommend


whew. When I saw this link on Not Martha I thought I might find that I'd broken some really bad rules. Turns out I'm only guilty of putting small bits of panchan into my "burrito."


ha, i guess my korean family has poor eating etiquette! we are prone to massive burritos, and my dad loves raw garlic. and i might put in a bit of banchan from time to time...


it's only when i read/hear the rules of consuming my own cuisine explained to others/me that i realize that i need to be way more suspicious of what i read about foreign food customs and etiquette.
who knows when you're bumping into/ reading/ being lectured by some uptight food schoolmarm. if you want to eat a whole leaf of lettuce eat it. we eat whole leaves of lettuce without the meat. we love lettuce. yum. if it's too big don't put it in your mouth all at once. you are not a snake, you are a person. if you want to put other stuff in it i suggest leaving the korean friends who have problems with what you put in your lettuce at home. there is an old korean saying that goes 'my lettuce can take the odd piece of cucumber, it is lettuce, fuck off.' (or something like that) i must poll my korean friend and relatives to find out how many of them have deeply held beliefs about the nutritional benefits of cooking garlic. what happens if you mix meat on a grill? i must know the answer to this. the suspense is killing me.


I remember a small cartoon/joke book from when I was a kid..."Never eat anything bigger than your head."
I've always lived by that rule.


Best Korean BBQ in LA is of course Soot Bull Jeep at 8th and Catalina. One of the best things about it, aside from remarkable spinach banchan, is the staff never looks askance, or disaprovingly, or judgmentally, at the habits of non-Korean clientele. And the BBQ is ideal... I just came from lunch there, again.


i'm fascinated: please post more about korean food. my taiwanese mother has a tendency to dismiss all non-chinese asian food as derivative, so i barely know what it's like. i'm catching up on japanese, thai, and vietnamese cuisines, but am terribly ignorant about korean food especially. thanks for the informative post.


I have lived in Seoul for a year and a half, and I eat Korean food daily with my Korean girlfriend and other Koreans. I see Koreans eating (and preferring) garlic raw, stuffing whatever they want to in the leaves, and using the leaves whole. I've NEVER seen anyone tear off a leaf. In fact, it's a regular custom to put two different kinds of leaves together, like a green lettuce leaf and a sesame leaf (yum).

Now, there are some things I have noticed Koreans doing that I have tried myself in my attempts to assimilate:

- Eat shrimp and, if possible, crabs with their shells on

- It is okay to take one of those raw split gochujang-covered crabs and suck the meat out with gusto with your bare hands

- The rice is a base; feel free to mix whatever you want with it; throw in some chigae, some kimchi, some meat -- have FUN

- Don't blow your nose at the table

- Don't leave your chopsticks pointing up in a bowl; it's considered a sign of death to some folks

- Slurp noodles and soup loudly, especially mul naengmyeon

- Say "Mashisoyo" or "Mash'kita" a lot

- Restaurant in Korea have mirrors at the door; they're for checking your teeth for little red bits of gochugaru


Interesting. As in any cuisine, rules or "dos and don'ts" are a set of haphazard guidelines that should be adapted depending on particular situations. Certainly, my Korean family and friends eat raw garlic, make gigantic 'ssam' - which is what you all are talking about -, slurp, slurp with abandon and use our hands with food as if we've never heard of utensils but only in the comforts of our laid back home or restaurants with similar attitudes. We wouldn't dream of making noises in polite company, let alone use hands to touch food.

I'm always curious why people tend to look at eating customs as a set of rules. Discussions such as these tend to evolve into a limited set of stereotypes not to mention putting narrow limits on what a cuisine can be and its enjoyments. I mean, one doesn't talk rules with French haute cuisine, for example?


These comments have evolved into a very interesting discussion. The "dos and don'ts" was only a tongue in cheek way of conveying what our waitress told us. These were her own subjective eating customs, yet she presented them as ubiquitous. And, I'm glad people have pointed out that they are not.

There really are no rules, of course, but I do think many types of foods -- from a wide array of cultures -- have certain rituals/customs surrounding them, whether people actually adhere to them or not: cheese is a "no-no" on pasta with seafood, mayo on a corned beef sandwich is a shonda, lattes are only for drinking in the morning, real pasta carbonara must never have cream in it, etc.


It's kind of funny hearing all these observent details about galbi and how you're supposed to eat it. I'm Korean so I don't care much about it. I know galbi amazes American people. Personally, I'm sick and tired of eating Korean food every single day. I always beg my parents to take us to an Italian restaurant or at least order Dominos. I'm sick of galbi too. One time,I went to this Korean restaurant and that place's galbi tasted horrible and after that day, I got really really sick. I couldn't even eat anything. However, I've got to recommend this place called New York New York. The food there tastes great. Anything you order. There are some American style food there too. My dad when he eat the samjang( the bbq with the lettuce, etc.), he puts in raw garlic and raw scallions. Sometimes, he eats it with raw green chili peppers! I can't imagine how he eats all that! I personally hate raw garlic. You don't have to eat the garlic in the restaurants. Also, another tip: when they have the mushrooms for the grill, put the rounded part down on the grill. Then, after a few minutes, there is going to be some juice in there. You should drink that and eat the mushroom. My uncles said it was healthy for you. Just try not to spill the juice.


I'm gonna go along with much of the above Josh. I lived in Korea for over a year and chuck whatever you like in is the norm. I eat both raw and cooked garlic with kalbi, sam gyap sal and bulgogi. Wonder if your waitress has ever eaten the same dish in Korea? Bit daft for a waitress to give rules at a barbie anyhow, but if you're gonna give them, make them authentic, hmm?

The most important thing with Korean food I found, and I suppose this goes with any kinda food, is to enjoy each other's company. The food, the brazier, the booze are just props and social lubricators. Mind you the Korean don't need much encouragement int he lube department. A bottle or ten of Soju or Baek Seju normally helps with that. BTW - I was always told in Korea that Sam gyop sal and Soju were 'a marriage'.


i also tried shinchon kalbi, and had a lovely expierence.our waitress was lovely, probably the same one who gave you some clues in eating korean food. true, everyone has their dos and donts but its really your choice to follow them, and eat it any way you want to. from the infos she gave me, she recommended i eat how ever i want to but gave me the ways she likes it best.(i love mr garlic roasted).i totally recommend it.


great article on the do's and don'ts of eating Korean food. unfortunately, we have few Korean restuarants in Oklahoma, so my indulgence of the Korean cuisine is limited to a few business excurions to larger US cities.


You can put panchan in your lettuce wrap. I am korean and we grew up eating it like that. It is all a matter of your personal preferences. It is like making korean tacos. The key is that you DONT make them really huge.


my mom is korean and my dad white. however growing up i never learned how to speak korean but i certainly could identify the food i liked but not their proper names. she left of course. and my dad meet my future step mom, who happens to be korean too concidence? i think not. but she told me that u use the chop sticks for picking the food and putting it on ur spoon full of rice. never eat off the chop stick. and she told me when u drink dont show ur bottom it's considered rude. she told me some other stuff but not with eating food. i have never heard all that stuff before when eating so for whoever cares respect their wishes and those that dont eat as u please.


Wow, never eating 'banchan' off chopsticks is pretty old school! So old that I would bet if you pick 10 Koreans randomly and ask them, all 10 would say they do eat off chopsticks.


About banchan in lettuce, it depends on what the banchan is. Some banchan doesn't belong in the lettuce wrap, aka ssam. Bits of kimchi is ok. Geem is not ok. Dried daikon is not ok. Andy type of jeon is no ok. But when you have no idea and you put whatever banchan in your wrap, that's not ok.

About the raw garlic. If you actually like raw garlic, it's ok to eat it raw. Usually the ahjuhshees eat it raw because they're impatient or because it shows macho-ness to chomp on raw garlic. But at a decent sit-down restauraunt, grill the garlic. It tastes much better. But if you don't know any better and your popping raw garlic in your mouth when meat, onions and mushrooms are being grilled on your table, it just makes it look like you don't know what you're doing. Unless you really enjoy garlic raw, grill it. If you're eating with a group of men and everyone is eating the garlic raw, don't be a pansy and eat it raw.


i am half korean and i grew up eating korean food. the korean culture holds eating in high regard. there is a saying that goes something like "even diamond mountain can wait until after you have eaten yur meal". anyway, other thatn being served a drink first, poured to someone else, and to support your hand with the other while pouring, eat your food the way you enjoy it. especially the men are allowed to eat whichever way they want. lettuce tacos? eat it like a huge burrito and you are a snake! tomayto tomahto. enjoy your food.


lol why do people assume "asian culture" has rules for everything? feng shui, memoirs of a geisha, etc., etc. sometimes it's obvious that you shouldn't make a big huge lettuce burrito and shove it into your mouth, but thinking that you have to observe all these exotic esoteric rules to be "asian" is insulting. not trying to bash this post (it was a good one!) but i think that's why a lot of comments were about not needing rules to eat korean food acceptably.


well i have eaten alot of korean bbq its massive in thailand especailly in the north east (issan) part of the country where my girlfriend is from and we just eat anyway you want chicken, beef, pork, squid all on the pan with pig fat on the tip of the bbq and oil in the tray with noodles and leaves its great. tastes lovely but i cant find on here in england or on the net ahhhhhhhhh help me please


I agree with jinhee. You shouldn't really have to think of any "rules." Just keep the basics in mind: Be considerate. Use common sense. Don't make a fool of yourself.


It's funny reading people's perspective about eating Korean food. You can eat banchan with pretty much anything - or inside of anything for that matter. I like dabbling a bit of everything inside my lettuce wrap. But I do agree with not making it a burrito. You know how hard it is to eat BBQ like that?


Order kalbi from us next time. :)



I never tried korean barbeque until i started watching naruto and saw choji eat some i tried it and loved it. eat it when you get a chance


Man a white man tell the world how to eat KOREAN food. Jesus I can't handle that. always gotta be telling people what to do


I just started a fun korean cooking show.
I would love you to check it out sometime.



Very impressive understanding of the Korean BBQ culture. You my friend have are a Korean BBQ LOVER!!!

Check out my site, rate these bad boys, and reign one King of Korean BBQ.



wrong. one uptight waitress does not speak for the etiquette of an entire culture, and any food writer who takes a single experience as a source for a generalization on how to experience a food foreign to him needs to start thinking about the basic fact-checking he learned in journalism school 101.

this is the korean etiquette equivalent to saying everyone should eat spaghetti by only twirling 4-5 noodles at a time with a fork against a spoon, then eating the twirled ball in one mild bite, not dangling any noodles to be slurped up, or getting a single drop of sauce on your mouth or off of your plate. get real. just eat it how you want to eat it. as long as you're not belching up some serious garlic burps at the next table over, you'll be fine.


Shocking. Was your waitress even Korean? I lived in Korea for several years and I assure you it is in fact encouraged to pile whatever you want into your lettuce roll, the bigger the better! It is quite fun to try multiple variations of side dish layering. And MOST Koreans eat the garlic raw. I always had to grill it as I found it far too strong. I think even the Korean variety is stronger than what we are accustomed to in North America. Ugh, I bet she would even look down her nose at putting kimchi on the grill.


however you eat it, i am so glad that you are highlighting korean BBQ. as a korean-american, i don't have too many rules but i do generally make smaller ssam with only meat, bean paste and grilled garlic and don't add banchan. call me a purist, i guess... the only steadfast rule i have is to leave nice clothing or outerwear in the car, everything will smell like BBQ for days after... -cp


wow... ignore that waitress' comments. korean food is comfort food. put your elbows on the table, pick your teeth and suck at the meaty bones; showing that you're enjoying yourself to pig-like status is the greatest of compliments. even my parents would be all wtf to that waitress. true, everybody has their own way of eating but i've turned plenty advice down in favor of the way i eat. we're pretty proud of our food but that lady is taking it to arrogance.
in my opinion the best korean bbq isn't galbi or bulgogi, but sanggyeopsal and chadol. it isn't marinated but when that fat starts to sizzle mmmm. put it in your lettuce leaf, or sometimes these flat rice squares (called duk-ssam) and top it with grilled kimchi and garlic. the bessst.
also, if you're broke like me, buy your soju at the market. it goes for 3 bucks at most while at restaurants it can go up to 15. ridiculous. best cocktai: chamisool+calpico. and stop by odesan on olympic. ahhh to be korean in la.


When we lived in Korea (in Seoul), the garlic was commonly eaten raw unless you couldn't stand the raw taste, and then they'd put it on the grill to mellow it.

The reasoning behind not using a whole piece of lettuce is that it's considered very rude not to eat the thing in one bite. Koreans will add banchan to the wrap (especially kimchi), but you don't want to overdo it for the same reason...



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good read thanks for the post. very well written article


Interesting how this review offers rules on how to eat Korean food, I wonder if the reviewer actually has eaten Korean food in Korea or these "rules" are just to make people that are not familiar with the food more intrigued or make it look like is higher class or something... I have lived in Korea for over 2 years, My Wife is Korean (and I do not mean from Korean family living in the US, I mean, all her 30 years in Korea) Korean are very proud and nice people, all these rules listed here I have never seen, either in fancy places or my regular 4 plastic table place... As other people noted, they are more into enjoying food and the good company... I find this review as a waste of time (I was surprised the reviewer did not added rules about when to use wood, bamboo, plastic or metal chopsticks (all of us that have been to Korea know they are none)or what is "appropriate to eat with the spoon), the comments are actually better reviews.


do add a little bit of the sauced-up scallions to your wrap
do add some ssamjang sauce
and do stuff yourself silly


The only hard and fast Korean ettiquite rules I've seen so far are:

1. Do NOT blow your nose at the table, ever!
2. When drinking an alcoholic beverage in front of your elders, do not up-end the glass and show the bottom to those around you.

Other than that, it's all just a matter of persona taste: big burrito, small roll, raw garlic, cooked garlic, etc. are not a big deal.


I'm new to thewhole korean restaurant experience and I had a question thats been nagging me. So our waitress takes our order and comes back with drinks lettuce and ssamjjang and nothing else. Are we supposed to wait for the rest of the food (another 20 mins btw) or are we supposed to eat that as is???


Whipped butter - Breakstones Sweet Unsalted, to be precise - is one of the very few brands of butter available kosher for Passover. I know this because, for at least a few years, I tried to do the whole nine yards of Passoverness. This meant only buying food that was officially sanctioned. Even sugar. In Canada, at least, this whipped butter is the only one I could find with the funny little sticker on it. So I buy it (even now) only at Passover, even though in the logical part of my brain, there is no reason that normal butter would be unkosher for Passover - at least in my world anyway. And although I must admit it does ring a few nostalgia bells for me, I don't personally find that it spreads any better on matzoh than regular butter that has been allowed to soften for a little while.


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I wonder what a korean barbecue taste like. How I wish I can go to Korea and eat it.


How about not caring and eating it however you please!


Korean berbecue!!!!This sound like some delicious food.I love food and I will surely love this berbecue.


Our waitress commented, without explanation, that garlic is considered by Koreans to be more healthy when it has been cooked.


this subject has interested me for quite some time. I have just started researching it on the Internet and found your post to be informative. Thanks


Excellent post, although most health experts would recommend raw garlic over cooked ones. Any time you cook something like that, you may introduce certain compounds due to the heat that aren't so good for your body. I dont know enough details though about garlic in particular, so.....


Great post, as usual. I'm a fan of garlic salt in the right foods, as opposed to seasoning salt.


I put garlic on EVERYTHING lol! It's simply one of the very best condiment toppings you can find, that doesnt have adverse health effects. Thank you!


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