Slow cooker Korean Beef is absolutely bursting with flavour and has the most mouthwatering aroma whilst cooking! Tender pieces of beef are slowly simmered in a dark and delicious hot and sweet sauce with chunks of fresh pear. Served on a bed of jasmine rice it’s a fantastic alternative for fakeaway night.
Slow Cooker Korean Beef (Bulgogi)
One of the most famous dishes from Korea is Bulgogi – which literally translates to ‘fire-meat’. It is made with strips of beef steak which are coated in a highly seasoned and sometimes spiced marinade and then cooked over a barbecue.
This dish has since been developed into grill and stir fry variations, and is often referred to simply as ‘Korean Beef’. So it seems only right that there should be a slow cooker version as well, and here it is!
The highly aromatic marinade for Korean Beef is common across all Bulgogi recipes. Its base flavours are soy, ginger, garlic, sugar and sesame, and some variations include fresh pears and other spices.
In my recipe I add chilli flakes for heat and also a Korean paste called Gochujang. This paste is a combination of soy bean, brown rice, salt, red pepper and chilli and it has an amazing depth of flavour which really intensifies the sauce.
I also like to include fresh pear to the recipe as it softens beautifully in the slow cooker and provides contrast against the heat of the chilli and paste.
This is one of my favourite things to cook for fakeaway night in the slow cooker, we eat it far too often. The smell permeating through the house during the day is just divine, and I look forward to eating it all day – it tastes that good!
Ingredients in Slow Cooker Korean Beef
Here’s what you need to make it.
- Beef – A marbled cut of beef works best. I use Bavette steaks (also known as skirt or flank) as the meat is always tender without disintegrating! I keep the strips thickly cut so that they retain shape.
- Gochujang paste – Thick, deep red in colour with a little heat and lots of flavour – this paste is a must for the most amazing sauce. After testing numerous types, my favourite is this one by Chung Jung One which has has a lovely spicy kick.
- Red wine vinegar – A dark and fruity vinegar which helps to balance the sweetness from the sugar and pear.
- Soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger – All help to create a deeply aromatic flavour base.
- Chilli flakes – An optional addition if you want extra heat.
- Sugar – Soft brown sugar makes the sauce dark and almost syrupy in texture, perfect with the spices and heat from the chilli.
- Pear – Asian pears are typical in Korean dishes as they contain an enzyme which help to tenderise meat and they also taste great against the saltiness of soy. They are different to the varieties we have here in the UK as they are larger and much crunchier in texture, almost like an apple. They are also more difficult to get hold of here, so in this recipe I substitute with a conference or blush pear (or sometimes a mild tasting apple such as pink lady or golden delicious).
- Onion – To intensify the flavours.
- Apple juice – A small amount to make up the sauce, it also helps to keep the meat tender.
- Corn flour – Acts as a thickener for the sauce.
How to make Slow Cooker Korean Beef
Follow these six simple steps to make delicious Korean Beef in the slow cooker.
- Marinade – Mix together the ginger, sugar, paste, soy, vinegar and garlic. Add the chilli flakes now if you want it to be hot!
- Prepare the meat – Cut the beef into 3cm strips. When making Bulgogi over the grill it’s typical that the steak is cut thinly. However, larger chunks of meat work better with this amazing sauce – trust me! Mix the beef in the marinade and leave for around 2-3 hours. The spices will impart lots of flavour into the meat and the vinegar will start the tenderising process.
- Add the onion and pear – Peel both, slice the onion and cut the pear into chunks. Put them into the slow cooker and sprinkle over the cornflour.
- Thicken – Mix the cornflour with the pear and onion to make sure everything is evenly coated.
- Add the beef – Place the beef in the slow cooker and be sure to scrape the bowl – don’t waste any marinade!
- Apple juice – Adding apple juice isn’t typical in Bulgogi but I do it here because it’s necessary for the slow cooker to keep the beef nice and soft. It also gives you a spicy and sweet sauce to serve with any accompaniments such as rice or noodles. Pour it into the pot, stir and set to cook on low for 6-7 hours or high for 5 hours.
Serve slow cooked Korean beef with freshly steamed jasmine rice. For extra crunch add some chopped spring onion and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
It also tastes great when served with freshly cooked noodles – udon work particularly well. Toss the noodles in the beef and sauce before serving so they are well coated and glazed.
On the side you could also serve some Kimchi, which is a traditional Korean side dish of salted and pickled vegetables. Although not Korean in origin, I also like to serve some crunchy vegetable spring rolls or gyoza dumplings.
If you would like to add vegetables to the sauce, I like to add red or green peppers (capsicum), or strips of carrot – these should be served quite crunchy. To help the vegetables retain their shape and texture, cut them into chunks and add to the pot half way through the cooking time.
Vegetables will always release varying degrees of water whilst cooking so the sauce will be thinner. Adding a little extra cornflour in the beginning can help with this.
What can you do with leftover Korean Beef?
This recipe will serve four with rice and a side dish. If you do have some leftover beef why not try one of these ideas?
- Store and reheat it then serve with rice or noodles.
- Shred it and then reheat served in wraps with crisp lettuce and spring onions! This makes a great lunch option.
- A fresh and delicious alternative is to serve it on top of an Asian inspired salad with red onion, grated carrot, cucumber, edamame beans and sesame seeds.
Tips for Korean Beef in the Slow Cooker
- The cut of beef – It’s all about the beef! Big juicy chunks which fall apart as you eat them is the aim here and to achieve this you can’t use the leaner cuts. They will end up tough after being slow cookd. Bavette steak is perfect for this recipe, and the best thing? It happens to be one of the cheapest cuts!
- The paste – Gochujang paste is gaining in popularity here in the UK and various brands are becoming more commonplace on supermarket shelves. However, they do have varying levels of spice and aroma. The one I use is particularly aromatic and has a medium level of spice, so if you use a different brand you may need to adjust the soy (saltiness) and chilli (heat) to suit your personal taste.
- Level of heat – I include chilli flakes in the marinade for the dish which are then cooked for the entire duration because I like this dish hot! Cooking chillis intensifies their heat, so if you prefer less of a firey kick then either leave them out all together, or add them at the end. Also note that even the smallest pinch of chilli can add serious heat, so add in small quantities.
Store Korean beef in an airtight container and it’ll stay fresh for three days in the fridge, or up to three months in the freezer. Reheat thoroughly before serving.
Marinading is an important part of the recipe for two reasons. It imparts flavour into the meat, and vinegar contains acetic acid which works to break down the meat fibres making them soft and tender. If you are short on time, marinade the meat for at least 30 minutes.
When you slow cook beef the meat can be tough for a few reasons. If it hasn’t been cooked for long enough the meat will still look plump, but it will have a good amount of resistance when you test it due to the fat not having enough time to break down. Leave it to cook a bit longer.
Secondly, the meat may have been over-cooked, it will looker a paler grey and have reduced in size due to the lack of moisture. This is much more common in leaner cuts of meat. Generally, the fattier, marbled cuts are much better for slow cooking and that’s why I recommend Bavette or skirt for this recipe.
Slow Cooker Korean Beef
- 700 g (1.4 lb) beef bavette steak
- 1 white onion peeled and sliced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 pear peeled and cut into chunks
- 2½ tbsp gochujang paste
- 150 ml (5 floz) apple juice
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp ginger ground or 1 thumbsize piece fresh ginger
- ¼ tsp chilli flakes optional for extra heat
- black pepper a small pinch
- 3 tsp soft brown sugar
- 1½ tbsp cornflour
- Make the marinade. Add the gochujang paste, garlic, ginger, soy, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, and pepper into a bowl and mix together well. Add the chilli flakes now if you want extra heat (this is optional).
- Cut the beef steaks into large even strips 3cm thick. Add these to the marinade and stir well to ensure all of the beef is coated. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Peel and slice the onion then peel and core the pear and cut it into chunks. Place these in the slow cooker.
- Sprinkle the cornflour over the onion and pear and stir through.
- Add the marinated beef to the slow cooker, then pour in the apple juice and stir. Try to submerge the beef as much as possible. At this point the liquid will not be able to cover the beef entirely but as the meat, onion and pear cook they will release more juice and a glossy sauce will develop which will coat the beef.
- Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 4 hours. Serve with freshly cooked jasmine rice or noodles.
- Cut the beef into thick and even strips 3cm across. This means they will cook evenly and that they will be tender without falling apart in the sauce.
- Different brands of soy sauce will have different levels of saltiness. I use Kikkoman soy sauce as it is fragrant with a lovely rich taste. If you are using a different brand it may be necessary to adjust the level of soy sauce in the recipe.
- There are many different brands of Gochunjang paste available online and in the supermarkets. The one I use is by Chung Jung One, it has real depth of flavour and a medium level of heat. Brands have varying levels of chilli so if you are using a different type then you may want to adjust the amount of chilli flakes you add.
- If you want to add additional vegetables to the dish, strips of pepper or carrot work well. Add these half way through the cooking time so that they maintain thier crunch.