How to Eat Korean Barbecue on a Budget

These days, being unemployed and having my checking account wiped out a few weeks back, it is very important for me to enjoy food on a tight budget.

This is generally a serious concern for not only me, but many people, because going out to eat can be quite expensive. If I am dining out with your mother I typically have to make sure I have enough money to feed seven people. She is the only person I’ve ever seen who can clean out an entire buffet line in one sitting. Just try to avoid making eye contact with her while she’s eating, because things can get hairy real quick. I’ve even seen her bite a waiter’s hand clean off when he tried to clear off the table prematurely. That was the most blood I’ve ever seen.

This week it is even more important for me to eat on a budget, because as my luck would have it, another wonderful thing happened to me.

Did I say “wonderful?” Excuse me. By “wonderful,” I meant “stupid.”


I was sitting at home on St. Patrick’s Day last week, crying and playing with stuffed animals on the floor, when I heard a giant crash outside my front window.

I peeked outside and thought, “Either this is going to be hilarious or this is going to be horrible.” I saw a car on the corner with its airbags deployed, basically merged with the parked car in front of it.

Then I thought, “Oh man, whoever owns that parked car is not going to be happy.”

The person who owned that parked car happened to be me.

A small crowd formed around my car, and a kind neighbor made sure the driver was all right. The driver’s car is the one on the right, the one that’s all sorts of destroyed. My car is the one on the left. It has been a long time since I’ve seen anyone that drunk. He could barely stand up. My guess is he was out partying it up on St. Patrick’s Day, which is a day of no-reason mayhem, and he decided that getting in a car was a good idea. As we were waiting for the police to show up, he jumped in his broken car and fled as I stood there helplessly.

My car insurance provider called me today to tell me that my car is totaled. I loved that thing so much. People, there are so many options out there when it comes to transportation. He could have killed someone.

Don’t drive drunk, otherwise I will find you and kick you in the genitals. You have no excuses. None.

Korean BBQ Ingredients

The car shenanigans made me sad, so to cheer myself up, I decided to go eat one of my favorite things: Korean barbecue.

I don’t know if you guys could tell by previous Asian pictures of me, but I’m Asian. My flavor of Asian is Korean, which is fortunate, considering your mother’s favorite food is Korean sausage. Korean barbecue is a lot of fun to eat with friends and family, because you get to cook your own delicious food at the dinner table over a tabletop grill. I would go out for Korean barbecue more often, but it can get fairly expensive.

Before I made dinner plans, I thought to myself, “Dannis Ree, you need to save more money because your life is a continuing series of catastrophic failures which are becoming stupider by the day. A decent used car is going to cost more money than insurance is going to give you. How can you save money while still engaging in one of your favorite dining activities, which is Korean barbecue?”

That’s when I had a genius idea: I could sneak in my own meat.

Korean BBQ kalbi raw

First of all, it is very important for you to find the proper meat.

In order to do this, you need to visit the nearest Korean grocery store to pick out your own secret meat. Most stores have prepared or marinated meat in the refrigerated section.

The most popular cut of Korean barbecue is called galbi (sometimes spelled kalbi). This is typically beef shortribs (“galbi,” literally translated, actually means “ribs”), that are marinated or plain. They are often cut in sheets across the bones like you see above.

This crosswise cut is called LA galbi, not after the city of Los Angeles, but after the fact that it’s a lateral axis cut of meat, which my friend Joyce and I learned the other week. The traditional marinade for galbi is a sweet soy marinade with garlic, onion, pear, and ginger, and it’s absolutely delicious. Now and then, you’ll see pork varieties listed as well, but beef is where it’s at.

However, at Korean barbecue restaurants, the meat is often butchered slightly differently (just in terms of appearance), and it is called wang galbi.

Some of you are laughing at the word “wang,” because in English, wang is a slang term for “penis.” In Korean, it is pronounced differently (more like “wong”), which means “king.” So grow up, guys. Be more mature. If you’re an adult, it’s important for you to be extremely miserable with your own lives and you’re not allowed to laugh at things like penises. Penis penis penis. Penis. If you’re laughing at my use of the word “penis,” you really need to be introspective and see why you’re so childish, you penises.

So how do you make your meat resemble the kind that is served in the restaurant, so you don’t get caught for bringing your own in?

Korean BBQ Kalbi Trimmed

The answer is easy: Trim the meat off the bone.

At Korean barbecue restaurants, they pre-slice the meat in bite-size pieces to make it easier to cook and eat straight off the grill. Cut your contraband meat into small portions that are easily manageable with chopsticks, and you’re all set.

Korean BBQ Kalbi Bones Roast

Don’t throw away the precious bones.

There’s delicious bits of meat, connective tissue, and fat, that are good to gnaw off. Just put the bones under a broiler for ten minutes (flip once), and you’ve got a good drinking snack.

Korean BBQ Kalbi Bagged

Pack your meat in a Ziploc bag and set it aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to leave for the restaurant.

Is bringing your own meat to a restaurant stupid? Yes. Can you possibly get kicked out and banned for life? Yes. But you do not come to this blog to read about actual good ideas. You come here to see me do stupid things.

Korean BBQ Lamb Chops Bagged

I recommend being creative with the types of meat you bring to the restaurant to grill.

Since I was already being a jackass by bringing in my own beef, I thought buying lamb chops was a good idea. Into the Ziploc bag they go!

Korean BBQ Hot Dogs

Hot dogs?

What the hell, why not?

Korean BBQ Hot Dogs Bagged

Chop chop chop.

As an alternative to the bag, I considered leaving them whole and shoving them up my ass instead as a much more environmentally friendly method of culinary transport. I often threaten to cram things up my ass for no reason. So does your mother.

Korean BBQ Can Spam

Spam is the greatest canned meat known to man.

It also makes a terrific farting noise when you’re shaking it out of the can. It’s dinner and a show.

Korean BBQ Bagged

Bag that canned meat.

At this point, I had temporarily forgotten about the drunk driver destroying my poor car. I was too busy being a genius.

Korean BBQ Harvey Bee Bagged

Put your two best friends in a Ziploc bag while you’re at it.

Make sure the bag is opened a little bit. You don’t want them to die of suffocation.

But there’s still one nagging question left: How do you smuggle your own meat into a restaurant without anyone noticing?

Korean BBQ Birthday Bag

The answer is easy: Pretend it’s someone’s birthday.

I went to the corner drugstore to buy the biggest bag I could get. This thing could have easily fit an infant, which is also something you could consider grilling.

Korean BBQ Birthday Bag Bow

To make this even more convincing, make your gift bag much prettier by simply adding a bow on the corner.

Now nobody would suspect me of bringing in my own meat.

Korean BBQ Birthday Bag Filled

With everything and everyone stowed away on top of ice packs, it is time to put the finishing touches into this secret meat bag.

I like to call your mother my “secret meat bag” too. Neither of us really knows what it means, but it just sounds adorable.

Korean BBQ Birthday Bag Paper

The last thing you need to do is cover the top with tissue paper, in case your waitress comes by and sees an entire gigantic bag full of raw meat.

With all of this prepared, I was finally ready for my outing. For my destination, I selected one of the most popular Korean barbecue restaurants in Chicago, since it would be very busy. The waitstaff would be less likely to notice any unusual behavior coming from our table since they would be occupied by lots of tables.

What’s very important is that you invite at least three or four other people (your crew) to your restaurant visit (heist), so they can keep watch to see if the waitress is coming, or if any other patrons are staring at you suspiciously.

Korean BBQ Banchan

While I will not divulge the top-secret identities of my dining companions, I did pick them carefully in terms of trustworthiness. 

I asked to do a trust fall with each of my crew members separately to make sure I could put my faith in them. All of them let me fall backwards without catching me, so now I have severe cranial trauma and this really interesting lump on the back of my head.

Korean BBQ Banchan Harvey Bee

Harvey and Mr. Bee are sitting next to traditional Korean side dishes called banchan.

Most Korean meals feature a bowl of white sticky rice with a handful of banchan on the side. When I was growing up we would only have three or four sides, but at Korean restaurants, they always give you a lot of them.

Harvey and Mr. Bee are specifically sitting next to kimchi, the most popular Korean side dish. While kimchi smells strongly of farts, it is actually one of the most delicious things on this planet. It’s spicy, crisp, funky, and fermented. Harvey and Mr. Bee are already used to farty smells so they felt right at home.

Korean BBQ Bag Prep

After you place your order, start prepping your secret meat by opening up the Ziploc bags.

This is no time to slack off. Your lookouts need to have a direct view of where the waitstaff is at all times, and you have to be ready to abort the mission at a moment’s notice.

Korean BBQ Fire Pit

Once your order arrives at the table, you will also get a hardwood charcoal grill to cook your food on.

That’s when I realized I forgot the marshmallows at home on the kitchen counter. No, seriously — I’d bought an actual bag of marshmallows to toast for dessert, but in my state of serious concentration, they slipped my mind.

Korean BBQ Kalbi Raw Plate

After the waitress brings your raw meat, quickly dump your prepared secret protein onto the plate.

I did have a brief moment of panic when the galbi wouldn’t fall out of the bag, but after a few good shakes it fell out in one big mass. The meat I brought is on the left side of the plate; it has a slightly different marinated color, if you look closely. But as you see, I did a very good job in camouflaging the meat we brought in and the slices were just right.

I can’t believe I actually brought my own raw meat to a restaurant. This is both amazing and stupid at the same time. It is also kind of an asshole thing to do, but being the greatest food writer in the world involves the sacrifice of my own soul for my art.

Korean BBQ Kalbi Grill

You need to make sure you order just enough meat so that your waitress does not get suspicious.

We ordered two portions of galbi for five people, but secretly, we had four orders, because I am a brilliant meat smuggler.

Korean BBQ Budae Jjigae

As a decoy, order another side dish that isn’t grilled, to distract any attention away from your illicit meat that is already on the grill.

We ordered something called budae jjigae, which translates to “army stew” in English. I made a jello salad with it in this post from last year, but to recap, budae jjigae is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type stew with instant ramen, kimchi, Spam, hot dogs, and other ingredients like rice cakes and vegetables. It originated from the Korean war, when people had to make do with food that American soldiers had at the commissary.

Korean BBQ Hot Dog Budae

I had my fellow super-secret dining companions pour both the Spam and the hot dogs into the soup while no one was looking.

This was extremely nerve wracking. One of them got spooked and splashed the soup everywhere when they put the Spam in. If you are going to sneak your own food into a Korean restaurant, you need to act with confidence and resolve. I highly recommend training yourself at home by pouring meat from a bag onto empty plates or into pots of scalding water repeatedly. This shit is for professionals only.

Korean BBQ Budae Finished

The result is the meatiest army stew you’ll ever have.

In fact, it’s almost all processed meat. Delicious, delicious, processed meat. This is like living in the lap of luxury, but in an affordable manner, because you were smart enough to plan ahead.

Korean BBQ Lamb Chops

If you’re going to bring something outlandish such as lamb chops to the restaurant, make sure to hide them underneath meat of the same color so they blend in on the raw meat plate.

Lamb is not part of the Korean diet, which makes me even more of a maverick. It is very likely I am the first person to sneak raw lamb into a Korean restaurant so I could grill it at the table. You guys are witnessing the dumbest history ever.

Korean BBQ Lamb Chops Grill

Surround your secret meat with legitimate meat.

I’m good, guys. Real good. I’m a professional assclown. The round pieces of meat resembling pepperoni are actually raw, unseasoned, beef brisket, called chadolbaegi, and from far away, a trained eye would still have difficulty spotting the difference between that, the galbi, and the lamb chops.

Korean BBQ Lamb Chops Done

Grilled tender lamb is so delicious it’ll make you forget the fact that you’re eating sheep babies.

It tastes even better when you’re doing it for a reasonable price. And it’s likely we probably violated some health code somewhere, but guys, on this blog, I’m willing to push boundaries.

Korean BBQ Lamb Chops Medium Rare

If you follow these instructions carefully, you will become a master at eating Korean barbecue on a tight budget.

Sure, it takes some planning ahead and a little elbow grease, but this is what the DIY lifestyle is all about. There’s risk, yet delicious reward. But for you risk takers, one risk you should not take is to drive your car while you’re wasted. No good can come of it, and you just might break someone’s heart that way. I’m really going to miss my car and I don’t know what I’m going to do, but hey, at least I’m full of affordable grilled meat now.

And now your mother is homeless. She was living out of the trunk of my Honda.


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