A co-worker of mine introduced me to a local Korean restaurant where they make bulgogi. I’ve never had it before, but I’m generally a fan of Asian food when it involves beef or chicken (I’m not a big fish person), so I thought I’d give it a try. Bulgogi is basically thinly-sliced meat, typically beef or pork, that is marinade in sauce and then cooked. At the restaurant, they cook it on a flat top, although if you were doing it at home you could cook it in a frying pan on the stove or even grill it. It’s delicious.
After getting my pellet grill / smoker, I started watching some YouTube videos to get ideas for what to smoke with it. I was very excited when I found a video showing how to make teriyaki beef jerky with a pellet smoker. That instantly made me think of using a bulgogi marinade instead of the typical teriyaki marinade, so I tried it. Here’s the recipe I used for the marinade.
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2.5 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 garlic glove minced
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 cup Coca-Cola
You’ll want to cut your meat in to thin strips and marinade it in this mixture for at least 24 hours. You won’t want to go much longer than that because the Coke will start to break down the meat and it’ll just become a slimy mess. Stir all of the marinade ingredients well, add the meat, cover, and let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. Remember when you’re cutting the strips of meat that as they dehydrate they will shrink a considerable amount, so don’t cut them too thin or small. Also try to make them all roughly the same size so they all cook evenly. I made the mistake of cutting some slices too thin and had to throw a few pieces away because they got “too cooked” (they were burned and hard), while the larger pieces were all fine. Set your smoker to the lowest heat possible, mine’s around 180 degrees F, and cook for about 3-4 hours, or until it passes the taste test and is dry.
I used beef for my bulgogi jerky. There’s no special prep with the beef itself, and since you’re marinading and smoking you don’t need expensive cuts of meat either. The only thing you’ll want to make sure of is that you buy cuts of beef with as little fat as possible. Fat will work against you a couple of ways here – first, it keeps the meat from drying out when in the smoker. This is good for something like pulled pork or a beef brisket, but is bad when you’re trying to make jerky. Second, any fat content that remains on the jerky after its smoked will be greasy, not dry out, and will reduce its shelf life. This is because there is risk that bacteria will begin to grow, and we don’t want that. When cooking, you’ll want to set your smoker to the lowest heat setting possible. For my pellet grill this is around 180 degrees F.
There’s a saying that I’ve heard multiple times in the smoking world, and that’s “if you’re lookin, you aint’ cookin.” Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. It should only take 3-4 hours for the jerky to cook, and you can overcook it. If it gets too dried out it’ll burn and get very hard. Unfortunately, this happens rather quickly, so there’s a fairly magic point in time where you need to remove the jerky from heat. Fortunately, however, this means that you get to continuously pull “test samples” of jerky to taste after the 2.5 – 3 hour mark to ensure you don’t overcook it.