The Best Microwave Rice Cooker [2019] – Korean BBQ Essentials

After 10 hours of research and through ten top rated microwave rice cookers we are happy to say that the Maxi-Aids – Microwave Rice cooker is the best microwave rice cooker available online! With its convenient, durable, no nonsense design Maxi-Aids delivers a great microwave rice cooker for your emergency rice eating needs.

Best Microwave Rice Cooker - Maxi-Aids – Microwave Rice cooker

Editor's Pick:

Capacity: 1.5 cup uncooked rice
Materials: High Heat resistant plastic

When it comes to microwave rice cookers, the Maxi-Aids microwave rice cooker is one of the best values. It is great for making small servings of rice and rice-based meals in just 18 minutes. It comes with flip-down lid locks for safe cooking, a cover, a measuring cup, and a rice spatula. Recipes and instructions are included too.

The handles on our favorite microwave rice cooker are made to stay cool, and the cooker is designed for easy cleaning. With a 1.2 liter capacity, which holds 5 cups, and a 7.75 x 6.5 inch size, this rice cooker is best for making single servings of rice. In case of overflow, we recommend putting it on a plate. This brightly colored red rice cooker is dishwasher safe and made of durable heat resistant plastic.

Runner Up:

Price: $18.61 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/23/18)
Capacity: 3 cups uncooked rice
Materials: Plastic

Anyone looking for ways to save time in the kitchen should check out this Chefs Basics Select cooker. It not only cooks rice, but also meats, stews, vegetables, and pasta combining the cooking method of a pressure cooker, locking in juices and moisture, with the convenience of a microwave. Its 8-cup, 8 x 8 x 5 inch size fits easily in most standard microwaves and is top rack dishwasher safe.

To use it, just fill it up, secure the lid and open the vent on the top, and put it in the microwave. The large size of this cooker makes it great for holidays and dinner parties. The light blue color goes well with most kitchens. Best of all, you will spend less time washing pots and pans and more time to enjoy yourself and your company.

Microwave Rice Cookers Tested​

Price: $12.95 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/21/18)
Capacity: 2 cups of uncooked rice
Materials: 100% virgin plastic; phthalate- and BPA-free

If you are looking for an easy way to cook rice, polenta, and couscous, consider this microwave rice steamer by Sistema. This all-in-one rice steamer comes with a pressure chamber plate to collect overflow and drain it back into the base chamber, a lid with steam release vents and with easy-lift tabs that stay cool to keep you from burning yourself, and a nonstick rice spoon.

After you have cooked your rice, you can throw this onto the top rack of your dishwasher for easy cleaning, or use it to store extra rice in it in the fridge or freezer. It has a 2.6 L capacity and measures 8.5 x 7.7 x 6.3, fitting in most microwaves and won’t take up much space in your kitchen. Unlike some other models, the inside lid of this steamer is easy to remove. This bright red colored rice steamer will add a splash of color to your kitchen.

Price: $15.00 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/21/18)
Capacity: 2 cups of uncooked rice
Materials: Plastic

While you might not have considered cooking rice in the microwave, this microwave rice cooker by Joseph Joseph has a lot to offer. This rice cooker allows you to wash, cook, and serve perfectly cooked fluffy rice without boiling it in a pot. It saves time and is easy to clean. It comes with a 2 L cooking pot, a colander, a measuring cup, and a rice paddle. The colander can be used for washing rice, and the rice paddle also serves as a device to lock the pot lid and provides handles. This is a great feature for removing the cooker safely from the microwave.

It is dishwasher safe, food safe, and BPA free. Its size, measuring 8.5 x 5.5 inches, is large enough to cook 4 servings of rice and small enough to fit in most standard microwaves. This rice cooker can be used for cooking all types of rice and for pasta. With bright orange and grey colors that will stand out in your kitchen, the Joseph Joseph rice cooker will look great and the get the job done.

Price: $12.99 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/21/18)
Capacity: 3 cups uncooked rice
Materials: Plastic

Rice lovers who are looking for a faster and easier way to cook rice might want to take a look at this no overflow rice cooker by Progressive International. It cooks up to 6 cups of rice, oats, quinoa, pasta, or vegetables in minutes without overflowing and making a mess. This 5-piece set comes with a main bowl, a lid, a nesting shelf insert, a rice paddle, a measuring cup, and instructions.

The nesting shelf is designed to prevent the rice from boiling over and also can be used as a colander. It is made from non-stick BPA-free material so it is safe, easy to clean, and dishwasher safe. It is 6 x 7 x 7 inches, has a 3.5-cup capacity, and makes 8 servings of rice. The grey and white color of this rice cooker will match any kitchen decor.

Price: $14.50 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/23/18)
Capacity: 3 cups uncooked rice
Materials: 100% virgin plastic; phthalate- and BPA-free

Sistema’s rice microwave multicooker steamer offers several advantages by steaming rice quickly and keeping in the moisture. The steam release valve is designed to let pressure out. To use it, just fit the smaller top on first and then put on the lid that locks down. The smaller lid has slots on the edge for serving spoons, and the steam lid is adjustable.

It comes with a BPA-free large steamer, a spoon, and recipes. This brightly-colored red steamer is 6.5 x 8.5 x 7.5 inches and has a capacity of 2.6 liters holding 11 cups. It won’t take up too much space on your kitchen counter and will fit in standard microwaves. After use, just throw it in the dishwasher, and it will be ready the next time.

Price: $14.67 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/23/18)
Capacity: 3 cups uncooked rice
Materials: Plastic

If you make rice often and are tired of bothering with pots and electric rice cookers, you might want to give this Nordic Ware microwave rice cooker a try. It cooks rice in minutes without burning it and can also be used to cook veggies and pasta.

It comes with a basket to rinse the rice, the main cooking container, a 4-part lid with a top vent cap, lid top, lid bottom, and a small piece that hooks on the vent. This makes the lid easy to clean, and the entire steamer is dishwasher safe. It is made from BPA-free plastic, and the white color has a fresh, clean look. It has an 8 cup capacity.

Price: $42.00 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/23/18)
Capacity: 3 cups uncooked rice
Materials: Plastic

This microwave rice cooker by Tupperware is more expensive than the others, but it has several great features that make using it a breeze. It comes with a double cover that collects the steam created during cooking and channels it into a recessed area of the cover and back into the base. This keeps the contents of the rice cooker from drying out and keeps your microwave clean and free from spills. Lines marking the maximum fill level for rice and water are easily visible on the outside of the base so you will have no trouble measuring the correct amounts.

The cover handles fold down and lock on the base and also serve as grips for removing the rice cooker from the microwave without getting burned. All you have to do is follow the directions, keep the rice and water within the markers, and use the correct power and cooling times, and you should end up with 4 cups of rice cooked to perfection. Like all Tupperware products, this rice cooker is made from BPA-free plastic. It comes in two sizes, a small size for smaller portions and a larger size for serving 5 to 10. This purple rice cooker has a modern look that we think will complement your kitchen nicely.

Price: $5.48 (Listed on Amazon.com 10/23/18)
Capacity: 1 cup uncooked rice
Materials: Plastic

This microwave rice cooker made by Daiso is very inexpensive. It is small and designed for making single servings of rice. Its orange and clear color gives it a unique look. It doesn’t seem very durable and the instructions are lengthy and require many steps, but it works well for cooking small amounts of rice. For a very low price, we think it gets the job done.

Price: $14.99 + $12.00 shipping (Listed on Amazon.com 10/23/18)
Capacity: 3 cups uncooked rice
Materials: N/A

This microwave rice steamer made by Silicone Bakeware can be used for cooking rice, polenta, or couscous. The 4-part cooking system includes a lid with 2 flaps that serve as handles, a steamer, and a nonstick serving spoon. It keeps rice moist by using a pressure chamber tray and a lid that allows steam to escape and is easy to clean. The color of this rice steamer is red, so it will stand out in your kitchen. It is 16.5 x 21.5 x 21.5 cm and has a 2.6 liter capacity.

Why a microwave rice cooker?

If you like to eat rice and cook it frequently, microwave rice cookers are a great investment. They are inexpensive, don’t take up much room in your kitchen, fit in most standard size microwave ovens, and prepare rice quickly in about 10 minutes. They are not limited to just cooking rice but have many other uses such as steaming veggies and cooking pasta, couscous, or oatmeal. Because they include everything you need for cooking rice, they are convenient, easy to use, and easy to clean.

We have noticed that electric rice cookers can get moldy and have parts that are hard to get to for cleaning. Pots need to be soaked and scrubbed, especially when we accidentally burn the rice by cooking it too long. Microwave rice cookers come apart and can easily be washed by hand in warm soapy water or on the top shelf of your dishwasher so you will never have to scrub that burned rice out of your pot again.

You won’t have to spend time waiting for water to boil or worry about the rice boiling over or burning. Cooking your rice in the microwave, once you get used to it, is much easier and less messy than cooking it on the stove. All microwaves are different, so we recommend some trial runs to get the proportions, timing, and cooking power right. Once you perfect your method, you won’t be able to tell the difference between the rice made in a microwave rice cooker and rice cooked on the stove or in an electric steamer. The lid will keep in the steam so that your food will remain moist, and your rice will come out consistent and fluffy every time.

Microwave rice cookers are also great for students who don’t have access to a stove and cannot afford a more elaborate electric rice cooker. They are perfect for a dorm room or small apartment because they don’t take up much room, are simple to use, and most are inexpensive.

What is a good microwave rice cooker?

If you are shopping for a microwave rice cooker, there are a few important features to look for. A good microwave rice cooker has a sturdy feel and is made from durable and easy to clean plastic. It won’t leak water or spill over, and it will have an easy to remove lid that locks down securely. It will also have handles that don’t get hot so that you won’t burn yourself when you remove it from the microwave.

You also will want one that includes as many useful components as possible. The most important components to look for are a colander for washing the rice, a measuring cup, and a rice spatula. A good lid for a microwave rice cooker is fairly simple and not too fussy but does include two layers. The dual layer lid is designed to trap and return condensation to the pot so it won’t spill over. The two parts of the lid should come apart easily for cleaning. You will want to get one that is the right size and capacity for your needs.

A microwave rice cooker that comes with instructions and recipes is very useful. We think of the instructions as guidelines that might need to be tweaked because all microwaves are different. Finally, a good microwave rice cooker should be dishwasher safe, made from safe materials, BPA-free, and should not have a plastic smell or taste.

Once you get started using a microwave rice cooker or steamer, you will find that you can make rice that tastes the same as it would if made on the stovetop in much less time and with much less fuss. Cooking rice will be a breeze with a microwave rice cooker, so you might find yourself eating rice even more often.

Why trust us?

In the same vein as our Korean BBQ Grill post this flies somewhat in the face of our conventional methodology. As we don’t have the capacity to go out and test all of these rice cookers ourselves we opted to do the next best thing. We applied similar methods as we have for our Best Restaurants posts: relying on the power of the customer base, researching with integrity (we do not have any ties to the companies making these rice cookers), and being self aware enough to know that we are not smart enough to put forward our own opinion. We are simply relaying all of our research in as consumable of a format as we can; hopefully in the near future I can fulfill my lifelong dream of having a hundred rice cookers in my place, all singing their songs of warmth, happiness, and the cooked rice way.

How we chose what to test?

We decided to make this as easy as possible. We wanted to look at microwave rice cookers that everyone in the US would have access to buy and that had a good amount of data that we could peruse through. We chose Amazon for its near ubiquitous use for online shopping, went straight for “best microwave rice cookers”, sorted by customer ratings, and went down the list looking for anything that came up (minus paid promotions or advertisements).

What to look forward to

I’m pretty confident that we hit all the major players, we’ll definitely keep our eyes peeled for any revolutionary game changers that might come out. Stick with us while we continue our great journey into the hardware side of the culinary world!

Wrapping it up

It was pretty surprised seeing the selection out there on the market that do a great job of what they’re supposed to do… cook rice. But like any piece of hardware durability seems to be a consistent and major issue for these babies. Also, I know I harped on this a bunch in our Korean BBQ Grill post, but these companies really need to come out with some palatable names for their babies. Writing about something that is a jumbled bunch of letters and numbers drives me up the wall. Regardless, it’s reassuring to know that the well being of our rice eating brethren lie in good hands. May your rice be always hot, fluffy, and perfect.

Korean BBQ Essentials: Best Induction Rice Cooker [2019]

After 12 hours of research and through thirteen top rated induction rice cookers we are happy to say that the Cuckoo Electric Induction Heating Rice Pressure Cooker is the best induction rice cooker available online! With its convenient make up, consistent quality whether it be white rice or brown, and extremely fast cook times Cuckoo delivers a great induction rice cooker for all of your beautiful, rice eating needs.

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Cuckoo Electric Induction Heating Rice Pressure Cooker

Editor's Pick:

Cooking capacity: 3 cups uncooked
Price: $369.99
Dimensions: 15 x 11 x 10 in
Review Score: 9/10

I don’t know about you, but I enjoy having appliances that are smarter than me. This beautiful rice cooker has a LED lit screen that may feel a little overwhelming at first due to the extensive number of options available, but soon you’ll realize that you can make literally any dish in this little gem.

This beautiful rice cooker will make you feel like the chef at a Michelin star restaurant with its sleek gold exterior and proficiency in three languages! Yes, you read that right – this rice cooker is multilingual! Cuckoo even incorporated an intelligent cooking algorithm to take all the frustrating guesswork out of cooking! You can’t mess up with this one.

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Zojirushi Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker NP-NVC10 Runner Up

Runner Up:

Cooking capacity: 5.5 or 10 cups uncooked (depending on selection)
Price: $472.00
Dimensions: 10 1/8 x 15 3/8 x 8 5/8 in
Review Score: 8/10

Have you ever tried those yummy crispy rice snacks at an Asian grocery store but never seemed to figure out how to make them yourself? Worry no longer, because this rice cooker has a preset feature for crispy, golden scorched rice! Does that sound like music to your ears? Good, because this cooker features interchangeable melodies for you to pick from.

Not only do the quick menu settings of this induction rice cooker feature every kind of rice eaten by mankind, but also features a separate umami setting that is unique to this specific brand. Unknown to the Western palate, umami is a fifth taste in addition to sweet, salty, sour and bitter. It translates to “savory”, meaning in this setting, the rice is soaked for a longer period of time and allows the starchy sugars from the rice to completely be released for a greater depth of flavor.

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Instant Pot LUX60V3 V3 Best Value

Best Value:

Cooking capacity: 12 cups uncooked
Price: $79.00
Dimensions: 13.18 x 12.2 x 12.5 in
Review Score: 8/10

If you enjoy cooking for large parties, then this rice cooker will definitely match the demand for large quantities. Even if you don’t enjoy cooking in large batches, this cooker will make the job easier with its maximum capacity. Bigger than the sheer size of this device are the numerous extra features that make this much more than just a rice cooker. Its one-touch controls let you turn this appliance into a pressure cooker, rice cooker, sauté pan, steamer, warmer and even a cake maker!

For those of you who live busy lives and are always on the go, this device features a twenty-four hour delay feature in addition to a ten hour automatically activated keep warm feature. What does this mean? You can whip up dinner even before the day starts and come home to warm, hearty and delicious food that’s ready to be served! Meal prep can become a breeze with the help of this handy assistant.

Other Induction Rice Cookers Tested

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Cuckoo CRP-DH06 Electric Pressure Rice Cooker

Cooking capacity: 6 cups uncooked
Price: $530.34
Dimensions: 14.9 x 10.5 x 10.1 in
Review Score: 8/10

Another beautiful rice cooker by Cuckoo, this version also features voice guidance in English, Korean and Chinese. In addition to these smart features, this rice cooker can hold a larger capacity of uncooked rice to feed a larger crowd. Who wouldn’t want more helping of hearty rice? The shiny gray exterior would look lovely against any smooth, granite countertop. For those of you who enjoy cooking, but don’t enjoy the aftermath of dealing with dirty dishes, then you will love the auto steam cleaning option on this model! No more scraping rice off the bottom of the pot for you.

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Zojirushi NP-HBC18 10-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer with Induction Heating System

Cooking capacity: 10 cups uncooked
Price: $250
Dimensions: 15.5 x 11 x 9.5 in
Review Score: 7/10

Another Zojirushi rice cooker featuring its special induction heat cooking technology, this one also contains a triple heater in the build. This means that three separate parts, including the bottom of the cooker and the lid, can induce heat to make sure that the food is thoroughly and evenly cooked. It features three separate cooking options for brown rice to promote a healthy diet, which include regular brown rice, GABA brown rice and germinated brown rice. For those of you who don’t prefer the taste of brown rice, you may enjoy germinated brown rice due to its improved taste and texture. There’s also a separate cooking setting for jasmine white rice, which requires a slightly different preparation than other types of rice. The fun part about this cooker is that you’ll hear a sweet melody when its time to eat your perfectly cooked rice! There’s no disappointment there.

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Zojirushi NS-TSC18 Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer

Cooking capacity: 10 cups uncooked
Price: $166.49
Dimensions: 11.12 x 15 x 9.87 in
Review Score: 7/10

This unassuming rice cooker is nothing but versatile in its ability to cook a wide variety of rice types to perfection! It can also double as a steamer with the included steam basket and steamer setting. The cooker also features a separate cake setting to make deliciously fluffy pastries! This rice cooker also features microcomputer technology that automatically senses the type of rice being cooked that day to make minor adjustments to temperature and produce perfectly fluffy rice, regardless of the type. This is especially important for both novices and avid rice eaters who want a dependable rice cooker.

Best Induction Rice Cooker - COSORI Mini 2.1 Qt 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Programmable Pressure Cooker

Cooking capacity: 4 cups uncooked
Price: $166.49
Dimensions: 10 x 11 x 11 in
Review Score: 7/10

This compact induction rice cooker stores and travels easily for small families, students and those who are always on the go but can’t live without a healthy serving of rice! This one is also the most affordable rice cooker on the list. Don’t be fooled by the size of this pressure cooker because it has the capability of doing seven different things, including making yogurt! Even for those who are new to cooking, the preset options will take care of any issues. Simply throw in all the necessary ingredients and push a button to get started! With a time setting of up to a twenty-four hour delay, you can leave for work in the morning and come back to a nutritious, warm dinner. If you hate cleaning, all the accessories of this rice cooker dissemble to be dishwasher safe.

The nice thing about this device is that it primarily cooks by locking the steam inside and relying on the induced pressure to speed up cooking time. This means that only a minimal amount of the nutrients are lost from the meal during the cooking process, ensuring that you’re eating a healthy and wholesome diet!

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Aroma Housewares ARC-6206C Ceramic Rice Cooker

Cooking capacity: 6 cups uncooked
Price: $99.99
Dimensions: 11.2 x 14.8 x 9.5 in
Review Score: 6/10

This white induction rice cooker comes in a no frills, compact and reliable design that will snugly fit into a corner on the countertop. The unique part about this particular rice cooker is that it comes with a ceramic inner pot, which is much healthier to eat from compared to the basic nonstick pots that tend to come with most basic rice cookers. This not only makes the pot stovetop safe should a transfer ever be necessary, but also pH balanced to promote good health.

For those of us guilty of being clumsy in the kitchen, the exterior of this cooker features a cool-touch surface, protecting us from burns! There’s also a convenient handle to move the rice cooker with, preventing butter fingers from letting the cooker slip. The settings on this device are perfect for a novice chef, with options preset for various types of rice, porridge, grains, reheat feature, soup, steam, slow cook and even yogurt! Who knew rice cookers could replace microwaves at their jobs?

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Zojirushi NP-HCC10XH Induction Heating System Rice Cooker and Warmer

Cooking capacity: 5.5 cups uncooked
Price: $316.34

Dimensions: 10 x 14 x 8 in
Review Score: 6/10

This induction rice cooker is one that shouldn’t be judged by its cover. Although the chic gray, stainless steel exterior and simple digital display exude an aura of minimalism, the patented induction heating system preaches the art of perfectly cooked rice. This technology fine-tunes the internal temperature of the cooker throughout the duration of the cooking process. Whether you prefer white rice, brown rice, jasmine rice, sushi rice or enjoy mixing things up, you can experience perfectly cooked rice with each serving!

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Tiger JKT-S10U-K IH Rice Cooker with Slow Cooker

Cooking capacity: 5.5 cups uncooked
Price: $342.55
Dimensions: 13.9 x 10.2 x 8.4 in
Review Score: 6/10

If you enjoy multi-tasking, then you will love this gem! This appliance not only features an adorable tiger logo, the company’s namesake, but also features patented synchro-cook technology with the detachable Tacook plate. Although there’s a whole lot of science involved behind the heat distribution and convection current that makes this possible, all you have to know is that you can have the side dishes and rice prepped, cooked and served all at the same time! Is this lazy or smart? Both, obviously!

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Zojirushi NP-GBC05XT Induction Heating System Rice Cooker

Cooking capacity: 3 cups uncooked
Price: $218.00
Dimensions: 9.12 x 11.87 x 7.5 in
Review Score: 6/10

If you enjoy multi-tasking, then you will love this gem! This appliance not only features an adorable tiger logo, the company’s namesake, but also features patented synchro-cook technology with the detachable Tacook plate. Although there’s a whole lot of science involved behind the heat distribution and convection current that makes this possible, all you have to know is that you can have the side dishes and rice prepped, cooked and served all at the same time! Is this lazy or smart? Both, obviously!

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Tiger JKT-B10U-C 5.5 Cup

Cooking capacity: 5.5 or 10 cups uncooked (depending on selection)
Price: $202.99
Dimensions: 13.9 x 10.2 x 8.4 in
Review Score: 6/10

For those of you who are extremely picky about the texture of your rice (you know who you are), this is the perfect rice cooker for you. This particular version of the timeless appliance from Tiger features three separate cooking settings for short-grain white rice: plain, ultra and quick. The plain setting speaks for itself, being the most vanilla method of cooking rice. The ultra setting brings out the savory, sticky texture of the starch content in white rice as well as a sweet undertone to the flavor. The quick setting works well for those who forgot about the rice or for those who can’t handle hunger pains, like me!

Best Induction Rice Cooker - Tiger JAX-T10U-K 5.5-Cup

Cooking capacity: 5.5 or 10 cups uncooked (depending on selection)
Price: $169.00
Dimensions: 10.1 x 13.7 x 8.2 in
Review Score: 6/10

Yet another Tiger rice cooker that features the innovative Tacook plate, you can cook the main dish, side dishes and the rice at once with nothing more than some prep time. The dish prepared on the Tacook plate will slowly cook with the steam produced by the cooking rice, leading to a healthier and more nutritious final product. No unhealthy oils will have to be added to the cooking process! You won’t have to worry about the flavors of the two dishes merging due to Tiger’s innovative design. To help you get started, this rice cooker also comes with a Tacook Cook Book, which will be your expert guide to all the possible one pot meals in this little device.

In addition to that unique capability, this rice cooker comes with ten cooking presets with two separate delay timers and an automatic keep warm setting that works for up to 12 hours. It can also double as a slow cooker depending on your needs.

Why an induction rice cooker?

In all honesty, this isn’t a question you will truly be forced to make when looking at rice cookers nowadays. The vast majority of rice cookers are induction, I don’t think that i’ve seen a non induction rice cooker since my janky old one I took to college with me. The benefits of induction are perfect for cooking rice as you are ensured even, measured temperature increases as well as an overall safer product on your counter top. However, if you are still on the fence check out my previous thoughts on why you should be getting a rice cooker in general below.

There’s something incessantly infuriating about cooking rice. Late into my time in culinary school our chefs would still be pleasantly surprised when a bowl of perfectly cooked rice was placed in front of them. Cooking rice is so simple, why is it a surprise when someone cooks it right? To me that’s where rice’s enigmatic nature lies, all we’re trying to do is steam these tiny grains, force water inside to transform the little rocks into light, fluffy pearls of goodness. But when getting that perfect texture between half cooked garbage and a soupy mess can be determined by a minute too few or too many, an inch of water too low or too high, it becomes a surprisingly delicate process for your average home cook. Some people eschew the headache and just resign themselves to burning the bottom half inch of rice and dealing with the clean up later, I personally prefer the blanket method that my Ukrainian neighbor taught me years ago. Essentially, prep the rice as you normally would (wash the grains in a pot), pour water to about a centimeter above the rice, place on heat covered. As soon as the lid starts doing a little dance (aka the water’s boiling) take the pot off the heat and wrap in one or two blankets and let steam for about 45 minutes. You will have perfect rice, no burnt edges, no issues with doneness, fluffy grains of goodness every time.

I digress, most people that came over gave me some perturbed looks when I got out the pot of rice to eat, and honestly your blankets will smell like rice; I didn’t mind the warmed up blanket though for my post meal nap :). Plus, I’m not very confident that the steam + blankets would be enough to get through brown rice’s superior casing. All of this is to say… if you eat rice on the reg, get yourself a rice cooker. The peace of mind that pressing a switch and knowing your rice will be cooked perfectly, the convenience of being able to leave the leftovers in the pot and have it warm and ready when you want to go back for more, the reassurance that you are not alone in this vast swirling void of a universe (some rice cookers talk to you!) are all more than enough reason to join the Rice Cooker World.

My cousin’s wife told me once that the only chore she and her sister were responsible for was to make sure that there was always some cooked rice waiting in the rice cooker (this was when they were about six or seven). The only time their father yelled at them was when he came home from work and found an empty pot sans rice. Forget the socio-cultural history (if that’s not a word you heard it here first), forget the versatility (it’s not just for rice!), forget the K-Drama reenactments (… right?), whether it be white, brown, basmati, jasmine, short grain, whatever, a rice cooker deserves a spot on your counter. Don’t tell me about how little counter space you got.

It would seem unfair in my eyes to judge or evaluate an induction rice cooker from a non induction rice cooker (also given the overlap it wouldn’t make much sense either). We’ll be looking at induction rice cookers with the same eyes and criteria as we have our entire lives :).
My favorite rice cooker I have ever owned was a small, janky, little thing with no features, bells, or whistles. We would put in some rice, set it in the middle of my dorm room floor, and my friends and I would crowd around it eating straight out of the pot. Paired with some microwaved spam or some other randomness we scrounged up an you got yourself a great late night snack. That’s what we’re starting off with here: small rice cookers meant for small apartments, college dorms, feeding a family of one or two as opposed to five or six. Our maximum capacity cutoff is three cups (uncooked)/six cups (cooked) rice, which should be plenty for two with some leftovers.
The main elements we’ll be looking at are pretty simple:

What makes a good induction rice cooker?

It would seem unfair in my eyes to judge or evaluate an induction rice cooker from a non induction rice cooker (also given the overlap it wouldn’t make much sense either). We’ll be looking at induction rice cookers with the same eyes and criteria as we have our entire lives :).

My favorite rice cooker I have ever owned was a small, janky, little thing with no features, bells, or whistles. We would put in some rice, set it in the middle of my dorm room floor, and my friends and I would crowd around it eating straight out of the pot. Paired with some microwaved spam or some other randomness we scrounged up an you got yourself a great late night snack. That’s what we’re starting off with here: small rice cookers meant for small apartments, college dorms, feeding a family of one or two as opposed to five or six. Our maximum capacity cutoff is three cups (uncooked)/six cups (cooked) rice, which should be plenty for two with some leftovers.

The main elements we’ll be looking at are pretty simple:

Efficacy: none of this matters if the rice doesn't get cooked. I'm assuming off the bat that this will be an easy win for most rice cookers, even the most basic ones should be able to produce well cooked rice... right? We'll get as granular as we can here so we get some variation but the down and dirty of it is how well does this product cook rice.

Convenience: There would be no point to getting a rice cooker unless it beats a normal pot. This will encapsulate overall maintenance, cleaning, and whether it has any features that make your dinner plans just a little easier (warming features, pressure cooking for faster cook times, etc).

Versatility: This is not exactly a deal breaker to me, just being able to cook your standard white rice is good enough for my needs. However, it is nice to have some options in life, whether it be brown rice, other grains/starches (quinoa, lentils, barley, etc), a steamer tray for some simultaneous cooking, or even whether it can function as a standard pressure cooker.

Durability: Nobody likes buying something and having that slow realization that you got a lemon... unless you're actually buying lemons. I can't imagine ever moving the rice cooker off of the counter, but you'll probably have to move it around a little bit within its lifetime and you don't want it to fall apart whenever you do. Regardless of the workload you should be confident in the hardware you've purchased.

So that's what we'll be boiling each down to... I'm not big on puns, promise. I'll provide as much technical characteristics as possible but they won't tie into the overall evaluation of the product.

Why trust us?

In the same vein as our Korean BBQ Grill post this flies somewhat in the face of our conventional methodology. As we don’t have the capacity to go out and test all of these rice cookers ourselves we opted to do the next best thing. We applied similar methods as we have for our Best Restaurants post: relying on the power of the customer base, researching with integrity (we do not have any ties to the companies making these rice cookers), and being self aware enough to know that we are not smart enough to put forward our own opinion. We are simply relaying all of our research in as consumable of a format as we can; hopefully in the near future I can fulfill my lifelong dream of having a hundred rice cookers in my place, all singing their songs of warmth, happiness, and the cooked rice way.

How we chose what to test?

We decided to make this as easy as possible. We wanted to look at induction rice cookers that everyone in the US would have access to buy and that had a good amount of data that we could peruse through. We chose Amazon for its near ubiquitous use for online shopping, went straight for “best induction rice cookers”, sorted by customer ratings, and went down the list looking for anything that came up (minus paid promotions or advertisements).

What to look forward to

When it comes to microwave rice cookers, the Maxi-Aids microwave rice cooker is one of the best values. It is great for making small servings of rice and rice-based meals in just 18 minutes. It comes with flip-down lid locks for safe cooking, a cover, a measuring cup, and a rice spatula. Recipes and instructions are included too.

Wrapping it up

It was great seeing how many rice cookers there are out on the market that do a great job of what they’re supposed to do… cook rice. But like any piece of hardware durability seems to be a consistent and major issue for these babies. Also, I know I harped on this a bunch in our Korean BBQ Grill post, but these companies really need to come out with some palatable names for their babies. Writing about something that is a jumbled bunch of letters and numbers drives me up the wall. Regardless, it’s reassuring to know that the well being of our rice eating brethren lie in good hands. May your rice be always hot, fluffy, and perfect.

Best Gochujang Brand [2019] – Korean Banchan Essentials

After 12 hours of research and testing we are excited we get to say that Jjonga Vision’s Gochujang is the best gochujang brand available today! With a well rounded, balanced gochujang that hits all the right marks, Jjonga Vision is putting out what has to be the best gochujang that your grandma didn’t make. Come check it out for yourself!

Editor's Pick:

Man, Jongga Vision’s really tearing it up with us lately. Makes sense that if they can make a great kimchi they can make a great gochujang as well. The sweetness here is subtle, but noticeable, the spice is definitely there but won’t knock your socks off, and the richness is… standard. Doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement I’m sure, but trust us, in the world of gochujang just getting all the notes right is a feat in and of itself. If you’re looking for a steadfast, definition proof, example of gochujang done right, Jjonga Vision is the brand for you.

Runner Up:

CJ has been a favorite of ours for some time now, and Haechandle (a brand within the CJ group) is putting out a gochujang that is doing their parent company proud. They, like Jongga Vision, hit all the notes they need to, what differentiates them is their sweetness. Whereas Jongga’s was almost one dimensional (familiar), Haechandle’s is reminiscent of a touch of honey. There’s nothing wrong with that, it definitely works, but it does detract from what you would normally expect. It definitely adds some complexity, but some people might find it a little off. If you are a gochujang veteran and are looking for something a little alternative, give Haechandle’s a try.

2nd Runner Up:

So when you first try this gochujang you’re probably going to think we’re pulling this stuff out of our asses. But give it a second to kick in. Our initial reactions were “bland”, “not a lot of depth”, “not much there”. However, this one definitely grows on you, the flavors start out very subtle, but they build slowly into a subtly sweet, spicy, earthy gochujang that deserves a spot in your refrigerator.

Other gochujang's tested

No surprise here… but this one is really hot. We actually had to take a break after this one because our tongues were too sensitive to try another gochujang objectively. This is the first one to break what I’m coining as “the sweat barrier”. It’s not just spice, thankfully, there is a tangy, mild sweetness as well; however, out of all of the gochujangs this one is definitely the spiciest. It’s not a bad gochujang at all, but they are definitely leaning heavily on the spice factor, making this a really good, one-dimensional gochujang at best. If you’re main priority is spice and gochujang is your sole ingredient you’re depending on then this will do just fine.

I was really curious to see if the brown rice made a noticeable difference. My mother’s first reaction of “no problem” kind of sums it up. Everything here is… fine… no big issues, but nothing great either. This is a basic, mild, run of the mill, standard gochujang. If this is all you have available I would definitely still grab a pack, just know that the brown rice isn’t adding anything special (so don’t pay more for it). I was surprised, I thought if anything the gochujang with brown rice would have the deepest flavor.

Wang Korea brought out all the marketing big guns with this (as they tend to do). When your name translates to “King” you better bring it. Taeyangcho means “sun dried” and “chaal” is supposed to be this premium rice, so King Korea is coming at you with a sun dried, premium rice, gochujang here. It’s decent, but the major flavor profile this brings to mind are these natural fruit leather rolls my mother used to get us as kids instead of fruit rollups. Not entirely unpleasant, but it won’t mesh well with whatever it is you’re making (better to use a standard gochujang and add a pinch of sugar as needed).

This dark, grainy gochujang looks intimidating… but it’s just whatevs. Like pretty much all of the other second tier gochujangs in this list, it’s fine… but that’s basically it. I wouldn’t judge you if this finds its way to your shelf (and if you’re kosher you’ll be just fine) but there are better gochujangs available that bring much more to the table.

Still within the second tier, this isn’t a bad gochujang, but this is the first where we see a hint of chalkiness. Fermented rice is a signature component in gochujang (often in the form of rice flour or powder), if it isn’t fermented or incorporated enough it can leave a raw flour taste you see in undercooked baked goods or roux. Not a huge problem here, it doesn’t ruin it for me (there are much worse offenders), but it is noticeable.

Now we’re getting into the third tier, or “would not buy” section. I’m not sure why but Roland’s has a distinct raw flour taste that makes this gochujang seem very chalky. The gochugaru does not seem blended in completely or fully developed. They may want to consider removing the “fermented” off of their packages at this point. Anyone that’s made an undercooked bechamel or nacho sauce can tell you that it doesn’t matter how good everything else is, if the flour is undercooked your sauce won’t keep you coming back for more.

AhlemChan - Glutinous Rice Gochujang

Ahlem Chan’s gochujang has very distinct traces of doenjang flavor, which I don’t dislike, but not what I’m buying gochujang for. That alone wouldn’t sink Ahlem Chang completely, there is a little sweetness which is alright, but the chalkiness and lack of a developed flavor had my mother labeling this one as “poor”. Can’t disagree with momma.

Best Gochujang Brand - SinSong Up & Down Gochujang

Sin Song - Up & Down Gochujang

Never heard of SinSong before, and I have no clue what the “Up & Down” is referring to, but seems like they should spend a little more time on their gochujang. There is a distinct raw pepper taste calling out the lack of time in their fermentation process. That, along with a slight burnt, almost dark and heavy flavor leaves me looking elsewhere.

More like wholly where’s the flavor. My mom said this one was the easiest to judge because… there’s nothing TO judge. This was definitely the least firm, and almost runs off the plate, making it no surprise that this one barely has any taste. There’s nothing bad here, but there isn’t really anything else either. This almost tastes like Chung Jung One’s Brown Rice Gochujang but mixed with a bunch of water. To be honest, I was most looking forward to Crazy Korean Cooking’s product offering here, but for whatever reason they just didn’t bring it. Maybe they should stick to their containers.

Last on our list and last in our hearts. Like other sub par gochujangs, Haitai’s is chalky and floury, but there is also a distinct old, dried apricot flavor. When my mother straight up calls it out with “I don’t know what it is but it’s bad” you know you won’t be in for a good time.

Why gochujang?

If Kimchi is the Holy Mother then gochujang is the… dharma, the sacred essence from which all things come (have to use my Religious Studies major whenever I get the chance). Gochujang is the quintessential Korean ingredient; spicy, fermented, sweet, rich, earthy, relegating this elemental substance to a mere condiment would be sacrilege. The base for practically every sauce, stew, or soup, mixed into your bibimbap, tossed with your fried chicken, gochujang is to Korean cooking as butter is to French.

bibimbap with gochujang

Part of the Holy Trinity of Korean cooking (The Almighty Jangs as I like to call them): gochujang, doenjang (fermented soy beans), and ganjang (soy sauce), you can’t get more essential and elemental than that. Chungjang is important as well, but since it’s mainly used in jjajangmyeon and other derivations it’s not on the same level as the Three. All this to say that gochujang is essential to Korean cooking, and to Korean people. My parents have jars of gochujang in their fridge that family members lugged over from Korea, homemade jangs made by grandmas that just had to share their batch with their church, even a couple new age gochujangs made from young hipsters in Brooklyn that my sister bought.

Regardless of where it’s from, gochujang is serious stuff. Like olive oil in Italy, masa in Mexico, fish sauce in Thailand the quality of your dish hinges on the quality of a few essential, primal ingredients. Gochujang is no different, if you’re OK with a sub par gochujang don’t complain when your jiggaes, fried rices, soups, sauces, what have you end up being sub par as well. Also, sriracha’s explosion in popularity this past decade or two has left me wondering why gochujang is still a relatively unloved and unknown monster. Now, I love sriracha, not knocking them at all, but it’s more of a condiment than anything. Gochujang is eminently more versatile and complex, I recently started mixing some in whenever I go Italian and it’s taken my pasta sauces to another level. Like an anchovy and tomato paste bomb of flavor… but I digress. All that matters is that if you want to talk about Korean cooking you need to include gochujang in that conversation.

What is good gochujang?

There are a whole bunch of modifier words that come on a pack of gochujang, I had to look them up myself to find out and they all pretty much mean the same thing, that this gochujang is the shit. The prevalent ones are below:

Sunchang – refers to Sunchang County which is renowned for its gochujang. It basically implies that the pack you’re holding is very high quality.

Taeyangcho – this just means the chiles are sun-dried. I’m not sure exactly what difference or impact this has but we’ll be sure to keep an eye out to see if there is a trend with all of the ones that are.

Chal – Sweet rice, most gochujang’s have some sort of fermented rice component, I myself am not aware of which types of rice or derivatives of rice produce the best gochujangs, but here they’re implying that theirs is of a high quality.

From my experience… these are all basically just marketing terms. The only words you need to pay attention to (in my opinion) are the ones that have to do with heat level. If it says something to the effect of ‘burning’, ‘nuclear’, ‘super spicy crazy hot’… just know that they’re trying to warn you ahead of time.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GOCHUJANG???? Great question, marketing terms aside there are only a few main components we’re going to be looking at.

Spiciness: Gochujang is many things, but it’s most synonymous with heat. However, ironically, spiciness here is not super critical when evaluating the quality of a gochujang. I mean it definitely needs to have a kick, but with an ingredient such as gochujang if it’s not spicy enough… add more. Or if it’s too spicy… deal with it (next time just add a little more gradually). So we’ll definitely compare and record the spiciness of each gochujang to see the overall variation, but it won’t play an enormous role in the overall evaluation. (But if there’s no heat at all then we’ll definitely let you know too, because that’s just an imposter right there).

Sweetness: This may surprise some, but this is a huge component of gochujang. Chiles have their own natural, fruity sweetness, and rice, when fermenting, does as well. If you’re just looking for spice you don’t really need gochujang, you can add a couple (I said a COUPLE) drops of capsaicin. But with any gochujang as a base you’re going to want some sweetness to round out the spice (and actually bring out the flavors behind the heat).

Richness/Umami: Gochujang’s claim to greatness is the deep, earthiness that it adds to the dish (it’s so much more than spicy). This isn’t a two note addition either (looking at you Tabasco). You should be able to tell that your gochujang came from the earth, developed and molded over months of labour, and has the complexity of a Russian novelist.

Overall Flavor: obviously much of the above could fall under this umbrella but we want to use flavor here as a catchall for the complexity, richness, full bodied nature of the product aside from the standard spicy and sweet dichotomy. Just because your gochujang is the spiciest or sweetest doesn’t make it the ‘best’. Past the individual components, does this actually taste good?

So with those four components in mind we dive into the world of gochujang, let’s see what it has to offer.

Why trust us?

This was definitely our most extensive test to date, with thirteen evaluated gochujangs (plus one control) it was by far the most products tested in one sitting. In true Goghism form we performed a blind test (tasting was done without any knowledge of which product was which), but as gochujang is so versatile we have to try a few different vehicles:

  • Raw taste test – this is mainly for comparative purposes to help get a more isolated understanding of each gochujang. But since this is not the normal way one consumes gochujang we’re going with a couple additional iterations.
  • Bibimbap – I’m going to make one big batch of mixed bibimbap which we will then draw from and mix each gochujang individually in order to get a more practical application of raw gochujang. The bibimbap will be super basic, white rice, carrots, cucumber, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, some fried egg, a dash of sesame oil…. that’s basically it. We don’t want to go too crazy here since it’s not lunch time… it’s gochujang time… >_<.
  • Ssamjang – I’m going with a super basic recipe of gochujang, sesame oil, and minced garlic, because I want the gochujang to shine here as unadulterated as possible. I’ll be frying up some ribeye (for me) and mushrooms (for my mom) that we will then use to dip into each ssamjang.

I will be performing the tests with my mother (she helped me out with the kimchi post). We’ll be using a homemade gochujang as a control group to calibrate our levels of each component (e.g. what is a ‘5’ for spiciness). With all that… let’s dive in and see which gochujang brand wins out. We have no affiliation with any of these gochujang brands (although we are secretly rooting for the American based ones), with all that let’s dive in and see which gochujang brand comes out on top.

Gochujang Momma

Update: we had to take a break halfway through our raw, standalone gochujang taste test, things were getting too real and I had fully broken out into a sweat at that point. This stuff ain’t no joke…

How we chose what to test?

Best Gochujang Brands

There are a plethora of gochujang based sauces out there on the market now, but we are focusing on gochujang as a base ingredient. Therefore, anything marked or labeled as a ‘sauce’ will be left for another post. We will only be considering products that are specified as being straight up gochujang. We will not be differentiating by spice level as (stated above) heat will not play a major role in our evaluation of quality…. because you can always add more. We’ll also not be leaving any gochujang brands out based on style (sweet rice, brown rice, sun dried chiles, premium, etc), all gochujangs will be on the same level (also disregarding price). From there I went through all the Korean grocery stores (getting several confused looks when I got to the cashier) as well as got what was available on Amazon. Now all that’s left is to test the freaking things, so I guess… IT HAS BEGUN.

Survey Results

ComponentSpice/Heat (I've already got rice - I'm on fire) (1-10)Sweetness (I hate celery - This isn't dessert now) (1-10)Umami/Richness (See above - Slather me in butter) (1-10)Overall Flavor (Grandma's gonna smack you - Yes please) (1-10)
Jongga Vision - Taeyangcho Sunchang Gochujang6848
CJ Haechandle Gochujang, Hot Pepper Paste5957
Sempio - Taeyangcho Saal(rice) Gochujang6857
Chung Jung One - Sunchang Extreme Spicy Gochujang9666
Chung Jung One Sunchang Hot Pepper Paste Gold (Gochujang) - Brown Rice Red Pepper Paste6745
Wang Korea - Taeyangcho Chaal Gochujang7656
Koko Gochujang (Fermented Hot Pepper Paste) Certified Kosher5435
Maeil - Taeyangcho Maeil Shin Gochujang5665
Roland Fermented Hot Chili Paste, Gochujang7644
AhlemChan - Glutinous Rice Gochujang4534
Sin Song - Upside Down Gochujang5533
Crazy Korean Cooking - Wholly Gochujang, Premium Gluten-free Vegan Unpasteurized Artisanal4323
Haitai - Taeyangcho Chalgochujang6542

What to look forward to

Gochujang Test 2

We’ve hit every major gochujang brand we could find. Definitely let us know if you have a favorite or another brand that we missed out on! Hopefully, we haven’t missed any, I’m getting kind of tired of talking about gochujang at this point (and I’m definitely tired of tasting it on its own) o.O. Now time to get ready for a gochujang sauce test…. ah damn it.

Wrapping it up

I’m really hoping these trends change over the next few years but I was really surprised by how poorly the American based companies fared in our taste test. The rogue in me isn’t the happiest that the big brand Korean companies came out the best, but seems like they know what they’re doing. I am happy to find out that all of the random words on gochujang packages don’t really mean anything (flavor wise at least). Taeyangcho was all over the place in our results as was Sunchang, so really just go with the brand you trust (aka the brand We trust). 😉

Korean Instant Noodles: Best Instant Jjajangmyeon [2019]

After 12 hours of research and testing we are confident, and excited we get to say, that Samyang Godd Jjajangmen is the best instant jjajangmyeon available today! With its sweet and slightly spicy sauce, chewy noodles, and clean taste, Samyang puts out an instant jjajangmyeon that will delight young and old alike. Come check out how the rest of the pack fared!

Editor's Pick:

This test was full of surprises, and Samyang winning out was one of them. Clearly one of the dark horse brands, they came out strong with an instant jjajangmyeon that somehow simultaneously delivers a clean, traditional feel and a fresh, modern twist. The only instant jjajang that came with a spicy kick it definitely helped it to stand out above the rest. Not spicy enough to warrant advertising it in the name, there is a distinct, tingly sensation that hovers around the tip of your tongue throughout the chew. When you’re going through a big pile of greasy, savory noodles the lift from the spice helps keep things interesting. The sauce itself is sweet, and minus the spiciness, gets close enough to a bowl of jjajangmyeon from a restaurant to satiate your late night cravings.

One thing we discovered through our test is that while there is a high variation in the shape of the noodles, the texture is dependent on cook time more than anything else. The shape of the noodles does contribute to a different textural experience, but not really on a better or worse level, I would say it comes down to preference. The flat, somewhat wider noodles that Samyang employs are not necessarily better than the more traditional round ones, but it is a nice change that results in a great texture for an instant noodle.

Runner Up:

I honestly had never heard of Paldo before this test and I was pretty skeptical that they would be able to hold up against the more familiar NongShim and Ottogi. A little pricier than the rest (at least in the store I frequent), but Paldo puts out a great instant noodle with a sweet and smooth sauce. They were the only ones that had the sauce completely combined in a single package (as opposed to dry mix + vegetable oil). It really helps to ensure that the resulting noodle mix is lump free, velvety, and perfect every time. I also never realized how much jjajangmyeon relies on sweetness for the overall flavor profile but Paldo wields it here with great confidence. The sauce is very sweet, stepping dangerously close to overpowering, but it walks the line very effectively.

Other instant jjajangmyeon tested

북경(Bookyung) Jjajang is roughly Beijing style jjajangmyeon, which is interesting as this package definitely tasted the most ‘normal’ (in a positive sense). Putting out a traditional feel, this is the closest that you can get to a flavor that everyone will recognize as jjangmyeon in instant form. Given that jjajangmyeon is a Koreanized form of a Northern Chinese noodle dish it makes some sense. The wide form noodles Ottogi uses results in a more structurally dense noodle, resulting in a slightly better chew. They also capture and hold onto the sauce a little better than the more traditional round noodles.

Definitely one of the sweetest jjajangmyeon’s in our trial, this one would most probably appeal to children. Without the MSG necessary to bring in the umami that would round out the flavor profile, the sweetness (while great) can end up feeling kind of flat and not super vibrant. Not necessarily a bad thing, its still a tasty package of noodles, but to a more experienced palate (aka anyone over the age of 25) you will find yourself missing the more full and complex flavor profile that some more savoriness would bring.

This was the biggest surprise of the entire test, that steadfast, standby NongShim performed the worst out of the whole group. Both of their product offerings came in at the bottom of the barrel. The entire group thought I had made a mistake when I revealed the identities of the lowest rated jjajangmyeons (I had to triple check myself to be sure). If you call your packet of instant noodles 짜왕 (Wang = King) you’d better deliver. Honestly, this bowl of noodles has one overwhelmingly dominant flavor, sesame seed oil. Don’t get me wrong, I love sesame seed oil, and its a crucial staple in Korean cooking, but that’s all you get here. No sweetness, no nothing; they don’t have anything that can compete with the all encompassing nature of sesame seed oil. I admit that its super easy to over do it with the sesame seed oil (one or two drops can make all the difference), but I expected better from NongShim.

This honestly broke my heart. Chapagetti is on the same level as Kleenex, and Band-Aid for brand awareness. I honestly thought that ‘Chapagetti’ was the name for instant jjajangmyeon. This package got me through college, and when I was freezing my ass off through a Ukrainian Winter my soul pined for Chapagetti even more than for Shin ramen. I never noticed it before, but after doing a side by side comparison it was undeniable… Chapagetti straight up tastes burnt. Some sweetness would help out a lot, but you can’t hide the acrid flavor no matter how much sugar you add. I hate to say it, but it really seems that NongShim was simply the only one putting out an instant jjajangmyeon. There really is no other explanation for how such a sub par product could become so ubiquitous.

Why instant jjajangmyeon?

Definitely not on the same level popularity wise as its internationally beloved predecessor instant ramen (ramyun), jjajangmyeon (often spelled jajangmyeon or jajangmen) holds a special place in every Korean person’s heart. I am confident in saying that jjajangmyeon is the Waffle House of Korean dishes; it doesn’t matter how much money you have, how cultured/worldly you may be, no Korean is too extra for a bowl of hot chewy noodles in black bean sauce (chunjang).Ask any Korean boy over the age of 25 what I’m talking about and he’ll agree: the most powerful and emotional line in the history of music is from G.O.D.’s – To My Mom. When a boy complains to his mother about them always eating instant ramen his impoverished mother takes her scraped together savings and buys him a bowl of jjajangmyeon… when he asks her why she isn’t eating she just replies “자장면이 싫다고 하셨어” (I don’t like jjajangmyeon)… trust me, watch the MV. So thank you G.O.D. and jjajangmyeon for making every Korean American boy say “I love you 엄마”.Jjajangmyeon TestFor that alone we at Goghism would be more than happy to highlight a dish that is so important to Korean and Korean American culture, but has yet to break through to the rest of the world in the way that it deserves. It also doesn’t hurt that my birthday happens to fall on a national holiday where eating jjajangmyeon is tradition. Korean food is only growing in popularity in the US and I have had no trouble introducing my non Korean -American friends to the dishes I grew up with. However, jjajangmyeon is the one dish I’ve seen push back on. It might be because you don’t normally see black colored food (coffee and chocolate are more of a dark brown). I myself have some slight discomfort when I see squid ink pasta so I can’t fault someone entirely for being a little skeptical when seeing a bowl of the ol’ black stuff. Regardless, jjajangmyeon is here to stay, and my love for it requires that we do what we can to make it a national dish; because I’m not going to live in Flushing, NY forever, and I want to be sure there’s a good 자장면집 (jjajangmyeon house) nearby.

What is good jjajangmyeon (짜장면)?

On a trip to South Korea with my father we decided to make the trek to a restaurant in Incheon that was supposedly the birthplace of the Koreanized version of Chinese Zha jiang mian, 炸酱面 that would become the identity defying jjajangmyeon we have all grown to know and love. It was in all honesty the ‘finest’ jjajangmyeon I’ve ever eaten, the ingredients were incredibly fresh, the sauce light, almost creamy, and presented beautifully. But after we finished, my father and I kind of looked at each other sheepishly; my father finally broke and admitted “this jjajangmyeon is really good… but kind of sucks”. Why? It wasn’t the greasy, umami packed, stick to your ribs, and shake your soul bowl of noodles we were expecting. Not to say that fresher ingredients are a bad thing at all, but jjajangmyeon is the hamburger of the Korean food world. You can get fancy for sure, but don’t lose sight of what makes a hamburger so great.

Fancy Jjajangmyeon
Not actually the jjajangmyeon we ate, just a fancy one I found.

There really aren’t that many components in jjajangmyeon, you’re really just talking about noodles and sauce. The noodles need to be chewy (nobody likes mushy noodles), and grab onto the sauce well. Every time I’ve eaten a bowl of jjajangmyeon I’m left with a substantial amount of sauce left at the bottom of the bowl. Totally normal, but it’s crucial that your noodles pick up as much of that sauce as possible so you know… you’re actually eating jjajangmyeon and not a pile of plain noodles. Its great seeing some variation in jjajangmyeon sauce but for the most part we’re looking for a sweet, umami packed, velvety rendition that will keep us coming back for more. The texture of the sauce should come from oil or fat, reaching a perfect emulsion that coats the inside of your mouth, and your tongue. It’s not really a creamy feel like with I would expect from say an alfredo.

If we were at a restaurant I would look at the toppings and additional flavorings (ground pork, shrimp, fresh cucumber, etc), but with the instant version we won’t be adding anything extra. Honestly, jjajangmyeon is kind of indescribable, its a very distinct flavor profile that has no equal. I almost don’t even taste the jjajangmyeon as I’m eating it (probably because I eat so fast), but it’s the overall experience (and the resulting satisfaction) of getting through a bowl of jjajangmyeon that keeps drawing me back. And that to me, is the pinnacle a cultural dish can reach; when talking about and eating it is more about expressing who you are as a Korean American than it is the actual flavor of the dish. So with that humble admission, we strap on our battle gear and dive into finding out once and for all what package you should turn to at your local store.

Why trust us?

We by no means are claiming to have super sophisticated palates, or more experience eating jjajangmyeon than your average Korean American, but we do have the time and lack of propriety to go to a Korean grocery store and buy a buttload of instant jjajangmyeon. With the most popular (and available) instant jjajangmyeon’s we could find I conducted a blind taste test with my father and three of his friends (all experienced jjajangmyeon eating OGs). I cooked all of the brands according to their package directions and served them together side by side. Participants were allowed to go back and forth between bowls and adjust scores accordingly. Using the below rubric the four of them compared noodle texture and consistency, sauce flavor, mouth feel, and overall level of satisfaction.

Jjajangmyeon Test

How we chose what to test?

I went through all the Korean grocery stores in my neighborhood and picked up any instant jjajangmyeon I could find, I live in Flushing, NY so I’m pretty confident their selection is larger if not at least matching any Korean grocery store in the US. The packages don’t necessarily have to be labeled as jjajangmyeon (as there are a lot of variations in spelling), but it does need to be an instant noodle in a chunjang based sauce (not soup broth).

Survey results

ComponentNoodles (Mushy nothingness - chewy strands of heaven) (1-10)Sauce (What's the point - Velvety drops of black gold) (1-10)Overall Score (Throw in the trash - I want what she's having) (1-10)
Samyang - Godd Jjajangmen888
Paldo Premium Jjajangmen788
Ottogi Jjajang Noodles677
Paldo Jjajangmen (No MSG)867
NongShim Zha Wang666
NongShim Chapagetti655

What to look forward to

I’m pretty confident that we hit the major instant jjajangmyeons out there, there aren’t nearly as many as instant ramen, but if we encounter any new ones in our travels we’ll definitely pick it up! Let us know if you find any on your journeys!

Wrapping it up

As difficult as it is to see NongShim fall so far in our perception of what good instant jjajangmyeon is, it is heartening to see a much wider product offering in this world than only a few years ago. Competition in this way is good, and the pack getting larger only means more option for the consumer. I guess we can consider ourselves fortunate that the old standby we have all loved for years comes out last in a blind test. That means that we all have no where to go but up in our instant jjajangmyeon eating lives. NongShim, maybe you should just keep Chapagetti the way it is, we can always return to you when we’re feeling nostalgic, in the meantime we’ll be going out to bigger and better packages with delighted stomachs.

Korean BBQ: All You Can Eat (AYCE) vs. A la Carte

Last updated: Feb 22, 2018 @ 12:04 pm

At Goghism we are driven to ask the deep, profound, universal questions that humanity has been grappling with for centuries. So we geared up and charged into the age old war between the AYCE Belt Bustas and the A la Carte Beltway Bourgeoisie. After countless hours of research, several bottles of soju, and innumerable vein popping shouting matches we can conclusively claim that… it really depends on you. Come take a look with us and join the fight.

Introduction:

If it hasn’t been completely clear up to this point, we love Korean BBQ. However, things aren’t all milk and honey in the Goghism world. Although we’ve spent countless nights seated around a piping hot grill pan, copious amounts of meat, and too many (or too few?) bottles of soju the divide runs deep through the Goghism team. So we’re airing our most ubiquitous grievances and arguments publicly for all to see, so everyone can join in with our neurotic, obsessive need to resolve this debate. We’re more concerned with the philosophy behind an AYCE or a la Carte menu and will be dealing with huge generalizations. Obviously, there are bound to be a few unicorns out there, AYCE restaurants with exceptionally high quality food, A la Carte menus that are cheaper than an AYCE place, etc, but we’ll be focusing primarily on the broad strokes and trends in the food world. (But definitely let us know if you happened to have come across one of these elusive unicorn restaurants.

Table of Contents:

AYCE: The Pros

It’s literally in the name… ALL YOU CAN EAT. There’s no greater pro than that.

Convenient Decision Making:

Ready to Eat
Ready to Eat

No decision making, no price to portion size calculation, no discussion. There’s always one person in the group that can’t make up their mind and takes forever to order. If you’re into a no muss, no fuss, as few barriers as possible between yourself and your meat, AYCE is the way to go. There’s also a general order in which meats you eat for the full Korean BBQ experience, and I have yet to see a Korean BBQ establishment not include all of the standard meats within their AYCE package. A lot of places I’ve been to actually just automatically bring the meat out in the right order (it’s more work for them to bring out the marinated meats earlier on and consequently have to switch out the grills).

Let’s not forget the most important, stress reducing factor — the meat keeps coming until YOU want it to stop. Never worry again whether you’ve ordered enough or whether you should prioritize your stomach or your wallet. Knowing the flat rate price beforehand, as well as that you are in total control, allows you to focus entirely on why you came: to eat… and hang out with your friends.

Cost: 

The most controversial, contentious, and yet most ubiquitous pro. This depends hugely on you, the restaurant, as well as the situation. Growing up in Atlanta and hanging out with mostly other trenchers like myself, AYCE was the way to go, you can’t really beat $23 (before tax and gratuity) for a full Korean BBQ dinner. Even in New York and LA you can find AYCE Korean BBQ for roughly the same price. Most detractors might point to the low price of pork belly to invalidate any claims that AYCE saves you money, but if you consider all the production that comes with Korean BBQ (the banchan, the samjang, wraps, rice, the grill, etc) rest assured that your money is getting you much more than just some pork. Throw in the huge variety of meats that many Korean BBQ places throw in with their package (looking at you Breakers) and you can be confident that pork belly is just one of many delectable cuts you’ll see on your grill.

A la Carte: The Pros

Two reasons: Quality and Control, not quality control… which I guess is somewhat related, but I digress.

Quality:

Now obviously this is theoretical, a restaurant can charge any price they want for a crappy piece of meat, but assuming that all is fair in the world, all restaurant owners are ethical, moral human beings, and the public would not stand for being cheated on their meal it is pretty safe to assume that the quality of an a la Carte option is higher than an AYCE package. The two major factors behind this are:

  1. It is easy to hide mediocrity in a crowd. One of the most difficult factors in high end cooking is that the standards are astronomically high for every single component of the dish. When the portion size is smaller and the focus is higher a chef needs to assume that every single, tiny morsel on a dish from protein, to garnish, to plate design will be overanalyzed and criticized. I will forever be impressed by the level of attention that the head chefs I worked for placed on everything leaving the kitchen. If you’re piling a mountain of meat onto a plate you’re not really going to care if one of those pieces isn’t at peak quality.Not only is it easier to hide, but there’s less incentive to increase the quality of an ingredient for an AYCE menu item, if you have great (and more expensive) quality ingredients in a dish, customers will naturally gravitate towards it and order more, while not actually spending more money (what’s to stop you from ordering ten plates of kalbi and completely ignoring the more profitable chicken?). You could increase the price of your AYCE package but that might ruffle the feathers of anyone who doesn’t see the connection between the increased price and the higher quality of one of the ingredients.Pork Belly Prices
  2. Pricing. This might seem a little counterintuitive but we aren’t arguing that a la Carte options are actually cheaper, but it is a hell of a lot easier to price for high quality ingredients than it is to price for AYCE buffets. The reason being that a restaurant has a much better idea what the price they are setting is actually for… just the one item itself. Ideally, cost of ingredients comprises about 30% of the eventual price of the dish, so if a restaurant wants to offer high quality ingredients they can just increase their prices accordingly. However, costing for an AYCE item is much more difficult, one because if you have a really high quality item customers will naturally gravitate towards it, and two because you have no idea how much a customer is actually going to eat. So the ultimate ‘dish’ could be a 1/4 lb of pork belly or 20 lbs.

Control:

This is one of the issues with cable packages, what if you only watch Food Network? Or ESPN? Do I really need to pay for all of the channels together? The same works with Korean BBQ AYCE packages, what if you only want chicken? What if you had a big lunch and just want to munch on your own pace while your friends go all out. A la Carte allows you to take a sniper shot at a menu as opposed to carpet bombing your entire meal. If you have a specific intentionality behind your meal (with amount or item) you can actually come out with a lower check total and a happier stomach.

AYCE: The Cons

This has been a hard learned lesson that took years to fully realize… and in all honesty I haven’t fully accepted it yet. I know that it is only because I am blessed and fortunate to be born in an age that values my historically useless skills enough to where I don’t need to worry about my next meal… really my next meal in perpetuity. But this was something high school, even college me, could not understand… you will eat again.

Getting Your Money’s Worth:

Definitely Not this happy after AYCE
Definitely Not this happy after AYCE Korean BBQ

Problem number one with the AYCE model, the emotional and mental stress of eating your money’s worth leads to misery. Or just a lack of self control leads to the same as well. Either way the end result is unhappiness and pain throughout the rest of the night. Ask Michael and Shinhee to find the video of me after a pizza eating competition and you will stare into the eyes of death. Food is food, if you’re going out of your way to put on some pants, leave the house, and pay for someone else’s cooking you’re really paying for an experience. If again and again are going in to an AYCE establishment happy but leaving miserable and sick, you might want to rethink your priorities.

Quality:

I am not knocking AYCE establishments in the least, but it is simply more difficult to have higher quality ingredients or dishes in an AYCE package or buffet than it is to have in an a la carte option. Not only is there less incentive to increase your quality, but it is essentially riskier to do so as well. At the end of the day they need to be making a profit, or else they would be out of business. So the better the deal seems the more you might want to ask yourself where they are making their money. Pricing an a la carte menu is essentially a math equation you can apply again and again (30% food cost + X% labor + X% operating cost +X% waste you get the idea).

A la Carte: The Cons

I’m trying really hard not to just repeat the AYCE Pros here, so in true college student fasion I’ll just flip a few words so I’m not plagiarizing myself too much :).

Service:

Customer ServiceNow I have a lot of love for the front of the house: they are consummate professionals that have a huge impact on the overall dining experience, horrible customers dramatically outnumber horrible servers (whoever invented ‘the customer is always right’ should burn in hell), and the job can be incredibly difficult, nuanced, and thankless. However… we can’t deny that bad service exists, and in this instance AYCE wins out as server interaction, while not nonexistent, is minimized. Customer service is still a contributing factor to your Korean BBQ experience but it’s much more straight forward in this scenario, generally limited to getting more meat, rice, soju, and banchan. No chatty server spending five minutes going over the specials you already know you’re not going to take a look at, no attempts at up-selling, no gentle nudges to order dessert. An AYCE establishment knows why you’re there and what the main focus is, shoveling their food into your mouth. Bad service can definitely still impact your AYCE experience but in two equal scenarios I would choose the more straightforward relationship every time.

The Verdict:

You might consider this to be a cop out, or anticlimactic in the least, but it really depends on you and what you’re looking for. At the moment, I would rather pay more for less of something that tastes great as opposed to paying less for more of something that tastes good. Not everyone has the luxury of looking at dinner as a source of entertainment, and there are many people whose appetites completely justify an All You Can Eat option. What’s important is being honest with what your priorities, needs, and expectations are and having the knowledge and confidence to decide accordingly. Let us know what you think and definitely send any arguments you have our way! We would love to be proven wrong here… at least some of us :).

We will keep updating this post as our journey through this wonderful battle continues (it’s nice that rehashing all of our arguments while actually eating Korean BBQ is our favorite past time).

Christmas Gifts for the Chef in Your Life 2017

Christmas is coming up faster than the Millennium Falcon on the Kessel Run… or something, and if you’re not sipping egg nog and watching Elf then that means you’ve still got some shopping left to do. If you’re running dry on ideas for the chef in your life (or maybe you want to pad your own Christmas wish list) then you’ve come to the right place. Amateur, pro, wannabe gourmand, food brings everyone together so why not inspire someone to get into the kitchen and get their hands dirty making something that will bring a smile to your face?

Editor’s Wish List:

Shun Knife

Shun DM0706 Classic 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

The Shun is like the Jordans of the culinary world, if you whip one out in a kitchen you better be able to use it. When a culinary school classmate of mine pulled one out of his case our chef laughed him out of the kitchen, too early for the young cricket. Forget best value or bang for your buck if you want to impress the chef in your life and give him or her something they will cherish and be proud of showing off this is what you want to get. Doesn’t hurt that the Damascus steel is gorgeous, the handle is beautiful in its minimalism, and it gets the job done.


Mac Knife
Mac Knife Professional Hollow Edge Chef’s Knife, 8-Inch

The problem with the Shun is that its almost too beautiful to use on something as pedestrian as an onion. In general (huge generalization here), Japanese knives are more for delicate, precision cuts (think sashimi). The handle on the Shun is too delicate in my opinion to be an all day work horse for your non sushi chef out there. During most of my prep at work I go with my German chef’s knife, but when I need paper thin slices of king oyster mushrooms or scallops I switch it out. The Mac Knife unites the best of the Japanese blade making world with a German style handle and heft resulting in a much more multi purpose blade that you can feel confident in holding. The dimples along the blade are a popular feature, enabling clean cuts through starchy potatoes that tend to stick.


Allezola Knife

Allezola Professional Chef’s Knife, 7.5 Inch German High Carbon Stainless Steel Knife

To me, when it comes to knives it really depends on preference, German or Japanese. German knives are great all around work horses, the blades are sturdier, the handles heavier, when you’re holding one you feel more rooted to the ground. If I’m staring at a massive slab of chuck or need to butcher 50 lbs of shank then I go with ze Germans. The Allezola is a beautiful knife that you can be proud of presenting as a gift, and although it might not have the name recognition of a Shun it will definitely prove itself again and again in the years to come.


Mercer Knife

Mercer Culinary Millennia 8-Inch Chef’s Knife

Now the knives above are all pretty pricy, if you have a burgeoning new chef in your life it might be a little intimidating to saddle them with a knife that they’re too afraid to ding. The Mercer Culinary Millennia is not a pageant winner by any means, but if you want a great utility knife (with an even better price tag) this is what you want to get. Don’t let the aesthetics of the handle fool you, this knife is great for what it is, an all day workhorse that you won’t care too much if it gets stolen or dinged up. A chef de cuisine I worked for preferred to grind these down into a nub and just get a new one.


Kobi Butcher Block

Kobi Blocks Cherry Edge Grain Butcher Block Wood Cutting Board 20″ x 30″ x 1.5″

Seems like plastic, bendy, flimsy cutting boards are the rage right now… or maybe I mainly hang out with practical people; but there’s something to be said about cutting on wood. I feel more confident and assured when there’s a heavy, solid slab of wood under my knife. Also there’s nothing more rustic and impressive than serving a great roast or charcuterie platter on a beautiful wooden board. It might be a little intimidating to see a cutting board that comes with maintenance instructions but really all you need to remember is to keep it dry after washing (just wipe it down with a paper towel and don’t let it lay flat), and whenever you think it’s looking a little too dry wipe some mineral oil into it. The more you rub in mineral oil the more you’ll fall in love with this beautiful piece of wood.


Virginia Boys Kitchens Block

Large Walnut Wood Cutting Board by Virginia Boys Kitchens

At the end of the day, unless you’re a hardwood aficionado wood is wood. The Walnut cutting board by the Virginia Boys is a much price friendlier option than the Kobi, just make sure to check the sizes of any cutting board you get before buying, these are all on the larger side. I personally prefer walnut over cherry (aesthetically) and the edging on this board makes for a great presentation piece.


Tomokazu Walnut Cutting Board

Tomokazu Reversible Edge Grain Walnut Wood Cutting Board – 19.7 x 14 x 1 in

There are really no major differentiating factors between the Tomokazu and the Virginia Boys Kitchen cutting boards other than style and size. This is a great walnut cutting board (as is Virginia’s), so be confident that whichever one suits your fancy you (I mean your friend) will keep feeling great for years to come.


ChefSteps Joule

ChefSteps Joule Sous Vide, 1100 Watts, All White

Call me a Luddite but I’m not too big on sous vide cooking, I prefer playing with fire. However, there’s no denying the legitimacy of sous vide and the options it can open up in your life. Sous vide cooking has been making a big come back recently with one man shops in Japan pumping out hundreds of dishes all because of sous vide. ChefSteps is a great Youtube Channel (they are one of my personal inspirations) and they put out a great sous vide machine that is convenient, but more importantly ingeniously supported with an app that will guide you through every step of the process. So if you want perfectly cooked meat, every single time, with very little stress this is the gift for you… I mean your friend (I really need to stop thinking of gifts for myself).


Anova Sous Vide

Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Bluetooth, Immersion Circulator, 800 Watts, Black

ChefSteps is more for the millennial in your life, it’s new, it’s sleek, it straight up looks like an iphone, but if you’re looking for a gift for the serious pro in your life Anova is the way to go. This here is about getting the job done, Anova’s been in the game for a long time now and they put out a great precision sous vide machine… circulator? Whatever you want to call it, this is a great gift that your taste buds will be thanking you for more than your friend.


Vitamix 5300 Blender

Vitamix 5300 Blender, Black

Vitamix is like Kleenex, Xerox, or Band-Aid you wouldn’t even think to call it a ‘blender’. There’s a reason why these are the chosen tools in culinary schools, restaurants, and homes. These might not be the most beautiful or stylish blenders in the world, but these workhorses won’t let you down, and the chef in your life will quickly forget how beautiful his or her more ‘modern’ blender may be once that smell of burning rubber starts wafting into the air. If you’re not too sure on how useful a blender is in a kitchen maybe get one for the wannabe bartender in your life and see how much fun you have ;).


Braun MQ505 Hand Blender

Braun MQ505 Multiquick Hand Blender, Black

Blenders are pretty pricey and take up a lot of space on the countertop. For the more price or space conscious out there, the Braun hand blender is great alternative. Hand blenders are super convenient, versatile, and anyone that’s had to whip up a batch of Chantilly cream with a wicked hangover will tell you that the whisk attachment is a godsend. Obviously it doesn’t have the power of the Vitamix, but it’s much easier to clean up and can still get your friend that rich, velvety texture on that bisque or soup.


Le Creuset Dutch Oven

Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 7-1/4-Quart Round French (Dutch) Oven, Cerise (Cherry Red)

Gadgets and fads come and go, stay away from the late night infomercials there’s a reason it’s playing at 2:00 in the morning. Dutch ovens were around before the Oregon Trail was blazed so that kids could play a game where everyone dies of dysentery… I digress. Dutch ovens last forever, are amazing cooking vessels, and will show you everything that’s wrong with every other pot you’ve seen in your life. If you’re going on name recognition Le Creuset is what you’re looking for; these beauties have been the mainstay of the culinary world for years. If I see one of these in a kitchen I know that my dinner is in good hands.


Lodge Dutch Oven

Lodge EC6D43 Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven, 6-Quart, Island Spice Red

Some people might consider shelling out a cool $400 for a pot to be a little… much. Luckily, Lodge has been putting out a dutch oven of their own that won’t break the bank but will ensure your friend or family member’s beef bourguignon will come out perfect every time. Might not be as stylish as Le Creuset, or carry the name, but you won’t be losing out on quality. Rest easy that with a Lodge dutch oven your friend will be thanking you more than your wallet.

The Best Kimchi Brand [2019] – Korean Banchan Essentials

After 12 hours of research and testing as many kimchi brands as we could get our hands on, we can conclusively say that Tobagi is the best kimchi brand in the United States! With their fresh crunch, deep and full flavor, and throwback to Grandma, Tobagi earned a spot on anyone’s table. If you’ve got rice, make sure there’s some Tobagi close by.

Editor's Pick:

The first thing my mother said upon tasting her first piece was, “hey, not bad”. With that ringing endorsement we can confidently say that is the best kimchi you can buy in the US. Texturally it isn’t perfect, it is slightly over done, but there’s definitely enough of a crunch that it won’t be an issue. There is a low level of fermentation, which is nice in that it produces a subtle sourtingly note that supports and brightens the hero here, which is the flavor.

Tobagi was the only kimchi to rely heavily on guhchulee (거처리)… I’m pretty sure my spelling is incorrect… on both languages. Guhchulee is a seasoning mix that can consist of daikon radish, Korean pear, gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), scallions, what have you, and is stuffed between each leaf of cabbage. It is a more time consuming, tedious, and expensive way to make kimchi but the taste is undeniable.

The overall flavor profile of Tobagi is intense, complex, full, round, and rich; it hits all of the notes that kimchi is supposed to have with confidence. If you are a little unsure of how a kimchi can be described as savory or rich then look no further in your search.

Runner Up:

1000 Year Kimchi nails it visually, even the jar and label is a great combination of traditional Korean aesthetic with a more streamlined, modern coat. Coming out of the jar the kimchi looks fresh, crunchy, vibrant, and the colors literally pop out from the plate. 1000 Year’s taste is a little on the sweet side compared to the other kimchi, but not distractedly so. Overall, I would have no problem having this on my table alongside other Korean food, the spicy crunch it provides is delightful enough. However, in the end it was overtaken by Tobagi, which makes even this flavorful kimchi seem a little bland.

Best Online Option

Unfortunately, Tobagi and 1000 Year Kimchi is probably not easily accessible or available to you (unless you live in New York surrounded by Korean grocery stores like I am). There are a bunch of online options, which as you’ll see later lag behind on the quality side. Seoul Kimchi was a pleasant surprise, made and packaged to order (probably a huge factor in separating themselves from the rest of the online crowd), and if you need some fresh, quality kimchi delivered to your door don’t bother trying anyone else. The tastes does go a little strong on the ginger and it was a little too sour at the tail end of the bite, but it was just so great to realize that this better than decent kimchi was packaged, handled, and shipped, and still came out looking and tasting like we had bought it in a store. Now, it won’t knock your socks off, but for an online kimchi to blend into the crowd of good, jarred, store-bought kimchi is an accomplishment.

Other kimchi brands reviewed

Chongga is a very popular kimchi brand so I was a little surprised to see it come in fourth. There was nothing really… wrong or bad about it. They do a fairly decent job and the kimchi is “edible” as my mom put it. My mother correctly predicted (we checked the ingredients list after) that they don’t add any sugar. That’s really what is missing here, some sweetness to liven up and bring out the rest of the flavors. A lot of brands use pear, apple, or straight up white sugar and Chongga does have some fructose, but definitely not enough to lift their kimchi above the rest.

This was the biggest disappointment and surprise to me out of all of the kimchi we tested. I love Mother in Law’s Kimchi’s labeling and concept but I wouldn’t want anyone to put something like this out next to other Korean food and say it was from my mother. They definitely have their fermentation process down, they just need to put their kimchi out for sale earlier then they do. This is sour and funky past what you would even want to make kimchi jjigae with. It is also very spicy, which is fine, but I think it was more the overwhelming sourness that was making me sweat more than the heat. My mother immediately said “out” on her first bite (I kept trying to explain to her that we weren’t eliminating kimchi but she was adamant).

Alright, this was not a surprise at all, there are probably a thousand scientific reasons for why kimchi was traditionally stored in earthenware jars, and is now commonly kept in glass, but anyone could probably have guessed that kimchi isn’t Spam, we don’t want to pull it out of a can. It looks super old coming out of the package, it’s super sour and fermented, mushy, and is super one dimensional. For some reason (I think because of the can) it tasted a lot like Campbell’s tomato soup. “Totally out” – Mama

Why Korean kimchi?

Sharing Kimchi best kimchi brandsHonestly, this one is shame on us, this is really “How Have You Not Done Kimchi Yet?”. I won’t go into the history of kimchi and its importance to Korean culture (all of it would be from Wikipedia anyways), but just like [insert cultural group] and [insert food], kimchi transcends narrow stereotypes and culinary trends. Any food that a group of people has the collective experience of watching their grandma make as children sinks into the very bones and soul of your own cultural identity. Much like tortillas, meatballs, biscuits, schnitzel, what have you, kimchi is much more than a food product, flavor, or condiment. Kimchi is grandma’s house, running around a forest as a kid with your best friend, snuggling under a big blanket on a cold winter’s day; kimchi is warmth, kindness, life, and love. It definitely doesn’t hurt that kimchi is the perfect condiment for when you’re eating mountains of fatty pork, sizzling beef, and rice.

What is good Korean kimchi?

I kind of equate this dilemma to students of a language having a better grasp of grammar than the native speakers. Growing up speaking a language you don’t spend too much time thinking about it, you just speak. Same with kimchi, most Koreans and Korean Americans having grown up eating kimchi just know when it’s good or bad. I’ve never actually sat down and parsed through the reasons why and what the specific components were.

Grandma

Almost 90 and still leading the way.

If you ask me, great kimchi is when you’re eight years old squatting next to your grandma while she’s making a big batch and periodically takes a big piece of spicy, salty cabbage and drops it into your awaiting mouth… the pat on your cheek after leaving some gochugaru behind helps too. Unfortunately, everyone has their own specific food memories, and those who have never eaten kimchi can’t really rely or draw on them. So we’re looking for an objective evaluation that can apply to everyone and anyone.

Due to our insecurity in reducing such a universally well known and loved food to some kind of numerical evaluation we decided to enlist the help of a few heavies… essentially the older folks in our families. They won’t really care or their feelings won’t be hurt by some strangers on the internet disagreeing with their opinions.

“Kimchi should be crisp, spicy as hell, and if it’s not rich enough then the stingy bastards didn’t put enough shrimp or oysters in it.” – My Uncle Michael

“Less fermented… fresh and crunchy with a good spice kick to it” – Mike’s Dad

… great help, but with that we boiled everything down to five components:

Fermentation: this is not just how sour the kimchi is (while that is important), the fermentation process leaves a subtle tingly sensation on your tongue that actually adds to the overall 'freshness' of the kimchi. So while we do not want the cabbage to be really sour and funky we do need some fermentation to be present for the carbonated, vibrant, tang that is unique to kimchi.

Texture: like any good pickle, the crunchier the better. We won't be evaluating the leafy bits of cabbage as those won't be crunchy regardless of technique or quality, but more so the thicker, more robust stems of the cabbage. I want a nice level of crispness and crunch, just like how the 'snap' of a great hot dog enhances the overall experience.

Spiciness: I assume most consumers come to kimchi for the heat, and it is true that kimchi jjigae is considered one of the spiciest dishes in the world, but that's not all kimchi is. Of course I want it to be somewhat spicy with a good kick, but kimchi is not meant to be eaten alone and it's not supposed to be the only thing you taste when eating Korean food. Chili peppers actually originated in Mexico and did not reach Korea until well into the 16th century. That means for thousands of years kimchi was made without that trademark heat, only within the past four to five hundred years have the more popular spicy versions existed.

Salty: kimchi is made with a lot of salt, there's no way to get around it, it's a huge part of the eventual flavor profile that comes out through the fermentation process. That's why it takes a lot of skill and experience to produce a great kimchi that isn't too salty. It's key that it does not actually taste salty, but that there's plenty of salinity in there to bring out the complex and subtle flavors.

Flavor: obviously much of the above could fall under this umbrella but we want to use flavor here as a catchall for the complexity, richness, full bodied nature of the product aside from the standard spicy and sour dichotomy. Kimchi is so much more than a spicy pickle and this is where the rest of the flavors shine: ginger, garlic, seafood paste (shrimp, oysters, anchovies, etc), apple, pear, etc. There is a huge need for sweetness and umami to round out the full kimchi experience.

So with those five components in mind we dive into the world of kimchi, let’s see what these brands have to offer.

Survey results

ComponentFermentation (The Dead Sea - Warheads throw into a bottle of Bud Light) (1-10)Texture (Limp and lifeless - Captain crunch on the roof of your mouth) (1-10)Spiciness (Diary of a wimpy kimchi - Slap Mr. Scoville in the face) (1-10)Saltiness (My mom's brown rice - These pretzels are making me thirsty) (1-10)Flavor (Cucumber water - Stephen hawking level of complexity) (1-10)Overall Score (Might as well get a pickle with some sauce - Better than grandma's) (1-10)
Tobagi657589
1000 Year Kimchi365578
Seoul Kimchi574677
Chongga556546
Mother in Law's Kimchi958733
Wang Kimchi814431

Why trust us?

This was a pretty simple test for us (mainly because no cooking on our end was involved). In true Goghism form we performed a blind taste test (tasting was done without any knowledge of which product was which), and we used rice as a palate cleanser between tests. We used brown rice because I figured a food product as robust in flavor and intensity as kimchi would require a very deep and equally robust cleanser to match (really it’s because my mother is insanely health conscious and no longer eats white rice). Oh that’s another reason to trust us, I enlisted the help of my mother in the tests and before tasting we used a control group (some kimchi made by a church member of hers) to calibrate our levels of each component (e.g. what is a ‘5’ for spiciness). If you have any doubt look at how serious my mother is when it comes to kimchi:

Best Kimchi - Mama Taste Testing

I promised never to bring canned kimchi into her house again… also please don’t tell her that I posted a picture of her online.

How we chose what to test?

As this is our first kimchi post we are going with the basic, standard, ubiquitous Napa cabbage kimchi. There are tons of different uses for kimchi that all depend on different stages of the fermentation process. We decided to go with the table side banchan, which I’m pretty sure is how everyone is introduced to kimchi. My earliest food memory is probably my mother placing an extra cup of water between my brother and I for us to dip our kimchi into (we weren’t used to eating spicy just yet, we were four or five chill out). Similar to why you wouldn’t want to use a freshly made kimchi to make kimchi jjigae (in that scenario you need a much older, much more sour, much funkier kimchi), what you want on your table during dinner is a specific product on its own.

So we’re going with the first and original form of cabbage kimchi. We went through Amazon’s offerings to see what was available online as well as perused the aisles of the many Korean grocery stores in Flushing, NY (where I live at the moment) and grabbed every kimchi jar we could get our hands on.

What to look forward to

We started off with a good stable of kimchi brands here, but we definitely need to add more to round out the rest of our taste testing competition. We will journey through the treacherous aisles of your local Asian market and get as many jars, packs, bags of kimchi that our fridges will allow. Look forward to more spicy Korean goodness in the days ahead… and I’m not talking about Shin’s hairstyle.

Wrapping it up

It was a lot of fun coming to a product that I’ve grown up and lived with and thinking of it in a completely different way. Evaluating and thinking critically about kimchi these past few weeks has deepened my appreciation of the product, verified some of my preconceived notions, and surprised me as well. It’s clear that the results from taking the time to produce a full kimchi (with guhchulee) are hugely impactful and noticeable. Getting your kimchi from a store is your best bet for a quality product (unless for some ungodly reason it is in a can), and the hurdles of making a kimchi, packaging, and shipping it (while it’s still fermenting!) is extremely difficult. Props to Tobagi for doing things the right way and to Seoul Kimchi for doing their best to make fresh kimchi available to anyone in the US.

Best Small Rice Cooker [2019] – Korean BBQ Essentials

After 15 hours of research and through nine top rated rice cookers we are happy to say that the Cuckoo Electric Heating Pressure Rice Cooker CRP-M1059F is the best small rice cooker available online! (Damn they really need a cool, short name for it) With its convenient make up, consistent quality whether it be white rice or brown, and extremely fast cook times Cuckoo delivers a great Korean rice cooker for singles, couples, small families, and anyone on the go.

Editor's Pick:

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups 
Price: $249.99
Dimensions: 11.6 x 15.6 x 11.4 in

If your rice eating needs are constant, various, and hurried then Cuckoo is here for you. These small Korean rice cookers consistently produce great tasting white and brown rice with little fuss and the shortest wait time out of all reviewed brands. Seriously, you get the best of both worlds here: you can set a timer, cook your rice overnight, and have it kept warm until you get home from work OR you can get home, realize in a second of sheer panic that there’s no rice to eat, and let Cuckoo do its thing. White rice in under 30 minutes and brown rice in under an hour? That’s still faster than Grubhub and beats the two hours of other brands (for brown rice).

There are a few gripes regarding the ‘Keep Warm’ function not lasting as long as other small rice cookers, but in my opinion you shouldn’t be keeping anything warm for more than twelve hours regardless of how great the rice cookers might seem. Either eat your rice or put it in the fridge and reheat as needed. I would understand a little annoyance at the Korean song/voice announcing things (I’m still not entirely sure what it’s saying) and at the steam release valve (will startle you the first time) but those aren’t deal breakers to me in the least, and I’m a light sleeper.

Runner Up:

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $97.95
Dimensions: 8.7 x 10.7 x 7.5 in

I was initially turned off by the design on this small rice cooker… reminds me of the late 80s Apple computers or the plethora of crappy electronics that were being pumped out in the 90s… damn am I dating myself right now? Look past the kitsch look and you got yourself a great little workhorse here. It boasts more versatility than Cuckoo (you can steam other dishes/food simultaneously with your rice and you can even bake little cakes!) but it gets knocked down slightly for taking a long time on getting your rice cooked. While the wait time is much longer than other brands it makes up for itself on quality, additionally with its nifty timer function you should be good to go with a little beforehand planning. Honestly, these two were probably the closest I’ve seen in terms of which one gets the top spot, design notwithstanding it’s more a decision of what’s more important to you, the quicker cook time or more versatility (lower price point doesn’t hurt either).

Other small rice cookers tested

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $150.99
Dimensions: 9.1 x 11.8 x 7.5 in

All in all Zojirushi appears to have a pretty tight grip on the rice cooker market, and they’ve been doing great for a long time. They definitely know what they’re doing, they are the most technologically advanced on the market with sensors that can tell when the rice is done cooking (as opposed to a timer that treats every bowl of uncooked rice the same), a nifty computer chip that enables greater control over scheduling your rice needs, a retractable cord that takes care of excess cord on your counter, and a carefully designed program for cooking great brown rice (difficult to do with its tough outer coating). Zojirushi honestly makes the best rice cookers you can get… for the six months… year or two if you’re lucky. Zojirushi’s downfall lies in their lack of durability; all of the high tech parts means that there’s more to break, and more to replace. The NS-LAC05XT (damn these names) definitely doesn’t have as many durability issues that other Zojirushi’s seem to have but regardless, with the high price point you should be able to depend on this beast to keep chugging for a number of years.

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $435.70
Dimensions: 7.9 x 10.9 x 8.8 in

Ironically, the higher the price point the more hardware issues Zojirushi seems to have. Again it makes a great pot of rice, that’s not the issue here. A consistent complaint seems to be that the ‘Keep Warm’ option starts malfunctioning after a few months of use, resulting in spoiled rice in increasingly shorter wait times. The display screen lets condensation in from the cooker itself, and standing water you can’t reach is definitely something you want to avoid anywhere let alone in a kitchen. The non stick coating seems to degrade relatively quickly and like a lot of electronics on the market these days the one year warranty seems too on the nose for our liking.

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $99.99
Dimensions: 7.80 x 8.90 x 11.50 in

My mom has had this Korean rice cooker for the past two to three years so I am partial to this little buddy. Like most brands it seems the issue is not the quality of the rice that comes out in the end, and Cuckoo again delivers with their quicker cooking times with no discernible drop in quality. But there were a few reports of durability issues, I haven’t seen any problems with my mother’s, but although she uses it constantly she is notorious for taking great care of what’s under her roof, myself included :). It has a pretty decent price point so I would consider it worth the risk (issues seem to pop up after a year of use), the sleek egg look is oddly satisfying as well.

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $203.11
Dimensions: 9.12 x 11.82 x 7.5 in

Not to beat a dead horse or anything but regardless of how much you pay for a Zojirushi you need to steel yourself for some problems a year or so down the road. Great rice but the non stick coating can peel without careful washing and use, it can completely die out, error messages abound, and questionable rice quality the more this is used are common issues. It’s pretty telling that all of the rave reviews are from within a couple months of purchasing while go past a year or so and you start seeing the negatives emerge.

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $19.99
Dimensions: 9.96 x 8.26 x 10.16 in

Now we’re getting into the bare bones, no bells and whistles, basic as you can get rice cookers. Honestly, this style was the first rice cooker I ever owned and for a poor, lazy college student in a tiny dorm these are great. This is really just a hot plate and pot in one, which was great for late night ramen parties and fulfilling my hungry college student needs. Also, as cheap as they are durability issues aren’t really as concerning. However, without any of the automatic features, keep warm options, etc this doesn’t exactly take care of the majority of your rice cooker needs. This worked great for me because a dorm is so small, you kind of need to stay in the same room while this is working to make sure it doesn’t boil over or burn.

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 1.5 Cups Price: $53.85
Dimensions: 8 x 6.75 x 6.25 in

This is definitely an intriguing little guy. Apparently this is what you need if you’re trying to get to the pinnacle, the epitome of perfect rice. But in the end… it’s just a pot, you actually need to do all of the work yourself, if I get a rice cooker I want the machine to be the one doing all the cooking. Honestly though, I would love to have one of these in my kitchen, they look great and I can never have too many durable, well designed pots. Also, there’s a certain Zen peacefulness that comes from the purity of form and function with cooking rice in the way it was done for centuries. But… this doesn’t fulfill what we or most shoppers are looking for in the Rice Cooker World.

Capacity (Uncooked White Rice): 3 Cups
Price: $42.94
Dimensions: 9.29 x 9.29 x 7.32 in

The Panasonic pretty much has the same pros as Midea’s little workhorse, but with more cons that when paired with its slightly higher price point isn’t worth the headache. A lot of customers report difficulty in getting their rice to come out cooked properly while others report breakdowns after a couple months or so. When there aren’t very many options or automatic features you might just be better off with a hotplate and an actual pot… you’re going to have to figure out the ratios and watch the thing go anyways.

Why a small rice cooker?

There’s something incessantly infuriating about cooking rice. Late into my time in culinary school our chefs would still be pleasantly surprised when a bowl of perfectly cooked rice was placed in front of them. Cooking rice is so simple, why is it a surprise when someone cooks it right? To me that’s where rice’s enigmatic nature lies, all we’re trying to do is steam these tiny grains, force water inside to transform the little rocks into light, fluffy pearls of goodness. But when getting that perfect texture between half cooked garbage and a soupy mess can be determined by a minute too few or too many, an inch of water too low or too high, it becomes a surprisingly delicate process for your average home cook. Some people eschew the headache and just resign themselves to burning the bottom half inch of rice and dealing with the clean up later, I personally prefer the blanket method that my Ukrainian neighbor taught me years ago. Essentially, prep the rice as you normally would (wash the grains in a pot), pour water to about a centimeter above the rice, place on heat covered. As soon as the lid starts doing a little dance (aka the water’s boiling) take the pot off the heat and wrap in one or two blankets and let steam for about 45 minutes. You will have perfect rice, no burnt edges, no issues with doneness, fluffy grains of goodness every time.

I digress, most people that came over gave me some perturbed looks when I got out the pot of rice to eat, and honestly your blankets will smell like rice; I didn’t mind the warmed up blanket though for my post meal nap :). Plus, I’m not very confident that the steam + blankets would be enough to get through brown rice’s superior casing. All of this is to say… if you eat rice on the reg, get yourself a rice cooker. The peace of mind that pressing a switch and knowing your rice will be cooked perfectly, the convenience of being able to leave the leftovers in the pot and have it warm and ready when you want to go back for more, the reassurance that you are not alone in this vast swirling void of a universe (some rice cookers talk to you!) are all more than enough reason to join the Rice Cooker World.

My cousin’s wife told me once that the only chore she and her sister were responsible for was to make sure that there was always some cooked rice waiting in the rice cooker (this was when they were about six or seven). The only time their father yelled at them was when he came home from work and found an empty pot sans rice. Forget the socio-cultural history (if that’s not a word you heard it here first), forget the versatility (it’s not just for rice!), forget the K-Drama reenactments (… right?), whether it be white, brown, basmati, jasmine, short grain, whatever, a rice cooker deserves a spot on your counter. Don’t tell me about how little counter space you got.

What makes a small rice cooker good?

My favorite rice cooker I have ever owned was a small, janky, little thing with no features, bells, or whistles. We would put in some rice, set it in the middle of my dorm room floor, and my friends and I would crowd around it eating straight out of the pot. Paired with some microwaved spam or some other randomness we scrounged up an you got yourself a great late night snack. That’s what we’re starting off with here: small rice cookers meant for small apartments, college dorms, feeding a family of one or two as opposed to five or six. Our maximum capacity cutoff is three cups (uncooked)/six cups (cooked) rice, which should be plenty for two with some leftovers.

The main elements we’ll be looking at are pretty simple:

Efficacy: none of this matters if the rice doesn't get cooked. I'm assuming off the bat that this will be an easy win for most rice cookers, even the most basic ones should be able to produce well cooked rice... right? We'll get as granular as we can here so we get some variation but the down and dirty of it is how well does this product cook rice.

Convenience: There would be no point to getting a rice cooker unless it beats a normal pot. This will encapsulate overall maintenance, cleaning, and whether it has any features that make your dinner plans just a little easier (warming features, pressure cooking for faster cook times, etc).

Versatility: This is not exactly a deal breaker to me, just being able to cook your standard white rice is good enough for my needs. However, it is nice to have some options in life, whether it be brown rice, other grains/starches (quinoa, lentils, barley, etc), a steamer tray for some simultaneous cooking, or even whether it can function as a standard pressure cooker.

Durability: nobody likes buying something and having that slow realization that you got a lemon... unless you're actually buying lemons. I can't imagine ever moving the rice cooker off of the counter, but you'll probably have to move it around a little bit within its lifetime and you don't want it to fall apart whenever you do. Regardless of the workload you should be confident in the hardware you've purchased.

So that’s what we’ll be boiling each down to… I’m not big on puns, promise. I’ll provide as much technical characteristics as possible but they won’t tie into the overall evaluation of the product.

Survey results

ComponentEfficacy (Chewing rocks or soupy mess - Perfect fluffy pearls of goodness) (1-10)Convenience (Might as well burn a pot - The future is now)Versatility (One shot wonder - Inspector gadget) (1-10)Durability (Grandma's good china - The Rock's pecs) (1-10)Overall Score (Destined for the trash - Never have to leave home again (1-10)
Cuckoo Electric Heating Pressure Rice Cooker CRP-M1059F97788
Tiger JAJ-A55U WS Micom Rice Cooker97878
Zojirushi NS-LAC05XT Micom 3-Cup Rice Cooker and Warmer99667
Zojirushi NS-VGC05 Micom 3-Cup (Uncooked) Electric Rice Cooker and Warmer99757
Cuckoo CR-0351FR Electric Heating Rice Cooker79677
Zojirushi NP-GBC05-XT Induction Heating System Ricer Cooker and Warmer78746
Kotobuki 190-803 Earthenware102295
Midea 3-Cup Rice Cooker with Steamer85355
Panasonic SR-G06FG Automatic 3.3 Cup (Uncooked) Rice Cooker62444

Why trust us?

In the same vein as our Korean BBQ Grill post this flies somewhat in the face of our conventional methodology. As we don’t have the capacity to go out and test all of these rice cookers ourselves we opted to do the next best thing. We applied similar methods as we have for our Best Restaurants posts: relying on the power of the customer base, researching with integrity (we do not have any ties to the companies making these rice cookers), and being self aware enough to know that we are not smart enough to put forward our own opinion. We are simply relaying all of our research in as consumable of a format as we can; hopefully in the near future I can fulfill my lifelong dream of having a hundred rice cookers in my place, all singing their songs of warmth, happiness, and the cooked rice way.

How we chose what to test?

We decided to make this as easy as possible. We wanted to look at rice cookers that everyone in the US would have access to buy and that had a good amount of data that we could peruse through. We chose Amazon for its near ubiquitous use for online shopping, went straight for “rice cookers”, sorted by customer ratings, and went down the list looking for any that claimed three cups of uncooked rice or less. We settled on three cups of uncooked rice (six cups cooked) as that is the standard payload for a couple with some leftovers.

What to look forward to

First thing, of course, is to build out the stable of reviewed rice cookers. We’ll be going down our list as quickly as we can but if you have a small rice cooker you are curious about hit us up and let us know. We are continuing our great journey into the hardware side of the culinary world, come along and help us see it through!

Wrapping it up

It was great seeing how many rice cookers there are out on the market that do a great job of what they’re supposed to do… cook rice. But like any piece of hardware durability seems to be a consistent and major issue for these babies. Also, I know I harped on this a bunch in our Korean BBQ Grill post, but these companies really need to come out with some palatable names for their babies. Writing about something that is a jumbled bunch of letters and numbers drives me up the wall. Regardless, it’s reassuring to know that the well being of our rice eating brethren lie in good hands. May your rice be always hot, fluffy, and perfect.

Korean BBQ Essentials: The Best Korean BBQ Grill [2019]

After fifteen hours of research we can conclusively say that TeChef – Stovetop Korean BBQ Non-Stick Grill Pan is the best Korean BBQ Grill available online! We spent our nights and weekends arguing grill pan vs. grill plate, stone vs. grill top, all the while looking through design specifications, reviews, and product descriptions to report that with its convenient make up, sweet drainage system, and genius design you can be confident in TeChef when you want to have a great Korean BBQ experience in the comfort of your home.

Editor's Pick:

I was pleasantly surprised when this came out on top. Not that there’s anything obviously wrong with the TeChef, but aside from it’s trippy modern look there’s nothing ‘extra’ that stands out. Don’t let the aesthetic fool you, everything here is done with purpose. The stovetop grill pan heats up extremely well, even at low temperatures. Not only does that cut the time between meat hitting pan and meat hitting mouth but it allows for even, reliable, temperature control. The deep drill slots are angled without changing the leveling of the plate to facilitate draining.

Not only is it great for cooking but the non stick coating enables fat and grease to slide down and through the drain hole. There’s no drain pan, so you’ll need to use a bowl to catch the drippings, not ideal from a safety perspective, but definitely helps with clean up. Using on your range or stove top might be a little tricky (need a spot for the drainage bowl) but atop a portable burner you’re golden. The TeChef Korean BBQ grill pan is a solid buy. It cooks fast, drains well, super light, locks into place and easy to clean!

Runner Up:

CookKing’s Traditional Korean BBQ Grill Pan is one of the thicker (and heavier) plates on Amazon. This means slightly higher heat up times, but similar to cast iron, once the heat’s there it’s there to stay. It comes in two pieces making storage more of a challenge, but the non stick coating helps out with the cleaning so a little give and take here. Unlike newer models, the top layer sits over a vessel that you can pour water into for the grease and oil to fall into (decreases smoke). This definitely helps with safety and means you won’t have to put your fire alarms in your freezer (like I do). The angled cone shape definitely adds a layer of authenticity to the experience and is a hell of a lot of fun to play with (put kimchi around the edges to catch some of that pork fat). All in all, its beauty lies in the simplicity of form and quality of materials.

Other Korean BBQ grills tested

Now this is definitely where you want to be if you want to be on the cutting edge of Korean BBQ plates. There are new fads popping up every month or so and the divided sectors let you play with all of them. Throw some cheese, kimchi, mushrooms, garlic, anything you can think of that will take your meat to the next level into the sections of your choice. However, cleaning is an issue as the non stick coating and dome-shape only help out in theory. Ideally, all of the fat and grease should drain out, but the lack of deep grooves makes this more a game of Snake (y’all remember Snake?)  You’ll need to manage the drainage by strategically moving your meat around, which isn’t really something we want to be bothered with when trying to have a good time. Listo’s stovetop grill pan definitely gets the job done and the divided sections will take your Korean BBQ experience to the next level, but the drainage issues are holding it back here.

The cast iron lovers out there might not give Hanaro a second look but if you can get past the aluminum base there is a lot of good here. It’s light (really light compared to iron), easy to clean with its uncomplicated design, and drainage flows like a breeze. There is no attached draining pan (need a vessel to catch drippings like the TeChef). Heat retention may be an issue but it gets hot quickly so as long as you have a reliable burner it shouldn’t be a problem (if you’re planning on going all night make sure to have extra fuel canisters). It comes with a screw to block up the drainage spout if you want to use the grill as a skillet which is pretty cool, although knowing me I would lose that piece in a hot second so not enough of a reason to buy on its own. Not perfect by any means, but with its large size, intuitive design, and all around dudeness, Hanaro’s Alpha Stove Top gets the job done.

I tried to be super professional while talking about the CookKing’s Traditional Grill Pan but I can’t make it through a second one without addressing the… pun? Does this technically count as a pun? I have mixed feelings on the company name (as I do about puns in general) clever or lame, I will do some soul searching and get back to you on that. Ironically, unlike the Traditional Grill Pan, the Master doesn’t really do anything all that… masterfully. Much like Listo’s the non stick surface and domed design contribute to effective drainage, but the shallow drain grooves tend to result in either blockage or pooled fat. The Master Grill Pan can definitely take a heavier load cooking wise and you can have some fun with the divided sections, but for a Korean BBQ plate, the drainage issues are a no go for us.

One of the heavier grills on this list, size might be a turn off here… why does everything in this post either sound sexual or digestive… The design is eerily similar to CookKing’s Traditional Korean BBQ Grill with an outer brim that catches drippings, but they don’t deliver as well. It has all the essentials… dome shaped so that oil can drip down and smokeless if you pour water into the brim, but whether it’s the quality of materials or overly large frame it just comes out as lackluster compared to the King.

Everything about the Zojirushi frustrates the hell out of me, it does so many things so well. It’s easy to clean for the most part, durable, relatively light weight and easy to store, extremely convenient all in one design, and the large surface area can take some heavy cooking. But… it’s electric, which generally means temperature control can be a hassle and especially with Zojirushi’s it just doesn’t get hot enough. You can still do some great cooking here, but when you’re trying to have a good time a lukewarm grill is a leash holding you back. All in all a great product (if you foil line the drip tray clean up is a breeze), but not for what we’re trying to do here. There are plenty of meat dishes where I would back off on the heat but for Korean BBQ, think chadol or sangyupsal, I need it to be closer to ripping hot levels.

Think of the Kitchen + Home Stove Top as the smaller, not as accomplished cousin of the Zojirushi (not that smaller and unaccomplished have anything to do with each other). For the most part, it does its job, which isn’t a ringing endorsement, but if you live in a smaller spot this might be your only option. “For the most part” seems very fitting, for the most part the grill is easy to clean (except for the drip pan), for the most part it can be used on a variety of stove tops (but it is wobbly and can even fall off of some), for the most part the drip pan helps manage smoke when you fill it with water (but you’ll need to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t dry up). Electric and gas are both available options, but like Zojirushi, electricity isn’t the most conducive to a ripping hot grill here. Overall, there really isn’t much here that makes me want to spring for it, but if you don’t have the space and you only need a grill for two, Kitchen + Home can fit your needs.

After having gone through these grills, now every time I see “electric” it just screams out to me to run away. Again, not a deal breaker for most dishes and types of cooking, but it is for Korean BBQ. Add a much smaller surface area to cook with and the Livart LV doesn’t really have much going for it in the ol’ barbecue department. But like Kitchen + Home, if size is a major factor for both storage and counter space usage, there are certain advantages here. The small all-in-one frame makes Livart’s grill convenient to manage and use, but with it comes the need to monitor the drip tray to prevent spillage and keep water levels high enough to prevent smoke. Cleaning is a major issue here; the grill needs to be soaked and the drip tray scrubbed (if not it will be very difficult to manage smoke levels, even if you keep plenty of water in the tray during use). Overall, I’m sure there are some great uses for this grill, but Korean BBQ is definitely not one of them. All of the features are practically the opposite of what we’re looking for if we want to have a great KBBQ experience.

I wanted to have at least one charcoal grill included in this list just to get a chance to write about charcoal, all to say… stay away. Now don’t get me wrong, I prefer charcoal when grilling, I prefer the variable cooking temperatures for more nuanced heat control, the smoky flavor that rises up when the fat hits the hot coals, and you can’t beat that quadrillage (fancy word for grill marks). A lot of Korean BBQ cuts (mainly LA Kalbi) come out amazing when grilled atop coals, but if you’re looking for the Korean BBQ experience in your home, charcoal is not a viable option. If you can afford a commercial grade hood and want to build a table specifically to house a fire bed for coals and a grate then this list isn’t for you. The Fire Sense Yakitori grill is a great smaller sized charcoal grill, there are some reports of it cracking or breaking, but other than that it gets the job done. Too bad this isn’t the job we’re looking for.

Why a Korean BBQ grill?

If you’ve made it this far I’m sure it’s pretty safe to say that you are really into Korean BBQ, or at the very least are serious about trying it; not just the dishes but the experience as a whole. Now if you were in Korea you could probably stop by any pojangmacha (포장마차) for some food and a drink. If you happen to be in or near a major city I’m sure you have some great options for Korean BBQ (if you’re not sure check this out). But for those who don’t have the option, don’t want to shell out the big bucks, don’t want to be surrounded by a bunch of loud and probably drunk strangers, or simply don’t want to leave the comfort of home you’re going to need one of these.

Additionally, when we talk about Korean BBQ we’re not talking about just a few meat dishes here, anyone can make bulgogi or kalbi using an oven or pan (in a pinch), we’re looking for the whole experience. Sitting around a table with some friends, fire in the middle, meat sizzling on top, empty bottles accumulating around the sides. I can make dinner for my friends any time, but you know it’s going to be a truly special night when I get the burner out and set my grill top to heat up. Whether you’re looking for a grill top, grill pan, stones, Korean BBQ plate, it’s all the same to us as long as the goal is a great experience within your own home.

What make medium rice cooker good?

It was definitely a challenge for us to nail down a definitive… definition of greatness for what is essentially a tool that applies to everyone. What works for you doesn’t necessarily work for me, and we definitely hijacked entire meetings to go down the rabbit hole and argue over whether a water pan drainage system works better than a standard drip tray (time spent wisely I’m sure). What it came down to is that there will inevitably be decisions that are purely situational and based on personal preference; so what we’re going with are the umbrella high points that will be applied equitably across all grill pans. Each one is more an amalgam of different characteristics and elements as opposed to a standalone independent characteristic. We’ll go more in depth below:

Efficacy: Does it get the job done

By far the most important characteristic, it doesn't matter how cool the side panel is if you can't even cook with the damn thing. This consists of the actual effectiveness of the grill pan as a cooking tool; does it transfer heat evenly, does it hold and maintain temperature, can it get hot enough for a nice sear, is the makeup and shape of the pan conducive to cooking massive loads of meat?

Maintenance and Storage: Am I ever going to get this out of the cabinet again?

Let's be honest, you're not going to be using this thing every day (if you do let me know and I'll come over). How easy is it to clean, does it need to be seasoned (e.g. cast iron), is it durable, is it bulky, is it portable, are there a lot of extra parts I'm going to have to buy (sterno, propane canisters).

Safety/Convenience: Are my friends going to hate me?

As much as we love Korean BBQ I understand that it might not be worth some scars or burnt out tables to some people. Drainage and smoke management will be huge here, but also how is it heated, how reliable is the hardware, is it sturdy or wobbly, does it have any exposed edges that can burn flesh that's not meant to be burnt.

The Extras: Flashing lights and frosting all day

Nobody buys a Ferrari because of its great trunk space, we're looking for some bells and whistles. Does it enable direct/indirect heat for different cooking styles, separate areas for extra (special) items, not require an external heat source, etc. We're judging how the extras contribute to the overall experience, so we won't be docking points off of a grill simply because they're... just a grill.

Survey results

ComponentEfficacy (Just throw it on the fire - Straight up NASA level up in here) (1-10)Maintenance & Storage (Never getting it out again - Move aside George Foreman) (1-10)Safety & Convenience (Burn unit anyone? - The mountain and hodor side by side) (1-10)The Extras (Justin Hammer - Tony Stark) (1-10)Overall Score (Regifter material - Never have to leave home again) (1-10)
TeChef - Stovetop Korean BBQ Non-Stick Grill Pan10109610
CookKing - Korean Traditional BBQ Grill Pan109949
LISTO International All in One Korean Barbeque Stovetop Grill Pan910868
Hanaro Alpha Stove Top Korean Made Smokeless/Waterless Grill with Oil Drain Outlet88768
CookKing - Master Grill Pan910868
Love Greenland - New Korean BBQ Grill86867
Zojirushi EB-CC15 Indoor Electric Grill79967
Kitchen + Home Stove Top Smokeless Grill Indoor BBQ79466
Livart LV-982 Electric Barbecue Grill46343
Fire Sense - Small Yakatori Charcoal Grill75451

Why trust us?

This post was definitely a big challenge and forced us to rethink our standard way of doing things. There are hundreds of grill pan, tops, and Korean BBQ plates out there and we couldn’t logistically try them all out; I mean I would love to have a hundred different grills and stones at my place but I barely have enough room for my beanie baby collection as it stands. So this post will be the first where we personally are not holding and testing out the products for ourselves, instead we’ll be applying similar methods as we have for our Best Restaurants posts; relying on the power of the customer base, researching with integrity (we do not have any ties to the companies making these grills), and by knowing that we are not smart enough to put forward our own opinion. We’re simply relaying all of our research in as consumable of a format as we can; hopefully in the near future I can convince Mike’s wife to let me use their garage as storage, after which we can give you some first hand accounts of as many of these grills we can get our hands on… maybe after I convince them to let me live there…

How we chose what to test?

Honestly at first I thought this one would be way too difficult to decide which grills to test, at first glance there are hundreds of different grill tops, pans, stones, I had no idea there could be so many names for something you heat up and throw meat on… I don’t see any sexual innuendo but I feel like it’s there somewhere… We finally concluded that there are both a crazy number of grills to potentially research and also a large number of grills that we definitely don’t need to prioritize. Essentially, we decided to go top down from most popular to get the best shot at addressing any open questions you may have on a grill you are currently looking at. We chose Amazon for its near ubiquitous use for online shopping, went straight for “Korean” + “Grill” and went down the list.

What to look forward to

First thing, of course, is to build out the stable of reviewed grills. We’ll be going down our list as quickly as we can but if you have any grill pans you are curious about hit us up and let us know. This is only the first of many posts planned on exploring the hardware side of the Korean cooking world so stay tuned!

Wrapping it up

The one thing I kept yelling at my screen throughout this project was GIVE THE GRILLS A NAME. Now there are a few, but listing the features doesn’t count in my book. Constantly typing out the Alpha Stove Top Korean Made Smokeless/Waterless Grill with Oil Drain Outlet is both a pain in the ass and not very conducive to fun writing. But marketing failures and lost opportunities aside (y’all keep a running list of horribly thought out product names right?) it was great to see a company’s attempts at engineering a product with the sole purpose of delivering a satisfying meat experience. Succeed or fail, it’s gratifying to see that there are people out there who aren’t afraid to reinvent the wheel and try to tackle the many problems that firing up a bunch of meat indoors can bring out. Most everyone focuses their attention on ingredients (I know I do), but equip yourself with the right piece of hardware and when you get that beautiful slab of pork belly you know you’ll be able to do the pork justice. Just wait to hear that sizzle when the meat hits the pan…

We Rub You: Sauce Me Up

Last updated: Jan 30, 2018 @ 9:48 pm

After a fun filled couple of weeks we’re excited to present the results of our play, big shout out to We Rub You for sending us their stable of sauces and huge thank you to us for cooking and eating it ;). All of this to conclude quite anticlimactically that We Rub You is no one trick pony.

Introduction:

This is somewhat of a departure of a post for us at Goghism, this isn’t so much a profile or review as it is a look into how we play during the week and a chance to explore We Rub You’s product offerings. It’s no secret how much we love what We Rub You stands for and after they so graciously sent us what else they have to offer we couldn’t help but try them out and write about it.

We Rub You: Original Korean BBQ Marinade & Sauce

The Stand By, Old Faithful, Mr. Reliable, whatever you want to call it (I choose The Godfather) as We Rub You’s firstborn the Original definitely takes care of the family. We’ve covered this one in length, both for bulgogi and kalbi so we won’t spend too much time here.

We Rub You: Marinating Kalbi

Of course we’re going to do kalbi though. Generally, I tend to ignore directions but definitely follow the bottle here. Just enough marinade to coat, don’t go dumping the whole bottle so the meat’s swimming like I did. It ended up coming out really salty (I also put all the marinade in the pan and reduced it which didn’t help things out either). The second time I listened like the good son I am and it turned out great. I made it for my Halmunee (Grandma) and she could not believe that I had made it (she thinks I’m helpless in the kitchen without her).

We Rub You: Bulgogi

If I had to choose, I would go with bulgogi for We Rub You’s marinade over kalbi. Nothing wrong with the kalbi at all, but this is where all of the elements and components of the sauce come together and truly shine. Maybe it’s the increased surface area of the cut, maybe it’s the somewhat leaner fat level compared to the spare ribs, but when I take a bite of this I’m instantly transported to my childhood.

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We Rub You: Spicy Korean BBQ Marinade & Sauce

Full disclosure, I’ve never been the biggest fan of pork bulgogi. I like it just fine, but I always gravitate towards my default beef bulgogi. Nevertheless, we couldn’t try out We Rub You’s Spicy Korean BBQ marinade and NOT do a dwaejji bulgogi. I’m not sure why Korean cuisine associates savory and garlicky with beef and spicy with pork (for the most part), but boy does it work.

We Rub You: Spicy Pork Bulgogi

Most people might lean towards pork belly for this dish, but I opted for the slightly meatier and less fatty pork neck (it still has plenty of fat so don’t worry). The char didn’t come out all that great here, that was my fault, should have gone with my trusty cast iron. Flavor wise I would put it on par with really good Korean BBQ places and much higher than what I could bring together at home. In my opinion, the most crucial aspect of good pork bulgogi is getting the spice level right; it can’t be so high that it overpowers everything else, but at the same time there needs to be enough of it to make the pork ‘pop’. A really fatty piece of meat like belly or neck can get kind of cloy and boring on your palette after a while, it’s important to have a strong punch that keeps you coming back for more, and We Rub You’s packs that punch.

My family was getting pretty tired of my cooking at this point so Mike was generous enough to step in and play around with We Rub You’s sauce, he has a much higher tolerance for spicy food than I do (ask him about his favorite ramen) and when it comes to heat I trust his opinion way more than I trust my own. He chose to go with some chicken breasts which he marinated for six hours in the fridge before blasting them on his cast iron (at about a medium high).

We Rub You: Spicy Grilled Chicken 2

Visually the final result definitely speaks for itself, nice caramelization on the skin, doesn’t look dried out, can’t say I could’ve done any better. Taste wise it came out what to me is a spice head’s dream: authentic taste that brings the heat only as a flavor enhancer, not a flavor dominator. The heat actually comes out somewhat mild in a way that does not overpower the more subtle and nuanced elements of the sauce. The texture and consistency comes out great as well, without the sticky cornstarch viscosity that just screams out lower quality ingredients.

We Rub You: Spicy Top Blade Steak Cooking

He didn’t stop there. Above is a top blade steak marinaded for only an hour before meeting the same fate as the chicken (although only a couple minutes per side). The flavor is much more easily distributed around the thinner more uniformly shaped cuts of meat (when compared to the oblong chicken breast) which helps highlight the great sweet and salty balance that exists underneath the heat. And my favorite part about Korean spicy food is that the spice doesn’t beat you up and destroy your tongue while eating it, the heat grows gradually throughout the meal as you keep eating. That to me is the warming, comforting, wrap yourself in a blanket around the fire heat that I’m looking for.

We Rub You: Spicy Top Blade Steak

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We Rub You: Gochujang Korean Hot Sauce

I started off by making what has to be the most ubiquitous dish to slather a bunch of gochujang onto — bibimbap (not pictured). To be honest, it kind of got all lost in the mix (pun intended); I couldn’t be sure whether the gochujang was really good or it was all of the other ingredients I threw into the bowl. So, I went in search of a purer more innocent vehicle of flavor, one that embodies sophistication, austerity, and…. naw I just got a bunch of wings and threw them in the fryer.

Frying up the Wings

First batch I tossed them in straight gochujang, nothing else:

We Rub You: Gochujang Wings

The first thing that came to my mind was “fresh”. I’m not too familiar with the gochujang making process, or even what the chilies look like before they’re turned into a paste. However, my Uncle grows his own chilies and takes them down to an old Korean grocery store and when I put these babies in front of him he just said “this smells exactly like the peppers as they come out of the mill”. It’s a little odd to think of something fermented as smelling fresh, but somehow We Rub You managed to capture the essence of fresh chilies while imbuing a deep earthiness and sweetness. For all of its positives though, I needed a control group to compare it to. Enter, Frank’s Red Hot:

Frank's Red Hot: Wing Sauce

Actually, Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Sauce to be specific. I added a few things from my pantry but it’s essentially hot sauce and butter.

Frank's Red Hot: Wings

These turned out… amazing, and I kept finding myself reaching for this bowl instead of for the gochujang wings. That’s when I realized a crucial factor that I missed, gochujang is a base, and although We Rub You’s is a great one, its balance results in a really good wing that doesn’t have any “pop”. Frank’s Red Hot isn’t balanced at all, it comes in strong with the vinegar and spice which gives you the kick in the butt that you want when eating something rich and fatty like chicken wings. The balance in this sauce is its greatest strength, if it went too heavy on one flavor component it wouldn’t be as versatile. I started throwing this gochujang into everything I could think of: Gochujang + BBQ Sauce? Check. Gochujang + honey, tomatoes, onions, and garlic? Check. I would start by replacing your go to gochujang with this one, but after that the possibilities are endless.

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Conclusion:

For the most part, there weren’t any huge revelations coming out of our messing around. We already knew that We Rub You is a top quality brand and we really just confirmed that their Original and Spicy are top notch when it comes to making an authentic Korean dish in the home. What did surprise me though, was the Gochujang. There really isn’t all that much variety in the commercial gochujang’s available, I didn’t even really think there could be much variety. It’s almost so ubiquitous and prevalent that it’s like salt… salt is salt… other than the shape I don’t care all that much who it’s from. But We Rub You opened my eyes in terms of the essential nature of gochujang in Korean cooking and how if you really want to achieve excellence in a dish you need to demand excellence in every component, no matter how small or innocuous it may seem. It’s almost like a hammer, majority of the time any hammer is good enough to deal with your standard nail, but if you can spring for a great quality hammer that you can be confident in, you can face any potential situation with that same level of confidence.

Gochujang really should be as prevalent of a condiment as Sriracha and We Rub You is definitely doing their part in representing and putting forward a product that we can all be proud to stand behind and introduce to our friends.

We Rub You: Bottling Up That Lovin’ Feelin’

Last updated: Feb 26, 2018 @ 1:55 pm

We’re excited that we can tell We Rub You’s story, a company committed to providing authentic Korean sauces that take you back to Grandma’s while being all-natural, non-GMO, and with no MSG, high fructose corn syrup, or artificial ingredients. Everything notwithstanding, they make a bomb ass sauce and they have a truly Korean American story to boot.

Introduction:

When Shin and I first started talking about Goghism and what we thought about the Korean food scene in America I guess you could say that I was pretty cynical. I’m not talking restaurants here, I’m talking Korean products you can find (hopefully) in your local grocery store. I’ve thought to myself too many times “I could make a living consulting Korean companies on how to market their products”, and I know nothing about marketing I just know how to proofread a little and have a basic understanding of American culture because… I’m American.

So you could say that after slogging my way through ten bulgogi marinades most of which had traces and hints of what I would consider bulgogi, but none of which took me back to Grandma’s house, I was pretty disheartened and to be honest disinterested. Then came this bottle, it was only included into the stable of sauces at the last minute due to someone’s suggestion on Facebook — it straight up brought me back to life, it restored my faith in the potential of a great store bought marinade.

We Rub You Janet and Ann Chung
Masters and Commanders of the Sauce

I would have been happy with just finding a great bottle of bulgogi marinade that I could rely on, but it only got better from there. Not only does We Rub You put out a great product, they have a story that’s unique, compelling, and wholly American all at the same time; not to mention they were totally down with talking to us and letting us tell their story. They are proof that in the food world at least, if you strive for excellence, have clear vision, a solid core of values to lean on, and the wherewithal to put out a product you can be proud of you can make your mark.

We Rub You: Beginnings

We need to go back over 50 years, to the time of a man and his legacy. Some men want their names carved in stone, their faces on a big screen, their names written down in history books, but a few look past that and just want to be happy and good to the people around them. There is a certain ideal of a man in Korean culture that I equate to the American ideal of the strong, independent, hardworking, humble farmer that grows crops, wrestles steers, mends fences, loves the land and his family, never complains and never makes excuses.

One of the Korean ideal archetypes is that of a kind and peaceful man. I don’t mean he’s just a ‘nice guy’, but someone who embodies kindness and inner peace, elevates it to a spiritual level that permeates his whole life. To radiate the warmth of the sun behind every smile, every gesture, every interaction with a beloved family member to a random stranger passing on the street. Janet and Ann Chung’s grandfather was such a man, and you only get a couple of these a generation if you’re lucky. He was well known not for being rich, handsome, or exceptional at anything in particular, but for being truly kind and peaceful. However, he is known for having lapsed once in his life: when his wife came home with a bottle of store bought soy sauce instead of brewing it herself he raised his voice at her, to everyone’s surprise. I mean… c’mon, that’s a story? I raised my voice this morning because I dribbled some coffee onto my shirt, I raised my voice at Shin’s cat for sitting on my laptop, at Mike for losing in credit card roulette.

That story does provide a clearer understanding of who We Rub You is and what they stand for, it explains their motivation of character and their dedication to authenticity of flavor and experience. I mean honestly, how can you come from that type of fabric and not focus your company to do what is right in the community and have a drive for authentic ingredients and flavors? Not because of some marketing consultant’s reports but because it’s just who they are.

We Rub You Morris Kitchen
That says We Rub You

The name, just like everything else with Janet and Ann it seems, came out organically (it took them less than an hour!). They took a spin on the stereotypical Korean American accent with something that embodied their mission statement, “to share LOVE with Korean food”. Growing up in the South I got a lot of “Your Mom rub me long time“, or things of that nature thrown at me, which I’m sure isn’t that uncommon of an experience for most Asian Americans growing up. Janet and Ann themselves mentioned getting a lot of skeptical looks from passersby, some asking “You guys do massages?” Being able to take that negative energy and turning it into a positive message that we can own is pretty powerful.

Janet and Ann didn’t have any professional culinary experience before starting We Rub You, they went to school to be an economist and engineer respectively. They did, however, grow up in their family’s kitchen, and have cooked continuously throughout their lives. They took some courses at the French Culinary Institute for fun, but nothing too serious. That all changed when one day an outdoor market opened up in Brooklyn, practically in their backyard. They started talking and on the spur of the moment they decided to make a go at it. “Affinity, Ability, and Opportunity combined into one.”

They started out with what they knew, a family recipe that wasn’t really a recipe, just how they normally cooked kalbi and bulgogi at home. After refining their sauce, working out the kinks, and figuring out how they could provide bulgogi in a convenient way they made their start.

We Rub You Market Janet and Ann Chung
We Rub You tearing it up at Smorgasburg

Smorgasburg is probably the most well known open air market in NYC, the “Woodstock of Eating”, it’s where the ramen burger came to fame so you know they’re pretty cutting edge. They didn’t think it would be all that crazy, I mean they were just a couple of nobodies with some bulgogi setting up a stall amongst some of the most well known purveyors in New York. Good thing that they and some friends stayed up all night baking brioche buns and prepping bulgogi because they sold out in a hot second.

With a reception like that they knew they were onto something, but open air markets aren’t really the most reliable models to make a living off of: bad weather, fickle New York tastes, the constant stream of different events, tons of reasons that contribute to an environment of inconsistency. They knew that they needed something more solid, more reliable, strong…. a building and a wider audience.

So We Rub You went retail. Taking a family recipe and converting into something that can be sold to the general public is no small task. It’s mind boggling how systematically and effectively they juggled PH levels, water activity, lab analyses, all to increase stability and shelf life without sacrificing flavor, their dedication to all natural ingredients, and the essence of what makes their bulgogi marinade special.

A couple years later with more experience, industry knowledge, and a Sofi Gold under their belts Ann and Janet Chung have proven that We Rub You is here to stay, that they can throw down with the best of them, all while staying true to who they are. American dream right?

“Affinity, Ability, and Opportunity combined into one.”

We Rub You: Today

It might be weird thinking that Janet and Ann are putting out better Korean food than these massive Korean companies with tons of resources, but by striving to represent what their grandparents ate back in the day and not misrepresenting what real Korean food is they’ve created a product that might not be as accessible as your CJs or Ottogis, but is definitely truer to what your mom would want you to eat. Also, given that food imported from Korea requires a lot more preservatives and additional ingredients to help it survive the trip it makes sense that only a Korean American company can provide food to Americans that preserve the essence and soul of Korean home made cooking.

One of the things I respect most about what Ann and Janet do… does Janet and Ann sound better? Is their seeming inability to stop meddling with what they’ve got. You might look at their product offerings of three sauces and wonder what they’ve been doing over the past years, but what you’re really looking at is just their latest iteration. They’ve been reformulating their sauces every season!

We Rub You Sauces

They’re cooking with and eating their own sauces all the time, and through this continual experimentation with different proteins and meal combinations they’re constantly gaining a fuller understanding of their sauces’ own flavor profile and applicability. Toasted sesame seed oil or not? Toasted sesame seeds? No sesame seeds? Roasted garlic? Black garlic? The tinkering is endless. That they have the confidence to look at their product and change it up when it’s already a sure thing (I mean they won gold here) is staggering.

Pair that with the fact that they are involved with every facet of their company whether they’re in talks with potential new vendors or lending a hand to bottle and package the product, they are quite literally living and breathing the Rub. That even extends beyond their sauces, We Rub You is determined to not only make sure you feel the love through their food, but that the community they’re in does as well. They employ human trafficking survivors and donate 10% of profits to organizations that support survivors.. Although their involvement and work in that area is ever changing, that drive to be a positive force within their community was there from its conception.

“Generationally what Korean Americans are doing with food products, food trucks, restaurants, everything it’s pretty awesome. [Like in the] fashion world with Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, big time Chinese fashion labels that were influenced by their parents that were tailors, it’s interesting to see second generation, post immigration Korean kids doing the same thing.”

We Rub You: Tomorrow

So what is We Rub You doing next? On the product end they’ll probably keep tinkering with their main stable of sauces for the rest of time, but they have also started work on a line of Korean condiments, I already have my hotdogs waiting.

Most exciting is that the Brooklyn Navy Yard has reached out to Ann and Janet and invited We Rub You to build out a space of their own.

We Rub You Brooklyn Navy Yard Construction Site

After years of running around NYC renting out certified kitchens they’ll finally have a place to call home with their own micro manufacturing site. They’ll also be providing lunch service there, but I only care about what I’m going to be putting on my food… They’re still in the design phase but they’re slated to open and begin service this Fall! Maybe I’ll finally visit my sister in Brooklyn so I can stop by…

Conclusion:

Looking back on it now I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised. In this day and age consumers have been more engaged with what actually goes into their food and where it comes from. There has also been more awareness of the fact that food does not exist in a vacuum; its creation and consumption have an impact on the world and are symbolic of who we are. I’m not just talking about Vegans here, although they’re doing most of the talking, over the past ten to fifteen years (those numbers are completely anecdotal) consumers have been clamoring for and demanding an authenticity of experience at newfound levels. You could probably view the food culture of any generation as different combinations of the ‘real’, the ‘good’, and the ‘accessible’. They’re not mutually exclusive but a lot of times one gets sacrificed for another.

We Rub You sits in the unique position of being small enough at the top where they can maintain the purity of their vision and not compromise their values, while providing a quality product with growing accessibility.

I want to say from the bottom of my heart on behalf of my stomach, keep doing you, my ribeye just ain’t the same without y’all.

Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill: Future of Korean BBQ?

Last updated: Feb 26, 2018 @ 1:58 pm

This post was not paid for by Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill, but they did reach out and invite us to take a look and see what they got going on. Needless to say, we were pretty impressed by their consistently high ratings, clear vision, and drive to improve the Korean culinary experience. All photos provided by Breakers and used with their approval.

Looking forward to a lifetime of free Korean BBQ, thanks Bobby.

Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill Storefront and Staff

3505 Gwinnett Pl Dr, Ste 101
Duluth, GA 30096
 
Visit their Site

A Look Inside:

One of the benefits of being second generation anything is that you get to stand on what the first generation built when they came to the US. It’s exciting to see that in Korean food today as we move away from the comfort of our traditions and start wondering how we can leave our own mark on them. Fusion seemed to be the name of the game for the past few years with players such as Roy Choi of Kogi, Beverly Kim of Parachute, Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia, Esther Choi of Mokbar, and of course David Chang of Momofuku; wielding Korean flavors to varying degrees as they pursue culinary identities of their own. You also have the traditionalists, whose leadership I am unofficially assigning to the venerable Maangchi, that are working to preserve Korean cuisine and make sure we never forget how to make a decent kimchi jjigae. However, one area that’s gone largely understated and ignored has been the re-imagining of Korean food within itself and elevating it to another level.

Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill Chicken

This requires a long hard look at yourself, to see where you are lacking, what is holding you back, and where you can improve (I completely stole that from Michael Jackson). When it comes to Korean BBQ, Breakers is trying to be at the forefront of the re-imagination movement. Taking a tough and brutally honest survey of Korean BBQ and seeing what they can do to take it to the next level. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bobby Kim, whose son founded the tutoring company C2, would take an analytical approach to the challenge of taking Korean BBQ higher.

Bobby’s vision of that next level is Korean BBQ as a fine dining experience. He definitely started off on the right foot, judging by the response of their customers and their performance the past few years, him and his team know what they’re doing. From that established footing they moved on to optimization, gearing up to tackle three major areas of opportunity.

Quality:

Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill Prime Rib

Korean BBQ separates itself from other types of BBQ by not really being about the meat, it’s more the whole experience. Korean BBQ is a hot grill in the middle, tons of banchan (side dishes), copious amounts of soju, and all the accoutrement. You can’t really point to one dish and say that that by itself is Korean BBQ, it’s more a general experience that encapsulates it. Given that, it’s a little easier to hide cheaper cuts of meat behind your marinades, sauces, and blaring K-Pop. Breakers is fighting that head on by putting up prime short rib and oh samgyupsal (sliced pork belly). If you’re familiar with otoro, then you should know why that ‘o’ should excite you.

Smell:

It’s been taken for granted that if you eat at an ethnic restaurant there’s a good chance that when you walk out you’re taking some of that smell with you. Breakers implemented new down draft grills at their restaurants that pull smoke (aka smell) downwards and funnels it outside the restaurant as free advertising, which I’m sure Bobby doesn’t have any problems with. More common over hanging vents wait until the smoke reaches them before taking it away, forgetting the people caught in the middle. Now personally I don’t mind walking around smelling like charred meat and smoke, but I can understand that other people would prefer staying a little fresher.

Unfamiliarity:

Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill Banchan

I would say that unfamiliarity is the main barrier to entry of Korean BBQ virgins on the outside looking in. At first glance, it’s a pretty chaotic scene; dimly lit and thick with smoke as young men or old women (I’ve never see it the other way around for some reason) scurry through the maze of tables with scissors and platters of raw meat. The tables are overburdened with a cacophony of… are these appetizers? We didn’t order these…. are these free? Why are there so many? Is that just a basket of leaves? It doesn’t help that there’s usually some K-Pop blaring over the speakers and there are so many people yelling out with glasses raised in the air.

This is clearly a vibe that Breakers is doing everything they can to do away with. As you walk in you are greeted by a host and a clean cut, professional, staff obviously coached and armed with scripts to help guide anyone with a deer in the headlights look. They even have an actual bar section, not one of those half hearted attempts that is really just a gussied up drink station. No more of that half in half out the door dance while you wait for your table. If there’s any music at all it’s very subtle, you probably won’t even notice it’s there. Combine that with the grills and you have a jarringly pristine and calming environment.

“Breakers is ‘breaking’ the mold of traditional Korean BBQ by utilizing the highest quality meats, ingredients, technology, and hospitality in a luxurious atmosphere. Our mission is to provide our patrons with an experience in Korean culture through a fine-dining setting without sacrificing taste, quality, and service.” – David Kim, Co-founder & CEO Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill

Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill Layout

This might not be for everyone, a lot of people seek out that chaotic environment, and as Ali Wong so eloquently put it “you know it’s authentic when you leave deaf and emotionally abused”. I know a couple people at least that consider the smoke, the noise, the menagerie of plates and dishes, the yelling, to be the essence of Korean BBQ. Regardless of whether this is your definition or not, Bobby Kim is definitely confident in his, and he’s executing it incredibly well.

Atlanta, at the very least, is definitely down with what they’re putting out. Breakers has consistently maintained top numbers with their flagship location in Metro Atlanta.

  • #1 restaurant in City of Duluth on Trip Advisor
  • #1 Korean BBQ restaurant in Atlanta on Yelp

They’re also expanding with an additional location in Atlanta, GA and one in Fairfax, VA. They’re even throwing down with the big boys in LA in late 2017. Regardless of what the Korean BBQ purists might think, Breakers is pushing Korean food to a new frontier, and has the confidence to match up with all comers.

Read Jennifer G.'s review of Breakers Korean BBQ & Grill on Yelp

Korean BBQ: Best Marinade for Vegan Bulgogi [2019]

After 8 hours of cooking, researching, and testing we’ve concluded that if you have taken the plunge and gone vegan, and are craving some of that Korean goodness, CJs and trumpet mushrooms are your best bet for some great vegan bulgogi.May your beer always be cold and your meat, I mean, fungi be sizzling….

Editor's Pick:

A little anticlimactic I’m sure, we’ve already mentioned how great CJ’s marinade is before, I also wouldn’t be surprised if trumpet mushrooms are a perennial favorite of most vegans, but good is good. The trumpet is the unquestionable King here, shiitake’s do alright but we’re looking for the best vegan bulgogi, not an alright one. CJ’s signature balance is more important  than ever with such a delicate product as opposed to the more robust… meat. The saltiness that most marinades come with would be completely overpowering. If you happen to be of the green variety CJs and trumpet mushrooms are the way to go for a great vegan bulgogi. We here at Goghism accept all colors and creeds… but a major life changing event notwithstanding I’ll be in the meat department. But as always, you do you fam.

The Challenge

I have to come clean with something that’s been keeping me up at night, it’s starting to affect my work and I already have enough things to stress about, what with Dom possibly going against Family and everything. We were joking amongst ourselves while we were updating our Bulgogi Marinade post about how Seriously Korean proudly emblazoned ‘Vegan’ on their label. I mean… they ain’t lying, but that’s like Dasani bragging about their water being GMO free.

What’s been bothering me though is the fear, the nagging doubt, that maybe our indignant carnivorous elitism has blinded us to a beautiful truth. Maybe they’re onto something, maybe it’s not a coincidence that the only marinade with mushrooms in the ingredient list was also the only one drawing attention to their vegan-ness. So we’re going out on a limb here, in part to soothe my conscience, in part to throw a bone to our tree hugging brothers and sisters, but also to follow the immortal David Chang in saying anyone can make meat taste good — give me a challenge.

The Results

Portabella – Immediately I could tell that texturally this is way too soft, it almost disintegrates in your mouth. Since bulgogi and kalbi marinades are meant to be balanced with a fatty piece of meat, this comes off as way too salty and almost sour.

Button – Texturally this one holds up a little better than the portabella. Taste wise as well, I was surprised that it actually came out at all. However, there is a slightly bitter aftertaste from the mushroom’s natural juices (i.e. fungus water).

Shiitake – Texture may turn people off, a little gummy but definitely tougher than the portabella. There is a slight acidic tinge at the end that for some reason makes it taste more ‘Asian’. Overall this was the most familiar in terms of flavor profile wise, but since it’s mainly added as an enhancement to sliced ribeye I can’t help but notice the gaping hole left in its absence.

Trumpet – When it comes to texture this is clearly the winner (no surprise there). It’s the only one that has an actual ‘chew’. Definitely still not meat but the only one that has some level of satisfaction that you feel in your gut. Taste leaves a little to be desired, the juices are a tiny bit bitter, but that seems pretty standard for mushrooms here.

Conclusion – Somewhat anticlimactic but the Trumpet was by far the best. It definitely did not approach a standard bulgogi (if that’s what you’re shooting for you won’t get it) but it could definitely stand on its own as an entree, the rest were condiments at worst, side dishes at best. There’s definitely a lot of potential for bulgogi shiitake mushrooms if you want to put a nice twist on your burger or steak… but that defeats the point of the whole vegan schtick.

Portabella – I know in our bulgogi marinade post we loved the balance of CJs and how it let the meat be the main attraction. No surprise that it works the same here as well, with the opposite effect as with Seriously Korean. While the previous marinade came out as too salty and overpowering (since you’re basically biting into a marinade sponge), this was much milder and smoother. Texturally we still faced the same problems, too soft, with no chance of a satisfying bite.

Button – Again this beat out the portabella in terms of texture. One major change I highly suggest is not slicing the mushrooms (as we did previously), leave them whole. It won’t miraculously turn into steak but it definitely gets closer to something you can chew on for a bit. If you’re a fan of Gordon Ramsey’s marinated mushrooms this could easily give it a run for its money as the Asian cousin.

Shiitake – Definitely comes closest to tasting like the real thing, even if you don’t go vegan you would only doing yourself a favor by slicing a few of these suckers up and throwing it in with your bulgogi. Alone it’s still too gummy, leaving them whole definitely helps, but I can see it being a combination of soft and rubbery that might be too unfamiliar for some.

Trumpet – No question this will always be your best bet out of the four. When the game comes down to structural strength and integrity you can’t beat the King [Oyster]. Slicing this up and throwing it on the grill over hot coals will be the closest you can get to mollifying the carnivore within us all.

Conclusion – This definitely worked out better than Seriously Korean, which is ironic given that they started this whole mess. It’s overall balance and relative mildness paired much more intuitively with the subtle flavors of the mushrooms. However, it still comes out as pretty strong, if you want to treat as an entree I would use the marinade sparingly and add gradually to taste. If you want a strong side dish or condiment (think if pickles were savory instead of sour) pour away.

Why trust us?

Seems kind of contradictory bringing up a vegan option after having spent so much time trying to build credibility in the world of meat. I once ate two Double-Doubles and a large Animal Style fries by myself in a parked car without any utensils or napkins. When two mini vans pulled up beside me I just put my face in my hands in shame until they had gone… so I have some street cred.

Animal Style Fries
Animal Style’s the Only Style Grasshopper
Given that, we’re not pretending to be Vegans here, we’re not trying to make you feel inferior for putting that baby cow’s rib in your mouth; You do You. We’re going to approach this the same as any other dish, the only thing that matters is how it tastes and how clean your plate is after, not how close it comes to the real thing.

How we chose what to test?

We’ll start off with Seriously Korean since they spurred this whole fiasco, and then we’ll be going through the same stable of marinade sauces from our Bulgogi Marinade post, that’s the easy part. The hard part was deciding what to test the marinades with. We ended up landing on four mushrooms:

Agaricus bisporus (the younger) - the obsequious button mushroom

Agaricus bisporus (the older) - the powerful portabella

Lentinula edodes - the comforting shiitake

Pleurotus eryngii - the T-rex of the mushroom world, the trumpet or King Oyster

I have to mention that finding out that button and portabella mushrooms are one and the same, just separated by age, blew my mind. #TodayILearned

We chose the first two for their availability, wide spread usage, and familiarity with the sautée. The shiitake was a necessary addition, both as it is commonly added to enhance a standard bulgogi already and for its penetration in Asian cuisine. Some people might prefer the enoki but it is too delicate a product to stand on its own when sautéed, better to put it in a nice broth. Lastly, we had to go with the King Oyster because, let’s be real, can you think of a meatier fungi?

We’re going to stay away from the more common meat substitutes such as seitan or tofu, for now, because we’re shooting for a dish that can exist on its own. If your goal is to make a vegan dish that tastes BETTER or at best comparable to the non vegan version you’ve already failed. Your mind will constantly be thinking of the meat you would rather be eating. In my own personal experience, I’ve lasted the longest (like four days) when I wasn’t trying to make vegetables more than what they are; not expect them to replace a steak. I mean c’mon, a carrot or a mushroom’s never going to be as good as a slab of beef, some cheddar and a “couple” slices of bacon.

What to look forward to

This was more fun than we had anticipated (not as fun as the kalbi post but definitely piqued our interest). We’ll use this post to explore the vegan option more thoroughly. You can expect more mushroom types, some meat substitutes, and additional sauces and marinades shortly.

Wrapping it up

The main takeaway is that if you have a favorite bulgogi marinade don’t change it up now. The flavor profiles did not change all that much given the subtle nature of most mushrooms and the boldness of the marinades. The main decision here is really on textural preference. Leaving the mushrooms whole helps out a ton with the button and portabella, with the shiitake as well but it won’t lose the gummy almost sliminess that will turn some people away. Can’t stress this enough, if you can get ’em go all the way and spring for the trumpets, they’re only a couple bucks more.

Korean BBQ: Best Kalbi Marinade Sauce in Stores [2019]

After 27 hours of cooking, researching, and testing seven different brands of bottled kalbi marinade sauces, we’ve concluded Haioreum Korean Style Beef BBQ Sauce to be the best kalbi marinade sauce you can buy on shelves today. It has the boldness to be a little out there and present some non traditional flavors, and the confidence to let the meat be the main attraction and not overpower the richness of the ribs.

We also have to confess that when working through this piece we were surprised at how similar the flavor components were to the sauces in our Bulgogi Marinade post, but with such vastly different results. It’s amazing how you can take the exact same ingredients, but with a different cut of beef, and produce completely different results.

Editor's Pick:

When I first opened this bottle of sauce I immediately thought of ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, not really what I would normally put on a good cut of beef. To be honest I thought it was A1 Sauce for a second. But surprisingly enough it worked really well with the ribs. It added a great tang and acidity that accentuated the richness of the meat. There’s also a good amount of sweetness that when combined with the tang of the tomatoes and the fattiness of the meat produces an overall complex and full flavor. It’s funny to me that a Korean brand came out with a bottle of sauce that has such distinctly American flavors but still worked so well.

It could use some more garlic and soy sauce to bring it a little closer to what I’m traditionally expecting from kalbi, but it was definitely a nice change of pace and I like that they didn’t hesitate to play with some non traditional ingredients. I would definitely recommend this if you’re looking for an overall great rib dish, and although it might not be exactly what you’re looking for in the traditional/authentic flavor department it was the only one that truly elevated a more expensive cut of beef. Something a lot of other bottles of marinades and sauces have a very difficult time doing.

Runner Up:

Sempio continues the big brand trend of not straying too far between their bulgogi and kalbi marinades. Although I wouldn’t necessarily consider that carte blanche to substitute one for the other, the similarity lies in the resulting flavor profile, but bringing that out with such different cuts of meat requires very different ratios of salt, sugar, etc. Here, Sempio still brings that signature ginger strength as their primary flavor component and again it works well with the ribs. Sweetness is still nice and mild, does get kind of lost in the fray and I would say that it’s not enough to cut through the fatty richness of the meat, but the ginger does a good job of that instead. Overall solid work put into a bottle from the big boys.

*The original Sempio kalbi marinade is unfortunately no longer available on Amazon, but try out their hot version and let us know what you think!

Other kalbi marinade sauces tested

Our infatuation with We Rub You’s work is pretty well documented at this point. This bottle of sauce is the swiss army knife of the meat world, versatility’s the name of the game when you have limited space in your fridge (like we do). Don’t get us wrong, you would have a pretty great night with a plate of kalbi doused in their Original sauce. However, due to their hybrid nature this one doesn’t pack the same punch and depth as the slightly more focused and specialized versions of Haieoreum and Sempio. What’s great for bulgogi comes out a tiny bit weak for kalbi. Still, for coming out of the same bottle the kalbi that comes out doesn’t fail to put a smile on my face.

Just like Haioreum’s bottle of sauce I would say this was an interesting experience. Unfortunately though, unlike Haioreum’s, it goes the opposite way. I wish I could graph the ratio of flavor components over the ten second span of first putting this in your mouth to swallowing. There’s a bunch of sweetness that comes rolling in and initially I was afraid it would overwhelm and ruin the flavor of the meat, but then it just… goes away. What remains is a garlicky flavorful sauce. I can’t really remember any other time where the beginning is an unpleasant surprise but the aftertaste really shines, generally it’s the other way around (looking at you Malort). Kind of a shame really, that you can’t really fully appreciate the savory and rich sauce while you’re still thinking of the sweetness from the beginning — and just hoping it doesn’t come back. If you can get past the initial anxiety regarding the sweetness though, and you’re a slow chewer, this might be worth your evening.

I was a little disappointed when I found out this was CJ’s after they did such a great job on the bulgogi marinade. It’s mainly one note, sweetness; and while that’s fine on an especially fatty piece it tends to overpower the rest of the meat. (I tend to go for the fattier pieces but for spare ribs you’re really talking like 10 – 20% of a piece of kalbi, which is kind of a shame to mask 80% of the ribs with an $8 bottle of sauce.

If they pulled back on the sweetness and replaced it with garlic it would go a long way to helping this marinade climb the ranks.

Overall this marinade reminds me of a couple of non-confrontational roommates off of Craigslist. You keep your distance, nothing major or offensive comes up, and everything seems normal while small annoyances and irritations slowly build up in the background. There is nothing negative that immediately stands out, but nothing positive that will bring you back for more either. There’s some nice fruitiness and it never reaches the chemical-like aftertaste that some of the previous bottles of marinade get to. What creeps up on you though is the saltiness, it’s surprising because you won’t think of the sauce as salty based on taste, but for some reason after your third or so piece you’ll be reaching for a cup of water and your lips will be burning. If you don’t have any problems with salty foods and you don’t want to take a major risk I would go with this one, it’s relatively safe flavor wise, but since you’re springing for spare ribs I wouldn’t really be OK with ‘alright’.

This marinade has a lot in common with Assi’s. There’s a nice mild sweetness and a great mouth feel but nothing really here to blow you away. It does let the flavor of the meat come out, which is great, but the same gradual saltiness will creep up on you and become overwhelming. I felt as if I had just eaten some late night Chinese take out or a pile of fries. There are times when I’m looking to be hit like that, but not from a $20 tray of ribs.

What is Good Kalbi (갈비)?

Texture: this part’s big, and probably where you see the most variance in personal preference. I tend to align with American style ribs where the meat should be tender, but not completely falling off the bone; the meat should pull away cleanly and easily but with some resilience and chew. We won’t be going into texture too heavily within this post as a large part of it depends more on the quality and preparation of the meat, as opposed to the marinades themselves. A good marinade can definitely help out but we've found that for the most part the impacts are generally the same across brands.

Flavor (obviously): the components here are not all that different from bulgogi, the main hits are the holy trinity in Korean cooking of garlic, sesame seed oil, and soy sauce. The main difference is in the supporting cast as ginger generally takes a backseat and the sweetness tends to have an earthier more complex nature (such as brown sugar and honey) with less of the fruity sweetness (Asian pear).

Meat: this is the most important, and needs to be paramount. Spare ribs, especially when cut LA Style (across the bone), tend to be much pricier than what you would use for Bulgogi. Marinades should accentuate the richness and luxuriousness of the meat and not overpower it. I would compare this to pouring ketchup on a beautifully cooked steak – what’s the point of spending all that money then? Consequently, marinades need to be much more careful here with the soy sauce and the sweetness, many people use kiwi, pear, or other fruits to help tenderize the meat, but you need to be careful that it doesn’t become the main flavor component.

I spent many sleepless nights agonizing over whether to use kalbi or galbi. I’ve seen them used interchangeably, and even in the bottled sauces we profiled here there is no consensus. I tend to lean towards the galbi spelling, and the more reputable sources that I trust do the same (high five Maangchi). But in the spirit of convenience we’ll be going with the more Americanized kalbi as there is no definitive right answer, and the ‘k’ is closer to the pronunciation than the ‘g’.

Seems like pork belly is in everything right now, not really all that surprising since it’s practically all fat and tastes amazing. But other than the occasional fried rice or kimchi stew (김치찌개) you won’t see pork belly in very many Korean dishes, at least not relative to everyone else. My completely fabricated theory is that we’ve largely ignored the pork belly, because we have kalbi. There’s something about the deep, meaty, unctuous richness in the way Koreans cook spare ribs (whether grilled, stewed, made into a soup) that pulls at their stomachs more than just a hit of porky fat can (no offense chashu and bacon).

Now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had bad kalbi. It’s really hard to mess up cooking spare ribs that have been bathing in garlic, sesame seed oil, and soy sauce. Especially when the ribs are cut LA style, cooking time is more based off of how long you can wait, I’ve never been able to wait long enough to overcook or burn the meat, the more char the better. Or maybe since kalbi’s usually eaten on happy occasions there are always positive feelings tied to it (or maybe eating kalbi makes it a happy occasion).

So really this isn’t “What is Good Kalbi?” it’s “What is Great Kalbi?”

All in all everything needs to come together into a beautifully tender, rich, deep, earthy bite of food. And when I say deep it needs to be coming up from the tree roots like all great Southern BBQ does, but without the smokiness. I wouldn’t say this is the richest and most luxurious Korean dish in the world, but it probably holds a closer position to most boys’ hearts than its wealthy uncle kalbi stew (갈비찜).

What makes a good kalbi marinade sauce?

Mark Twain wrote once that Americans don’t love French Fries, they love Ketchup… or at least he would have if he were around today. Whoever said that first had a point, but I say the whole world has a sauce infatuation. Sauces are cultural, culinary ambassadors embodying and representing entire cuisines so much that you can’t imagine a bowl of Pho without that bottle of rooster sauce on the side. Salsa, guacamole, bbq, hollandaise, bernaise, hoisin, some wine or broth splashed into a hot pan of drippings followed with a pat of butter. Every food has a sauce and every sauce is tailored to a food. The proportions and applications swing widely but the components are all the same.

  • Sweet
  • Acid or Sour
  • Spice or Heat
  • Savory
  • Bitter
  • Salt

Those six components and the ratio therein, on a 1 to 10 scale we’re not looking for straight 10s here. Each sauce has it’s own combination.

So that’s what we’ll be boiling each down to… I’m not big on puns, promise. I’ll provide as much technical characteristics as possible but they won’t tie into the overall evaluation of the product.

Survey results

ComponentSweet (Cardboard - Willy Wonka's Fingernails (1-10)Acid/Sour (Rare steak - Warheads) (1-10)Spice/Heat (Warm milk - Habanero oil) (1-10)Savory (Celery - Truffles) (1-10)Bitter (Frappuccino - Dad's 3rd cup of coffee) (1-10)Salt (Brown rice - Pretzels) (1-10)Overall Score (Throw in the trash - I want what she's having) (1-10)
Haioreum Korean Style Beef BBQ Sauce: Kalbi6526348
Kikkoman Takumi Teriyaki Sauce: Korean BBQ8326156
CJ Korean BBQ Sauce: Kalbi7235264
Assi Korean BBQ: Galbi5324255
Lee Kum Kee Korean BBQ Sauce5215166

Why trust us?

The easiest thing to do would be to say you should trust me because I’ve done my homework, because times I get to eat kalbi are probably the highlights of my life, because I don’t have room in my fridge for anything else at the moment. If I’m being honest with you my biggest argument would be my pure, youthful, innocent intentions of hoping the world makes and eats more kalbi. The more there is the less likely I have to make it myself.

The real reason why you should trust us, is that we’re not asking you to. Either have a little faith in our process or join in. We’re going to be performing blind taste tests, with as many testers as we can pull off the streets, and posting the results. Try them on your own and let us know what you think, maybe we got unlucky and went 100 straight people who didn’t know they have a garlic allergy.

We’re all former pre-med students so we’ve spent enough time in a lab to break a beaker or two. Every kalbi sauce or marinade will get the same cut and amount of beef (two slices of LA style spare ribs), duration it will soak (12 hours), cooking method (cast iron skillet), and cooking time (4 minutes per side). The skillet will preheat on high for 10 minutes and there will be 50 grams (roughly ½ of a cup) of sauce or marinade per portion.

Testers will not know the marinade when tasting, and between each test they will clean their palate with white rice (what else would it be?).

We’ll compile and calculate the numbers and present them to you (we’ll even share our incredibly complex and sophisticated algorithm).

How we chose what to test?

Korean BBQ is generally a catch-all term for the entire experience of sitting around a hot grill, piling raw cuts of meat onto it, throwing back a few shots of soju, and trying to resist the urge to start digging in while the meat’s still cold. It’s not a specific dish, it’s the whole thing rolled up into one great night.

This one was a little easier since kalbi literally means ‘ribs’, so the criteria was boiled down to any bottle that had ‘Korean’ and ‘beef spare ribs’ on the label. Staying true to such a narrow and sophisticated criteria we perused the shelves of every grocery store we passed on the way home, and did the dirty work of searching for it in your favorite search engine. I even flew to New York and checked a bag on the way home because I happened to stop into three different Korean and Chinese grocery stores. As long as it’s sold commercially we’ll get it for you and test it out.

The last condition is that it has to be for beef, the reason being is that beef spare ribs are the standard/default for this dish. I’d be all up for cooking up a mess of pork ribs to try them out, but we’ll save those for another post. Beef and pork ribs are treated very differently in practically every BBQ tradition so I have no problems being a little discriminatory at the moment.

What to look forward to

I asked a few friends to check out all the grocery stores near them (and a few who live out in the ‘burbs and are lucky enough to have a Korean grocery store near them). Additions are forthcoming…

Wrapping it up

The main thing that I kept finding myself coming back to is the that although the flavors we’re looking for are very similar to that in our bulgogi marinade post, the goals between the two are vastly different. Spare ribs are generally much fattier and richer than rib eye, especially when the steak is shaved almost paper thin, which is generally how it comes in Korean grocery stores. It’s also a much more expensive cut of beef, so the challenge is not just to create a great dish, but to allow the meat to take center stage. A lot of sauces and marinades tend to mask or overpower the main component. All of this can be summed up into one question, why shell out $20 bucks or more for a cut of beef just to taste a $6 bottle of sauce?

Korean BBQ: Best Bulgogi Marinade Sauce in Stores [2019]

After 27 hours of cooking, researching, and testing twelve different bottles of marinade sauces, we have concluded that We Rub You: Original Korean BBQ Marinade is the best bottled bulgogi marinade sauce you can buy today. It completely blew away the competition and reminded us of how great a plate of bulgogi can really be.

Editor's Pick:

Let’s just say first off, that this was the first bottle of sauce that both: caused me to question my abilities as a cook and pull out the Senator Clay Davis “shiiiiieeeeeiiit”. If I have to be professional this marinade is great, tons of umami, great sweetness, salty enough to accentuate the flavor of the meat but not enough to burn your lips. This is by far the best example of trying to pack as much of each flavor profile and toeing the line right before it hitting “too much”.

Runner Up:

I still love CJ’s balanced execution and honestly I’m surprised that another big box Korean brand is edging them out here. (I generally assume that food companies grow at the cost of quality). Sempio’s execution is on point like CJ’s here, what edges them out is that they make CJ look as if they’re playing it safe. They bring a nice sweetness that comes out very naturally paired with a smooth velvety textural finish. What takes them to the next level though is the strong ginger flavor that nearly threatens to overpower everything. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of ginger, but it works really well here, think Ying’s but done right. It doesn’t have the almost acidic chemically profile that a lot of ginger can impart, it accentuates the meat in a way that is very difficult to accomplish. Definitely a solid choice for an evening’s meal, the main reason why we can’t call it the best bulgogi marinade sauce (that comes in a bottle of course) is it still comes with that tinge of big brand Korean artificiality that none of the big boys seem able to shake.

Korean Bulgogi Marinades Tested

Update: It still boggles my mind that someone could have the confidence and wherewithal to take a known successful product — and tweak it. This isn’t Domino’s reformulating their pizza either, there were no glaring issues or demands with their prize horse. Still, I guess it only proves We Rub You’s legitimacy even more, that they can change things up and it only makes sense.

The new iteration (they re-up their formula every year or so) still maintains the great balance that shot them to the forefront when we first tried it. The sweetness is a little more prominent than before, but definitely not overpowering, while they pulled back on the garlic. I personally can never have too much garlic in a dish but it works well here, letting the other flavors come out and share some of the spotlight. The only drawback is that my bulgogi came out a little saltier than before, I admittedly have a very low salt tolerance (my mother refused to cook with the stuff for some reason), so I would just advise not dumping the whole bottle in one go. All of that work and they still maintain their position as the best bottled bulgogi marinade sauce in America… at least all of the ones we’ve encountered.

11/28/2016: Let’s just say first off, that this was the first bottle of sauce that both: caused me to question my abilities as a cook and pull out the Senator Clay Davis “shiiiiieeeeeiiit”. If I have to be professional this marinade is great, tons of umami, great sweetness, salty enough to accentuate the flavor of the meat but not enough to burn your lips. This is by far the best example of trying to pack as much of each flavor profile and toeing the line right before it hitting “too much”.

What made me pound the table and close my eyes though, was the garlic. I was ashamed thinking back on my previous reviews as it was almost as if I had forgotten what garlic tasted like. This was the only sauce that had visible chunks of garlic, the rest stuck with all black tar or sesame seeds to break up the monotony. Maybe that primed me to look out for the garlic but it doesn’t matter, it works. Thank you for reminding me of life’s greatest seasoning. We loved CJ’s balance last time; you can think of We Rub You as the wise monk in a cave that taught CJ all about balance, and has since moved on to deeper and greater things.

I still love CJ’s balanced execution and honestly I’m surprised that another big box Korean brand is edging them out here. (I generally assume that food companies grow at the cost of quality). Sempio’s execution is on point like CJ’s here, what edges them out is that they make CJ look as if they’re playing it safe. They bring a nice sweetness that comes out very naturally paired with a smooth velvety textural finish. What takes them to the next level though is the strong ginger flavor that nearly threatens to overpower everything. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of ginger, but it works really well here, think Ying’s but done right. It doesn’t have the almost acidic chemically profile that a lot of ginger can impart, it accentuates the meat in a way that is very difficult to accomplish. Definitely a solid choice for an evening’s meal, the main reason why we can’t call it the best bulgogi marinade sauce (that comes in a bottle of course) is it still comes with that tinge of big brand Korean artificiality that none of the big boys seem able to shake.

First thing that comes to mind is how balanced this is, seems like a boring characteristic but I can’t overstate its importance and how well CJ does it here. This bottle of sauce is very sweet, but not cloying. Salty but doesn’t burn my tongue. And the best part… I can actually taste the meat. It takes a couple seconds to come through but it was a nice surprise. Too many bottled bulgogi sauces try to pack so much flavor into a couple teaspoons that the most important ingredient, the meat, gets lost in the shuffle.

They do go a little strong on the fruit, in an ideal world they’d dial it down a couple notches, but it doesn’t go so far as to mess anything up. The Korean in me would have liked a little more garlic and ginger but you can still pick it out. I found myself continually coming back to this one, and it was in all honesty the first sauce where I finished the whole portion. Great overall job CJ, I hope one day the JK brand will surpass you, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

Turns out this was the People’s Choice as well with an average overall score of 8! I have to say after everyone had finished tasting and we started chatting it up, testers absentmindedly kept going back to this one as well.

First thing that came to mind with this bottle was the Teriyaki flavored beef jerky you get in gas stations. There’s some sweetness but the main thing you’ll focus on is the pungent funkiness. There’s an unusual earthiness that honestly I couldn’t identify until I looked at the label later but I’m pretty sure it’s from the mushrooms. Kind of tastes like instant Chappaghetti, charred black beans with a lot of saltiness. The funkiness isn’t a dealbreaker, but it’s definitely something to be cautious of. I was joking with a friend about the bulgogi marinade that advertised itself as ‘vegan’, kind of ironic that it actually tastes vegan too.

I will forever associate tomatoes and beef with Haioreum. I could tell straightaway which one this was. The tang is still there, the hint of sweetness is still there, but somehow it doesn’t work as well. My theory is because the meat itself isn’t as rich and fatty as the ribs. So what I’m getting at here is that the sauces are essentially one and the same profile wise, but without the fat it can be overpowering and cloy as opposed to uplifting. It’s still a good bottle of sauce, and with an extra fatty piece of bulgogi it goes great, but overall it can be a bit much. Not too salty, not too sweet, does accentuate the meat, but I keep thinking it needs a fattier cut.

Assi is definitely more subtle than other bottled sauces, and at the end I almost taste… Burger King… not entirely sure what that means but there are hints of an American burger in here. Sweetness is there, hits almost burning levels but tapers off right before it gets overpowering. It’s almost as if you mixed Haioreum and Ottogi together. You get the hints of tang and acidity from the prior paired with the chemically sweetness of the latter… but lesser versions of both brands. The one saving grace is that it’s a lot softer on each flavor component, but you still get the sense that there’s an overload of something. In the end it can be summed up in one word… “meh”.

If you want to go middle of the pack this one’s for you, which when coming from a brand that means “King” doesn’t come out so good. It’s not a bad sauce except for a weird subtle background note that vaguely tastes like soap. I actually went back after the test and recooked this one, making sure to clean the pan and container the meat was marinading in as much as possible… but it was still there.

Sasum Deer

I initially thought this one was going to bring on the super sweet burning that so many other bottles of marinade fall into because it’s really syrupy. After a few minutes of cooling it takes on that hardened toffee texture that’s such a pain in the ass when doing the dishes later. It was really sweet, but it never took on the chemical fruity sweetness. It’s actually a pretty nice sauce, succulent and savory, but in the end it doesn’t really pop. I’d say it plays it safe and doesn’t go too far with the salt, sweet, or oil, but not enough of anything that’ll make you want to come back for more either.

I was pleasantly surprised by this one. It’s overall a very good bottle of sauce, sweet with a strong onion flavor, and I would eat it again. However, the first reaction you’ll have is that… this isn’t bulgogi… it doesn’t even taste Korean. I don’t get any hits of ginger, garlic, or soy sauce at all.

I would label this as a step up from Panda Express grilled chicken teriyaki, and I mean that with the utmost respect. Based off this one alone I would say Tsang knows how to make a good sauce, they just messed up on the labeling… thinking of Panda Express, this would go great on some chicken…

I’d call this one Chung Jung’s 남동생 (little brother). They definitely have the same DNA. Really salty with an overpowering, almost chemical-ish, fruity sweetness. The sweetness stereotype wasn’t helped at all by how the sauce almost hardened into toffee after a couple minutes on the table. It’s a shame because the other components are not half bad but you’re definitely going to need a ton of rice with this one. 

I’d recommend eating this one quick and then dumping the plate in a sink full of hot water, I tore up my sponge and fingernails trying to get the leftover sauce off the plate.

The first, and last thing you’ll notice is the ginger, it hits your nose straight away. Initially this results in a pretty decent bulgogi, mellow and slightly sweet, but the ginger comes roaring back and it’s all you’ll taste.

The sauce itself has a great texture, very smooth and silky, but that’s due to all the oil (I don’t add any to the pan when cooking). Even after fully reducing the sauce, when I plated the oil seeped out and ran everywhere. I had to use two paper towels to wipe it away. I don’t necessarily call that a negative, I mean more fat isn’t always a turn off, but definitely a factor to keep in mind.

Overall this would have gotten a good score (ginger and oil can be personal preference), but this sauce is way too salty. I admit I’m more sensitive than others when it comes to salt (years of growing up with an overly health conscious mother) but when it burns my tongue I know it’s not just me.

However, if ginger and oil are positives for you definitely give this one a try. It got second highest overall with a six. We’ll be increasing the sample size as fast as we can, but if CJs is nowhere to be found I’d grab a bottle of this.

What is Good Bulgogi (불고기)?

Literally “Fire Meat”, from a technical standpoint any grilled meat could be considered bulgogi. Not only that, there are a million different variations, ranging from household to household, mom to mom, grandma to grandma. But if you polled all the Koreans in the world, the overwhelming favorite, the gold standard, would be a pile of steaming, garlicky, savory beef, stained with that rich black that only a soy sauce based marinade can impart. I would consider this to be the ubiquitous Korean meat dish, if there’s beef for dinner my money’s on it being bulgogi. Worldwide it may not be as well known as its royal cousin, but galbi (갈비) is generally reserved for special occasions, like when grandma is visiting.

So we’re going to go with mom’s version, unlike most Korean dishes it’s not a spicy dish. Proportions may vary, secret ingredients might get swapped out, technique might be lacking, but the hits are always the same:

  • That oh so familiar rich, savory, earthy sweetness that only a boatload of garlic can bring
  • The umami exploding from the meat mixed with the dark, deep, saltiness of the soy sauce
  • The smooth, rich, smokiness without the smoke, Barry White meets Wang Chung from that hit of sesame seed oil

There are a number of other elements that are standard, the light crunch of sliced scallions and sesame seeds (whether garnish or a part of the marinade is a separate issue). But those are the flavors we’re sticking with. Sure they are standard components of a lot of Asian cuisine, but sliced beef soaked in that delicate balance then slapped onto a grill pan coalesces into something special and unmistakably Korean.

What makes a good bulgogi marinade sauce?

Mark Twain wrote once that Americans don’t love French Fries, they love Ketchup… or at least he would have if he were around today. I say the whole world has a sauce infatuation. Sauces are cultural, culinary ambassadors, embodying and representing entire cuisines so much that you can’t imagine a bowl of Pho without that bottle of rooster sauce on the side. Salsa, guacamole, bbq, hollandaise, bernaise, hoisin, some wine or broth splashed into a hot pan of drippings followed with a pat of butter. Every food has a sauce and every sauce is tailored to a food. The proportions and applications swing widely but the components are all the same:

  • Sweet
  • Acid or Sour
  • Spice or Heat
  • Savory
  • Bitter
  • Salt

Those six components and the ratio therein, on a 1 to 10 scale we’re not looking for straight 10s here. If your teriyaki sauce is as spicy as sambal, or your salsa has the earthiness of fish sauce, we got problems.

Survey results

ComponentSweet (Cardboard - Willy Wonka's Fingernails (1-10)Acid/Sour (Rare steak - Warheads) (1-10)Spice/Heat (Warm milk - Habanero oil) (1-10)Savory (Celery - Truffles) (1-10)Bitter (Frappuccino - Dad's 3rd cup of coffee) (1-10)Salt (Brown rice - Pretzels) (1-10)Overall Score (Throw in the trash - I want what she's having) (1-10)
CJ Korean BBQ: Bulgogi Marinade6226153
Assi BBQ Marinade and Sauce for Beef Bulgogi5324255
Ottogi Barbecue Marinade (Korean BBQ Sauce)9376275
Ying’s Korean BBQ Marinade4326246
Chung Jung One Korean BBQ Bulgogi Sauce & Marinade for Beef9416153

Why trust us?

The easiest thing to do would be to say you should trust me because I’ve done my homework, because I’ve eaten bulgogi my whole life, because I take meat way too seriously to be healthy (mentally let alone physically). If I’m being honest with you my biggest argument would be my pure, youthful, innocent intentions of hoping the world makes and eats more bulgogi. The more there is the less likely I have to make it myself.

The real reason why you should trust us, is that we’re not asking you to. Either have a little faith in our process or join in. We’re going to be performing blind taste tests, with as many testers as we can pull off the streets, and posting the results. Try them on your own and let us know what you think, maybe we got unlucky and went 100 straight people who didn’t know they have a garlic allergy.

We’re all former pre-med students so we’ve spent enough time in a lab to break a beaker or two. Every bulgogi sauce or marinade will get the same cut and amount of beef (25 grams of sliced rib eye), duration it will soak (1 hour), cooking method (cast iron skillet), and cooking time (10 minutes). The skillet will preheat on high for 10 minutes and there will be 50 grams (roughly ½ of a cup) of sauce or marinade per portion.

Testers will not know the marinade when tasting, and between each test they will clean their palate with white rice (what else would it be?).

How we chose what to test?

Korean BBQ is generally a catch-all term for the entire experience of sitting around a hot grill, piling raw cuts of meat onto it, throwing back a few shots of soju, and trying to resist the urge to start digging in while the meat’s still cold. It’s not a specific dish, it’s the whole thing rolled up into one great night.

We’re going to focus on bottled sauces and marinades that are explicitly meant for bulgogi, it needs to explicitly say ‘bulgogi’ or ‘sliced rib eye’ on the bottle. Staying true to such a narrow and sophisticated criteria we perused the shelves of every grocery store we passed on the way home, and did the dirty work of searching for it in your favorite search engine. As long as it’s sold commercially we’ll get it for you and test it out.

The last condition is that it has to be for beef, the reason being that if you served bulgogi made of any other kind of meat without adding a prefix on the name there’d be riots. Bulgogi is beef, if it’s not you gotta say it. You got waffle fries, duck fat fries, curly fries, sweet potato fries, but fries… are fries.

What to look forward to

I asked a few friends to check out all the grocery stores near them (and a few who live out in the ‘burbs and are lucky enough to have a Korean grocery store near them). Additions are forthcoming…

Wrapping it up

We’ve definitely eaten more bulgogi in the last few weeks than is healthy, but feel free to let us know if you have any requests for what we should try next. Don’t be shy, send us a bottle or two, we’ll find room somewhere ;).