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.
I was a 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/#1 Contender:
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.
Table of Contents:
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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!
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...