Bulgogi: it is easy in fact
Do you like Bulgogi? I think it is one of the most popular and well-known Korean foods with Kimchi, however, I guess Kimchi is not as popular as Bulgogi due to its taste and smell based on heavy usage of ground pepper and garlic, along with fermentation which is critical to achieve that unique taste(Thus I guess Kimchi might be more notorious than poplar: in my office, there is legendary guy who used to bring Kimchi for lunch…).
Anyway, I just want to know where you used to eat Bulgogi, and how it tastes like: if you have had it in some Korean restaurants and it have tasted sweet and kind of greasy, I am afraid to say that it might not be the real taste of Bulgogi. I dare to say that. It has been real while I have not eaten out, especially for Korean food, but the biggest impression to meat dish like Bulgogi in most of the Korean restaurant I have visited was too sweet and greasy. I have no idea how they have come up with that taste, but for me, the sweetness from sugar should not overpower the entire taste spectrum; as known, the main ingrediets for the Bulgogi marinade are soy sauce and sugar, but neither of ingredients should overpower. I know it sounds very much cliche, but there should be some kind of balance between the saltiness from soy sauce and the sweetness from sugar, as well as other minor ingredients takes care of aroma and other subtle flavors. In overall, soy sauce gives the background of overall flavor with saltiness and the aroma as well, and for me, the sweetness should come as the aftertaste of other ingredients like garlic, green onion, and toated sesame seed oil. Again, not overpowering like in ones you used to eat in most of the Korean restaurants in US is very important.
In Korean groceries I used to buy Korean cut meats, they label the Bulgogi cut as ribeye(and it looks like thinly sliced ribeye). In Korean cookbooks I have for the reference, the corresponding cut is actually sirloin. I do not know which one is right, but it doesn’t matter much to me. If you can find thin cut of beaf with some fat, it will be fine as the Bulgogi marinade can be used in any cut of beef if you want to(Galbi, the Korean rib, used to be marinated same way).
As mentioned above, soy sauce and sugar are the main ingredients in the marinade, and by the cookbooks, there ratio should be 2:1, and here is the recipe:
Thinly sliced beef : 300g(0.66 lbs)
Soy Sauce: 2 1/2 Tbs
Sugar: 1 1/4 Tbs
Scallion, minced, only white part: 1 Tb
Garlic, minced: 2 tbs
Tosted sesame seed salt: 1 tb
Tosted sesame seed oil: 1/2 tb
Pinch of pepper
As mentioned, the most important thing in this marinade is to keep the ratio of soy sauce and sugar. You can either add or subtract the other ingredients based on your preference. These days, most of Bulgogi recipe in the Korean cookbooks calls for some kind of citrus for tenderizer: pineapple, kiwi, etc. I think it will be OK without it, but if you must, I think the juice of Asian pear is the best and closer to the tradition, as its smooth sweetness without tartness works very well with other marinade ingredients as well as the tenderizer.
How to prepare Bulgogi? Just mix all the marinade ingredients in one ball, and mix well. Then pour it to the meat and toss well, and keep it in the refrigerator for few hours to a day before you cook. As for the cooking(grilling in fact), use very hot pan and cook it quickly. If you choose right cut with right thinkness, it will not take more than few minutes to cook it thoroughly.
I don’t think to make Bulgogi is such a big deal: it neither requires prolonged cooking time nor extensive ingredients list. If you keep the ratio of sugar and soy sauce, the failure will never be yours as far as making Bulgogi.
If you once feel comfortable with making Bulgogi marinade, you can apply it any kind of cut of beef. I will find my database(which is just a hardrive contains picture of food I have been cooking in fact), and come up with other kind of western beef dish in which I applied Bulgogi marinade.