What can I use instead of bulgogi sauce? Teriyaki, unagi, and kalbi sauce are your best bet to mimic bulgogi sauce’s complex flavors and sticky texture. However, you can use hoisin sauce for a more intense flavor or ponzu sauce for a thinner, tangy citrus-based replacement. Other alternatives include BBQ, oyster, and soy sauce.
Bulgogi sauce is a sweet, salty, spicy, and slightly acidic Korean BBQ sauce used to marinate bulgogi or “fire meat.” Bulgogi sauce’s acidity tenderizes the meat, and the sweetness and saltiness create a mouth-watering crust during grilling. Use these delicious alternatives if you’re craving Korean BBQ meat, but you’re down to the last drop of bulgogi sauce.
The Best Bulgogi Sauce Substitutes
Japanese Teriyaki Sauce
Although slightly sweeter, Japanese teriyaki sauce is the best substitute for bulgogi sauce. Teriyaki sauce includes soy sauce, sugar, Mirin, and ginger.
Both sauces are sweet, salty, slightly spicy, and a little sticky – the perfect marinade or basting sauce for grilled meats.
You can use teriyaki sauce as a marinade for grilling meat, basting sauce, or dipping sauce. Teriyaki’s soy sauce, Mirin, and ginger notes are perfect for beef, chicken, or pork.
Japanese teriyaki sauce is more commonly available than bulgogi sauce. Use equal amounts when replacing bulgogi sauce with teriyaki sauce
Unagi sauce comes in a close second as a replacement for bulgogi sauce. Although it lacks the spicy flavors of bulgogi sauce, it doesn’t disappoint in matching the sweetness and saltiness.
Also known as eel sauce, unagi consists of soy sauce, sugar, Mirin, and rice vinegar. Unagi sauce boasts a similar sweetness and saltiness to bulgogi sauce.
You can use the full-bodied unagi sauce as a marinade, basting, or dipping sauce for various meat, including beef, pork, and chicken.
Use equal amounts of unagi sauce when replacing bulgogi sauce to capture the essence of the sweet and salty flavor without overpowering the cut of meat.
Kalbi Sauce (Galbi Sauce)
Kalbi sauce is a Korean BBQ sauce that you can use to replace bulgogi sauce. This BBQ sauce contains soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, Mirin, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and pear.
Kalbi sauce delivers similar sweet and salty flavors while lacking the spiciness of bulgogi sauce.
Kalbi sauce is made exclusively for short beef. However, kalbi clings well to any meat.
So, try using this BBQ sauce as a marinade, basting, or dipping sauce for various meat, including beef, pork, and chicken.
Kalbi sauce isn’t as potent as bulgogi sauce. However, you can use equal amounts or a little more kalbi sauce when replacing bulgogi sauce to ensure that every mouthful of succulent meat bursts with flavor.
Use hoisin sauce to replace bulgogi sauce if you prefer a more intense flavor. This Chinese staple is made from fermented soybeans, vinegar, sugar, and spices.
Hoisin sauce is sweet and salty, with a slightly spicy kick, making it an ideal alternative for bulgogi sauce.
Hoisin sauce has a thick, sticky texture, making it an excellent marinade, glaze, basting sauce, or dipping sauce.
Hoisin sauce is thicker and offers a more intense flavor than bulgogi sauce. You will want to use less hoisin sauce when glazing or marinating your meat.
Ponzu sauce is a citrus-based Japanese condiment made with soy sauce, Mirin, rice vinegar, and citrus juice (yuzu or lemon).
Ponzu sauce’s sweet and tangy profile makes it a delicious alternative to bulgogi sauce. However, ponzu is less sweet and more savory than bulgogi sauce.
Ponzu sauce has a thinner consistency than bulgogi sauce. Therefore, it might not be the best replacement for a thick glaze or marinade.
However, you can use it as a dipping sauce, dressing, or thinner marinade.
Ponzu is a little tricky to find in general grocery stores. If you do find a bottle, use equal amounts of ponzu sauce when replacing bulgogi sauce.
Oyster sauce is another readily available and affordable substitute for hard-to-find bulgogi sauce. Oyster sauce has a salty-sweet, umami flavor with dark caramel notes.
With the shake of a bottle, you can add a layer of complex flavors to meat and stir-fry. You can use oyster sauce as a marinade or braising sauce for beef, chicken, or pork.
You can use equal amounts of oyster sauce when replacing bulgogi sauce.
Soy Sauce and Honey
Soy sauce is a staple in most pantries. Adding a drizzle of honey to soy sauce can create the perfect marinade to replace bulgogi sauce.
The combination of soya sauce and honey offers a distinctive saltiness, with hints of sweetness and bitterness hiding behind the dominant savory flavors.
Use soy sauce and honey as a marinade or glaze for stir-fries and grilled meat, including beef, pork, and chicken.
You can use equal amounts of soy sauce and honey marinade when replacing bulgogi sauce. Opt for a low-sodium and sugar-free soy sauce for a healthy replacement for bulgogi sauce.
BBQ is a suitable replacement for someone who wants a less sweet, smokier flavor to bulgogi sauce. BBO sauce is thick and sticky, with an intense, rich, caramelized, and smoky flavor.
You can use thick, sticky BBQ sauce as a marinade, basting, or dipping sauce for beef, pork, or chicken.
You can use equal amounts of BBQ sauce when replacing bulgogi sauce.
Homemade Bulgogi Sauce
Homemade bulgogi sauce only requires a few simple ingredients and some of your time. Boy, will it be worth it, though!
You can use this homemade BBQ sauce to marinate beef, chicken, or pork or as a dipping sauce.
Blend ½ cup water, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 4 tablespoons pear juice (or apple juice), 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar (or honey), 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger, and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes until smooth.
Thicken the sauce by simmering it in a pan for two minutes over medium-high heat.
Turn off the heat and mix in 2 tablespoons sesame oil and green onion. Allow the sauce to cool before using.