Growing up in Busan, South Korea, Bobby Yoon ate his fair share of fast food hamburgers.
“I love American cheeseburgers,” says Yoon, owner of Yoon Haeundae Galbi in Midtown Manhattan. But the burgers he ate as a kid weren’t quite what you’d find in the U.S.
“In Korea, there’s one burger franchise called Lotteria and they make a bulgogi burger,” says Yoon. The sandwich uses the traditional Korean marinated beef instead of a ground beef patty. “And McDonald’s in Korea actually started making a bulgogi burger, too, because the other [chain] was so successful.”
When he smells the galbi patties (ground short rib mixed with scallion and pine nuts and marinated with galbi sauce) cooking in his own restaurant, it immediately brings back memories of eating those bulgogi burgers as a kid.
Yoon Haeundae Galbi opened in New York’s Koreatown in 2018 as a contemporary homage to the food of Yoon’s hometown and to his family’s business. In 1964, his grandfather opened the highly regarded Haeundae Somunnan Amso Galbijip restaurant, which is known for making short ribs and is still in business today in Busan. The galbi patties, along with many other dishes on Yoon’s New York menu, are made from his grandfather’s recipes.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Yoon closed his restaurant for a couple of months and, after reopening, had an excess number of galbi patties, which he typically served as an appetizer or part of a main dish. So he looked to the fast food bulgogi burgers for inspiration.
On a sesame-studded brioche bun, Yoon layers one of his house-made galbi patties with pickled onions, lettuce and ranch dressing. Not only did he serve these burgers to his half-capacity rooftop dining room during the past year, but he also began selling the frozen patties for takeout, too.
“It turned out to be really, really good,” he says.
Take your burger to the next level with Yoon’s recipe for his signature galbi patty. .
The key to Yoon’s burger is his special patty that is infused with an amalgam of Korean flavors. Most importantly, he uses ground short rib and galbi sauce.
“Because the short rib is close to the bone, it’s got a little more flavor,” says Yoon. However, if you can’t find ground short rib in your local grocery store, he says the recipe works just as well with ground beef that’s 70 percent lean and 30 percent fat, lending more oomph to the flavor and texture of a normal burger.
For the galbi sauce, Yoon recommends looking for a jar of pre-made sauce from CJ Foods, a ubiquitous ingredient in Korea. But any galbi sauce you can get your hands on will work. To finish off the patty, Yoon adds toasted pine nuts and diced scallions.
Then, it’s time to “mash it up,” he says. “The meat needs to break down, so you literally mash the whole patty mixture. Really get in there and mix it up until it becomes a gooey texture.”
Finally, when it’s time to shape the patties, Yoon recommends pressing your thumb into its center. “You have to put a little thumb mark in the middle of it like a doughnut, but not too much that you make a hole,” he says. “The middle part doesn’t cook all the way so you kind of have to make it a little bit thinner to cook it inside.”
Once the patty is ready, it doesn’t take much to build Yoon’s burger. He adds a leaf of crunchy butter lettuce, a layer of either ranch or mayo—dealer’s choice—and as much homemade pickled red onion (recipe below) as you can handle.
“The ranch and the mayo have that creamy flavor and if you put on a little bit of onion, that’s a little spicy,” says Yoon. “It’s a good marriage of fat, acid, saltiness and sweetness.”
His pickled onions blend apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt and water, and take about an hour to make—most of the time is spent cooling. If you want to dial up the heat, add a little gochujang (a fermented paste made from red chilis that’s a staple of Korean cuisine) or sriracha to your ranch or mayo. “This will give you a little more spicy kick,” says Yoon.
Yoon, like any burger lover, is particular about how his patty, sauces and other toppings come together into their final form. Layer your ingredients haphazardly and you’re liable to end up with a mess. So Yoon likes to first spread a bit of butter onto the insides of the bun (brioche with sesame seeds is what he suggests) and toasts it until the edges are golden and crispy. This adds flavor and helps give the bread a bit of extra firmness.
Then, starting with the bottom bun, he spreads the ranch or mayo and adds the patty. Then comes the butter lettuce leaf “because that will give a little extra plate to hold the onions,” which go on next, followed by the top bun.
“If you toast with the butter, it kind of gives you a crispiness,” says Yoon. “So when you bite it, it doesn’t just smoosh. It’s crispy and then you bite into the ranch and the galbi sauce and then you kind of get all the flavors.”
Makes 4 burgers
- 1 pound Ground short rib
- 1 Scallion, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp Toasted pine nuts, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp Galbi sauce (CJ Foods recommended)
- 1 Red onion, thinly sliced and pickled (recipe below or your favorite store bought)
- Ranch dressing or mayo
- 4 Butter lettuce leaves
- 4 Brioche buns with sesame seeds, toasted with butter
- Preheat a grill to high heat. In a bowl, mix together the ground beef, galbi sauce, scallions and pine nuts. Shape into 4 round patties, about 4-inches-wide and three-quarters of an inch to one-inch thick patties. (I like mine on the thinner side). Make a small depression with your finger or spoon in the middle of the patty.
- Place the patties on the grill and cook for about 3-5 minutes. When you see juices pooling in your depression, it’s time to flip. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or to desired temperature.
- Meanwhile, butter the brioche buns and place face down on the grill until lightly toasted and crispy.
- To assemble, spread ranch or mayo on the bottom bun. Place a patty on top of the sauce, then layer on a butter lettuce leaf and some pickled onion.
- 1 Red onion, thinly sliced
- .5 cup Apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- 1.5 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 cup Water
Add all of the ingredients, except the onion, to a small bowl and whisk until salt and sugar are dissolved. Place the sliced onion in a jar and pour the mixture over it. Close the jar, shake it and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour.