I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of bulgogi sauce substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.
The best substitutes for bulgogi sauce are homemade bulgogi sauce and galbi sauce. You can also use Mongolian sauce, but you’ll need to add a dash of gochujang to bring a subtle heat. Teriyaki sauce also works like a charm, but you may want to mix it with vinegar to give it a more balanced flavor.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made beef bulgogi to try different bulgogi sauce substitutes.
Bulgogi sauce is a Korean-style BBQ sauce made with a base of soy sauce, brown sugar, grated pear, and gochujang. It has a sweet-savory flavor with a subtle tang, a hint of smokiness, and a mild spicy kick.
Here’s what I tested and the verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Homemade bulgogi sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Galbi sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||10/10|
|Mongolian sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, add gochujang/red pepper flakes to taste||9/10|
|Teriyaki sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with thinned-out teriyaki sauce||9/10|
|Soy Sauce + sugar + sesame oil||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, add rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes||8/10|
|Hoisin sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with diluted hoisin sauce||8/10|
|Oyster sauce||Replace in a 1:1 ratio, mix in garlic, ginger, gochujang.||7/10|
Common uses for bulgogi and their best substitutes
Beef bulgogi is the primary purpose of bulgogi sauce, but here are other uses and their best substitutes
- Marinades and vinaigrettes: Try using homemade bulgogi sauce, galbi sauce, or soy sauce + sugar + sesame seeds. You can also use teriyaki sauce, but you’ll need to dilute it first.
- As a dipping sauce: Try using homemade bulgogi sauce, galbi sauce, Mongolian sauce, or a mixture of soy sauce + sugar + sesame seeds.
- For glazing and basting: Try using homemade bulgogi sauce, galbi sauce, soy sauce + sugar + sesame seeds, or hoisin sauce.
- For noodle dishes and stir-fries: Try using homemade bulgogi sauce, galbi sauce, Mongolian sauce, or teriyaki sauce. You can also go with hoisin or oyster sauce, but you may need to adjust the salt content in your recipe because they’re a bit saltier.
Making beef bulgogi for dinner? Check out my article on beef bulgogi serving suggestions and side dishes.
Homemade bulgogi sauce
Crafting homemade bulgogi sauce is a rewarding and flavorful experience for those who enjoy getting hands-on in the kitchen.
An authentic recipe I recommend is from The Big Man’s World, which captures the perfect balance of sweet, smoky, and slightly tangy flavors essential for a delicious bulgogi sauce.
One of the key ingredients in this recipe is grated pear, lending a subtle fresh sweetness to the mix.
If you’re looking for an alternative recipe that doesn’t require fresh pear or gochujang, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Check out the video tutorial from Awesomely Awesome below for another variation that will still leave your taste buds satisfied.
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with homemade bulgogi sauce.
When it comes to a Bulgogi sauce substitute, you can’t go wrong with its delicious cousin, Galbi sauce.
Both originating from Korea, these sauces share a similar sweet and savory flavor profile that makes them fairly interchangeable. I find that Galbi sauces often taste a touch more fruity compared to their Bulgogi counterparts.
The main difference: Galbi sauce is used with beef short ribs, but who says you can’t use it to make bulgogi too?
A hack I picked up from fellow cooks is adding a tablespoon of cooking oil to the thinly sliced beef when using galbi sauce. This ensures that the beef bulgogi becomes oh-so-tender and juicy.
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with Galbi sauce.
Mongolian sauce might not be the first thing you think of when looking for a Bulgogi sauce substitute, but trust me, it’s a game-changer.
Its salty-sweet flavor mirrors the essence of Bulgogi sauce, only missing a hint of heat.
Good thing it’s an easy fix – mix in a touch of gochujang or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, and you’re good to go.
This condiment is available in most grocery stores, but it’s also a breeze to make from scratch using pantry staples like soy sauce, garlic, and sugar.
Pssst… and don’t forget the gochujang or red pepper flakes!
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with Mongolian sauce, and a dash of gochujang or red pepper flakes to taste.
Who would’ve thought a Japanese sauce like teriyaki could make such a fantastic Bulgogi sauce substitute?
Teriyaki sauce shares those irresistible sweet-savory notes with Bulgogi sauce, making it a straightforward alternative.
The only catch is that teriyaki sauce tends to be sweeter than Bulgogi sauce, so I like adding a splash of vinegar to counteract the sweetness and balance the flavors.
If you’re using a store-bought version, thin it with a splash of water for a more similar consistency to Bulgogi sauce.
If you’re making Teriyaki sauce from scratch, skip the slurry, and you’ll have the perfect base.
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with thinned-out teriyaki sauce.
For even more ideas, check out my guide to the best teriyaki sauce alternatives.
Soy sauce + sugar + sesame oil
When you need a quick and easy substitute for Bulgogi sauce, a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil can save the day.
This simple concoction offers a sweet, nutty flavor reminiscent of the Korean staple sauce.
But you don’t have to stop there – add in a splash of rice wine vinegar if you have it for that subtle tangy twist.
And toss in a dash of red pepper flakes for some heat!
It won’t be as complex as authentic bulgogi sauce, but this still made my beef bulgogi taste delicious.
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with a blend of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, adding rice wine vinegar and red pepper flakes.
Hoisin sauce is a convenient substitute for bulgogi sauce.
It shares a sweet-savory flavor profile but has a more viscous consistency.
But don’t worry. You can simply dilute it with water or broth so you can use it to marinade your meat.
And if you want to go the extra mile, add minced garlic, ginger, and a dash of sesame oil to bring hoisin sauce closer to bulgogi sauce’s flavor.
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with diluted hoisin sauce.
Oyster sauce boasts a rich, umami-packed flavor with a hint of sweetness, making it a decent alternative to bulgogi sauce.
You can use it diluted with water to thin out its viscous consistency.
But you can also make easy additions like fresh garlic, ginger, and a dash of gochujang to better replicate the flavor of bulgogi sauce.
It may seem too simple, but it did wonders and gave my beef bulgogi a more authentic flavor.
How to substitute: Replace Bulgogi sauce in a 1:1 ratio with Oyster sauce, and mix in garlic, ginger, and gochujang.
Other substitutes to consider
The list above features my top picks for bulgogi sauce substitutes, but here are other options you can also consider using:
- American-style BBQ sauce – this has similar savory-sweet, smoky notes to bulgogi sauce, and you can thin it out with a bit of water and soy sauce to match bulgogi sauce’s consistency. You can also add freshly minced garlic and ginger to take it closer to bulgogi’s taste. Finally, if you have a sweet BBQ sauce, you can try these tips to make your BBQ sauce less sweet.
- Ponzu sauce – this has a different flavor profile from bulgogi sauce but works great as a marinade. The citrus will keep your beef nice and juicy and bring a lighter twist to your traditional bulgogi. Plus, you can always mix in a bit of sweetener to give it a sweet flavor you’d usually get with bulgogi. Also check out these substitutes for ponzu sauce for even more ideas.
- Tian mian sauce – a Chinese condiment with a sweet-savory flavor. This is sweeter than bulgogi, so you can offset it with vinegar or lemon juice.
- Worcestershire sauce – this is not an exact flavor match for bulgogi sauce, but it has similar sweet-savory flavor notes. It already has a thin consistency, so you can use it easily.
Substitutes to avoid
I came across the following suggestions while researching, so I had to try them out. But I can’t recommend them as a substitute for bulgogi sauce. Stick with the other options in this list!
- Sweet and sour sauce – this tasty condiment has a more prominent sweet-tangy flavor which strays from the savory bulgogi sauce. Save it for your roast duck or crispy egg rolls instead!
- Ssamjang – this may be a staple in Korean BBQ, but it’s mostly used as a dipping sauce instead of an ingredient like bulgogi sauce.
11 Best Bulgogi Sauce Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
- 2 tbsp ginger grated
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp sesame oil
- ½ large pear finely grated
- 1 tbsp gochujang
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine all the ingredients (except for the pear and gochujang) well.
- Once fully mixed, fold in the grated pear until combined and add gochujang. Use immediately.