Sweet, spicy, and completely addicting - you will seriously love these Slow Cooker Korean Beef Tacos. Plus they couldn't be easier to make!
Living in Los Angeles, there are literally thousands of taco trucks and some of my favorites are Asian-inspired taco trucks. These Mexican Korean fusion trucks take all the best Korean flavors, like bulgogi beef, and pack them into warm corn tortillas loaded with toppings. They are so good and people drive for miles in search of these amazing Korean tacos.
However, they are not the healthiest option. One clue, is the huge pile of grease I normally see resting on the bottom of my container after eating them.
This led me to start experimenting at home with slow-cooked Korean beef. I wanted to create all the same flavors, but make a lighter version. The first step here was to start with a leaner cut of beef. While the taco truck version uses short ribs, I decided to go with a leaner and more affordable top-round roast.
Next up was the most important part - the Korean bulgogi flavors. To achieve the sweet and spicy flavors, the beef is cooked with a combination of soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, jalapeno, red onion, ginger, and rice vinegar. Gochujang would be a great addition in place of the jalapeno for a more authentic spicy element.
This combines in the slow cooker to add tons of flavor to the meat and create the most amazing sauce. A quick note about the recipe, you may be shocked to see there are ten cloves of garlic, but note that they are cooked whole. When added whole, they will flavor the dish without overpowering everything. If the garlic was minced, you would need significantly less.
Key Ingredients and Easy Swaps
Here is everything you need to make these tasty Korean beef tacos.
- Beef: If you are making this in the slow cooker, you can use a lean option like eye round or top round. You could also use beef chuck roast, which will be more flavorful from the extra fat. If you plan on marinating the steak and cooking it on the grill or in the oven, use sirloin steak, flank steak, or skirt steak. Short ribs are also classically used.
- Brown sugar: This recipe will work with brown sugar, white sugar, or honey. You can cut back on the sweetness slightly if you like, but to get that Korean bulgogi flavor, it needs to have some sugar.
- Soy sauce: This is a staple in the sauce and marinade. Use regular or low sodium soy sauce. Tamari or coconut aminos can also be used but you may need some extra to get the same flavor.
- Garlic: This recipe uses 10 whole garlic cloves. They will infuse the whole dish with garlic flavor without it being overpowering. If you opt to use minced garlic, use 4-5 cloves.
- Onion: The sweetness of red onion or Vidalia onion is really tasty in this dish, but a standard white or yellow onion will also work.
- Jalapenos: To add subtle heat, this recipe uses jalapenos. You can swap in gochujang, Sriracha, or sambal olek.
- Ginger: If possible, use fresh ginger to get the best flavor. Ginger powder can be swapped in but it won't have the same warm spicy flavor.
- Rice vinegar: To balance the sweetness in this dish, you need acid. Rice vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar are the best options. Use apple cider vinegar if you don't have rice vinegar.
How to serve Slow Cooker Korean Beef?
This slow cooked beef is extremely versatile and while I love to eat it as tacos, there are so many different possibilities.
- Tacos: Whether you use corn tortillas, flour tortillas, or low-carb tortillas, this meat makes the best Korean BBQ tacos. Top it with the quick slaw recipe below, some chopped cilantro, sesame seeds, and a squirt of Sriracha or spicy mayo. You can also add some sliced avocado, shredded cabbage, or pickled red onion.
- Lettuce Wraps: For a lighter option, serve this as lettuce wraps. Butter lettuce is a great option for lettuce wraps. Then top the wraps with shredded carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, cilantro, and Sriracha or spicy mayo. Serve with some Sesame Soy Edamame on the side.
- Burrito Bowls: When I have leftovers and use this for meal prep, I almost make burrito bowls. Make a batch of brown rice or quinoa, some quick Stir Fried Cabbage, and pack everything with to make a Korean burrito bowl.
- Sandwiches: Think of this like a Korean-style pulled beef sandwich. Grab some tender rolls, pile on the beef, and top with slaw and Sriracha. Instead of pickles, use kimchi.
- Salads: Adding a topping like this crockpot Korean beef to a salad makes it so much more than a bowl of green. Since the beef is really moist and saucy, I like to a shredded coleslaw mix as the base for the salad and then add things like fresh cucumbers, edamame, pineapple, cilantro, and bean sprouts.
No matter how you eat this Korean Beef, adding a cabbage slaw and spicy mayo is always a good idea. It works for tacos, bowls, lettuce wraps, salads, wraps, and pretty much everything.
Quick Asian Slaw Recipe
No one will be upset if you pile this tasty slaw on top of these tasty Korean beef tacos.
- 4 cups shredded coleslaw mix
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tsp reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 tsp honey
- Mix together the rice vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce, and honey to create the dressing. Toss with the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes for cabbage to slightly soften.
Spicy Mayo Recipe
Almost everytime I have had these from a taco truck, there is an option to add spicy mayo. If you can find Kewpie mayo, it will have a more authentic flavor.
- 1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
- 1-2 tbsp Sriracha (or gochujang)
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- Mix everything together and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.
Can I cook Korean Beef in the Instant Pot?
This Korean Beef can easily be made in the Instant Pot. Instead of adding the entire piece of beef to the Instant Pot, cut it into smaller pieces first. Then add the sauce, garlic, jalapeno, and red onion. Cook on the manual setting for 60 minutes. Either let the pot naturally release or carefully vent the pot. Shred the beef using two forks. If the sauce looks too thin, you can mix together 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 2 teaspoons of water. Then add to the pot and turn to saute. Once the sauce is simmering, let it cook for one minute and turn it off. Let the sauce rest for 10-15 minutes to thicken up.
Can I prep this in advance and freeze it?
This recipe is a great one to prep ahead of time and keep in the freezer. Simply add everything to a Ziploc bag or freezer-safe container in its raw state. When you are ready to cook, take it out the night before and let it defrost overnight in the fridge. Then simply cook it as directed. If you need to defrost it more quickly, you can run it under warm water in the until it loosens up enough that you can easily remove it from the bag. However, if it is still somewhat frozen, it may take slightly longer to cook.
How can I reduce the amount of sugar?
If you are concerned about the amount of sugar in this recipe, there are a few ways you can reduce the sugar. The one I use the most often is replacing half the sugar with unsweetened apple or pear sauce.
Use twice the amount of apple or pear sauce when replacing the sugar. I wouldn't recommend replacing all of the sugar though since the fruit puree isn't as sweet. You could also use an alternative sweetener like honey or maple syrup.
This recipe originally appeared in 2011 with the photo below. It has been updated with new photos and recipe info.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the most common questions about making these Korean beef tacos.
Absolutely! Use the sauce to marinate your favorite cut of steak. Marinate it overnight (or for at least 4 hours) and then grill the meat to your liking. Let it rest and slice thin. Serve in tortillas with your favorite taco toppings.
Bulgogi marinade is typically used when making beef. It is a balance of salty, sweet, and savory. Typically bulgogi isn't very spicy but many people like to add gochujang to their bulgogi marinade and sauce to make it spicier. The beef is always very tender.
Slow Cooker Korean Beef Tacos
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- 2.67 lbs extra lean top round roast, trimmed of fat
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce (GF if needed)
- 10 cloves garlic
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 2 jalapenos, diced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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