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Super tender, delicious, and easy to make, these Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups are a must try. They’re loaded with thinly sliced and marinated ribeye steak, green onion, steamed rice, kimchi and drizzled with a super easy and flavourful Sesame Sauce. The marinade is gluten-free, Paleo friendly, and easily adaptable to Whole30.

Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups drizzled with sesame sauce

What You Need for These Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups

  • Beef: Ribeye steak is flavourful, tender and cooks quickly, making it a prized cut for beef bulgogi. The drawback is that ribeye tends to be quite expensive. Since the bulgogi marinade helps to significantly tenderize the meat, you can actually use a variety of less expensive cuts, such as sirloin or flank steak. The most important thing is to slice the beef as thin as possible. You can ask your butcher to do this or try it yourself by partially freezing the meat before slicing.
  • Korean Pear: One of the quintessential ingredients in a good bulgogi marinade is Korean pear, often labelled Asian pear or Apple Pear. These large, round pears have a light brown skin, crisp flesh, high water content and subtle sweetness. When blended into the marinade, they help give the meat a delicious flavour.
  • Kiwi: Not only will green kiwi add a delicate sweetness to your bulgogi marinade, but it also contains a powerful enzyme called actinidin that helps to quickly tenderize the meat. It’s for this reason that using an already tender cut, such as ribeye, is not absolutely necessary for delicious beef bulgogi lettuce cups.
  • Garlic: As always, measure this ingredient with your heart. My heart usually tells me to put at least 5 cloves, sometimes 7, in my bulgogi marinade. The meat is rich and fatty and can handle the flavour.
  • Onion: I like to blend the onion with the other hard ingredients so that it completely surrounds the meat. Sometimes I also add thinly sliced onion to the meat as it cooks in the pan.
  • Ginger: For best results, use fresh ginger root and blend it together with the other hard ingredients.
  • Coconut Aminos: Naturally gluten-free, coconut aminos are an excellent soy-sauce substitute. They are much less salty and sweeter than soy sauce, giving the marinade a much more well rounded flavour.
  • Fish Sauce: On its own, fish sauce is strong and overpowering. But worked into this marinade, it adds a depth of salty, umami flavour that just can’t be beat. Think of it more as a way of seasoning the food than adding fishy flavour.
  • Rice Vinegar: This will help to cut through some of the richness in the meat and also help to tenderize it.
  • Toasted Sesame Oil: Sesame oil is one of the defining flavours in these bulgogi lettuce cups. It’s incredibly strong in flavour but it tends to mellow out as it cooks so you can get away with adding quite a bit to the marinade.
  • Honey: Adding some honey to the marinade will help balance all of the tangy, salty and acidic elements. However, because the coconut aminos are fairly sweet, you don’t absolutely need the honey and can omit it if you want to keep things Whole30. If you do want to have more of a sweet flavour, try adding 2 pitted dates to the blender along with the other hard ingredients.
Beef Bulgogi cooked in a carbon-steel pan

What You Need for the Sesame Sauce

  • Mayonnaise: You can use store-bought or make your own from scratch with the recipe in my cookbook. To keep things Paleo and Whole30, use an avocado oil mayonnaise, like Chosen Foods or Primal Kitchen.
  • Toasted Sesame Oil: The idea behind this sauce is to highlight the same sesame flavours in the beef bulgogi marinade. Since the sauce doesn’t get cooked, you just need a tiny drizzle.
  • Kimchi Juice: The secret ingredient! Add a spoonful or two of kimchi juice – the spicy, funky, fermented liquid it’s packed in. It will completely transform your sauce and give it an instant complexity with absolutely no effort. Plus, it has some gut-healthy probiotics!
  • Honey: It’s not absolutely necessary, but I like to add a small amount of honey for some sweetness. It helps balance out the spicy and sour flavours in the kimchi juice.
Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups drizzled with sesame sauce
Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups with Sesame Sauce Kimchi Rice and Scallions

For Serving…

  • Lettuce: I like to use romaine or red leaf lettuce here. They have large, soft leaves that are easy to handle and load up with all the fillings. Plus you get some crunch and juiciness from the lower core. You can also use butter lettuce or iceberg if desired.
  • Steamed Rice: You can omit it or substitute cauliflower rice if you want to keep things Paleo and/or Whole30. But if you’re living your Food Freedom, try serving the beef bulgogi lettuce cups with some steamed white rice.
  • Kimchi: Look for one that is sugar-free if you want to keep things Paleo and Whole30. It’s different in flavour from more traditional Korean versions, but Wild Brine makes a delicious one that is sugar-free.
  • Green Onion: Thinly slice green onions add some colour, texture and a delicious flavour overtop of the beef bulgogi lettuce cups.
  • Sesame Sauce: Honestly, make a double batch. You’ll be eating it by the spoonful it’s so good!
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Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups with Sesame Sauce

Super tender, delicious, and easy to make, these Beef Bulgogi Lettuce Cups are a must try. They're loaded with thinly sliced and marinated ribeye steak, green onion, steamed rice, kimchi and drizzled with a super easy and flavourful Sesame Sauce.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 8 minutes
Total Time: 28 minutes
Servings: 4 people


For the Beef Bulgogi:

  • ½ yellow onion, peeled
  • ½ Asian pear, peeled
  • 1 kiwi, peeled
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1/3 cup coconut aminos
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey, omit for whole30
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
  • 1.5 pounds ribeye steak, substitute NY strip, flank or sirloin
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, for garnish
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, rinsed well and cut in half, widthwise, for serving
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced, for serving
  • Steamed white rice, for serving
  • ½ cup kimchi, roughly chopped, for serving

For the Sesame Sauce:

  • ¼ cup avocado oil mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons kimchi juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey


For the Beef Bulgogi:

  • Place the beef in the freezer for 4 to 6 hours to partially freeze – this will make it easier to slice. Remove the beef from the freezer and slice it very thin with a sharp knife. Transfer the steak to a shallow bowl or baking dish and set aside.
  • In a blender, combine the onion, pear, kiwi, garlic and ginger. Blend on high speed until smooth. Pour the marinade over the beef. Add the coconut aminos, vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, honey, if using, salt and pepper. Toss gently until well coated. Cover and refrigerate for 30 to 45 minutes maximum.
  • Preheat a large cast-iron or carbon steel skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd, drain most of the marinade and add the beef to the pan. Cook, undisturbed, until slightly brown, around 2 minutes. Stir gently until the beef is just cooked through, around 2 more minutes. Transfer to a bowl and repeat with the remainder of the meat. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve with the lettuce, green onions, rice, kimchi and sesame sauce.

For the Sesame Sauce:

  • In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, kimchi juice, sesame oil and honey. Stir until smooth, taste and adjust with kimchi juice as desired. Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.


Tried this recipe? Leave a comment below!

About the Author

Hi, i’m Ronny! In 2013, after a lifetime of struggling with my weight and body issues, I rehabilitated my relationship with food, lost over 40 pounds and completely changed my life.

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