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Bulgogi Sauce Substitute: 13 Delicious Options 

If you like the flavors of bulgogi but don’t have it on hand, there are plenty of ingredients that can work as a bulgogi sauce substitute.

As a result, you can still achieve the same flavor using the right ingredients and spices. If you’ve never tried these substitutes, you’ll be surprised at how flavorful and versatile they are. They bring something unique to the bulgogi recipe and many other dishes. 

Keep reading to learn about these substitutes and tips on how to use them.

Plate with rice and Korean meat cooked with Bulgogi sauce

What is Bulgogi Sauce? 

Bulgogi sauce is a marinade or sauce used in various Korean dishes, particularly bulgogi. 

The word bul means ‘fire,’ and gogi means ‘meat,’ so bulgogi is “fire meat” because you cook it on a grill or over an open fire, and bulgogi sauce is any liquid used as sauce or marinade. 

Bulgogi sauce is sweet and savory, typically using soy sauce as a base. It tastes very similar to Japanese teriyaki sauce, also made of sugar and soy sauce. 

Other ingredients like pear juice, brown sugar, garlic, sesame oil, ginger, green onions, and toasted sesame seeds add to the sweetness, resulting in a complex-tasting sauce. 

Although traditional bulgogi sauce is used in Korean barbecue beef dishes, this sauce is versatile enough, and it goes well with many other dishes. 

Aside from giving bulgogi its delicious flavor, bulgogi sauce also helps tenderize the meat. 

What is Korean Bulgogi Sauce Made Of?

To find the best bulgogi sauce substitute, you should be familiar with the ingredients of bulgogi sauce so you can find the same ingredients or sauce to replace bulgogi sauce. 

  • There’s soy sauce, of course, which is the main ingredient of bulgogi sauce. Try using a low-sodium one.  
  • Brown sugar gives it the sweetness (white granulated sugar works, too). 
  • Pear juice is another essential bulgogi sauce ingredient. If you can’t find Korean pears, any sweet fruit juice, like pineapple or apple juice, will work. 
  • The grated ginger, minced garlic, green onions, and toasted sesame seeds add more flavor to the bulgogi sauce.
  • And the sesame oil gives it a pleasant nutty taste.

13 Best Bulgogi Sauce Substitutes

The best substitutes for bulgogi sauce will depend on your preference. But all these substitutes are bursting with flavors. Most are kitchen staples, while others you can only find at supermarkets or Asian stores.

Take your pick from these bulgogi sauce substitutes:

1. Kalbi Sauce 

If you’re looking for substitutes for bulgogi sauce, you’ll get the same results with kalbi or galbi sauce.

Kalbi sauce originates from Korea and shares bulgogi’s sweet and savory flavor.

It’s highly recommended if you like your grilled meat with a slightly spicy flavor. 

Compared with bulgogi sauce, kalbi sauce is thinner and has a touch of fruitiness to it. It’s also more affordable than other Korean barbecue sauces. 

Like bulgogi sauce, kalbi sauce has soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. But it also has rice wine and Korean chili paste (gochujang).  

Aside from being a marinade for beef, pork, chicken, and seafood, you can also use kalbi sauce as a dipping or stir fry sauce.  

Use it on beef steaks, chicken, pork ribs, or pork chops. For the best flavors, make sure to marinate overnight. 

Cooking tip:

When using kalbi sauce, add a tablespoon of cooking oil to your thin slices of beef, so they get tender and juicy.

2. Teriyaki Sauce 

One of the best substitutes for bulgogi is Japanese teriyaki sauce. It’s an easy-to-use alternative because of its sweet and savory sauce. 

Like bulgogi sauce, it contains sugar and soy sauce.

Because teriyaki sauce is thick, it easily coats any meat you’re working with and prevents it from drying out when cooking or grilling. 

Teriyaki sauce is also bolder and sweeter, so you may add vinegar to balance the sweetness. Add water instead of vinegar if you’re using a store-bought teriyaki sauce. 

To make your teriyaki sauce, mix brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, and cornstarch as thickener if that’s what you prefer.

Bulgogi sauce does not have alcohol. Teriyaki sauce, on the other hand, contains sake and mirin, so consider this before using it as a substitute for bulgogi sauce. 

Cooking tip:

This sweet and sour sauce has a more intense flavor, so use additional seasonings to temper the taste.

Grocery store shelf with Oyster sauce bottles.

3. Oyster Sauce

As a substitute for bulgogi sauce, oyster sauce is a must-try. It’s a versatile ingredient that can elevate the flavors of any dish. 

It’s a staple in Chinese cuisine so you can use it as marinades and dipping sauces. 

If you use oyster sauce as a bulgogi sauce substitute, you’ll need to reduce the saltiness with water or not add any salt anymore. 

Because of its strong umami flavor, it’s a common ingredient in soups, noodles, and stir-fries. 

Cooking tip:

Aside from diluting it with water to thin out the oyster sauce, add some ginger, garlic, and gochujang to achieve that bulgogi sauce taste.

Close up image of Hoisin sauce

4. Hoisin Sauce

Bulgogi sauce substitutes like hoisin sauce are convenient and can easily replicate delicious bulgogi sauce flavors. 

It’s often used in Vietnamese and Chinese dishes with ingredients like sugar, soybeans, garlic, and chilies. 

Its sweet, salty flavor makes a fantastic dipping sauce and marinade for grilled meats. 

But hoisin sauce has a thicker and stickier consistency. Quickly remedy this by diluting it with broth or water before marinating your meat. 

Cooking tip:

Add sesame oil, minced garlic, and ginger to achieve that Korean bulgogi sauce flavor.

5. Barbecue Sauce

Any barbecue sauce will work well as a substitute for bulgogi sauce.

You can also opt for Korean barbecue sauce to enhance the smokiness of your meat or vegetables. 

Barbecue Sauce has a sweet, tangy taste and thick texture that perfectly works on slathering chicken or ribs.

Aside from using it as a marinade, you can use it as a dipping sauce. 

Cooking tip:

Mix your barbecue sauce with sesame oil, brown sugar, and soy sauce for your homemade bulgogi sauce. Then marinate your meat with it overnight and grill the following day for the best results.

Bottle with Worcestershire sauce and small dish filled with brown sauce.

6. Worcestershire Sauce

If you check for substitutes for bulgogi sauce, you’ll always find Worcestershire sauce on the list. 

That’s because it has a similar flavor profile to bulgogi sauce (sweet and sharp tangy flavor). 

Worcestershire Sauce is versatile and suits many dishes and cuisines, and is typically used to season meats, fish, and vegetables or as a marinade and dipping sauce.

Some also use it in stews and soups.  

But like oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce is saltier, so you’ll need to dilute it or skip using soy sauce. 

Cooking tip: 

If you can’t use other substitutes for bulgogi sauce, try Worcestershire sauce and add a ½ teaspoon of sugar. 

7. Sriracha

Do you prefer your bulgogi sauce spicy? Try sriracha as a bulgogi sauce alternative. 

Although its ingredients are chili peppers, salt, vinegar, garlic, and sugar, it’s one of the best substitutes for bulgogi because of its flavor profile. 

It’s sweet, garlicky, and tangy. And even if it has red jalapeno peppers, it’s only mildly spicy, so it won’t affect the bulgogi sauce taste. 

Aside from adding exciting flavors to your dishes, sriracha is a versatile condiment or ingredient in noodles, soups, and stir-fries.  

Transform your bulgogi into something unique. While you’re at it, use it as grilling marinade for steak satay or chicken tenders. 

Cooking tip: 

Give your bulgogi sauce recipe an extra zing with the spicy and savory sriracha. Add a dollop of sriracha to your grilled meat or vegetables for a mild to medium spiciness. 

8. Unagi Sauce

Also known as eel sauce, unagi sauce doesn’t actually contain eels. It’s simply a Japanese sauce that’s used to coat grilled eel. 

But this sweet, salty, caramelized golden brown sauce is also popular with grilled meat, fish, and seafood and makes an excellent bulgogi sauce replacement. 

Its ingredients include dark soy sauce, rice vinegar, cooking sake or mirin, and sugar. 

Lightly brush your meat with unagi sauce and enjoy its delightful flavor. Aside from using it for bulgogi, you can use it as a dressing for noodles or as a dipping sauce. 

Storing unagi sauce won’t be a problem, as it can last up to three months if placed in an airtight container inside the refrigerator. 

Cooking tip: 

Try substituting bulgogi sauce with unagi sauce and see how you like it. Just add sugar as a thickener.  You can serve your dishes with pickled vegetables as a dish, too.

9. Ssamjang 

Another Korean BBQ sauce makes it to this list of the best substitutes for bulgogi sauce. 

Ssamjang is made from Korean red chili paste (gochujang), soybean paste (doenjang), sugar, green onions, garlic, and sugar. 

It’s thick and spicy, with a little salty taste and nutty aroma―the perfect replacement for bulgogi sauce. 

You can buy ssamjang at any Korean supermarket or Asian food store or make your own. Combine all the ingredients, and then marinate your meat. You can also eat it with rice and lettuce. 

Cooking tip: 

Use it as a bulgogi marinade and as a dipping sauce. It also tastes great as a condiment for noodles and rice dishes. 

Ponzu sauce bottles on the shelf

10. Ponzu Sauce

Substitute bulgogi sauce with something with a tangy flavor and a bright tart. Ponzu sauce is versatile and will taste great in your bulgogi recipe. 

Its ingredients include juices from citrus fruits like limes, oranges, and lemons. It also has rice vinegar and soy sauce. 

Apart from bulgogi sauce, you can enjoy ponzu sauce with vegetables, fish, and poultry as a dipping sauce or marinade. 

Ponzu sauce is available at supermarkets and Asian food stores, so try this bulgogi sauce substitute for that added zest!

Cooking tip: 

Use this bulgogi sauce alternative if you don’t want your dish to taste too sweet. It has a thinner consistency, so it’s not recommended if you like thick, glaze-like sauces. 

11. Sweet and Sour Sauce

Since bulgogi sauce is often sweet and sour, a substitute like sweet and sour sauce would naturally be an excellent choice. 

This condiment is used widely in Chinese cuisine and has a sweet and tangy flavor from ingredients like soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, ketchup, and more. 

You can easily replicate the delicious bulgogi taste with the right balance of sweet and spicy. 

Aside from bulgogi, you can use the sweet and sour sauce as a dip for fried fish or a marinade for meat. 

You can also make your own sweet and sour sauce at home and adjust the taste according to your preference. 

Just prepare the most essential ingredients, like brown sugar, rice vinegar, pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce, and cornstarch (for thickening). 

Mix everything and mix it well. Bring it to a boil until the sauce thickens. That’s it! 

Cooking tip: 

When using sweet and sour sauce as a substitute, adjust your ingredients as needed, or you may have a dish that’s too sweet or sour. 

12. Plum Sauce

This versatile and delicious Chinese condiment makes an excellent substitute for bulgogi sauce because of its sweetness and tartness. 

Plum sauce is made from plums, honey, spices, and other ingredients that taste similar to bulgogi sauce. 

Make extra servings so you can use your plum sauce for other recipes. It makes a great dipping, basting, and glazing sauce. 

The plum sauce also works well with stir-fries, rice, and noodles. 

Cooking tip: 

If buying plum sauce in the supermarket, check for any gas formation or discoloration in the bottle.

13. Coconut Aminos

Last but not least are coconut aminos. They’re a bulgogi sauce substitute for vegans and come from coconut plant sap.

They get their sweet and savory flavor after undergoing fermentation.  

Aside from being vegan-friendly, they’re soy-free and gluten-free. Coconut aminos are also sweeter than soy sauce. 

Try them as a soy sauce replacement in bulgogi sauce. You can also use them as a marinade, dipping sauce, salad dressing, or stir-fry for vegetables and meats. 

Cooking tip: 

Use coconut aminos if you want to reduce your sodium intake. 

How to Make Bulgogi Sauce

Making bulgogi is easier than you think. You only need a few ingredients and can finish preparing it in minutes. 

You can use many cuts of meat for bulgogi. But typically, bulgogi uses ribeye, tenderloin, sirloin, or short ribs.

If you want your bulgogi tasty and tender, go for ribeye that’s well-marbled with fat. 

Mix all the ingredients: soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, ginger, pear juice, garlic, and gochujang. 

Once your bulgogi sauce is ready, marinate your beef before stir-frying or grilling it. 

Don’t discard your leftover bulgogi sauce. You can still use it as a vegetable dipping sauce or stir-fry sauce for that authentic Korean flavor. 

How Long Does Homemade Bulgogi BBQ Sauce Last?

Bulgogi sauce has a relatively short shelf life. Because it has fresh ingredients and no preservatives, it will last up to a week if stored properly in an airtight container inside the refrigerator.

For best results, use glass containers. Any longer than seven days, your bulgogi’s flavor or quality will degrade.

What does bulgogi flavor taste like?

It’s not just one flavor―it’s an explosion of several flavors that work perfectly well with the meat. 

Bulgogi has sweet, salty, savory, sour, and spicy flavors. You’ll also taste smoky flavors from the thinly sliced beef, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil marinade. 

Is Korean BBQ sauce the same as bulgogi sauce?

Both possess a unique sweet and savory flavor. But bulgogi sauce has sweet and savory notes from ingredients like brown sugar, applesauce, pear juice, garlic, and ginger. 

Meanwhile, Korean BBQ sauce has a slightly spicy flavor that balances the sweet, salty, and savory flavors.  

Is bulgogi sauce like teriyaki?

Yes, bulgogi sauce and teriyaki have a similar flavor profile and have ingredients like soy sauce and sugar in common. They also have a thick consistency that works wonderfully when marinating meat. 

What is the difference between BBQ sauce and Korean BBQ sauce?

Korean BBQ sauce is made from soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and pear. It has an oily and moist texture, and you usually use it as a marinade because of its sweet and savory umami notes. 

American-style BBQ sauce, on the other hand, has a ketchup or tomato base and a sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor. It also has a thick and creamy texture. 

How does kalbi or galbi sauce compare to bulgogi sauce?

Both are delicious and flavorful barbecue sauces. The big difference lies in where you use kalbi and bulgogi sauce. You use kalbi for beef short ribs, while bulgogi sauce is for thinly sliced beef.  

What sauce is most similar to bulgogi sauce?

The most similar is kalbi or galbi sauce. It has the same sweet, savory, and spicy flavors. Kalbi works like a charm in bringing out authentic bulgogi flavors.  

Is bulgogi sauce the same as soy sauce?

No, soy sauce is one of the main ingredients of bulgogi sauce. Compared with soy sauce, bulgogi sauce has a sweet and savory taste, which makes it perfect for marinating meat for grilling or stir-frying.


If you have most of the bulgogi ingredients, you can make a homemade bulgogi sauce or get your favorite ready-made one. Store-bought or homemade bulgogi sauce substitutes are excellent options and will still make your bulgogi taste amazing. 

Take note of all these great replacements the next time you run out of bulgogi sauce. Taste and compare their flavors to find out which you like best. 

Some substitutes may seem strange and uncommon, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. They’re all guaranteed to give your bulgogi a rich balance of savory, sweet, smoky, and spicy! 

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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