Hanwoo Bull - © 2012 - Wikipedia

Korea – ‘Land Of Hanwoo’ – Has Its Own Premium Beef!

Bet you didn’t know that Korea has it’s own ‘brand’ of premium beef, similar to Japan’s Wagyu. It’s just as rare, and just as sought after. And it’s even been around longer than Wagyu! But don’t look for it in North America or Europe…

Bulgogi - © 2022 - Erik BernsteinClassic Korean Bulgogi Beef

Korea is a land of contrasts. Other Asian countries shy away from beef, either because of cultural or religious prohibitions, or the fact that cows are just too valuable to slaughter unless they’re on their last legs. But in Korea – kind of like in Japan – the cuisine is heavily invested in beef, in many forms and presentations.

Their own ‘proto-Waygu’

Korea has it’s own ‘brand of premium beef, similar to Japan’s highly touted and heavily promoted Wagyu. Korea’s coveted beef is called Hanwoo, and it comes from a smallish cow breed native to the peninsula. Kim’C Market, a prominent Korean Hanwoo retailer, explains it’s, “one of the most rare and expensive meats in the world. Coveted for its high marbling, this beef is preferred in Korean cuisine despite its high price, as it is typically fresher and regarded as premium beef thanks to its high palatability and desired chewiness.”

Unlike Wagyu, Hanwoo beef is rarely exported. The domestic demand absorbs virtually all the Hanwoo beef the industry can produce.

Hanwoo vs. Wagyu

Hanwoo cattle are actually the breed from which Wagyu cattle were developed. They are also raised in much the same way, given beer-enriched grain-based feed as well as being allowed to graze freely in central Korea’s grass-covered hills.

“It’s a very special breed because it takes a long time to get consistent cattle,” explains Associate Director Andrew Lee Chi-ho of the first firm in Hong Kong to earn the privilege of importing Hanwoo beef.  “It takes five to 10 generations, 15 to 30 years, to get consistent marbling, flavour and good structure.”

Aficionados claim Hanwoo beef tastes ‘beefier’ than Wagyu. That’s because it contains less fat. Wagyu normally contains around 70 percent fat, while Hanwoo hovers between 40 and 50 percent. Korean purists claim Wagyu’s higher fat content drowns out its essential ‘beefiness’.

Korea’s unique beef dishes…

You can try Korea’s famous beef dishes for yourself. Though you almost certainly won’t be able to get genuine Hanwoo beef. The closest you’ll get in North America or Europe will be UDSA Prime grade or it’s equivalent in your region. It has the maximum marbelling – fine strands of white fat equally distributed throughout the muscle. Thick layers of white fat on the surface of any beef cut don’t count for flavour or tenderness.

Let’s run down some of the most loved Korean beef dishes:


If Kimchi wasn’t the national dish of Korea, Bulgogi would be! It’s essentially Korean-style BBQ Beef – thickish cuts, marinated in, “a blend of soy sauce, brown sugar, asian pear (or red apple), garlic, ginger, ground black pepper and sesame oil. This gives a slightly salty, mildly sweet and nutty savory flavor.” Then grilled quickly, so it doesn’t dry out and get tough…

Dolsot Bimbap

Korean mixed rice. Always contains lots of Veggies. And marinated thin slices of rib eye or strip loin steak, cut across the grain.


Korean Short Ribs. Marinated in a traditional blend of green onions, brown sugar, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, sesame seeds, black bean sauce, black pepper, and garlic chili paste. One of the top most-ordered dishes in Korea.


Kimchi with fried rice incorporating ground beef, veggies and a distinctive sauce.


Korean slow-cooked beef. Also Known as Korean Pot Roast! Thick beef cuts braised in a blend of ginger, soy sauce, garlic, and seasoned rice vinegar – and traditional Gochujang sauce.


Dumplings. Made with rice, ground beef and cabbage. Sometimes including ground pork, as well.

My take

The sauces and marinades make these dishes distinctive and indisputably Korean. Check to see if your local Asian Grocery carries prepared, jarred Bulgogi, Bimbap, Gochujang or other Korean sauces.

Have fun! And enjoy a taste of the best Korea has to offer…

~ Maggie J.