Somewhere South with Chef Vivian Howard

Korean BBQ Marinade

From chef Michael Lee

Chef Michael Lee owns a series of “M” restaurants in Durham including M Sushi, M Kokko, M Tempura and, his latest, M Pocha. The Korean-born chef made appearances in “Somewhere South” dumplings and pickles episodes, debating what constitutes a dumpling and making kimchi with his family. We asked him to share a recipe you may enjoy making at home and he delivered a delicious and super simple marinade that beautifully coats whatever protein you have in the fridge. Lee suggests flank steak and encourages you to, “Imagine this recipe as a base like a simple tomato sauce that you can add to make your own version of marinara or pasta sauce.”


  • 3 parts water
  • 1 part soy sauce
  • 1 part sugar


Combine all ingredients until the sugar dissolves and marinate protein of your choice. My favorites are boneless short ribs, pork belly, pork shoulder etc. I try to have the meat sliced ¼- to ½-inch thick and marinate them for about 1 to 3 days and grill it on your gas or charcoal grill. Rule of thumb for me, I like to marinate meats that can be parcooked like lamb and beef less and more for protein like pork belly and chicken etc. 

Additionally, Michael Lee offered a few ways to make this simple marinade a little more interesting:

  • Kiwi or pineapple puree: Try this if you want to tenderize the meat. But don't keep it marinating too long because it will become mushy. Quantity wise, Lee recommends adding a tablespoon of the puree to a quart of the base marinade.
  • Replace some parts of the water with other liquids like orange juice, pineapple juice, etc. Be aware that  the juices have natural or added sugars, so the marinade will be slightly sweeter. If you don’t want the additional sweetness, you can reduce the sugar in the base recipe to compensate. Everyone likes it a little different so play around!
  • Five spice: add this to the marinade for an awesome rack of lambs. Lee recommends cutting into each individual bone for the marinade process so that it's not too thick.
  • Minced ginger is great for pork belly.
  • Some cumin powder and/or coriander is great as well for beef and lamb.
  • Add a good amount of minced, fresh cilantro to give lamb or goat meat a delicious non-traditional twist. 
  • Substitute granulated white sugar with dark brown sugar for the base marinade. It gives in a little "caramelly" flavor and some viscosity.
  • For those who like stronger flavor, cut down on the water a little. Instead of three parts water, try two.

Lee says, “The sky is the limit! Mix and add ingredients to the base recipe at will and have fun!”