If you’re a fan of spicy food, buldak is for you.
It’s fiery hot, spicy red, and so, so good. Think: juicy chunks of tender grilled chicken coated in a spicy sauce that is incredibly addictive. It’s one of my favorite things at Korean restaurants even though it’s so spicy I can’t stand it. I especially love it when it’s smothered in cheese.
What is buldak?
Buldak, aka fire chicken, is a spicy barbecued Korean chicken dish. “Bul” means fire and “dak” means chicken. Buldak is bite sized pieces of chicken doused in a spicy sauce made with gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, jocheong (rice syrup), garlic, and ginger. It’s a pretty new dish that became popular in the early 2000s both in part to buldak restaurants and Samyang buldak instant noodles.
How spicy is buldak?
It’s pretty darn spicy! Every one’s spice tolerance is different but I will say that the spice of buldak is one that builds and builds. If you want a less spicy buldak, you can decrease the gochugaru and gochujang.
What is buldak sauce?
Buldak sauce is the fiery red sauce that coats the chicken. It’s made up of:
- gochugaru – Korean chili flakes bring smokiness and a bit of heat and crunch.
- gochujang – This is where the majority of the spice is coming from, especially if you use an extra spicy gochujang.
- soy sauce – soy sauce adds umami and saltiness. If you have Korean soy sauce, use that, otherwise the next best for this recipe is Japanese soy sauce.
- black pepper – freshly ground black pepper is actually spicy, especially if there’s a lot of it. It hits a different spicy note than the gochugaru and gochujang. Make sure it’s fresh, pre-ground black pepper looses it’s pep.
- jocheong (rice syrup) or sugar – a little bit of sweetness accentuates the spicy heat. Jocheong is a sweet, thick syrup made with rice and barley malt. It’s less sweet than sugar or honey and has a subtle malty flavor. You can buy it at Korean grocery stores or online. If you don’t have any at home, you can sub sugar or honey.
- garlic – fresh garlic adds the heat. If you a garlic lover, garlic is essential, add as many cloves as you can handle.
- ginger – a bit of fresh ginger adds a warm cozy heat and spice.
Gochujang vs gochugaru
If you’re not familiar with Korean food, you might not know what gochujang or gochugaru is.
- Gochujang is a spicy Korean sauce. It’s savory, sweet, spicy thick fermented paste made from chili powder and sticky rice. It adds sweet and heat and a ton of flavor. Traditionally it comes in tubs, but these days you can find it in convenient squeeze bottles in the Asian aisle of literally any grocery store and online, of course.
- Gochugaru, on the other hand, are Korean chili flakes. Korean chili flakes are fruity, sweet, smoky, sun dried bright red flakes. They’re not too spicy and their heat is gentle and delicious. I always buy coarse gochugaru which looks like flaky sea salt. They usually come labeled with mild, medium, or hot, so you can buy them according to your spice preference.
How to make buldak chicken
- Make the sauce. Mix together the gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, rice syrup, oil, black pepper, ginger, and garlic.
- Marinate the chicken. Cut up the chicken into 1 inch bite size pieces and marinate for 1 hour.
- Cook the chicken. You can cook the chicken anyway you prefer: on the stove, baked, or in the air fryer. I like pan frying in a cast iron pan for some extra char. When the chicken is ready, top it off with some toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions.
- Optional: Give it a cheese blanket by sprinkling on a generous amount of shredded mozzarella.
- Get your spice on 🥵
What kind of chicken
You can use either boneless chicken thighs or chicken breast. Typically boneless chicken doesn’t come with skin on but skin on chicken is amazing for this too. The only thing you need to note is that chicken breast will cook a lot faster than thighs. Make sure you cut the chicken into evenly sized pieces so they all cook evenly.
Grilling vs pan fried vs oven baked vs air fryer
You can cook your chicken in the method you prefer. Grilling gives it the most authentic KBBQ feels, pan frying is simple and stills allows for charring, oven baked and air frying is hands off and easy.
How to grill
Brush the grill with oil and grill the marinated chicken over medium heat, flipping as needed, until cooked through and slightly charred.
How to pan fry
Heat a cast iron pan (or non stick if you prefer) over medium high heat and add a touch of neutral oil. Cook the marinated chicken, flipping as needed, until cooked through and charred.
How to bake
Place the chicken out on a lightly oiled baking dish and cook in a 420°F preheated oven for 15-20 minutes for chicken breast and 20-30 minutes for chicken thighs, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F and the juices run clear, stirring once, halfway.
How to air fry
Oil the air fryer basket and lay in the marinated chicken in a single layer. Air fry at 400°F for 12-15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F and the juices run clear, flipping halfway.
Cheesy buldak is one of the greatest things in the world. The creaminess of the cheese counteracts the spice and the cheese pulls are phenomenal. I love mozza because it’s super stretchy and the mildness really helps with the spiciness of the chicken. To make cheese buldak, simply layer on shredded or sliced cheese on top of the chicken right after it comes out of the pan. The residual heat of the chicken will melt the cheese into a cozy, stretchy, perfect cheese pull blanket. If you want the cheese to be extra melty, you can pop it in under the broiler for a couple of minutes, too.
What to serve with buldak chicken
That’s it! Hope you guys get your spice on!
- 1/4 cup gochugaru
- 2 tbsp gochujang
- 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tbsp Korean rice syrup see post, or sub with sugar or honey
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp ginger minced
- 1 lb chicken boneless, cut into cubes
In a bowl, mix together the gochugaru, gochujang, soy sauce, oil, black pepper, rice syrup (or sugar or honey), garlic, and ginger until it comes together in a thick paste.
Marinate the chicken in the sauce for 1 hour.
Grill or pan fry the chicken over medium high heat, flipping as needed until cooked through, about 5-8 minutes, depending on size. Turn the heat down if it starts to char too much; the sweetness of the sauce can lend itself to burning.
Enjoy topped with toasted sesame seeds and sliced green onions.
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 124
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 2.8g18%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.