Kalbi taco, or Korean short rib taco, is one of my favorite fusion inventions. Originated from the culinary genius Roy Choi, of Los Angeles, this kalbi taco consists of a combination of sweet and savory marinated Korean meat with fresh taco toppings and salsa verde.
With just a few simple tweaks, it's also possible to make this kalbi taco a healthy and low-calorie meal too.
✅ Why This Recipe Works
Easy to make – No hours of prepping and chopping needed. All you need is to marinate the beef ahead of time. Once you’re ready to make the tacos, it will take 10 minutes to put them together.
Flavorful and well-balanced – By utilizing traditional Korean marinade ingredients for the Kalbi and expert cooking techniques, you can make delicious Korean short rib tacos with fresh ingredients from home at a fraction of the cost.
Low in calories and macro-optimized – This kalbi taco recipe was specially developed by yours truly to be low-calorie and macro-friendly, so you can enjoy this delicious culinary creation without getting off track on your fitness goals. Check out more healthy Korean food dishes if you like Korean food. This is a great Korean BBQ dish to make at home.
🍏 Calories and Nutrition – How to Make It Healthy
Most tacos will generally run at about 200 calories each, where most of the calories come from the tortilla and there tends to not be enough protein content. By making a few tweaks, I’m able to keep the calorie content low, increase the protein content, and make a more satiating meal with each kalbi taco.
This recipe for 4 kalbi tacos comes in at 468 calories with 32 grams of protein, 30 grams of fat, and 43 grams of carbs.
Here’s what I did to make it healthier:
- Portion amount the beef used – I used a quarter pound of beef in this recipe, which adds enough protein content to the dish while being at a manageable calorie level
- Use a low-calorie tortilla – Traditional tortillas are typically 100 calories a piece. Thankfully, low-calorie taco tortillas are now a staple at the grocery store, running at only 25 calories each. My favorite is the Mission tortilla brand.
- Portioned the marinade ingredients mindfully – Most of the marinade ingredients are relatively low in calories except for the sesame oil, which runs at 120 calories a serving. I used a portioned amount of this so that the marinade still has the right flavor without breaking the calorie budget.
- Omitted high-fat toppings – I omitted high-fat toppings and sauces from the tacos ad opted for salsa verde and ssamjang, which are both around 20 calories a serving
- Omitted usage of oil – I used cooking spray instead of traditional cooking oil, which saves about 120 calories that are largely from fat
For a detailed breakdown of each ingredient, their portioning, and how they make up the nutrition profile of this kalbi taco recipe, you may refer to the table below:
📋 Ingredient Notes
To make the kalbi taco, you will need the following ingredients.
Beef – I used chuck flap steak as it’s a great cut of beef for grilling and is relatively inexpensive. Kalbi is traditionally made from short ribs, which is a similar cut of beef. You can opt to use either or any flanken cut. If your goal is fat loss, I would opt for a cut with a relatively moderate to a little amount of marbling. Opting for a higher quality meat with little marbling will still result in a delicious and tender steak, like the one I used here.
Kalbi Marinade – Key ingredients for the kalbi marinade include soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, onion, and mirin. Traditional recipes also tend to use fruit, such as pear or apple, to give it an additional tart sweetness.
Low-Carb Taco Tortillas – I used a low-calorie flour tortilla from Mission Tortilla, which is only about 25 calories each. I use flour because of personal preference, but they also sell a corn version as well.
Sauces – I served these tacos with a side of salsa verde as well as Ssamjang, which is a traditional Korean dipping sauce that is often served with Korean barbecue.
See my recipe card below for a complete list of the ingredients with measurements.
📖 Substitutions and Variations
Use low-carb corn tortillas – You can also opt to use low-carb corn tortillas from Mission taco if you prefer corn tortillas.
Eat the kalbi as is – Follow my Hawaiian Kalbi recipe to see how.
Use chicken – For a lean protein or non-red meat option, use chicken. Check out my chicken bulgogi or spicy chicken bulgogi recipe for guidance on how to make Korean marinated chicken.
Switch up the sauces and salsa – I used salsa verde because it’s my personal favorite, but feel free to swap it out for pico de gallo or your salsa of choice. Most salsas are all pretty low in calories so from a macro and calorie counting standpoint, it doesn’t matter which you choose. Ssamjang is also a great low-calorie sauce to go with the kalbi taco, as it's traditionally served with Korean barbecue dishes.
Add cheese – If you prefer cheese in your taco, feel free to add a portion size of cheese. Oaxacan cheese is a personal favorite of mine, especially Mexican food. It has a similar consistency to Mozzarella cheese. Feel free to use any type of cheese you’d like.
🔪 Step by Step Instructions
Make the marinade – Add the garlic, onion, sugar, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and pear into a blender. Add a tablespoon of water at a time as needed to help the mixture blend properly.
Marinade the beef – In a large flat bowl, pour the marinade over the beef and let marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Prepare the taco toppings – When you’re about ready to make the tacos and the meat has been fully marinated, prepare the taco toppings. Mince the onion and cilantro into small pieces, slice the radish, and limes, and set aside. Also, set aside the tortillas you are using at this point.
Cook the Kalbi – Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over the stove to medium-high heat. Dry the beef as much as possible and cook the beef for about 3 minutes on each side for a medium–rare doneness. If you have a meat thermometer, I would recommend using one for precision, as various meat thicknesses will change this time.
Let the meat cool for about 5 minutes so the juices will flow back in before cutting it into small pieces.
Assemble the Kalbi taco – Lay the tortilla out on a flat surface, then add the beef, then the cilantro-onion relish, along with the radish. Serve with salsa verde and ssamjang and enjoy your delicious kalbi taco!
💡 Expert Tips
Fully dry the steak before cooking – Cooking the beef in a pool of liquid will cause it to boil instead of giving it a nice sear.
Guide to how long to cook steak for – How long to cook kalbi will depend on 2 factors: the thickness of the beef and your preference for how well-done the beef is. Given the variety of thicknesses of different cuts, it’s best to get a meat thermometer to get an accurate read of the internal temperature of the steak.
Here is some general guidance based on time and internal temperature. I would recommend stopping cooking when the internal temperature is 5-10 degrees away from its goal temperature, as the meat will continue to cook even when taken off the skillet:
- Medium-rare: 3.5 minutes on each side (135 degrees F)
- Medium: 4.5 minutes on each side (140 degrees F)
- Medium-well: 5-6 minutes on each side (150 degrees F)
💭 Recipe FAQs
Kalbi is typically made with flanken short ribs. In this recipe, I used chuck tail flap steak, which is a great alternative. I find that it is easier to weigh steak without bones in it to get an accurate read of how much protein I’m consuming. The chuck flap steak is also a relatively inexpensive cut of meat, and this particular steak looked to be of great quality.
The pear in the marinade has the enzyme, Calpain, which tenderizes the meat. If you don’t have a pear, you can also opt to use an apple. Kiwis are also popular but have the risk of over-tenderizing the meat.
Yes, you can make Kalbi taco in advance by pre-marinating the steak. You can choose to leave it raw in the fridge for up to 5 days or cook it in advance and store it in the fridge for 3-4 days. Use an airtight container in both scenarios. I would recommend waiting to put together the taco when you’re ready to eat it.
🍽 Related Recipes
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Kalbi Taco (Korean Short Rib Taco) Recipe
Kalbi and Marinade
- ¼ lb Short Rib
- 1 clove Garlic
- ¼ lb Yellow Onion
- 1 teaspoon Sugar
- 1 tablespoon Mirin
- 2 tablespoon Soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon Sesame Oil
- ½ Pear
Taco and Toppings
- 4 Low Carb Street Taco Tortillas
- ⅛ Onion
- 10 sprigs Cilantro
- 1 Radish
- 1 Lime
- 2 tablespoon Salsa Verde
- 2 tablespoon Ssamjang
- Make the marinade – Add the garlic, onion, sugar, mirin, soy sauce, sesame oil, and pear into a blender. Add a tablespoon of water at a time as needed to help the mixture blend properly.
- Marinade the beef – In a large flat bowl, pour the marinade over the beef and let marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Prepare the taco toppings – When you’re about ready to make the tacos and the meat has been fully marinated, prepare the taco toppings. Mince the onion and cilantro into small pieces, slice the radish, and limes, and set aside. Also, set aside the tortillas you are using at this point.
- Cook the Kalbi – Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over the stove to medium-high heat. Dry the beef as much as possible and cook the beef for about 3 minutes on each side for a medium–rare doneness. If you have a meat thermometer, I would recommend using one for precision, as various meat thicknesses will change this time.Let the meat cool for about 5 minutes so the juices will flow back in before cutting it into small pieces.
- Assemble the taco – Lay the tortilla out on a flat surface, then add the beef, then the cilantro-onion relish, along with the radish. Serve with salsa verde and ssamjang and enjoy your delicious kalbi tacos!
What are your ideas for chips and salsa replacements or do you just portion control??
I would recommend portioning the chips mindfully. Chips are made by frying tortillas until they're crispy, so they're predominantly made if carbs from the tortilla and fats from the oil and are relatively calorie dense – 1 oz of chips (which is not a lot) is a whopping 150 calories. Check this article out for more info: https://www.livestrong.com/article/441312-health-of-tortilla-chips/
Salsa on the other hand, is mainly made of tomatos or tomatillos and peppers blended together and the calories are pretty much neglible (20-50 calories per serving).