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Nothing smells better on the grill than kalbi: Make it for your Labor Day cookout

Grilled beef, perilla leaves, steamed rice, scallions and chile.
You can wrap grilled beef slices in perilla leaves with steamed rice, scallions and chile.
(Leslie Grow / For The Times)

Some dishes feel like community; they’re meant to be cooked and eaten together. Grilled L.A. kalbi evokes those feelings for me more than any other cookout meal, even when we can only safely gather through screens.

“L.A. kalbi” refers to beef short ribs that are cut across the ribs to form thin, long slices of meat with three or four bones. In Korean, kalbi is the term for beef short ribs; this cut picked up the nickname “L.A.” when Korean immigrants discovered that short ribs here were cut across the bone, and they brought the style and name back to Korea, where short ribs are traditionally cut between the bones.

L.A. kalbi evokes memories of the annual fundraiser at my childhood school, Brightwood Elementary, when charcoal grills overtook the hopscotch patio. Kalbi went straight from the flames to boxes with ice cream-scooped mounds of warm steamed rice and cold creamy potato salad.

The PTA members who cooked the kalbi came from families with ties to Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Mexico and other parts of the world. Some had just arrived in this country; others were four generations in. Most of us were the first in our families born in California.

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There was a primal comfort in the sweet scent of kalbi, a mix of caramel apple and steak, a smoky mingling of exactly what we and our parents dreamed of. Some of us smashed our ribs into the rice to smear the grains with meaty sauce; others worked through one tidy pile of food at a time. Nearly everyone knew the best part of the plate was the bones; by the end of the night, kids and adults alike were gnawing off the fatty gristle burned onto the bones’ smooth edges.

Whether or not we were in the same grades or spoke the same languages, we loved the dish as a community. Every year, old friends and new cooked together in the open air, sharing a meal and the comfort in it. At the end of our annual school cookouts, we packed up boxes of leftovers to enjoy the next day or to give to anyone who couldn’t make it. It wasn’t quite the same as eating it fresh, crowded together at picnic tables, but those boxes still delivered deliciousness.

We can’t do anything like a cookout at the start of this school year, but we can grill this kalbi and share it with our communities by delivering it to doorsteps or virtually grilling and eating together.

Grilled L.A. Kalbi

Time 30 minutes
Yields Serves 6 to 8


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