This cheesesteak is fire!

I made a cheesesteak and then I poured Korean-style fire on it.

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Read Time: 7 minutes

Note: this sandwich is not Korean or traditional. I’m just combining two things that I really like into one fantastic sandwich.

I discovered the Korean dish, fire chicken with cheese, a few years ago—from a Maangchi video—and it has become a staple in our meal planning rotation. My wife and I make sure to keep the essential ingredients stocked in our pantry and fridge and we try to make it once every couple of months or as often as we can. It’s addictive.

I wrote about how you can make your own fire chicken with cheese sandwich in 2021 and one day not too long ago I was thinking about it and wondered why you only hear about fire chicken and not fire steak. The cheese in the chicken version gets all gooey and melty and I figured it could easily be converted into a cheesesteak. So, I tried it.

And it worked. 🔥

Buldak is a phrase in Korean that can be interpreted to mean fire chicken in English.


bul = fire
dak = chicken


This week we’re making a Korean-style fire cheesesteak with sliced and seared ribeye, mozzarella, and kimchi.

The sandwich I’m writing about today is inspired by a fire chicken with cheese; the marinade and techniques used are directly influenced by that dish. But instead of chicken, this is a cheesesteak made from sliced ribeye. But before we get started on the meat and marinade, we need some bread.

Chewy sub sandwich rolls

For this Korean-style fire sandwich, I used my Chicago sandwich roll recipe that I then baked into longer format rolls instead of 6-inch rolls. This recipe can produce 4 twelve-inch sized rolls, or 8 six-inch options and the resulting bread is a great option for a cheesesteak. I’m not sure why I baked longer rolls here, but this sandwich would work with a shorter roll or a longer one. It just seems like a cheesesteak should be cut from a long roll. I ended up splitting the 12-inch versions in half into two sandwich-sized rolls anyway.

There’s a bit of chew to the roll, but it’s still soft enough to be the right choice for a cheesesteak sandwich. The bread will stand up to some sauciness which is essential in this sandwich as you’ll see in a photo down below.

Three longer Chicago-style sub rolls on a cooling rack.
Alice supervises each bake.
I made longer rolls for this sandwich, but I still sliced them in half.

Here’s the recipe for these sandwich rolls. It works great for any sandwich that needs slightly chewy bread that can hold up to the extra sauce and potentially messy ingredients.

3 hours and 30 minutes
Chicago-style sub rolls

Similar, but not a full copycat of a Turano brand roll. These are great for Italian beef sandwiches or any other type of sub. There's a thin crunchy and chewy exterior and a nice soft pillowy interior, perfect for a dunk in au jus or gravy.

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Kimchi

Look at grandma waving at us! She’s so sweet!

I did not make the kimchi that I ended up using in this sandwich; it was all purchased at the store. Maybe one day soon I will attempt to make and ferment my own version but I’m not sure if I can improve upon this brand that my friend Dennis suggested that I buy and try a while back. It’s good, but unfortunately only available here in Chicago.

Grandma’s Authentic Handmade Kimchi is a brand that appears to be sold exclusively at Joong Boo markets here in Chicago. It was selected as one of Bon Appetit’s top 8 brands of kimchi back in 2014.

Grandma’s kimchi is great, but you should be able to find good kimchi at your grocery store or Asian market.

Dennis writes a couple of great, fun-to-read newsletters if you like reading and food.

Food is Stupid – an almost always hilarious and occasionally dangerous food writing adventure.
The Party Cut – Chicago area food recommendations.

The point of the kimchi in this fiery cheesesteak is to provide texture and zing that is lacking in the other components. The meat and cheese start to meld together, and the crunchy kimchi vegetables lend a lot of added interest to each bite.

Fire marinade and beef

You can slice your own ribeye for this sandwich, but it’s much easier and more consistent if you can find a nearby Korean market with a butcher and buy a thinly sliced steak that is meant for bulgogi.

We buy most of the important ingredients for the beef and marinade from our local Korean market, but you can get most of them online if you need to.

The most important part of a cheesesteak is the steak, and you can certainly slice your own if you freeze the meat until firm, and then with your sharpest knife, you slice as thinly as possible. OR if you have a Korean market nearby, this cut of meat is probably already available for you to pick up and buy. Korean markets typically will have sliced beef ribeye ready and sliced super thin for use in a dish called bulgogi.

This meat works perfectly for a cheesesteak of any type, and it cooks fast and is easy to portion out due to the fact that it’s already sliced. Here’s my cheesesteak blog post from last year where I used sliced bulgogi ribeye for a more traditional Philly cheesesteak.

The two special ingredients

I wrote a lot about these two ingredients in my fire chicken with cheese sandwich post from 2021, but I’ll cover them again here just in case you didn’t read that one.

Gochugaru

This is a coarse ground gochugaru. If you are in a Korean/Asian market and you can’t read the gochugaru package label, there’s almost always a little window so you can see the flakes. Make sure they’re coarse like shown in the photo above and not finely ground as you’d see in the cayenne powder you might have at home.

Gochugaru is basically dried red chili peppers that have been ground into flakes. You can buy gochugaru in different levels of grind as well. This recipe calls for a coarse ground gochugaru. The coarse ground gochugaru is sometimes called “flake.”

If you don’t have a local Asian or Korean market, you can also buy it online: Taekyung Chili Powder flake.

Gochujang

Gochujang should be more common than gochugaru. I can find gochujang at all my local grocery stores. I don’t know how it is in smaller communities, but I think it’s becoming more common. It’s a fantastic ingredient to have in your house and you can blend it with mayonnaise or sour cream to make a very flavorful spread.

 Gochujang is a name for Korean, fermented, hot chili paste. This ingredient is very important in this dish, but we have also used it in a lot of other recipes at this point as well. It’s great in mayonnaises and sauces.

Gochujang can also be purchased online, and my local grocery stores carry it. But if you can’t find it, here’s the version I have pictured above: Roland Foods Gochujang.

Sauce for the steak

Once you have the marinade or Korean-style fire chicken sauce, you need to decide how many cheesesteaks you want to make. I base my recipe on a six-inch steak sandwich, and you can easily get 6 sandwiches out of the marinade that my recipe makes. The rest of the marinade can go back in the fridge for a few days to prepare for your next fire cheesesteak night.

I also have used some of this marinade and mixed it with rotisserie chicken and cream cheese to make a spicy baked cheese dip that would be a big hit at your next party. Here’s my cheese buldak dip recipe.

This is as spicy as it looks. Not for the faint of heart.
Rub the thinly sliced meat with some of the fire marinade to get it all coated.

The griddle

I firmly feel you need a griddle for this sort of sandwich. You can pull it off in a cast iron skillet and you could even make it in a non-stick pan, but the griddle—with its width and lack of sides—gives you a lot of ability to move the meat around easily and chop it along with the ease of scooping things up. If you’re thinking “oh no, this sandwich guy is trying to force me to buy another expensive pan,” think again.

For right around 35 dollars, you can get this Lodge brand griddle that will work in your house, straddled over two stove burners, or since it’s cast iron, you can even take it outside to the grill for making smashburgers that won’t set off your fire alarm. This pan also works great for pancakes and things like making homemade tortillas or English muffins. It’s a good pan to own if you have the cabinet space.

The sugars in the marinade help with the browning of the meat, but it also helps to make sure your pan is warm enough prior to putting the meat on the pan.
Once you add the cheese, you can start really mixing the beef into the cheese or you can just put a couple of pieces of hot meat on top to help with the melting.

Wrap it up.

This is another of those sandwiches that is much improved when it spends a minute or two wrapped up in parchment or wax paper. Look at the below cross-section below to see how the fiery red sauce soaks into the bread, making everything a bit juicier.

Lily wasn’t having it on this day and did not model for the camera during the photoshoot. But look at that red sauce soaking into the bread. those were some of the best bites.

The cheesesteak of fire

Here are a bunch of photos of this sandwich that I made and the recipe below. If you’re still not sold, check out these beautiful photos and then get on board. This is a great but spicy sandwich.

A handful of spicy goodness.
The kimchi is a little spicy, but the pickling process leaves it with vinegar that helps cut through some of the heat from the fire steak.
There’s something about the creaminess of melted mozzarella that balances everything out.
I made only one of these without kimchi and it was still good but lacking in flavor and texture. Still enjoyed the hell out of it though.
Wish you were here.
Korean-style fire cheesesteak view printable page for this recipe

A spicy and flavorful, cheesy steak sandwich, accompanied by melty mozzarella that will help cool off some of the spicy heat. The marinade makes enough for up to 6 cheesesteaks and can be stored in the fridge for a few days.


Ingredients:

Fire marinade
  • 12 cup gochugaru, coarse flakes
  • 3 tablespoons gochujang
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 13 cup corn syrup or honey
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ginger, minced
Sandwich cook and assembly
  • 13 pound thinly sliced ribeye steak
  • 2 tablespoons fire marinade (from above)
  • 3 or 4 thin slices fresh mozzarella
  • 2 or 3 spoonfuls of kimchi
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil or olive oil
  • 1 six-inch sandwich roll

Directions:

Fire marinade: add all ingredients from the fire marinade to a medium sized bowl and stir to combine very well. This marinade can store in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to a week. This marinade should be enough for 6 cheesesteaks.

Steak cooking: add 1/3 pound of thinly sliced steak to a small bowl. Stir 2 tablespoons of fire marinade in with the meat. Mix well to incorporate the marinade all over the steak. 

Place a griddle or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little oil to the griddle or skillet and when it starts to shimmer, place the marinated steak on the hot surface.

Cook the steak for around 6 minutes or so. Try to use your spatula to break the meat up a little while it is cooking. 

While the steak is cooking, slice your sandwich roll and add it to the griddle or pan to warm up. Don't let it turn brown but warming it up a little will soften the roll.

When there's no more visible pink color to the steak it should be almost done cooking. Top the steak with your slices of mozzarella. Stir the meat in with the cheese a little bit to help the mozzarella soften and melt.

Sandwich assembly: add a couple of tablespoons of kimchi to the inside of your roll.

Top the kimchi with your cooked steak and cheese mixture to complete the sandwich.

Serve and enjoy.

Crunchy kimchi and crispy seared beef balance out the melty cheese quite nicely.
The sugars in the fire marinade do a couple of things. First, they balance out the spicy flavors, leading to a more addictive sauce. Second, they allow the steak to sear a bit harder, leading to more texture from the crunch.
Wrap it up with some fries and turn it into a combo.

Happy holidays!

This is my last sandwich blog post of 2022. I will likely return for my yearly recap of my favorite sandwiches at some point next week, but no new content until the first week of 2023. Thanks for reading!


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