Food blog

Unveiling the Secrets: What You Need to Know Before Savoring Mongolian Barbecue

What you should know before eating Mongolian barbecue

Mongolian barbecue is a foodie’s dream. This interactive dining experience allows you to choose your own ingredients and then have them cooked for you by a Mongolian barbecue master. Technically, it could be considered fast food since it only takes a few minutes to cook. However, all the fresh ingredients make it a healthy eating option (as long as you don’t add too many unhealthy sauces).

The Mongolian warrior backstory is complete hogwash.

A lot of restaurants like to make a hard sell on a Mongolian barbecue backstory that has no basis in reality. The story goes that Mongolian barbecue originated with Mongolian warriors who needed a way to cook their food while fighting for Genghis Khan. Being a resourceful bunch, they put their shields over a hot fire and used them to cook their meat and other ingredients. Some Mongolian barbecue joints go so far as to hang giant iron shields on their walls to sell the idea. We’re not sure who started this legend, but it’s an impossible one.
It turns out that only a small percentage of Mongol warriors used shields, and they weren’t made of metal. Imagine riding a horse all day with a metal shield, and you’ll understand why the Mongols made them out of hard leather and wicker instead of iron. Now imagine grilling your Mongolian barbecue on a wicker and leather shield. You’d only cook your food on that shield once, and then you’d have no shield left to defend yourself. So it’s pretty obvious that someone made up the whole Mongolian warrior backstory for Mongolian barbecue to make it sound cooler.

Mongolian barbecue isn’t even from Mongolia.

Mongolian barbecue actually started about 1,800 miles away from Mongolia in Taipei, Taiwan. So it’s really more of a Taiwanese cuisine than a Mongolian cuisine. Interestingly, the man who invented Mongolian barbecue, Wu Zhao-nan, was best known as a comedian. He was adept at crosstalk – a popular Chinese conversational style of comedy that focuses on social issues. Wu was originally from China, so the place of Mongolian barbecue at Chinese buffets is apt. However, he was living in Taiwan when he invented Mongolian barbecue. He fled to Taiwan in 1949 and two years later opened a tea shop in Taipei. He quickly added food to the establishment, serving meat and vegetables cooked on a large iron plate with a choice of nine sauces. He named the place Barbecue Fragrance.
For political reasons, Wu knew he couldn’t call his barbecue Beijing Barbecue (which was his first choice) to honor his hometown, so he decided to call it “mong gu kao rou” (Mongolian barbecue) instead. He initially tried to sell it for about NT$3, but didn’t see success until he started offering it as an all-you-can-eat barbecue for NT$1. This is how the all-you-can-eat option was born in Taiwan. Mongolian barbecue became so popular that even important diplomats and CEOs ate there. Eventually, other entrepreneurs jumped on the idea of opening similar restaurants.

Floods, fires, and pandemics brought down the oldest Mongolian barbecue joints.

The original location of Barbecue Fragrance was decimated when a typhoon passed through Taipei and flooded the building. Wu’s barbecue was popular, so it wasn’t long before he was offered a new location for his barbecue business. His second location was on the top floor of a hotel, where he could serve both his regular customers and hotel guests. But disaster struck again when his hotel restaurant caught fire. With two major disasters under his belt, Wu thought it would be better to focus on being a crosstalk comedian, a profession that eventually brought him fame and many awards in Taiwan.
There have been many imitators of Mongolian barbecue in Taiwan. The one that is believed to have lasted the longest was a popular restaurant called Genghis Khan Mongolian Bar-B-Q, which opened in 1963 – 12 years after Barbecue Fragrance paved the way. Unfortunately, after six decades, Genghis Khan Mongolian Bar-B-Q was unable to pay its rent. After months of struggling with indoor dining bans during the COVID-19 pandemic, it finally announced that it would close its doors forever. The announcement came on August 2, 2021, and the indoor dining ban was lifted the next day. Unfortunately, it was too late – the damage from months without customers was irreversible.

Mongolian barbecue made it to America before its inventor did

The man responsible for bringing Mongolian barbecue to the United States was not Wu. But it was someone who was born in China and, like Wu, had sought refuge in Taiwan after the Communist revolution. John C. Lee moved to the U.S. in 1966 with a desire to introduce Americans to the flavors of Mongolian barbecue. In 1978, he opened the first Mongolian barbecue restaurant in the United States in San Francisco. The concept quickly gained popularity, and soon more Mongolian barbecue restaurants were popping up across the country.

How does Mongolian Barbecue work?

Mongolian barbecue is a unique dining experience that allows you to customize your meal. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Choose your ingredients: Mongolian barbecue restaurants typically have a buffet-style setup where you can choose from a variety of fresh ingredients. You’ll find a selection of meats, vegetables, noodles, and sauces. Choose your favorites and fill your bowl.
  2. Season and sauce: Once you’ve filled your bowl with ingredients, you can add seasonings and sauces to enhance the flavors. There are usually several sauce options, ranging from mild to spicy, so you can customize the taste to your liking.
  3. Give your bowl to the cook: After you’ve filled your bowl, hand it to the Mongolian grill chef who will be cooking your meal. He’ll take your bowl and begin cooking the ingredients on a large, flat grill.
  4. Watch the show: The cooking process is part of the fun. You’ll see the expert chef in action as he sizzles your ingredients right in front of you. The sizzling sounds and tantalizing aromas add to the overall experience.
  5. Enjoy your creation: Once your meal is cooked to perfection, it is served back to you on a plate. Take your plate to your table and enjoy the delicious flavors of your personalized Mongolian barbecue creation.

Tips for a great Mongolian grilling experience

To make the most of your Mongolian barbecue experience, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t overload your dish: While it’s tempting to pile on as many ingredients as possible, be mindful of portion sizes. Overloading your bowl can lead to uneven cooking or a crowded grill. Aim for a balanced mix of meats, vegetables, and pasta.
  2. Strategically stack your ingredients: Layer your ingredients so they cook evenly. Start with meat and heavier vegetables on the bottom, followed by lighter vegetables and pasta. This will ensure that everything cooks evenly and you get the best flavors in every bite.
  3. Experiment with sauces: Mongolian barbecue is all about customization, so don’t be afraid to mix and match sauces to create unique flavor combinations. Start with small amounts of different sauces and adjust to your taste preferences.
  4. Be aware of spice levels: If you’re sensitive to spicy foods, start with milder sauces and gradually add more heat if desired. Some Mongolian barbecue restaurants offer a range of spice levels, so don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations or guidance.
  5. Enjoy the interactive experience: Mongolian barbecue isn’t just about the food; it’s also about the interactive cooking process. Take time to observe the chef’s skills and engage in conversation with your dining companions. It adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the meal.


Mongolian barbecue offers a unique and interactive dining experience that allows you to customize your meal to your liking. While the dish may not have originated in Mongolia, its popularity has spread worldwide. Remember to debunk the myths surrounding its origins and appreciate the creativity and flavors that come with this Taiwanese cuisine. So the next time you visit a Mongolian barbecue restaurant, stack your bowl strategically, enjoy the cooking process, and enjoy a delicious meal made just the way you like it.


Answer: No, Mongolian barbecue is not from Mongolia. It was actually invented in Taipei, Taiwan by Wu Zhao-nan, a comedian. Despite its name, Mongolian barbecue is a Taiwanese culinary creation.

Is Mongolian barbecue a healthy choice?

Answer: Mongolian barbecue can be a healthy eating option if you choose fresh ingredients and avoid adding excessive unhealthy sauces. Since you have control over the ingredients, you can make healthier choices by opting for lean meats, plenty of vegetables, and lighter sauces.

What is the proper way to stack ingredients in a Mongolian barbecue bowl?

Answer: When stacking your ingredients, it’s important to create a balanced mix for even cooking. Start with meat and heavier vegetables at the bottom of the bowl, followed by lighter vegetables and noodles. This stacking order ensures that all ingredients cook evenly and retain their flavors.

Can I adjust the heat level of my Mongolian grill?

Answer: Yes, you can customize the heat level of your Mongolian barbecue. Most Mongolian barbecue restaurants offer a variety of sauce options, including different levels of heat. If you prefer milder flavors, start with less spicy sauces and gradually add more heat according to your taste preferences.

What makes the Mongolian barbecue cooking process unique?

Answer: The cooking process of Mongolian barbecue is unique because it is an interactive experience. After you fill your bowl with your chosen ingredients, a skilled Mongolian barbecue master cooks them on a large, flat grill right in front of you. You get to witness the sizzling, aroma-filled cooking show, which adds to the overall enjoyment of the meal.

Can I experiment with different sauce combinations with Mongolian barbecue?

Answer: Absolutely! Mongolian barbecue is all about customization, and that includes experimenting with different sauce combinations. Feel free to mix and match sauces to create unique flavor profiles. Start with small amounts of different sauces and adjust according to your taste preferences. The possibilities are endless!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *