What much of the world knows as Mongolian BBQ is an imposter, a clever bit of marketing developed in Taiwan to sell Japanese-style stir-fry. But the barbecue that Mongolians love doesn’t involve a stove top—it instead relies on heated rocks in a sealed pot that produces a maximally succulent feast.
Known as khorkhog, Mongolian barbecue is a staple of the country’s nomads, who still represent an incredible 25 percent of the population. Fittingly for a country that relies on meat and dairy, the recipe’s essential elements are mutton and a metal milk container, which is commonly used as a cooking pot. After butchering a sheep, nomads stack mutton, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage among layers of heated rocks. Pouring water on the rocks steam-cooks the contents, and the hour-plus wait makes the food all the more welcome when it’s ready.
In a country known for its conquests more than its cuisine, khorkhog is one of the tastiest dishes around, with the meat and vegetables cooking until they’re succulent and practically falling apart. For good luck, pass around the slick, still-warm rocks, which are traditionally handled like hot potatoes during the meal.
Need to Know
Mongolians typically eat khorkhog with their fingers, and the exact ingredients can vary. True khorkhog is found outside the capital, where families prepare it in their gers (yurts). Visitors can enjoy it as part of a homestay with a local family. For a rarer form of Mongolian barbecue, look for boodog, a similar dish that uses a sewn-together animal carcass in place of a pot—a tradition dating back to Mongol warriors traveling light.