If you've ever been lucky enough to experience the savory deliciousness of Korean BBQ, the first thought that came to mind was probably something along the lines of, "This is the best thing I've ever had- I want to eat it every single day.". Undoubtedly, the second thing to pop into your head was, "Is Korean BBQ healthy?". After all, we have all come to learn that the foods which taste the best, often aren't the greatest thing to put in your body, especially on a regular basis.
As with American BBQ, Korean BBQ refers to more than one specific dish; Korean BBQ comes in a wide range of meat options- from brisket to ribeye, pork belly to flank, and more! With so many options to choose from, there's something for everyone's preferred tastes. And the best news is- there is a wide array of healthy Korean BBQ options including the ever-popular brisket and sirloin! Alternatively, there are also quite a few Korean BBQ dishes to avoid if you're wanting to be more health-conscious. If you're trying to trim down your waistline, be sure to STEER away from dishes such as the beef belly! Get it? STEER away!
What is Korean BBQ?
In Korea, this popular dish is known as "Gogi-Gui", and is prepared in a multitude of ways. While Korean BBQ may or may not be marinated, it always consists of chicken, pork, or beef grilled on either a Korean charcoal or gas grill. In many traditional Korean restaurants, the BBQ is prepared on a grill at the center of the table, making a trip to the nearest Korean BBQ restaurant a wonderful and festive outing for families or groups of friends!
Perhaps the most popular form of Korean BBQ is called "Bulgogi"; This specific dish is thinly-sliced strips of beef sirloin which have been marinated; Less commonly, the dish is made using marinated beef tenderloin cubes. Bulgogi may be served al carte, though it is often placed on a bed of rice and served with an over-easy egg (something which may seem incredibly odd to most Americans but is actually quite tasty). Galbi, another popular BBQ dish in Korea consists of short ribs marinated in a sauce that is equal parts sweet and savory.
Most Korean BBQ restaurants offer endless options of BBQ meats; Bulgogi and Galbi are both excellent options for those who are new to Korean cuisine (and perhaps a bit reluctant), as is the thinly-sliced, non-marinated beef brisket. Korean BBQ even comes in the form of what is essentially chicken wings. Many restaurants offer chicken marinated in various sauces, from mild to spicy and BBQ'd on the grill. Pork is an incredibly popular option in Korean BBQ among Koreans and Americans alike; Samgyupsa is an extremely popular Korean BBQ'd pork dish, or if you'd like something a little more on the wild side, try the simply named, "Spicy Pork" option offered by many Korean restaurants, which is glazed in a red pepper sauce.
No matter what your tastes or your dietary restrictions, you're sure to find a Korean BBQ dish that you can eat every single day of the year, guilt-free (If you're a vegetarian or a vegan, you also check our guide about how to make delicious vegan Korean BBQ!)!
Is Korean BBQ Healthy?
If you are hoping for a healthy Korean BBQ adventure, you are in luck! There are tons of healthy options that fall under the incredibly trendy and popular umbrella of Korean BBQ! For meats that are the healthiest and contain the lowest fat content per 100 grams, make sure to stick with brisket, sirloin, skirt steak- and for those of you who are equal parts health-conscious and adventurous, beef tongue!
Make sure to avoid Korean BBQ items which use high-fat cuts such as ribeye, high-calorie meats such as intestines, and especially those which contain the most fat and calories- pork and beef belly. A good rule of thumb for Korean BBQ is, 'If you're looking to trim down on your belly fat, don't order the belly!
Luckily, for those of you concerned about eating healthy foods, Korean BBQ is served with some delicious and incredibly healthy side dishes. Known as 'Ban Chan', these side dishes generally consist of pickled vegetables; Again, pickled vegetables are a food item which may seem a bit stand-offish to most Americans, but are actually quite delicious if you give them a chance!
Two which are absolutely not to be missed are known as 'Moo' and 'Kimchi'. Moo goes great with- maybe you guessed it- beef! This pickled dish of daikon radish and carrots is sweet, fresh, and crisp- in many ways, it is comparable in texture to potato salad, and similar to coleslaw in taste, while remaining low in fat! Kimchi is a must-try for everyone who loves spice! This side is cabbage which is fermented in the spicy Korean pepper used to make gochujang sauce goes great with pork and chicken, but be warned: It is very spicy (and addictively delicious!)!
I Don't Enjoy Exotic Cuisines, Will I Like Korean BBQ?
If you or a loved one are a bit trepidatious when it comes to trying new things, I assure you, you will not be disappointed with Korean BBQ. There are so many options available that it is easy to find something that suits everyone's fancy. From the first bite, you will recognize very familiar notes of flavor; The same you experience from eating American BBQ. At the same time, it is incredibly different from anything you've tasted in the states before. If you've ever tried BBQ from different regions of the United States (for instance, trying BBQ from both Tennessee and Texas), it is comparable to that experience. Even in the United States, BBQ techniques and tastes vary significantly from region to region, but all distinctively taste like BBQ. Korean BBQ is no different; It tastes both unique, and familiar at the same time.
Having grown up in the southern United States and having worked in a Korean restaurant for several years after moving to an urban area, I can assure you, everyone who came in to experience Korean BBQ for the first time, not knowing whether or not they'd enjoy it, became a regular customer afterward; Korean BBQ is incredibly delicious and addictive.
I have always been more adventurous in my food choices, though most of my family is your incredibly "traditional" Midwestern family who would rather eat nothing but hamburgers for the rest of their lives than try anything new; However, after their first time trying Korean, they couldn't stop raving about it! Now it is a must-do on their list every time they come to visit me in Chicago! I will say, Korean BBQ is not all made equal- if you had a bad experience with this cuisine in the past, you were probably unfortunate enough to dine in a not-so-great restaurant. If this was the case for you, please consider giving it another chance elsewhere!
Where To Find Korean BBQ
It should come as no surprise that the best place to find Korean BBQ is in South Korea, especially in the thriving capital city of Seoul! If you ever have the opportunity to explore this vibrant country, you should certainly not miss out on your opportunity to try Korean BBQ in its country of origin during your trip. However, in the likely event that you are not planning a trip to South Korea in the near future, fear not! Korean BBQ is simple (and affordable) to find in most major cities all around the world.
Recently, Korean BBQ has become a huge hit in America and it's no wonder why- this delicious dish, while reminiscent of familiar American BBQ, is something completely unique. If you are planning a trip to a metropolitan area, make sure to work a trip to a traditional Korean restaurant that serves Korean BBQ into your itinerary! And if you live within a few hours of a large city that offers Korean BBQ, it is definitely worth the trip to experience this amazing and unique cuisine!
Healthy Korean BBQ Recipes You Can Prepare At Home
Korean BBQ is much easier and affordable to make at home than you would ever imagine! In fact, Bulgogi, which is one of the most representative (and healthiest) Korean BBQ dishes, is one of my favorite, and most simple meals to cook! While the dish is technically meant to be made with thinly-sliced sirloin, I will often substitute with skirt steak or another less expensive cut of beef steak; Just make sure to slice it thinly.
Many stores (both specialty Asian markets and American groceries) carry Bulgogi sauce for marinating your meat to make this dish. Simply cut your meat, marinate it overnight, and cook thoroughly! Serve it on top of rice, and add an over-easy egg to complete the meal! You can even find a jar of kimchi (again, from any Asian specialty market or many American grocers) to eat as a side dish or add into the mix! It's fast, delicious, and affordable!
However, if you'd like to use a more sophisticated recipe to recreate Korean BBQ Bulgogi in your own home, check out this video by Korean chef Jia Choi
In Short, Korean BBQ Is For Everyone (Including Vegetarians and Vegans)
If you are a meat-eater, you will undoubtedly enjoy Korean BBQ; It is a delicious and varied cuisine that tastes similar enough to American BBQ to be familiar with your taste-buds, while still being unique enough in taste that you should really find the time to experience it for yourself. Korean BBQ is one of those rare dishes that everyone will love; Whether you are 6-years-old or 96, whether you love trying exotic cuisine or prefer to stick to traditional American dishes, whether you want something healthy or fatty, something mild or spicy- Korean BBQ encompasses a wide range of options that everyone is sure to absolutely love! After all, there is a good reason why this Korean cuisine has become so popular in America so quickly!