Is Bulgogi Healthy? (Nutritional Value and Taste)

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Korean barbecue is much healthier than the Western kinds since it requires high-quality meats that often come thinly sliced. 

Koreans will grill just about any type and cut of meat they can get while making it one of the most delicious things you’ve ever tasted. 

Such is the case with bulgogi, which is essentially beef.

Is bulgogi healthy? Yes, it is. While it’s a bit high in sodium and sugar, this isn’t much in the scheme of things. 

If you’re a health-conscious eater, then simply watching your portions will make it as healthy as anything else. It’s all about the cut of meat, its quality, and how thinly sliced it is.

About Bulgogi & Its Preparation

Bulgogi translates to “fire meat,” which is high-quality beef that marinades and then cooks on a grill. It’s a popular offering on many menus throughout restaurants featuring Korean barbecue

The type of beef cut can be anything, but it is usually thin in slices. However, it’s often tenderloin, rib eye, sirloin, or tongue. 

These will be top-notch prime cuts, evidenced by good marbling throughout the meat.

Marinade

The typical marinade for bulgogi is a blend of sweet and savory, combining things like pear juice, sesame oil, sugar, garlic, ginger, ground black pepper, and soy sauce.  

Other people will put red pepper flakes, rice wine, or mushrooms as well.

It should marinade for a few hours, but overnight is the best. 

When ready, it goes onto a grill or into a pan and cook for only a few minutes on each side. 

The thin beef slices should be medium rare when finished. People usually wrap it in lettuce or cabbage and top it with condiments like ssamjang.

Taste

The final product is warm, juicy, and bursting with flavor. The sweetness will be present but not overpowering, along with hints of any other spices included.

This is especially true of ginger, onion, and garlic as they permeate every inch of the beef.

While bulgogi is a fan favorite at BBQ joints, it can also be part of any number of recipes. 

You can find it in rice bowls, noodle dishes, savory pancakes, stir-fry, leafy green wraps, stews, and kimbap (a type of roll that appears like sushi), among many others.

What’s great about bulgogi is how quickly it cooks on the grill. It takes only a minute or two on each side. 

So, it’s a great protein for when you’re busy cooking or spending a lot of time preparing a meal. Bulgogi can go on or with anything, making it incredibly versatile too.

Nutritional Value of Bulgogi

A typical serving of bulgogi is about ¾ cup (or 3 oz, which is about three or four slices). 

Depending on the cut and quality of beef, it can have somewhere in the range of 200 calories. 

This comes with about 12 grams of fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, and 22 grams of protein.

Bulgogi sounds like it could be unhealthy, but it’s not. What makes it unhealthy is how much of it you eat. 

For instance, if you have three thin pieces along with a bowl of rice and four veggie sides, it will be perfectly healthy. 

However, if you eat 10 pieces of meat with little regard for the rice and sides, then it will be incredibly unhealthy.

If you’re eating bulgogi as part of another recipe, you will have to take all the ingredients into consideration. 

Rice and noodle bowls will be considerably lower in fat and cholesterol than bulgogi included in stir-fry, dumplings, or other fried foods.

Simple Bulgogi Recipe

Whenever you make a recipe at home, you can better control the nutritional counts to make it healthier to suit your diet and tastes. 

The following recipe is a bulgogi anyone can make at home at any time. Just ensure you find the best cut of meat you can and ensure it cuts into thin slices. 

Getting it precut will make preparation faster.

Items You’ll Need

  • Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Grill, Pan or Barbecue
  • Spatula or Tongs
  • Mixing Bowl with a Cover
  • Spoon

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Beef (tenderloin, sirloin, skirt steak, or beef tongue)
  • 1 Green Onion (chopped)
  • ½ Cup Asian Pear (pureed)
  • ¼ Cup White Onion (pureed)
  • 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp Ginger (fresh, minced)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves (minced)
  • Ground Black Pepper (to taste)
  • Ssamjang (as a condiment for serving)

Directions

  1. Chop and/or mince the green onion, ginger, and garlic as indicated in the ingredients above and put it in the mixing bowl.
  2. Puree the pear and white onion and add those to the mixing bowl along with all the rest of the seasonings and spices.
  3. If the meat doesn’t come pre-sliced, thinly slice the meat into pieces that are roughly ⅛ inch thick.
  4. Put the meat into the mixing bowl and stir well. Cover with the lid and put it into the fridge for at least three hours. However, if you can keep it there overnight, the flavor will be much better. Definitely do an overnight marinade when the cut of beef you have is very tough.
  5. Give it a stir or two during the soaking period, ensuring each piece of meat coats in the marinade.
  6. Heat the grill, pan or barbecue until it reaches at least 350°F and cook the meat for two minutes on each side (or until medium rare). Serve immediately with some ssamjang.

Conclusion

Bulgogi can be very healthy meat featured as the centerpiece of any meal. 

While this is very popular at Korean BBQ restaurants, it can come in a host of other dishes. 

The small portion that comprises one serving does have a lot of fat, cholesterol, and sodium. 

But, when you consider the rice and vegetables served on the side, it’s a dish that’s excellent for your body.

About The Author

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Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul over 4 years and during that time, he has experienced a lot of the city's quirks and charms. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others who are interested in learning more about South Korea.

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