Is Samgyeopsal Healthy? (Nutritional Value)

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There’s more to Korean BBQ than meets the eye. While it is one type of Korean cuisine, many individual dishes within it have separate names. 

These refer to the type of meat, its cut, and its method of cooking. Samgyeopsal, or grilled pork belly, is one such tasty menu item.

But, is samgyeopsal healthy? Yes and no, but it leans more toward the side of “no.” Whenever chomping down more than a typical serving, of course, samgyeopsal can be very unhealthy. 

Such a thing is true for any meat. Regardless, samgyeopsal does tend to be high in fat, cholesterol, and sodium. But, if eaten in moderation, it’s fine.

Let’s dive deeper.

Samgyeopsal & Its Ingredients

Samgyeopsal is an essential part of classic Korean BBQ. Pork belly comes from the abdomen of a boar or pig. 

It sits just under the loin from the last couple of ribs to the hind leg.

The name “samgyeopsal” translates literally to “three layer flesh.” This is because of the layered effect of fat and lean meat.

There is also ogyeopsal, which refers to five layers, and it indicates the skin of the pig/boar remains. Samgyeopsal means that the skin is not present.

Most of the time, there is no seasoning or marinade. 

However, some will do a light rub in things like garlic, soy sauce, ginger, ginseng, wine, curry, or red chili paste.

Preparation, Cooking & Serving

At a restaurant, people cook samgyeopsal themselves at a tabletop grill. 

It comes with slices of green onion, kimchi, mushrooms, or garlic that cook alongside the meat. 

Of course, there will always be a dish of plain rice.

Other things that come on the side are perilla leaves, lettuce and pickled radish paper along with dipping sauce. 

Some people like ssamjang, which is a red chili and soybean paste. Other people like a little salted sesame oil, and some will use plain soy sauce.

You can eat it with a knife and fork or chopsticks. 

However, many prefer to use the lettuce (perilla leaves or cabbage) to wrap the meat with the veggies.

Alcohol Accompaniments

Also, samgyeopsal is an anju, meaning you can consume alcohol with this dish. 

Soju (distilled rice spirit) is very common with it but sake or makgeolli also works.

However, the most popular cocktail with samgyeopsal is somaek. This is where a shot of soju drops into a glass of beer. 

The pork’s saltiness combined with the sides pairs well with sweet rice liquor and beer.

History of Samgyeopsal

Wild boars were prevalent in ancient Korea, and it was a main source of protein. So, pork has been an integral part of the Korean diet for centuries. 

However, once beef became part of the menu, they preferred to eat that instead.

However, in the 1980s, there was a push for Koreans to eat more pork and chicken in lieu of beef. 

This is because cows were scarce and necessary for other agricultural functions. 

So, pork belly became a popular choice for barbecue since the fat crisps up nice and delicious.

Nutritional Value of Samgyeopsal

On average, one serving is about ¾ cup (200 grams) and has nearly 700 calories. 

This includes about 60 grams of fat, 20 grams of saturated fat, 7 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 27 grams of monounsaturated fat.

Then there are 128 milligrams of cholesterol, well over 2,000 milligrams of sodium, and nearly 40 grams of protein. 

While these numbers are quite high, it does have lots of potassium along with some calcium, iron, and vitamin A.

So, if you’re looking for a healthy option the next time you visit a Korean BBQ restaurant, opt for chicken or shrimp. 

However, in the event you are a health fanatic and hardly consume much fat in a day, then you can get away with a slice or two of samgyeopsal. 

Just observe the amount you eat.

Traditional Samgyeopsal Recipe

Samgyeopsal

Making samgyeopsal at home is rather quick and simple.

You may have to make a special trip to your local Asian grocery store to obtain some ingredients, however. 

But making this yourself is the best way to count calories and watch how much of it you choose to consume.

Items You’ll Need

  • Grill
  • Spatula or Tongs
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons
  • Monkey Dishes (for side sauces)
  • Cutting Board
  • Knife

Ingredients

  • Meat
  • 1 lb Fresh Pork Belly
  • 16 Perilla Leaves
  • 8 Garlic Cloves (sliced thin)
  • 4 Green Chiles (sliced thin)
  • 4 Green Onions (sliced thin)
  • 4 oz Mushroom Caps (any kind will do)
  • 2 Lettuce Heads
  • Sesame Oil Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
  • Ssamjang
  • 2 Tbsp Korean Soybean Paste
  • 1 Tbsp Korean Red Chile Paste
  • 1 tsp Garlic (minced)
  • 2 tsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 tsp Sesame Seeds
  • 1 Tbsp Mirin or Sake

Instructions

  1. Slice all the vegetables and put them into individual dishes. Place the veggies in the fridge until ready to serve.
  2. Mix the ingredients together for the sesame oil sauce in two monkey bowls, dividing the measurements. Then make the ssamjang by blending all ingredients and spooning out into additional monkey bowls. If your ssamjang is too thick, you can add more mirin and/or sesame oil.
  3. Using the knife cut bite-sized pieces of the pork belly.
  4. Heat your grill until it reaches at least 350°F.
  5. Grab the veggies from the fridge and put them onto the grill along with the pork belly chunks.
  6. Allow these to cook thoroughly on one side and then flip the meat and veggies only one time.
  7. Serve immediately with the dipping sauces.

Conclusion

While samgyeopsal isn’t necessarily the healthiest thing you could eat in Korean cuisine, it’s not all that bad either. Because it’s pork belly, it’s high in fat, sodium, and protein. 

But, it has a bunch of other good minerals and vitamins we need for a well-balanced diet. So, if you eat it in moderation, it’s perfectly healthy enough.

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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