You’re meeting up with friends for a night out and you decide for Korean barbeque. Great choice! Yummy galbi! Or samgyeopsal! But when at the restaurant, you are gobsmacked to see a loooong listing on the menu. It can’t take 2 pages to say “galbi”, can it?
Or at your local supermarket: you’re browsing through the meat section and everything is familiar, from the prepackaged portions to the cuts at the meat counter. But then, there are some baffling cuts, too. So what do you do with those? What dishes are to be made?
The meat cuts used in Korean cuisine are:
1. 목심 (Moksim) : “Neck part”. Upper part of a chuck roll. Rough texture but has plenty of juices so can stand a deep boil. Used in soup stocks and also grill.
2. 등심 (Deungsim) : “Back part”. Forerib or sirloin. The upper part of the ribs. A choice cut. Tender, juicy, sufficient marbling. Mostly for grill and steaks. The rib eye is called 꽃등심(Kkotdeungsim, “flower” deungsim) because of its flower-like marbling and is a favorite for grill.
3. 안심 (Ansim) : “Inner part”. Tenderloin. Top cut. A very small portion cut. As its English name, it is the most tender cut of beef and leaner than Deungsim. Expensive. Mostly for grill and steaks.
4. 갈비 (Galbi) : “Ribs”. The “most Korean” beef cut. The choice cut was traditionally mostly braised (찜, jjim) or stewed (탕, tang) but grilling has become more popular. At a grill restaurant, they will offer you the plain version or the marinated version (양념갈비, yangnyeom galbi). LA galbi is galbi cut thinly in a long strip with several rib bones as rounds, in contrast to regular galbi which has a section of rib bone with meat attached to it.
5. 양지 (Yangji) : The lower center part including stomach area. High fat content makes it a favorite for soups and stews.
6. 사태 (Satae) : Shank. Although not very tender, it is another favorite for soups, stews, and also braised dishes as it has deep flavor and becomes softer as it cooks. It is also used raw for yukhweh (육회, “Korean steak tartare”) or the jangjorim (장조림, beef braised in soy).
7. 앞다리 (Apdari) : “Front legs”. Brisket. Although rather tough, it is used in a variety of dishes from grilled to braised, and also raw.
8. 채끝 (Chaekkeut) : Sirloin. Along with Deungsim and Ansim, it is very tender and used for grill and steaks.
9. 우둔 (Udun) : The center of the behind. Round or topside. Very lean, it is used for jangjorim, beef jerky, or bulgogi (불고기, marinated grilled beef).
10. 설도 (Seoldo) : The rest of the behind. Round or topside. Also used for jangjorim and jerky.
Along with the primal cuts, there are several specific cuts that are widely used in Korean cuisine. Galbi (in yellow), for example, is divided into 8 detailed cuts and would be specified in haute cuisine. Among them, you’ll be able to find the specialty cuts of 안창살(Anchangsal) or 제비추리(Jebichuri) at a galbi restaurant. Only a small quantity is available so prices reflect that fact. Both are grilled: Anchangsal is muscle and has a chewy texture, while Jebichuri has a very deep flavor and is sliced thinly.
Yangji (bottom grey)’s famous specialty cuts are 양지머리(Yangjimeori), 차돌박이(Chadolbagi), and 치마살(Chimasal). Yangjimeori is mostly used for soups and stews, can be eaten boiled and sliced (편육, pyeonyuk), and also grilled. Chadolbagi is known for its heavy marbling and is usually sliced very thinly for grilling to not get an overpowering “fatty” taste. It is also used in shabu-shabu.
Chimasal, “skirt meat”, is very tiny portion that covers the stomach area like a skirt. Although it has even marbling, the meat is not that tender but chewy, and has a very deep flavor. It is a very versatile cut and is used in various dishes.
From Satae (upper legs), 아롱사태(Arongsatae) is hands down the most prestigious cut. Only 2 cuts come from one cow. It has a well-meshed texture and is considered as the best cut for the raw beef dish yukhweh. It is also used in soups, stews, braised dishes and grill.
도가니(Dogani), used in soups and stews is the most well known special cut from Seoldo (round). It is the “knuckle” or the soft cartilage that surrounds the knees and ankles, which becomes a soft gelatin when cooked. It is considered a very healthy cut as it is full of nutrients.
1. 목심 or 목살 (Moksim, Moksal): “Neck part”. Blade/shoulder. Has a deep flavor and is mostly used in grill and bossam (보쌈) . It is the main alternative to samgyeopsal.
2. 등심 (Deungsim) : “Back part”. Loin. Tender, with little fat. Used mostly for pork cutlet or tangsuyuk (탕수육, sweet and sour pork), and grill.
3. 안심 (Ansim) : “Inner part”. Even less fat and more tender. Used like deungsim.
4. 갈비 (Galbi) : “Ribs”. Unlike beef galbi, pork galbi is mostly marinated before grilling. It is also braised. Western style barbeque ribs have also become quite popular in recent years.
5. 삼겹살 (Samgyeopsal) : “3 layered meat”. Pork belly, or some people call it (although not completely accurate), “Korean bacon”. The most famous of all Korean pork cuts. The layers are created from tiers of fat and some people find the taste too rich. Although known to prevent pneumoconiosis, it is high in cholesterol and calories. 오겹살 (Ohgyeopsal, 5 layered meat) is samgyeopsal including the pig skin.
6. 앞다리 (Apdari) : “Front legs”. Hock. Very lean. Either boiled, braised, or used in stir-fry. Because it’s relatively cheap, it’s mostly used for the popular dish jeyukbokkeum (제육볶음, spicy stir-fried pork).
7. 뒷다리 (Dweetdari) : “Back legs”. Also very lean. Use similarly to the front legs.
Although not pictured, jokbal (족발, trotters) is probably the most popular after samgyeopsal. Unlike samgyeopsal, it can be delivered, which adds to its appeal.
Like beef, pork also has detailed cuts. 항정살 (Hangjeongsal, front part of neck) has even marbling, making it very tender and juicy. It is mostly grilled. 볼살 (Bolsal, “cheek meat”) is also very juicy, tender, and flavorful. 갈매기살 (Galmaegisal, skirtmeat) is in the very center, right beneath the ribs. Although its name sound exactly like “seagull”, it is assumed that the name came from a derivation of 가로막이 (Garomagi, “blocking”), as it is the part that “blocks” the diaphragm and the liver. 가브리살 (Gabrisal) is the front part of deungsim and has sufficient fat to make it very tender. Very few portions come from one pig. It is mostly used in grill. Pork also has 꽃등심 (flower deungsim) like beef.
Pork cuts on the grill:
So there you have it. As for the famous Korean dish bulgogi (불고기, grilled or stir-fried marinated beef or pork), various meat cuts may be used to make it, although the best bulgogi is made from the most tender of cuts: deungsim or ansim.
Additionally, besides the meat cuts mentioned above, there is also various offal used in Korean cuisine, but that is another post in itself and should be explored further later on.
Lastly, my personal favorites? I’m fine with any meat cut, but if we’re talking about barbeque and grill, kkotdeungsim wins for beef and nothing, really nothing, can beat samgyeopsal for pork. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try the others out. You never know; you might find your favorite is something quite unexpected!