Instead of using premade rubs or sauces at your next barbecue, look to your packages of instant ramen
This post originally appeared in the June 7, 2021 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
One of my favorite childhood snacks was raw instant ramen noodles: I would punch open a bag of Shin Ramyun to break apart the noodles, take out the seasoning packet, and dip small broken pieces of uncooked, slightly hard-to-bite noodles into the ruby-red powder. It was one of the salty, spicy snacks that I could indulge in as a young child. Looking back, it seems pretty savvy and experimental, because now, as an adult, I use extra packets of ramen seasoning for everything, from making a soup base for kimchi jjigae to lightly sprinkling it on fries. My latest kitchen discovery: using it to season meat before it’s air fried or grilled. Adding Shin Ramyun seasoning as a rub made one of the most delicious pork belly dishes I’ve ever cooked.
The flavors of instant ramen packets differ, but Shin Ramyun seasoning — which includes garlic powder, mushroom extract, red chile pepper, onion, soybean paste, and so many other flavor enhancers — makes the most sense for grilling meat. I recently sprinkled a Shin seasoning packet all over a cut of a thick, skin-on pork belly, after making a criss-cross cut on the skin so that the seasonings could penetrate the meat. For one pound of pork belly, one ramen packet was enough to cover all the nooks and crannies, and I let the dry seasoning marinate the pork belly for an hour, uncovered, in the fridge. Then, I cooked it in an air fryer at 380 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes while checking and flipping halfway through.
The skin came out unbelievably crispy, similar to chicharrones. After resting the meat for a few minutes, I finally sliced the thick pork belly, and its interior, unlike the wildly crunchy skin, was moist, juicy, and so tender. The flavors of the ramen packet were subtle yet quietly present, ideal for dipping into extra sauces like ssamjang, a savory, spicy Korean paste mostly paired with Korean barbecue. I enjoyed the pork belly with musangchae (a tangy, spicy radish salad), with lettuce for a satisfying ssam (a Korean eating style of wrapping food in leafy greens).
I cooked my Shin Ramyun-seasoned pork belly in the air fryer, but roasting the seasoned meat in the oven or cooking it on the grill would also be delicious. According to my quick research, massaging the meat with sesame oil before adding the seasoning would add an extra layer of flavors and make for an excellent wet rub. And while pork belly is my go-to, chicken, ribs, and even fish would be great canvases to play with. (In my opinion, sharp, spicy types, particularly Korean instant noodles such as Shin, Jin Ramen, or Neoguri, would work the best on meat, compared to the chicken-flavored ones from Top Ramen.) Be creative with it!
This simple hack is also an easy way to jazz up your Korean barbecue game at home. You can get grill-ready pork belly from places like H Mart, sprinkle on the seasoning packet, and start grilling tableside over a portable gas stove. Pair your meat with several sides, including fresh lettuce, perilla leaves, ssamjang, and more. (I highly recommend ending this KBBQ feast with some actual spicy ramen.)
For my upcoming camping trip, instead of bringing or making a secret barbecue seasoning, I plan to just bring extra packs of ramen noodles so that I can use the seasonings to sprinkle on pork belly before it hits the grill. And, of course, the raw, uncooked ramen noodles themselves will provide the fireside snack.