If you love sweet and sticky char siu like we do, give this recipe a go! We also played around and gave it a little spicy kick by adding Korean pepper flakes. Why? Because we think sweet and spicy go hand in hand, don’t you agree?
Google Char siu and you will find that it is a very popular dish and there are whole lotta recipes already out there for it. So why did I decide to write about this, and add to the abundant (and wonderful) recipes that is already out there? ..besides the fact that all Asian blogs need to have one of these on their sites, it’s almost like a right of passage — haha I kid 🙂
Mostly laziness. Seriously! Every time I google a recipe for char siu, I used a different one every time, with different results every time. So I decided to actually spend the time and create one to my liking (I like mine very sweet and sticky) and actually document it. Yes, it took more effort than googling a recipe but you know what? It was worth it! Now I finally have my own char siu recipe that I can tweak to death that’s also easy for me and friends to find! …and I will finally get to use the same recipe over and over again.
There’s a lot to cover, shall we get started? Allons-y!
Most of the ingredients can be found at your local grocery store, however red fermented tofu, Korean red pepper flakes may be harder to find and you may have to find them at an Asian grocery store but this ingredient is optional.
Traditionally, char siu is always red. I prefer not to use dye so I used red fermented tofu (aka red bean curd) for the colour and the salt. The red fermented tofu also adds another dimension of flavour similar to what the cooking wine provides as well.
Update: Red fermented tofu/red bean curd might be difficult to find if you do not have a local Asian grocery store nearby. You can substitute this with 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce OR 3-4 tablespoons of soy sauce. As always, substitution may not produce the exact flavour but it will be close. 🙂
In this recipe, the red fermented tofu (aka red bean curd) is used as a source of sodium and colour, so if you substitute it out, you will lose a the red colour that char siu is known for. You can add a few drops of red food colouring if you really want that red colour, but I personally wouldn’t because the colour doesn’t add to the flavour 🙂 It just makes it – red!
If you decide to use the optional ingredient, korean red pepper flakes then the red will still be there and you will have a bit of a spiciness to it as well. (mild spicy) It will also give the char siu a earthier flavour. So if you don’t want this – skip it! 🙂
For the molasses, we used fancy/cooking molasses which is different from blackstrap molasses. Fancy molasses has a higher sugar content and blackstrap molasses is black in colour and actually bitter.
Disclaimer: As with most of my posts, I provide affiliate links to make items easier to find if you cannot purchase this locally. I would never recommend anything I don’t own myself or highly recommend, but I would prefer you buy your items locally to support your stores (and chances are they are cheaper locally!) 🙂
CUTS OF MEAT
Let’s talk meat.
The cut of pork you will make the char siu with will be a personal preference. I prefer a more fatty and juicy char siu so I went with a pork shoulder. Some may prefer a more leaner char siu, for that I’d say use a pork tenderloin. The recipe here will be for a pork shoulder, so you may need to adjust how long you cook it for.
I highly suggest using a meat thermometer because it takes the guessing work out of cooking meat and that is a glorious thing. One less thing to worry about in the kitchen. I have eaten my fair share of raw chicken, and believe me, a meat thermometer is a very good investment in the kitchen if you cook meat. I prefer the digital ones, not because I’m fancy but because the digital ones use a long wire prong which I can leave in the meat in the BBQ/oven. This allows me to read the temperature without ever opening the oven or BBQ.
Tip #1: Don’t be afraid of buying a pork shoulder with the bone in. Around here in Canada they are inexpensive compared to the ones that are boneless one so that’s a win right there! Buying the whole hunk of meat also gives you more freedom to cut it up to the size you want. The bone that’s left? That stuff is great for stocks. Nothing ever gets wasted here! 🙂
Tip #2: Cut the pork up in long thin chunks. It cooks faster, and you get more surface area for sauce. Mmmm! The sauce is the best part of this, you know it! 😛
Experiment: I added Korean red pepper flakes. Why? 2 reasons, because I thought it might give it a nice red as well — which it did! and because I like things a bit spicy so I thought it’d also give it a little kick. It gave it a small spicy kick, not a big one so this is an optional ingredient on the actual recipe. Adding this in will also change the flavour a bit to a more earthier flavour.
SUGARS & GLAZING SAUCE
Next let’s talk sweeteners!
Char siu’s trademark is it’s sweet flavour.
I used barley malt syrup in this marinade (only because it was what I had on hand). I know barley malt syrup and maltose are not easy to find so I would suggest substituting it with molasses. It has a similar flavour, a dark earthy kind of sweetness, that’s not too sweet. (and yes! honey works too!)
If you do choose to hunt for the odd ingredients, you can usually find maltose in an Asian grocery store and the barley malt syrup in a health food store. 🙂
After you are done marinating the meat, we will re-use the marinating sauce as the glazing sauce. This is when you will add additional honey to it. The honey will sweeten up the glaze and thicken it up to give us that nice sticky thick layer 🙂
Tip #3: Don’t over marinate the meat. I do this ALL the time, because the longer the better right? Yes, but not in this case. This marinade has two very salty components: cooking wine and red fermented tofu which can make the end result very salty. Don’t marinate it for less than 24 hours! but don’t over marinate it as well 🙂
Lastly, let’s talk heat.
I used a charcoal BBQ for this, with indirect heat from hot charcoals off to the side. I haven’t tested this in the oven but I will on my next batch of char siu, but for now if you decide to experiment in the oven let me know how it turns out! 🙂
On the BBQ, we had the temperature steady at 325F (162C). We had the meat for 15 mins on one side, then flipped it and cooked it for another 10 mins. At this point, the meat was at a internal temperature of 145F (62C). We did 4-5 layers of glaze, flipping the meat every minute to prevent burning. When it looked red and sticky and a little burnt we pulled it out and gobbled it right up!
Tip #4: The burnt sugar is another trademark flavour of char siu! So don’t worry too much if it seems a little burnt. 🙂
Let us know if you made this and how it turned out with #pupswithchopsticks! We’d love to see how this turns out for everyone that’s tried it!
Happy Cha Siu’ing! 🙂
If you love sweet & sticky char siu like we do, give this recipe a go! ..and we added Korean pepper flakes for a kick, because sweet & spicy go hand in hand!
- 2 tablespoons fancy/cooking molasses (not blackstrap molasses) – can also be substituted with maltose, barley malt syrup or honey)
- 1 cube red fermented tofu (and 4 teaspoons of the sauce, mashed together) – this is also known as red bean curd
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 2 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
- 4 slices of ginger (roughly chopped)
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice cooking wine (or dry sherry)
- (optional) 1-2 tablespoons Korean pepper flakes (for additional colour and a mild spiciness. It will also make it a more earthier flavour)
- 2-3 lbs pork shoulder (cut into long 3 inch thin strips)
- 2 tablespoons honey
Cutting and Marinating the Meat
- Cut the pork shoulder into thin 3 inch thick strips. (Cooks faster and absorbs marinade more evenly)
- Combine the ingredients in the marinade section into a ziplock or a big bowl and combine it with the pork.
- Marinate it in the fridge for 24 hours.
Preparing the Glaze
- Remove the meat from the marinade and let it sit for an hour in room temperature.
- Reserve the marinade into a small bowl and remove the garlic bits and ginger
- Add 2 tablespoons of honey into the marinade and mix. We will use this for glazing at the end of grilling
Grilling the Pork
- Heat up BBQ to 325F (162C)
- Cook the char siu for 15 mins on one side, then flip it for another 10 mins. Check the meat thermometer. Temperature should be around 145F (62C). If it’s not, keep the meat on longer until it reaches that internal temperature.
- Once it hits an internal temperature of 145F (62C), we glazed 4-5 times, flipping the meat every minute to prevent burning
- When the meat looks red, sticky and slightly burnt, remove it from the BBQ and let it rest for 20 mins on a plate before cutting into it.
- Once the meat has rested, cut it up and enjoy!! 🙂
- Cutting the pork up in long thin chunks allows it to cooks faster, and you get more surface area for sauce.
- The glaze is essentially made with the leftover marinade and additional honey. The additional honey will sweeten up the glaze and thicken it up to give us that nice sticky thick layer
- Don’t over marinate the meat. This marinade has two very salty components: cooking wine and red fermented tofu which can make the end result very salty. Don’t marinate it for less than 24 hours! but don’t over marinate it as well
- Use fancy/cooking molasses and not blackstrap molasses as that is bitter.