If you love a juicy, sweet & sticky char siu (Chinese BBQ Pork), give this easy recipe a try! Delicious char siu is achievable at home! Updated to include instructions on how to make char siu in the oven so this can be made in the oven or the grill depending on the season.
Update 12/11/18 : Added instructions on how to cook this in the oven! Woohoo! So now this can be made in the oven or on the grill depending on the season!
Every time I look up 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 my char siu very sweet and sticky and I don’t like using food coloring in my foods (because I don’t feel like it really adds anything to it except color) so I wanted to get the color as natural as possible by using red fermented bean curd and ta da! A recipe is born.
There’s a lot to cover for char siu this recipe, so let’s get started!
For this Char Siu recipe, 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.
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 color and actually bitter.
Red Fermented Tofu & Substitutions
Traditionally, char siu is always red. I prefer not to use dye so I used red fermented tofu (aka red bean curd) for the color and the salt. The red fermented tofu also adds another dimension of flavour similar to what the cooking wine provides as well.
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 somewhat close. 🙂
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 (you can also use pork butt as well). 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 a lot of 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.
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.
CHAR SIU’S SIGNATURE SWEET GLAZE
Next let’s talk sweeteners!
Char siu’s trademark is it’s sweet and stickiness.
I like to used molasses for this recipe. Fancy molasses, not blackstrap molasses – blackstrap molasses is bitter. It has a dark earthy kind of sweetness, that’s not too sweet, but still sweet enough to have a sweet glaze. For convenience, I usually will use honey when I don’t have molasses at home.
I also recommend using barley malt syrup and maltose as well but these are a bit harder to find so 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 🙂 Alternatively, you can also remake the glaze and then add the honey in if you do not want to re-use the marinade.
Lastly, let’s talk heat. We can make this over the grill or in the oven. Both turn out fantastic, but I found that char siu cooked a lot faster in on the grill than in the oven – with more char as well.
Grilling Instructions for Char Siu
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!
Oven Instructions for Char Siu
To make this in the oven, it will take slightly longer than grilling it since it is using indirect heat compared to the direct heat from the BBQ.
When you are setting up the meat on the tray or roasting rack, set it on a rack so there is air flow below the meat. I like it line it with foil before setting down a rack for a easier clean up. If you don’t have a rack, you can take foil and crunch them up into foil balls and rest the meat on that.
I set the oven to 400F (204C) and cook it for 20 minutes a side for a total of 40 minutes. Then for the last 20 minutes I flip and glaze the meat with the glaze every 3-5 minutes until the glaze is all brushed on.
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! 🙂
Sweet and Sticky Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)
- 2 tablespoons honey (or maltose or barley malt syrup or fancy molasses (not blackstrap molasses))
- 1-2 cubes red fermented tofu (add an additional 4 teaspoons of the sauce, mashed together - this is also known as red bean curd)
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic (roughly chopped, approximately 1 ½ tablespoons)
- 4 slices of ginger (roughly chopped, approximately 2-3 tablespoons)
- 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice powder
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice cooking wine (or dry sherry)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon Korean pepper flakes (optional, for additional color and a mild spiciness. It will also give it an earthier flavor)
- 2-3 lbs pork shoulder (cut into long 3 inch thin strips)
- 2 tablespoons honey
- leftover marinade
Cutting and Marinating the Meat
- Cut the pork shoulder into long strips, that are roughly 3 inch thick. Mine are usually sized around 3 inches wide, and 5-7 inches long.
- 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.
- Add the marinade to a small pot and remove the chunks of garlic and ginger
- Add 2 tablespoons of honey into the marinade and mix well.
- Cook it on low heat on a stove for 5 minutes or when the sauce starts to boil.
- Set it aside for later, we will use this for glazing at the end of grilling
(Option 1) Grilling the Pork on the BBQ
- 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. The 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!! ?
(Option 2) Cooking the Char Siu in the Oven
- Set up the meat on the tray or roasting rack and use a rack so there is air flow below the meat. I like it to line it with foil before setting down a rack for an easier cleanup. If you don't have a rack, you can take foil and crunch them up into loose foil balls and rest the meat on that.
- Pre-heat the oven to 400F (204C).
- Once the oven has reached 400F (204C) bake the pork for 20 minutes.
- Flip the pork and cook for another 20 minutes
- For the next 20 minutes, flip and glaze the meat every 3-5 minutes until all the glaze is brushed on. Don't worry if there are charred sections, it's a trademark of char siu as well! 🙂
- Once the meat is done (when it reaches an internal temperature of 145F (62C)), let it rest for 10-15 minutes, 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 the glaze.
- Depending on your oven, the heat may vary. If you notice that you are not getting much of a char on your char siu, set the oven to broil and broil each side for 5 minutes (10 minutes in total) at the very end when the meat has finished cooking. Make sure you don't leave the area and watch the oven while it is broiling so it doesn't burn too much.
- 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
- Use fancy/cooking molasses and not blackstrap molasses as that is bitter.
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