If you love a juicy, sweet & sticky char siu (叉烧, 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.
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 so I can be consistent with it!
If you don't know what char siu is, it originates from Guangdong, China, and is Cantonese barbequed pork with a sweet red glaze. It is a popular dish, that can be served on its own or used within other recipes.
I like my char siu very sweet and sticky and I don't like using red 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, which contains red yeast rice that gives this Chinese barbeque pork it's red color.
Char siu is such a versatile dish that you can easily make a big batch of it and use it on other dishes such as BBQ pork buns, char siu dumplings, Singapore noodles, etc. I like to make a big batch to freeze so that I can just defrost a piece in the fridge anytime for a quick and easy dinner with some white rice and vegetables.
There's a lot to cover for this barbequed char siu this recipe, so let's get started!
INGREDIENTS FOR CHAR SIU
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.
For the best char siu sauce flavor, Chinese five-spice powder is a must. It's a very popular spice now, so you should be able to find it at any grocery store but if you can't find it, they will definitely have it in any Asian grocery store.
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 spiciness to it as well. (mild spicy) It will also give the char siu an earthier flavor. 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 red color and the salt. The red fermented tofu also adds another dimension of flavor 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 flavor but it will be somewhat close. 🙂
In this recipe, the red fermented tofu (aka red bean curd) is used as a source of sodium and color, so if you substitute it out, you will lose the red color that char siu is known for.
BEST CUTS OF MEAT FOR CHAR SIU
Let's talk meat.
The best cut of pork for char siu 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 or pork belly as well). Some may prefer a leaner char siu, for that I'd say use 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 into long thin chunks, no larger than 3 inches wide. It cooks faster, and you get more surface area for sauce. Mmmm! The sauce is the best part of this!
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 flavor and give the char siu a bit of an earthier flavor.
CHAR SIU'S SIGNATURE SWEET GLAZE
Next, let's talk sweeteners!
Char siu's trademark is its red sweet and sticky sauce. The char siu glaze is basically made out of the char siu sauce/marinade with an additional liquid sweetener added to it to give it extra sweetness and stickiness.
I like to use honey for this recipe because it's easy to find and it is usually in most household pantries. If I have molasses at home, I will also use that as well since it gives a bit more flavor than honey - if you do use molasses, use fancy molasses and not blackstrap molasses. Blackstrap molasses has a bitter flavor without a lot of sweetness.
I also recommend using barley malt syrup or maltose as well if you want a bit more flavor 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.
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 an 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 the oven is usually not as hot as a BBQ.
When you are setting up the meat on the tray or roasting rack, set it on a rack so there is airflow below the meat. I like it line it with foil before setting down a rack for an 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 flavor 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!
HOW TO RE-HEAT AND STORE CHAR SIU
If you're making a big batch, char siu freezes really well in the freezer for up to 3 months. I store them in a ziplock bag, with all the air removed for easy storage in the freezer.
To re-heat it from the freezer, I bring it out the day before and defrost it in the fridge. Once it has defrosted, you can microwave it to warm it up. Make sure you don't slice it ahead of time, or you will lose a lot of moisture and juiciness. Microwave it as a whole piece, then once it is warm all the way through, you can let it rest for a few minutes and then slice it.
If you don't plan to freeze it, then it can keep in the fridge for up to a week, stored in a well-sealed container, or covered over a plate with plastic wrap.
LOOKING FOR MORE CHINESE RECIPES? TRY THESE!
- Sweet and Sour Pork - A traditional Chinese sweet and sour pork recipe (Cantonese Style) made with crispy pork, pineapple, peppers, and onions tossed in a sticky sweet and sour sauce made tomato paste instead of ketchup for a umami boost.
- Beef Chow Fun (Beef Ho Fun) - A classic Cantonese Beef Chow Fun Noodles recipe (aka Gon Chow Ngo Ho) made with fresh flat ho fun rice noodles and tender flavourful beef slices.
- Crispy Cantonese Beef Chow Mein - A crispy Cantonese beef chow mein recipe, loaded with saucy beef, peppers, and onions on top.
- Easy Creamy Congee Recipe - An easy and simple, creamy congee recipe that is comforting any time of the year as an everyday meal or when you're feeling under the weather.
- Tomato and Egg Stir Fry - A Chinese tomato and egg stir fry recipe with a sweet & savory sauce made with fresh tomatoes and fluffy scrambled eggs
DID YOU MAKE THIS CHAR SIU RECIPE?
If you made this char siu recipe, I want to see! Follow Pups with Chopsticks on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag and hashtag it with @pupswithchopsticks and #pupswithchopsticks. I love to know what you are making!
Sweet and Sticky Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)
- 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 3-5 minutes (6-10 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 since it can burn very quickly.
- If you are using molasses for this recipe, use fancy or cooking molasses only. Do not use blackstrap molasses, it has a bitter taste.
- If you cannot find red fermented bean curd, you can substitute this with 3 tablespoons of oyster sauce.
- Make sure you bring the char siu out of the fridge for an hour before you cook it. This will ensure that the pork will cook all the way through to the middle evenly.
- Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru) is an optional ingredient and is definitely not in authentic and traditional char siu. If you decide to use it, it will give your pork additional red colour but it will also be a bit of spiciness to it as well. It will also give the char siu an earthier flavour. So if you don't want this - skip it! 🙂
- 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)
- 1 teaspoon 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 strips, 3 inch wide)
- 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 at room temperature before cooking
- Add all the marinade to a small pot including the chunks of garlic and ginger. Cooking the glaze with the ginger and garlic will make it more flavourful.
- 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
(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 will use the glaze and glaze it 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
- Line a sheet pan with foil before setting down a metal rack over it for easier cleanup. Using a metal rack over the sheet pan also will give the char siu proper airflow to roast in the oven. Place the meat on top of the rack.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
Glazing the Char Siu
- Increase the oven temperature to 425F (218C)
- For the next 20 minutes, flip and glaze the meat every 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! 🙂
*Nutritional information is calculated using online tools and is an estimate*
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