Char Siu: How to Make Authentic Chinese BBQ Pork at Home

This article provides a step-by-step guide on how to make Char Siu, the classic Chinese barbecued pork.

Key takeaways:

  • Char siu is a Cantonese Chinese BBQ pork that is marinated in a savory-sweet blend of hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, and Chinese five spice.
  • Traditionally, char siu is cooked on hooks in an oven to create a smoky flavor and distinctive red color.
  • Choose pork shoulder or pork belly for the best cuts of meat, and marinate overnight for tender and flavorful results.
  • To make char siu, coat the pork in the marinade and roast in the oven, basting with additional marinade and honey until richly glazed and cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F.
  • Use char siu in various dishes such as steamed bao buns, rice dishes, grilled skewers, and noodle soups, and store leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer for future use.

What Is Char Siu?

what is char siu

Char siu, often referred to as Chinese BBQ pork, is a Cantonese delicacy known for its distinctive red hue and savory-sweet flavor profile. The pork is marinated in a blend of hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, and Chinese five spice before being roasted to perfection. This method imparts a tantalizing glaze and a tender texture to the meat.

Traditionally, char siu is cooked on hooks in an oven, allowing it to roast evenly while imbuing it with a slightly smoky flavor, akin to barbecuing. The unique color comes from red food coloring or red fermented tofu, which enhances its visual appeal.

This dish graces many menus, from simple street food stands to high-end restaurants, showcasing its widespread popularity. It’s often served sliced with rice, noodles, or inside steamed buns known as bao, making it a versatile component in various Chinese dishes.

Ingredients and Best Cuts of Meat for Char Siu

The traditional choice for char siu is pork shoulder, also known as pork butt. This cut offers a perfect blend of fat and lean meat, which keeps it moist and flavorful after cooking. Pork belly can also be used for a richer, fattier version, though it’s less traditional.

Marinade is key in achieving that signature char siu taste. It typically consists of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey or maltose, Chinese five spice, red fermented bean curd for color, and often a touch of garlic and ginger. The balance of savory and sweet, along with a hint of spice, complements the pork beautifully.

For the best results, marinate the pork overnight. This not only infuses the meat with flavor but also tenderizes it, ensuring every bite is succulent and packed with taste.

How to Make Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork) With Cooking Instructions

To craft this succulent dish, start by selecting a quality piece of pork, preferably pork belly or shoulder. Both cuts offer the ideal fat-to-lean ratio, ensuring juicy, flavorful results. Next, mix a marinade of hoisin sauce, honey, soy sauce, Chinese five-spice, garlic, and red food coloring for that signature red hue.

Thoroughly coat the pork in the marinade and let it soak up the flavors for at least 4 hours, though overnight is best for an intensified taste. When it’s time to cook, preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Place the marinated pork on a rack over a tray to catch drippings, which prevents the meat from becoming overly soggy.

Roast for about 25 minutes, then brush with additional marinade and honey. Flip and repeat. Continue roasting and basting every 10-15 minutes until the pork is richly glazed and an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C) is reached. Allow the char siu to rest before slicing to preserve its juiciness. Thinly slice against the grain to serve. This method highlights the pork’s tenderness and the glossy, sweet, and savory crust that makes char siu so beloved.

How to Use and Recipes That Use Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu)

Char siu’s versatility shines in various dishes, enhancing flavors with its sweet and savory profile. Chop it up for a hearty filling in steamed bao buns, blending perfectly with the soft, pillowy dough. Slice it thin and lay it atop a bed of fragrant jasmine rice, or mix it into fried rice for a satisfying crunch with every bite. For a refreshing twist, thread char siu pieces onto skewers and grill them until caramelized, serving alongside a tangy cucumber salad. This pork also makes a superb addition to noodle soups, imparting a rich depth to the broth. Dive into the many ways char siu can elevate everyday meals and explore its potential in your culinary adventures.

How to Store and Reheat Char Siu

Proper storage extends the delicious life of char siu. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of cooking, ideally in air-tight containers. This keeps it fresh for up to three days. For longer preservation, freezing is your friend. Wrap the meat tightly in foil or plastic wrap, and then place it in a freezer bag. Squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn. Char siu can be frozen for up to two months.

Reheating char siu correctly ensures it remains moist and flavorful. Thaw frozen char siu in the fridge overnight. For a quick method, use a microwave with a cover to retain moisture, heating in short bursts until warm. Alternatively, oven reheating gives the best results. Preheat your oven to 350°F, place the char siu in a baking dish with a few tablespoons of water, cover with foil, and heat for about 10-15 minutes.