Chinese BBQ pork or char siu is loved the world over, and it's actually not hard to make at home! With some key ingredients and a couple of techniques, it might even be better than buying. Actually, it probably will be :). You can have it with rice, noodles, use it in a sandwich or a steamed bun. Or just eat it straight up!
What is Char Siu?
Char siu, often called Chinese BBQ pork or Chinese roast pork in English, is a Cantonese style of barbecued pork. It has become beloved worldwide, Thailand included, because of its unique sweet and savory flavor, the aroma of five-spice powder, and a distinct red color.
The word "char" means fork, and "siu" means burn, and it refers to the traditional way the pork is skewered with a big fork and roasted over open flames. (Thanks to my Cantonese speaking husband for the info!)
Char siu can be eaten with rice or noodles, and it also gets turned into steamed bun fillings and added to many other things. In Thailand, char siu is called moo dang which literally means "red pork" and we incorporate it into many dishes such as this kao moo dang - BBQ pork rice and street noodles with BBQ pork and wontons.
Here are ingredients for char siu, mostly basic stuff with the exception of the red bean curd.
- Pork shoulder roast, boneless. See below for more on choosing the right pork for char siu.
- Soy sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Red bean curd. You can find Chinese red bean curd in a glass jar at most Chinese grocery stores. More on this below.
- Five spice powder, store bought or use my easy homemade five-spice powder recipe.
- White pepper, black pepper is fine if you don't have it
- Chinese cooking wine, optional
- Toasted sesame oil, optional
For the Glaze
- Red bean curd liquid or cooked leftover marinade
What is Red Bean Curd?
You can think of red bean curd as a kind of fermented tofu. They are soft, salty, funky cubes of fermented soybean curds that come submerged in a red liquid. The red colour comes from red yeast rice which is used during fermentation of the bean curd. Thankfully, it's quite widely available at most Chinese grocery stores.
It's the main ingredient for Cantonese char siu and is the source of the iconic red colour. If you don't have it, you can substitute 1½ tablespoons of miso thinned out with a bit of water, plus bit of red food coloring.
Choosing The Best Pork for Char Siu
Choosing the right pork is the most important step. Traditionally, Chinese barbecued pork uses pork butt, a.k.a. pork shoulder. It is a flavourful and fatty cut that is perfect for dry roasting.
I go to the butcher and ask for a boneless pork shoulder roast, something that is at least 5 inches long so you have a nice long-ish piece at the end. It'll be at least 4 lb, more than what you need for this recipe, but you can save the rest for a slow braised pork dish like adobo, or make Thai street-style grilled pork skewers.
Preparing the Pork
Pork butt is an irregular piece of meat and it can seem intimidating to deal with, but rest assured that it isn't. The roast is made up of different muscles that look (and taste) slightly different, which I think keeps it interesting. It's also got lots of fat (yum) and some connective tissue running throughout, which means some parts are a bit chewier. The chewiness will be mitigated by slicing thinly when serving.
Despite its irregular shape, breaking it down is simple: Cut it down into log-shaped pieces, going with the grain of the muscles, ignoring any connective tissue or fat that's in your way—just cut right through them. You want to cut each log with the grain so that when you slice them for serving, you'll be slicing against the grain, which will yield more tender pieces.
You can trim off big chunks of fat, but don't trim too much as the fat keeps it juicy. And don't worry if your logs end up oddly shaped; Chinese BBQ pork is supposed to be rustic looking!
How About Something Leaner?
What about pork loin or tenderloin? They're more straightforward to prep, leaner, and easier to find. Are these okay to use?
Yes...BUT. These are not my preferred options because they are very lean, and your char siu will be less flavourful and less juicy. If you overcook them even a little, they become dry quickly. We all have experienced the horror of overcooked, dry pork chops, right? Yeah...we don't want that.
So if you still want to use it, I recommend using a meat thermometer to make sure you don't overcook it. Even better, get a leave-in probe thermometer like this one so you are guaranteed to have perfectly cooked pork. Remove the pork from the oven once internal temperature reaches 150°F (66 °C), let it rest for 10-15 minutes, which should bring the pork to a final temperature of 160°F (71°C).
The glaze is what makes this pork shine and glisten, and yields a sweet caramelized crust. I like to simply mix some honey with a bit of the red bean curd juice, but for an extra oomph of flavour you can take some of the leftover marinade, heat it up to boiling to cook off raw pork juice, and then combine that with the honey to make a glaze. It'll be less red that way, but it'll give you more of the flavours of the spices. You can always boost it with a couple of drops of red food colouring.
How to Make Char Siu
Here's a bird's eye view of the steps, but be sure to watch the full video tutorial in the recipe card before starting to ensure success.
- Mash the red bean curds with a fork.
- Add all marinade ingredients and stir to mix.
- Pour the marinade over the pork and toss to coat well. Marinate the pork for 24-48 hours.
- Roast the pork at 400°F (200 °C) on a rack for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine the glaze ingredients.
- Once the pork is out, brush the tops and sides with the glaze and return to the oven for 5-7 minutes until the glaze is dry.
- Remove the pork from the oven and apply another layer of glaze, and put it back in for another 5-7 minutes to dry.
- Repeat the glazing one more time and roast again for another 5 minutes until internal temp reaches 155°F (68°C). The total cooking time should be about 30 minutes. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
Before you start, be sure to watch the video tutorial to ensure success! I always include little tips and tricks not mentioned in the blog post. The video is in the recipe card below, but you can also watch it on YouTube!
Char Siu - Chinese BBQ Pork
- 2 lb pork shoulder roast
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 cubes red bean curd + 1 Tbsp liquid
- 1 Tbsp five spice powder
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine, optional
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil, optional
- 2 cloves garlic, finely grated or mashed
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 2-3 tsp red bean curd liquid or cooked leftover marinade
FULL VIDEO TUTORIAL
All my recipes come with step-by-step video tutorials with extra tips not mentioned in the blog post, so make sure you watch the video to ensure success. If you enjoy them, consider subscribing to the YouTube Channel to not miss an episode. Thank you!Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
- Cut the pork roast, along the direction of the meat's grain, into long strips about 2-inch thick (see video for size). You can trim off big chunks of fat but don't trim off too much.2 lb pork shoulder roast
- In a small mixing bowl, mash the red bean curd until there are no more big chunks. Add all remaining ingredients (except for the glaze ingredients) and whisk until combined.2 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce, 2 cubes red bean curd + 1 Tbsp liquid, 1 Tbsp five spice powder, 2 Tbsp honey, 2 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine, ½ tsp ground white pepper, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tsp sesame oil
- Pour the marinade over the pork and make sure all pieces are coated. Marinate in the fridge for 24-48 hours (do not do less than this!), turning the pork half way through to ensure even distribution of marinade.
- When ready to roast, preheat the oven at 375°F/190°C convection (if your oven has a fan) or 400°F/200°C regular (no fan).
- Line a baking sheet with foil then put a roasting rack on it. Place the pork on the rack. Roast for 15 minutes.
- While the pork is roasting, combine the honey and the red bean curd liquid (or cooked leftover marinade) to make the glaze.2 Tbsp honey, 2-3 tsp red bean curd liquid or cooked leftover marinade
- Remove the pork after 15 minutes, brush the glaze on it (don't worry about the bottom side), then put it back for another 5-7 minutes or until the glaze has dried onto the pork.
- Remove the pork and glaze again, then put it back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes.
- Glaze the pork again (you should glaze a total of 3 times), then roast for another 5 minutes or until the pork is done; the total roasting time should be about 30 minutes. If using a thermometer, the internal temp should reach 155°F before removing from the oven.
- If the pork has not browned or charred to your liking at this point, you can switch the oven to "broil" and broil the pork on the top rack, with the oven door open, for a few minutes to get some charring.
- Let the pork rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and eating. Enjoy!