Chinese Barbecue Pork/Char Siu Recipe

When I was a kid, I ate a lot of barbecue pork, or char siu. It was a busy weeknight dinner staple, something we’d have about twice a month. Chinese takeout, as we knew it, was usually char siu, roasted pork, soy sauce chicken or roast duck with some greens and white rice.

Nothing beats hot, steamy white rice with sticky, glistening red char siu and a sunny-side up fried egg. Breaking into the runny yellow yolk of the egg with my chopsticks and mixing it into the rice was my favourite part. Char siu with rice is comfort food at it’s best.

My mom never made char siu at home, much like bánh mi, most people don’t tend to make char siu when they can buy perfectly delicious barbecue pork at a Chinese butcher. Traditionally, char siu, which means “fork roast or fork burn,” is made by roasting marinated pork over a fire. The trademark red colour comes from food colouring.

Char siu is a favourite of Mike’s, so I’ve made quite a bit of it over the years; this is the recipe that works best for me. Unfortunately I don’t have any open flames at home so I’ve created a way to make char siu in the oven. There’s no red food colouring in my recipe so your pork won’t end up the colour of the hanging pieces of pork you see in the roast meat window, but it will be terrifically juicy, tender, sweet and savoury.

Chinese Barbecue Pork/Char Siu Recipe

Ingredients

2 pounds pork butt cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons maltose (you can find this at most Asian grocery stores)
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons sesame oil
half a head of garlic, peeled and sliced

Directions

1. Combine all the ingredients except the pork in a small sauce pan and simmer on medium heat until the maltose and honey are melted and the sauce is slightly thickened. Cool completely.
2. Marinate the pork in about 3/4 of the sauce overnight in the fridge. Give the pork a couple of turns in the sauce to make sure that all sides have marinade on them. Save the remaining sauce in a container in the fridge in a separate container.
3. The next day, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Shake the excess sauce off the pork and roast the pieces on a rack over a roasting dish that you’ve lined with tin foil.
4. The char siu should be cooked after about 45 minutes depending on the size of your meat. The internal temperature of the pork should be 160˚F.
5. To char your char siu, brush the pork with the remaining reserved marinade and turn the oven up to broil. Turn the pieces to char on all sides. Keep a close eye on your pork, this won’t take long.
6. Slice and enjoy. I love char siu with rice and a fried egg or with some ginger scallion noodles, but you can enjoy it any way you like!

42 Comments add yours

  1. I created char siu with pork tenderloin by accident. It really does come out better on a grill.
    I had heard of a Ming Tsai soy/black vinegar/brown sugar reduction. I was working on it and modified it a bit. One time, without thinking about it, I put in hoisin sauce. The result was familiar, but it took a a while to figure out what I had done.

    Convergent evolution can be a tasty thing.

    Pork tenderloin is a little trickier because it is so lean, but the marinade does brine the meat. And less saturated fat means I can eat more.

    Andy,
    I agree, char siu is the best on a grill! I’ll have to try with pork tenderloin.

    steph on March 7th, 2010 at 1:38 pm
  2. Sounds wonderful…definitely on my “to make” list.

    Jenn,
    Let me know how your char siu goes!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 1:36 pm
  3. What a great blog you’ve got. I like the style of it a lot. It is very inviting! Your Chinese BBQ pork looks delicious.

    Thanks Linn!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 1:37 pm
  4. Thanks for the tip about serving with fried egg! YUM. What’s the benefit of maltose? Would brown sugar be a good substitute?

    Margie,
    Maltose gives the pork that sticky sweet sheen that you see on char siu. You could use all honey or give brown sugar a try!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 1:38 pm
  5. I love Char Sui but, as you say, sometimes its just easier buyinh it from the Asian BBQ.

    Ed,
    It’s true, that’s why my mom buys it from a store!

    steph on March 8th, 2010 at 4:27 pm
  6. looks deliciously tender and juicy! i’ve never made this at home, but i do enjoy buying a box of it from Chinatown when i get the craving

    Ling,
    I like buying them sometimes too! You can steam up store-bought at home like you made them and no one knows the difference!

    steph on March 10th, 2010 at 10:14 am
  7. Yum this would be great in fried rice I think? Thanks for the porky recipe

    Brad,
    Fried rice with char siu is the best!

    steph on March 10th, 2010 at 10:58 pm
  8. Delicious that is a great recipe.

    Thanks Ella!

    steph on March 19th, 2010 at 10:55 pm
  9. Fabulous char siu … i would love to try making today. It has so many purposes like for chye boay, fried rice, konlo mee, pizza topping, bak chang, glutinous rice, Penang curry mee.
    Fantastic Steph …. you’re so much more humbler than Low Bee Yinn of Rasa Malaysia, who shows signs of biasness toward certain ppl or races, favouring the angmors and yayapapaya (cocky).

    Thanks Daniel! I love konlo mee! I hope you get a chance to make the char siu soon!

    steph on March 20th, 2010 at 5:51 pm
  10. This looks amazing! I used to eat a lot of Char Siu in Singapore where I grew up. But it looked a lot more “red” than the char siu in your pictures. Can you suggest why that might be? Thanks!

    Hey Angela,
    It’s because they tend to use food colouring in commercial char siu. If you like the redness, feel free to add red food colouring in.

    steph on March 30th, 2010 at 5:11 pm
  11. Great Recipe,
    For coloring I break 1 piece of fermented bean curd {red} into the marinade with a fork.

  12. My pork is marinading right now. Can’t wait to try it tomorrow when I get home from work. Thanks for sharing your great recipe.

  13. This BBQ pork looks outstanding!

  14. I am making this for bao filling, can’t wait

  15. I just made this for bao filling as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll have enough, since my boyfriend and I ate half of it as I was chopping it up, it was that good. Thanks for the great recipe.

    LoveAndSqualor on February 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm
  16. Instead of red coloring agent you can use a cube of red fermented bean curd to the marinade. Tastes great and provides that red hue, allthough not as bright and flashy as the stuff you usually see in Chinese restaurants these days.

  17. hi! anything i can use to substitute for the maltose? thanks.

    Maltose is a sugar, you can substitute corn syrup or honey or any type of sweetener. If using real you only have to use half as much.

    Using real sugar instead – that is you need only use half as much as what the recipe calls for maltose.

    Tink on September 9th, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    thanks will try it

    anthony on September 11th, 2011 at 5:34 am
    Tink on September 9th, 2011 at 10:49 pm
  18. I just made it today and is delicious. The only thing i’ll change for next time will be the sesame oil. If you have no proble with the strong flavor use the same numbers if not put only 2 tblp. of the oil. I used butt and belly, they look and taste excellent. Also maybe you want to add more drops of the coloring since the colors of the hoisin and the soy sauce really take over. Anyways a five star recipe, thanks!

    Pedro figueroa on December 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm
  19. Hi, wanted to ask if it’s possible to leave out the Maltose?
    Since I can’t find it anywhere here in Denmark :/

  20. “Nothing beats hot, steamy white rice with sticky, glistening red char siu and a sunny-side up fried egg. Breaking into the runny yellow yolk of the egg with my chopsticks and mixing it into the rice was my favourite part. Char siu with rice is comfort food at it’s best.”
    I know EXACTLY what you mean, and just hearing you describing it brings back memories… Its making me drool…and hungry:D
    Thanks very much for the recipe:)

  21. Your char sui sauce recipe is de-F@*%kin’-licious!! I used it with David Lebovitz’s rib recipe and they were sooooo scrumptious!! With some garlic rice and Asian slaw… what a meal!!! Thank you!

  22. Delicious! Did with tenderloin can’t wait to try with pork butt! Thanks

  23. Tried making this today, and it is a great recipe!! Thanks a lot for sharing it here and the clear instructions.

    One little comment I would like to make with regards to the maltose and the people who are asking about substitutes and so on. Maltose has a higher caramelisation point than most other sugars. This is of benefit in this recipe, as it won’t caramelise while you slow-roast the pork in the oven. Also, it won’t caramelise when you thicken the marinate as long as you keep your cause pan open and the fire low/medium. It will however caramelise when you grill/broil the meat during the last stage in the oven. This contributes hugely to making the outside of the charsiu a little crispy, with little hardened bits of caramelised marinade here and there.

    So yes, you can substitute with other sugars in appropriate quantities.. Taste-wise, the sweetness won’t change significantly. But it is worth being aware of the caramelisation aspect, especially if you like your charsiu a little crispy/hardened on the outside.

  24. What da heck (Hawaiian dialect here) is “sweet soy sauce”?

  25. Looks good! there are some interesting ingredients being used here!

  26. Love the recipe, just wondering… Normally people pour this gravy on their charsiu rice… What is it made off?

  27. Is Pork Butt the best cut of pork to make char sui? Does this dry out or make the meat tough? Thanks

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