This article was originally published for Curious Cuisiniere.
Char siu is a Cantonese-style roasted boneless BBQ pork that is commonly used in Chinese cuisine. Savoury, succulent, and tender, It is eaten as a main protein with rice or noodles, or chopped up and used as a filling in buns known as Char Siu Bao.
Growing up, my first memories of eating char siu were when my family would visit my grandparents who lived in the city. My grandfather would bring back mysterious white styrofoam boxes, and my grandmother would make rice and boil green vegetables.
When it was time to eat, my grandfather would open the styrofoam box to reveal roasted, sliced meat in the form of char siu (BBQ pork), and roasted duck. The aroma of the roasted meats would fill the kitchen, and I remember eagerly having hot steamed rice and eating it with the savoury meats.
When I was a little older, I remember visiting Chinatown with my parents and seeing them stop in Chinese BBQ meat shops, where all they would serve were these roasted meats.
Roasted BBQ pork (char siu), roasted pig, duck, sausages… the meats would be hanging from the window and I recall my mother conversing in Chinese to the butcher to tell him which piece of char siu she wanted to take home. Then the butcher would take the piece of meat, slice it up and put into a white styrofoam box and we’d be on our way.
WHAT IS CHAR SIU?
Char siu literally means “fork” (char) “roasted” (siu), which refers to the way the meat is prepared. The meat is skewered onto a long fork and roasted over a fire, similar to BBQ.
Typically, Cantonese-style char siu is made with pork — either a pork shoulder or pork tenderloin.
HOW IS BBQ PORK EATEN
Char siu is usually purchased from a Chinese BBQ meat shop and taken home to share with family alongside with rice, other meats, and vegetables.
It can also be purchased as part of a “rice box” meal, somewhat akin to Chinese “fast food” where you can choose assorted meats (such as char siu, chicken, or roasted pig), vegetables, and pair it with rice packaged to go.
HOW TO MAKE CHAR SIU AT HOME
In my homemade version, I’ve chosen pork tenderloin, as it is a leaner cut of meat.
Marinate the pork in a mixture of:
- maltose (you can use honey if you can’t find maltose)
- light soy sauce
- 5-spice powder
- hoisin sauce (which is a sweet and salty sauce that is made from soy beans)
- red fermented tofu bean curd and
- Chinese rose wine
Red fermented tofu bean curd is dry firm tofu that is soaked in a brine and has a salty taste. It get its red colour from red yeast rice. If you’re unable to find Chinese rose wine, you can substitute with a shaoxing wine. Or try a dry white wine, for additional flavour.
5-spice powder is blend of spices commonly used in Chinese cuisine, consisting of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, sichuan peppercorns and fennel seeds. It’s aromatic, lightly floral flavour is great in meats, like my 5-Spice Turkey Green Onion Pancake Rolls.
Red fermented tofu bean curd, hoisin sauce, and 5-spice powder can be found at specialty Asian supermarkets.
THE RED RING
The hallmark of char siu is the red ring around the perimeter of the pork, similar to a smoke ring you would see on western BBQ’d meat. Some places use artificial red food colouring to achieve this. But, since I try to avoid food colouring, the maltose and red fermented tofu bean curd will produce great results.
After marinating, we’ll BBQ the pork tenderloin over a grill. This mimics the flavour of what you would find at a Chinese BBQ shop. However, you can also roast the pork in the oven just the same.
This classic Chinese BBQ meat dish is not only delicious, but iconic. At dim sum restaurants, you’ll find char siu in everything from rice noodle dishes, to buns, and everything in between.
MY VERSION OF CHAR SIU BBQ PORK
The flavour of char siu is savoury and slightly sweet, and has a fragrance from the 5-spice powder. Sliced up, it is tender and juicy, making it a perfect pairing with steamed rice or noodles.
OTHER WAYS TO USE CHAR SIU
Slice the char siu up and lay it on a bowl of rice.
To make a filling for buns, chop up the roasted BBQ pork. Add in some caramelized onions, and you’ll have the perfect filling for pork buns (char siu bao), which are another staple in Chinese cuisine.
Add it on top of Kolo Mee noodles.
Let me know if you try my recipe! Tag me on Instagram @siftandsimmer or leave me a comment below.
Homemade Char Siu (Roasted BBQ Pork)
For accuracy and precision in baking recipes, use weight (metric) measurements when available.
- 2 lbs pork tenderloin or pork shoulder
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½ tsp grated ginger
- 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 cubes red fermented tofu bean curd + 1 Tbsp sauce optional
- 2 Tbsp Chinese rose rice wine or use shaoxing wine, or a dry white wine
- 1 tsp 5-spice powder
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp maltose or substitute honey
- 1 Tbsp honey for brushing on
- Clean and trim the pork. If using pork shoulder, cut the pork into long strips about 2" wide.
- In a large bowl, combine minced garlic, grated ginger, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, red fermented tofu bean curd (and sauce), rose rice wine, 5-spice powder, sesame oil, and maltose (you can use the same amount of honey if you don't have maltose on hand).
- Add the pork into the marinade and use a spoon to scoop the marinade on top of the meat so that all portions of the meat absorb the marinade.
- Cover and set aside in the fridge for at least 12-24 hours.
- Remove the meat from the fridge at least 1-2 hours before roasting/grilling.
- Heat grill to 400°F.
- Place meat on the grill.
- Brush marinade on the meat. Cook for 15 minutes on one side and flip. Continue cooking until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145°F, approximately another 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Place meat on an aluminium foil-lined baking tray. Brush with the marinade and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 145°F.
- Remove from heat, brush honey on top and let the meat rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing.
- Serve on top of steamed rice and vegetables.