This char siu chicken is an easy and tasty alternative to the traditional char siu. Made with boneless chicken thighs, it's super juicy and tastes savory with a hint of sweetness and just enough char. This is an easy, quick recipe to add to weeknight dinner rotations and can be prepared all ahead of time. We've also provided 2 cooking methods so you can choose what works best for your kitchen.
If you’ve made this recipe or any recipes from our blog, please tag us on Instagram using #twoplaidaprons! You can also tag us in your Instagram stories using @two_plaid_aprons. We would love to see your creations! It absolutely makes our day! 🥰
What is char siu?
Char siu in Chinese is 叉烧, which refers to a style of Cantonese BBQ roast, specifically pork. This recipe is an adaptation of classic char siu, with chicken instead of pork, to make it an easy and tasty everyday meal.
This char siu chicken embodies all the flavors and the iconic red colors of classic char siu, just with chicken instead. It's juicy, savory, with a hint of sweetness and just enough char.
What to eat with char siu chicken
Char siu chicken is great simply served over some white rice with some blanched baby Chinese broccoli. But here are some other options to enjoy and serve with char siu chicken:
- Soups - easy miso soup and egg drop soup is our go to, but hot and sour soup is amazing if you're in the mood for something heartier
- Vegetables - easy sauted veggies like garlic bok choy, Chinese garlic green beans, or bok choy with oyster sauce
- In a rice bowl with fresh vegetables
- In a noodle bowl like bun thit nuong (Vietnamese grilled pork vermicelli)
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the ingredient quantities!
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs - Chicken thighs are the juiciest and most flavor. We recommend boneless thighs because it marinates better and cook faster.
- Hoisin sauce - This is the main sauce and flavoring for the char siu marinade.
- Sugar and soy sauce - For enhancing the sweet and savory flavors needed in the marinade.
- Shaoxing rice wine - Using rice wine is optional but recommended. Shaoxing rice wine helps to remove unwanted chicken flavors and makes the chicken more aromatic.
- Fermented red bean curd - Although fermented bean curd is not absolutely necessary, it definitely adds an extra touch of umami to the marinade. Plus, the red from the bean curd also adds to the char siu chicken's red color. Feel free to use either the regular fermented red bean curd or the rose bean curd.
- Garlic powder - Rather than using fresh garlic, we prefer garlic powder. The flavor is more concentrated and the garlic won't burn.
- Chinese five spice - It may not seem like a lot, however, a little Chinese five spice helps to add that depth of flavor and complexity you want in char siu.
- Red food coloring or red yeast rice - Both choices are option to give char siu chicken the iconic red color char siu is known for. Red food color is definitely more convenient and gives a nice deep red color. Red yeast rice is a natural and more nutritious option, but the red is a bit duller and you'd often have to blend or grind the rice yourself.
How to make char siu chicken
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe and instructions!
1. Make the marinade. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and mix well. Reserve 2 to 3 tablespoons of the marinade for brushing.
🌟Pro tip: Before mixing everything up, mash the fermented bean curd first to help it better incorporate.
2. Marinade the chicken. Place the chicken thighs into the marinade and mix until all the chicken is evenly and well coated. Cover and let it marinade for at least 1 hour or best overnight in the fridge.
3. Cook the chicken. The marinated chicken can be cooked either in the oven or with an air fryer. If using an air fryer, make sure to do it in batches to avoid overcrowding. And if possible, preheat the appliance before using.
4. Rest and enjoy. Once the char siu chicken is cooked, remove and allow it to rest for 3 to 5 minutes before cutting. Enjoy over right and with veggies.
🌟 Pro tip: If you have any reserved marinade leftover, brush some on at the end to give the chicken that extra gloss and more flavor!
Air fryer char siu chicken:
1. (Optional) Preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Some air fryer has this option. If not just let the air fryer run for 3 to 5 minutes at 400°F. This will help the chicken stay juicier.
2. Line the air fryer with aluminum foil and arrange the marinated chicken in a single layer. Make sure to let the extra marinade drip off and avoid overcrowding.
3. Cook the chicken at 400°F for 10 minutes. Midway, flip the chicken and optionally brush on some leftover marinade from the chicken. This helps the chicken stay juicy.
4. After the 10 minutes, flip the chicken thighs one last time and with a clean brush, brush on some reserved marinade.
Let the chicken air fry for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the desired amount of char is achieved.
Oven roasted char siu chicken:
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F and prepare a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a roasting rack. We tried without a roasting rack, as seen in the photos below, and highly using a rack.
2. Arrange the marinated chicken in a single layer on the roasting rack. Make sure to let the extra marinade drip off and avoid overcrowding.
3. Roast the char siu chicken at 450°F for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until just cooked. Midway through cooking, flip the chicken and optionally brush on some leftover marinade from the chicken.
4. Once the chicken is just cooked, flip the chicken once again and use a clean brush to brush on some reserved marinade.
Broil the chicken on high for about 1 to 2 minutes, or until your desired amount of char develops.
- Marinate overnight if possible. This allows the chicken thighs to absorb as much flavor as possible.
- Line the air fryer or sheet pan with aluminum foil. This will help a ton with cleaning! The drippings and marinade tend to burn easily due to the sugar. So the foil will help prevent the char from sticking to the air fryer basket and pan as much.
- Don't skip the char! Char siu is a barbecue after all, so having some char really adds to and elevate the flavor of the chicken.
- Preheat the air fryer and oven. It's always good practice to preheat cooking appliance. This is especially helpful in keeping proteins juicy.
- Adjust the temperature and cook time if needed. Every appliance varies a little, especially if the brands are different. So if needed, adjust the cooking temperature and cook time to what suits your appliance.
Leftover char siu chicken can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days. Just make sure to allow the chicken to cool completely before covering and storing.
The best way to reheat leftover char siu chicken is in the microwave. Make sure to cover the chicken and heat it until warmed through.
If you prefer, you can steam the leftover char siu chicken on the stovetop as well. Simply place the leftover into a pan over medium heat with a small amount of water. Cover and allow the chicken to steam until heated through. You can also brush on some reserved marinade, if you have some leftover.
We recommend using boneless chicken thighs because it helps the marinade penetrate better. However, if you prefer, you can definitely use bone in chicken thighs, but we highly recommend allowing the chicken to marinate overnight and of course increase the cook time to 15 to 25 minutes in the air fryer or until cooked or 25 to 35 minutes in the oven or until cooked.
The purpose of Shaoxing rice wine is to help get rid of unwanted chicken flavor from the chicken thighs. If you prefer, you can do without and simply omit it.
No. The fermented red bean curd is there to add an extra boost of umami to the marinade. However, you can do without it if you prefer.
Char Siu Chicken
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine (optional)
- 1 cube fermented red bean curd regular red or rose are both fine
- 2 teaspoons red yeast rice finely grounded; optional for color (or use 2-5 drops of red food coloring) *see notes
- 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
- Marinate the chicken:In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients except the chicken (hoisin sauce, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, bean curd, red yeast rice or food coloring, garlic powder, and five spice powder). Mix everything together and make sure to mash up the fermented bean curd well.
- From the char siu marinade, reserve about 2 to 3 tablespoons of marinade for brushing. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
- To the remaining marinade, add the skinless, boneless chicken thighs and mix well until the thighs are evenly and well coated with the marinade. Cover and allow the chicken to marinate for at least 1 hour but best overnight in the fridge.
- Air frying method:Line the bottom of the air fryer basket with a sheet of aluminum foil and arrange the marinated chicken in the basket in one even layer to promote even cooking. Avoid overlapping and overcrowding and cook in batches if needed. Optionally, save the leftover marinade for brushing.*Also make sure to allow the excess marinade to drip off so that there's not a pool of marinade in the air fryer basket.*
- Air fry each batch of chicken at 400°F for 10 minutes. Mid way through cooking, flip the chicken and optionally brush on some leftover marinade to keep the chicken moist.
- After air frying for 10 minutes, flip the chicken once again and brush on the reserved marinade (from the very beggining). Make sure to use a clean brush. Air fry the chicken for another 2 to 5 minutes, or until a desired amount of char develops on the chicken.
- Remove the char siu chicken from the air fryer and allow it to rest for 3 to 5 minutes before cutting. Repeat with remaining marinated chicken if needed.
- Oven method:Preheat the oven to 450°F, with the baking rack positioned at the middle of the oven. Also prepare a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a roasting rack.
- Place the marinated chicken on the roasting rack, making sure to allow excess marinade to drip off and avoid overlapping and overcrowding. Reserve the leftover marinade for optional brushing.
- Roast the marinated chicken for about 15 minutes. Mid way through cooking, flip and optionally brush on some leftover marinade to help keep the chicken juicy.
- After 15 minutes, flip the chicken again and use a clean brush to bush on the reserved char siu marinade from the beginning. Place the chicken back into the oven and broil on high for 2-3 minutes, or until your desired amount of char is achieved.
- Remove the char siu chicken from the oven and allow it to rest for 3 to 5 minutes before cutting.
- Serve:If you have leftover reserved char siu marinade, brush it on the char siu chicken and enjoy over some rice and with some vegetables.
- Red yeast rice or red food coloring - This is totally optional to give the char siu chicken the iconic red, char siu color. Red yeast rice is a more natural option, although the process is a bit more tedious and the color is not as vibrant as red food coloring. Without either of these, the char siu will still taste just as good, but of course will look more brown than red.
- Air fryers and ovens - Everyone's air fryers and ovens are a little different, so you may or may not need to adjust the temperature or cooking time to what suits your appliance. We do recommend that, if possible, preheat your air fryer and oven, whichever one you're using.