Char siu (叉烧)or Chinese BBQ pork is as iconic as Peking duck at Chinese restaurants. This quintessential sweet and savory roast pork is easy to make at home and super versatile! You can enjoy it on a bed of plain white rice or use the leftover to make roast pork fried rice, char siu bao, and more.
What is char siu?
Char siu (叉烧)or Chinese BBQ pork is a style of Cantonese roast pork. Depending on the spelling, sometimes it's known as char siew, and in Mandarin, it's cha shao.
You'd often find char siu at large Asian markets, dine in Chinese restaurants, and usually any place that offers Chinese roast ducks or Peking ducks. And now you can easily make it at home!
A good char siu recipe tastes savory and sweet with hints of spices that creates a depth of flavor so the roast pork can shine and be enjoyed with even a plain bowl of white rice and some blanched veggies.
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the ingredient quantities!
For the char siu marinade:
- Pork shoulder - A fatty cut of pork shoulder (also called pork butt) is great for making char siu. Boneless country ribs are also a great choice. It's essentially a pre-cut, strip version of pork shoulder.
- Hoisin sauce - This is the main flavoring in the char siu marinade.
- Sugar - A bit more sugar is needed to sweeten the marinade. White granulated sugar is perfect, but brown sugar is a good substitute if you prefer.
- Soy sauce - We recommend using regular soy sauce. It adds the extra bit of saltiness to balance the sweetness in the marinade. If using low sodium soy sauce, we recommend adding about ½ teaspoon more salt.
- Shaoxing rice wine - Just a little Shaoxing rice wine helps to get rid of unwanted porky flavors and make the char siu more fragrant.
- Fermented red bean curd - One cube of this fermented red bean curd will be enough to add the extra bit of savory, umami oomph needed in the marinade. You can find it most Chinese markets in the sauce or condiment aisle. Do note that there's usually a regular version and a rose version. Both are fine.
- Garlic powder - Instead of fresh garlic, we opted for granulated garlic powder because it's less likely to burn and will give the char siu just enough garlic flavor.
- Chinese five spice - A little Chinese five spice will elevate the flavor of the char siu. It's usually made of a blend of star anise, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, and Sichuan peppercorn.
- Red yeast rice or food coloring - This is optional to add that iconic red color to the char siu. It's fine with or without. Although without the extra color, the Chinese BBQ pork will look more brown than red.
For the honey glaze:
- Honey - Maltose syrup is traditionally used for the glaze. It gives the char siu a nice shine and adds a little bit of sweetness that also keeps the Chinese BBQ pork juicy. But we've opted to use honey as a healthier and more accessible alternative.
- Water - Just a little water to help dilute the honey and make it easier for glazing.
How to make char siu
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe and instructions!
Marinate the pork:
1. Make the marinade. Mix together hoisin sauce, sugar, soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, fermented bean curd, red yeast rice or food coloring (if desired), garlic powder, and Chinese five spice.
🌟 Pro tip: Use the back of a spoon or the prongs of a fork to mash up the fermented bean curd first for easy mixing. Also, if using red yeast rice, make sure to ground it up finely.
2. Marinate the pork. Place the pork into a resealable bag, along with the marinade. Seal the bag and massage the pork to spread the marinade evenly. Allow the pork to marinade for for at least 8 hours or overnight in the fridge.
✨ Alternative: You can also marinate the pork in a baking dish or bowl. Glass and ceramic is the best choice. Rub the marinade evenly amongst the pork. Cover the dish tightly and refrigerate. If marinating this way, we do recommend occasionally rotating the pork so that they can be evenly marinated.
Roast the pork:
3. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Also prepare a sheet pan lined with foil and toped with a roasting rack. The roasting rack gives air flow to the underside of the char siu, which simulates restaurant BBQ ovens.
🌟 Pro tip: Use an oven thermometer to get the most accurate oven temperature reading. Usually, just because the oven signals that the oven is preheated, it's often not at the right temperature.
4. Arrange the pork. While the oven is preheating, place the marinated pork onto the roasting rack, keep as much space in between as possible. Also, reserve the leftover marinade and transfer it to a bowl.
5. Roast the pork. Once the oven is preheated, roast the char siu for a total of 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes, flip and baste the char siu with some leftover marinade.
🌟 Pro tip: The drippings from the marinade and char siu will likely dry and burn on the foil. We recommend adding a few tablespoons of water to the pan to help with the burning, and refill as needed in between the 15 minute interval.
6. Additional caramelization if needed. After 45 minutes of roasting, the char siu should be perfectly cooked in side and the outside should be caramelized with just enough char here and there. If needed, set the oven to high broil and broil the char siu for a couple or minutes, or until desired amount of caramelization is achieved. But do keep a VERY careful eye on the char siu! The sugar in the char siu marinade can easily burn.
📝 Note: Depending on the thickness of your cut of pork shoulder or boneless country ribs, the cook time could vary. To be certain, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the thickest part of the char siu. The internal temperature should read at least 145°F, as suggested by the USDA.
7. Rest the char siu. After the final 15 minute interval and the char siu is cooked, remove it from the oven. Using a clean brush, brush on some honey glaze (see below). Allow the char siu to rest for 10 minutes.
8. Slice and enjoy. After resting, cut the char siu to about ¼ inch slices and enjoy with a little drizzle of honey glaze.
For the honey glaze:
In a bowl, combine the honey and water. Mix well and set aside. If you prefer maltose syrup, you can do the same, but either microwave the mixture slightly or use hot water, as the syrup is very sticky.
- Use a fattier cut of pork shoulder for best flavor. The fat on the pork shoulder will render while roasting and keep the char siu juicy and flavorful.
- Make sure the oven is at the right temperature. If the oven is not at the right temperature, the char siu could require a longer cook time or the outside may become too charred because the temperature is too hight. We highly recommend an oven thermometer for the most accurate oven temperature reading.
- Allow the char siu to rest before cutting. Like any kind of meat, it is essential that the char siu gets sufficient rest time so that its juices can get reabsorbed into the meat which keeps it juicy.
Leftover char siu can be refrigerated for up 4 to 5 days. Just make sure to allow the the pork to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Also, if you know you'll have leftovers or if you made a larger batch, we recommend keeping the char siu whole and slicing it up when ready to enjoy or use in other dishes.
Char siu also freezes really well. So, if you have any leftover, allow it to cool completely, then wrap it well with cling wrap and store it in an airtight, freezer safe container. The char siu will be good for up to 3 months. To use, allow the pork to thaw in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for a couple of hours.
Char siu tastes the best when made with either pork shoulder (sometimes called pork butt) or boneless country ribs, which are essentially pork shoulder cut into strips. These cuts are best because there's a good balance between lean meat and fat, which keeps the char siu juicy and flavorful.
Every restaurant's char siu marinade varies a bit, but for the most part it is made of hoisin sauce, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, coloring of some sort, aromatics, and spices.
The cook time for char siu depends on the thickness of the pork used. We recommend keeping the pork between 1 to 2 inches, and the typical cook time is about 45 minutes.
The iconic red char siu is known for comes from the red food coloring used in the marinade. When made at home, the food coloring can be substituted for red yeast rice or omitted all together.
Char siu (叉烧) is a Cantonese style roast pork that's sweet and savory and usually known for it's red color. Chāshū (チャーシュー), on the other hand, is a Japanese adaptation of Chinese char siu but prepared totally different. Chashu is made with a rolled up log of pork belly braised in a concoction of soy sauce, sake, and sugar. It's often served sliced, as a topping on ramen.
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Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)
For the char siu:
- 2 pounds boneless pork shoulder cut into 1 inch slices or strips (boneless country ribs are great too)
- 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 cube fermented red bean curd regular red or rose are both fine
- 2 teaspoon red yeast rice finely grounded; optional for color (or 3-5 drops of red food coloring) *see note 1
- 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
For the honey glaze:
- 3 tablespoons honey or maltose syrup
- 1 tablespoon water
- Marinate the pork:In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the char siu except the pork shoulder (hoisin sauce, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine, bean curd, red yeast rice or food coloring, garlic powder, and five spice powder).*We recommend smashing up the fermented bean curd in the bowl using the back of a spoon or fork first to make mixing easier.*
- Place the pork shoulder or country ribs into a resealable bag, along with the prepared marinade. Using the bag, rub and massage the marinade all over the pork. Refrigerate and allow the pork to marinate for at least 8 hours or overnight.*You can also marinate the pork in a baking dish. Just make sure to cover tightly before refrigerating.*
- Roast the pork:Preheat the oven to 425°F, with the baking rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Also, prepare a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil and a roasting rack.
- While waiting on the oven to preheat, place the marinated pork on the prepared roasting rack, leaving as much space in between each piece as possible. Reserve the leftover marinade and transfer it into a bowl.
- Place the pork into the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes, flip each piece of pork and baste on a layer of the reserved marinade. If the marinade dripping starts to burn, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan, refill the water as needed if the pan becomes dry.*Every oven is different, and usually require more time to preheat than when the oven signals that it's preheated. We suggest allowing the oven to preheat for at least 15 minutes, but it is best to keep an oven thermometer in the oven for the most accurate temperature reading.*
- Make the honey glaze:While the char siu is roasting, make the honey glaze by combining the honey and water in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
- Finish:After the final 15 minutes of roasting (a total of 45 minutes), the pork should be juicy and perfectly cooked on the inside and slightly charred and caramelized on the outside. If the char siu is not caramelized enough, you can set the oven to the high broil setting for a couple of minutes. Make sure to keep a very careful eye on the char siu! The broiling function is very hot and can burn the sweet char siu marinade in seconds!*Also, depending on the thickness of your pork cuts, the cook time could vary. You can use a thermometer to check that the internal temperature of the char siu has reached 145°F, as suggested by USDA.*
- Once the char siu is done roasting, remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. While resting, lightly brush some prepared honey glaze on the char siu. Make sure to use a clean brush and tongs!
- After resting, cut the char siu into ¼ inch slices or your desired thickness. Drizzle a bit more honey glaze on the char siu and enjoy!
- Red yeast rice or red food coloring - This is totally optional to give char siu its iconic red 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.