Monday, April 11, 2011

Char Siu (Chinese Barbecue Pork)

It’s hard to pick a favourite Chinese BBQ meat, I love eating them all - roast pork belly “siu yuk”, roast duck “siu ngaap” and barbecue pork “char siu”. But when char siu is done right, it is particularly rewarding to eat. For me, great char siu requires an aromatic savoury, sticky sweet marinade, a nice amount of charredness, the meat should be succulent and not dry….and that red colour that shouts out eat me now! The colour red stimulates the appetite – note how red is the most prominent colour used in fast food logos.

I have to expose that the lovely red colour of char sui is totally artificial! My dad told me that because of the dark ingredients used in the marinade food colouring is added to intensify the colour of the pork and give the meat its characteristic hue - the Chinese associate red with good luck and fortune! 

Pork shoulder is generally used to make char sui but I prefer to use my favourite cut of pork – the belly. 

~500g pork belly (sliced in half lengthways – reduces thickness and more of the marinade can be absorbed)
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon ginger, finely diced/grated
1 ½ peanut oil

Char Siu Marinade
1 ½ tablespoon maltose
1 ½ tablespoon honey
1 ½ tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rose wine
10 white peppercorns, ground
pinch of salt
1 piece of wet/fermented bean curd (red)
½ teaspoon five spice powder
½ teaspoon sesame oil
For colouring – ½ teaspoon red powder + ¼ orange powder (optional)

Food colouring powder obtained from my dad’s restaurant. If only the red powder is used, the meat will turn out quite dark so a little bit of orange is used in the mix to lighten and even out the redness. The use of food colouring is optional but it wouldn’t seem like char sui without it.

Maltose sugar is hard and sticky, dip a spoon in hot water to scoop out. Maltose gives the pork a lacquered look and a sticky sweet taste and texture.

Recommended - Pearl River Bridge Brand of soy sauces

Chinese rice wine (Mei Kuei Lu Chiew) is very fragrant and provides a very nice flavour to the pork. It’s 54% alcohol! But it’s for cooking only and not to be drunk as a beverage.

Add all char siu marinade sauce ingredients together into a saucepan, heat it up and stir well until all blended together. Transfer into a bowl to cool (around 20 minutes).

Marinade pork with 2/3 of the char siu sauce and the garlic and ginger. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight, turning the pork a few times. 

Add 1 ½ tablespoon of peanut oil to remaining 1/3 char sui sauce and keep covered in refrigerator (this will be used to baste pork when roasting).

Preheat oven ~175C, roast the pork for 10 minutes then turn and baste in remaining marinade, roast for another 10 minutes and then turn and baste in remaining marinade again. Turn up oven to 200C and then roast for a further 15 minutes (turning up the heat at the final cooking stage provides charred texture to pork) 

Total roasting time = 35 minutes. Pork should have glazed red appearance and be slightly charred.

Remove pork from oven and let the pork rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing, to let the juices settle/dry.

Slice pork and serve with rice.

Place aluminium foil sheet at the bottom of the oven for drips. If the remaining char sui marinade for basting is too tough when you take it out of the refrigerator, microwave it for 20 seconds to soften.
Use the remaining char siu sauce to baste pork when roasting, if using char sui sauce which the pork has been marinated in to baste, simmer the marinade for 5-10 minutes to kill bacteria which may have been left by the raw meat.
To make sure that the pork gets cooked through without too much charring on the surface, keep the heat down as the marinade contains high sugar content which burns fast.
Baste at least twice to build up good layer of marinade on the pork for a crunchy/crispy, caramelised savoury and sugary outer coating to build up as it cooks. This also helps to keep the pork moist so that it doesn’t dry out during roasting.


  1. neat post ai-ling. haven't tried using belly for making char siu before but might give it a crack in future!

  2. Thanks Max :) Whenever I order char sui from restaurants I always ask for pieces that have some fat so I find pork belly that best cut for making char sui at home.

  3. MY GOD! Barbequed pork is my favourite of all bbq'd meats. We often go to the BBQ Duck/chicken place in N/bridge and i always get the pork as I fail to see how i could ever make something so mouthwateringly sticky and delicious.
    are the powdered colours available from places.. or shall we just ask your parents restaurant to borrow some?

  4. I think you can buy the powdered colours from the shops but since I use only a small quantity of it, it was easier to just ask my dad to get me some from his restaurant. Not sure what I would do with a whole bag of red or orange powder. Let me know if you ever need any powder, I think I was organise some for you!

  5. your Viet food post are awesome! Do you have a facebook page that I can "like"?

  6. This is DEFINITELY my favourite Chinese BBQ meat. We got a roast combination platter from Hong Kong BBQ for dinner last night (don't worry, I cooked some vegies up too!) and although I do love the duck, that char sui just speaks to me. It's the shiz.

    Never made it myself, but now I know where to look when I do :)

  7. Hi, I just found your recipe and I can't wait to try it. I have a question though, if I can not locate all the items (maltose, dark soy sauce, rose wine, bean curd. these seem to be the ones missing from stores) will it work with just the other items?

    1. Hello :) Thanks for visiting my blog. The items that you listed above are important to the flavour profile of this Chinese BBQ pork recipe and I would highly recommend that you include all the ingredients. Hopefully they should not be too hard to find at Asian supermarkets in your area? They are pretty common Asian cooking ingredients. Good luck :)

  8. Thanks a lot for posting this recipe. I can't wait to try it at home. I believe that this will be a new hit on my portable grill. Char Sui looks very delicious. You can tell by its color alone.

  9. your reicpe directions were perfect, thanks for the photos they helped highlight ingre. I was unsure of. hope to try soon

  10. Look at that red cuts of pork barbeque meat! Makes me want to go and grab some. Perhaps I should really go and buy my own oven at home. With these food blogs I've visited lately, my dear kitchen needs to be ready anytime for some popping ideas!

  11. I think it became too reddish, but it still looks yummy when chopped. I'll try this one with all the authentic Chinese ingredients that you shared here. Thanks!

  12. Hello!
    I just wanted to say THANK YOU.
    I made the dumplings yesterday and all the people in my house looked at me like I was a magician.
    Currently have the Char Siu in the fridge marinating for tonight. :)
    Love your blog.
    Thanks again,

  13. Hi
    Thank you for your lovely recipes. Is amazing that young girl like you is such a wonderful cook. You will make someone a very lucky man lol
    Have tried the braised pork spare ribs with pumpkin which really yummy. Going to this char siu a go when i have all the ingredients.
    Looking forward to more recipes from you.
    Amanda Taylor

  14. Hi i am allergic to peanuts.. is the peanut oil essential to this recipe or can i just substitute it with another kind of oil?

    1. Yes it will be fine to substitute with vegetable oil :)