Char Siu (叉燒) - Chinese BBQ Pork

Learn how to make the perfect, juicy, tender char siu, a classic Cantonese favorite!

Prep Time
20 min
Total Time
80 min
Yields
6 servings

A Recipe by Daddy Lau

My dad's been cooking Chinese food for over 50 years - as a kid fending for himself in Guangzhou, as the head chef of his own restaurant, and as a loving father in our home.

Hopefully, by learning this recipe, you'll get to experience some of the delicious joy we felt growing up eating his food!

- Randy

Today, Daddy Lau will be teaching us his recipe for char siu, or Chinese BBQ Pork!

If you’re new to char siu, it’s an extremely juicy, sweet, and savory pork dish, and it’s a popular entree on its own - and a pleasant addition to many different types of noodles, rice dishes, and pastries like char siu bao. 

For our gigantic Lunar New Year feast this year, my dad made char siu because it has a few tie-ins to Chinese traditions and superstitions, which you’ll learn about later on.

By my estimates, my dad has made char siu at least 10,000 times over his 50 years as a Chinese chef, so I’m really excited to document his recipe, to share it with you, and to pass it on to our kids one day. 

What you'll be learning:

  • My dad’s spin on this traditional recipe!
  • The best cuts of pork to use for this recipe, and how to craft the perfect, juicy bite
  • Context on the key ingredients, and the equipment you'll need to make this dish (+ alternatives)
  • Why this dish is often on the dinner table for Lunar New Year

Flavor Profile, In Detail

If you've never had Char Siu before, if it's made right, it's one of the most tender and juicy balances of savory, sweet pork you might ever have.

It's got umami from various ingredients (like fermented bean curd, hoisin, oyster sauce), a bit zest from wines, and sweetness from brown sugar and honey. Five spice powder, a popular Chinese ingredient, ties it all together with a distinctive blend of spices.

It's absolutely delicious.

Origins of Char Siu

Char siu originally comes from Cantonese cuisine, and the word chā sīu 叉烧 literally means “fork roasted”, which is a nod to the traditional cooking method of skewering seasoned pork with long forks, and placing them in an oven or over a fire.

Although it’s considered a Chinese dish, many other Asian cuisines have integrated char siu into their own dishes like char siew rice all across Southeast Asia or ramen in Japan. 

In ancient times, char siu used to be made with boar or other available meats, but nowadays it’s almost always made with a fatty cut of pork.

Ingredients

Weight: US
oz
g
Volume: US
cup
mL
Servings
6
  • 2 lb pork shoulder (

    or a fatty cut, more on this later

    )
  • 1 tbsp garlic salt
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 cube red fermented bean curd
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp water
  • 0.25 tsp red food coloring (

    optional, see our comparison

    )

What are the best cuts of pork for char siu?

My dad uses pork butt, also known as "Boston butt” or "pork shoulder”, and this seems to be among the most popular cuts for char siu.

It’s ideal to use more fatty cuts, so some other options would be the pork neck end or pork belly. 

Should you use red food coloring?

If you’re committed to getting that vibrant red exterior, a lot of traditional recipes will use ingredients like red fermented bean curd or red yeast rice powder.

An easy alternative is just to use red food coloring, which doesn’t affect the taste. 

For almost all of our recipes, we film everything twice just to have more camera angles, so for this one, we made a batch with half a teaspoon of red food coloring and a batch without it. 

For comparison, you can see what both versions look like after they’ve been cooked and chopped. They both taste the exact same, which is to say, they’re absolutely amazing. 

On red fermented bean curd

Also known as "lam yuh" in Cantonese, this ingredient can seem a little exotic and off-putting if you're not familiar with it (like me.)

My dad uses it in a lot of dishes, and it's one of the core ingredients in this particular char siu recipe.

If you don't have this at home, it's okay to skip. It does help give the char siu more of a natural red color, and also provides a ton of umami flavoring.

Woks of Life has a great write up on this: https://thewoksoflife.com/fermented-bean-curd/

If you're interested, we'll also be including a link to buy it on Amazon below!

On five spice powder

The last ingredient to highlight is our five spice powder, or ńgh hēung fán 五香粉 in Cantonese, which is an umbrella for the popular Chinese blends of spices that usually consist of cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves, and peppers. 

The number 5 doesn’t necessarily literally mean that it has 5 ingredients, as some blends use less spices, and some blends use way more than 5 ingredients.

Five spice powder is actually a nod to the 5 traditional Chinese elements (earth, fire, water, wood, metal) and a balancing act of the 5 traditional flavors of Chinese cuisine (salty, spicy, sour, sweet, and bitter).

Finding Asian Ingredients

Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.

If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:

I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.

These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

Equipment you'll need

To make char siu, you’ll need a few things:

This is optional, but you might also want to use a meat thermometer that allows you to monitor the internal temperature of the pork as it’s cooking.

My dad literally chuckled at me when I asked him about this and said, “we don’t cook this way,” but since I haven’t yet acquired my dad’s intuition in the kitchen, I like to use these to whenever I cook big pieces of meat.

Celebrating traditions!

As I mentioned, my dad usually makes this dish to celebrate Lunar New Year. I've been really excited to document his char siu recipe, among many things, so I can pass it down to our son and our future kids.

My wife and I recently got to connect with Hanna from Habbi Habbi, an amazing company that's creating a wonderful experience for kids through bilingual books and their magical reading wand.

We're really excited for Cameron to grow up learning Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin!), being able to communicate with his grandparents, and to understand his heritage.

If you have a small kiddo(s) and you're interested in a fun way to expose them to different languages, you can see the book in action in our video and also learn more on their website!

The link to Habbi Habbi is an affiliate link, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, our family earns a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

We'll cut our pork shoulder (2 lb) into long slices, roughly about 1 inch thick.

We'll aim to cut each slice with uniform thickness so they cook at the same rate.

Afterwards, we'll repeatedly poke each side of each slice with a fork to help the pork absorb our marinade more effectively.

To a bowl, we'll add:

  • garlic salt (1 tbsp)
  • brown sugar (4 tbsp)
  • oyster sauce (2 tbsp)
  • light soy sauce (2 tbsp)
  • hoisin sauce (1 tbsp)
  • red wine (2 tbsp)
  • Shaoxing wine (1 tbsp)
  • red fermented bean curd (1 cube)
  • five spice powder (1 tsp)

This amount can be adjusted based on the amount of pork you'll be making.

Mix the marinade until it's evenly distributed and smooth.

Place the meat into a ziploc bag, pour the sauce in, and massage the pork for about 2 minutes so that the sauce is able to finesse its way into the meat. Afterwards, we’ll push all the air out of the bag and seal it. 

Place the bag in the refrigerator, and let the pork marinate overnight (or around 6 to 8 hours.)

Some notes:

  • My dad says to not let it marinate for over 24 hours, or else it will affect the tenderness of the meat.
  • If you're planning on cooking it on the same day, then you don't need to place it in the refrigerator. The pork will stay fresh due to the marinade.
  • If you refrigerated the pork, let it sit for about 1 hour to bring it to room temperature before starting to cook it.

Preheat the oven to 425° F or 218° C.

Set up the baking pan by lining the bottom with aluminum foil (so it's easier to clean!), and place the baking rack on top of the foil.

Using tongs, start laying out the pork on the baking rack + pan.

Add 1-2 tbsp of water to the bottom of the pan to help generate some steam as the char siu cooks, and to help prevent the drippings from burning and smoking.

Carefully place it in the oven.

Now, we’ll be placing the pork into the oven and taking it out periodically to lather it again with either our leftover pork marinade, or honey (2 tbsp) diluted with water (2 tsp)

Here’s how my dad split up the cooking time:

  • Cook for 15 minutes and lather both sides with the pork marinade
  • Cook for another 15 minutes and lather both sides with pork marinade again
  • Cook for 10 minutes and lather both sides with the diluted honey
  • And finally, we’ll turn the heat up to 450° F, cook for another 5 minutes, lather both sides with honey, and let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it. 

In total, this was about 50 minutes in the oven. 

Once the char siu has finished its last cycle in the oven, we'll lather each side with our diluted honey.

Let the char siu cool for about 5 minutes before cutting into it.

And finally... enjoy!

Summary

Char Siu (叉燒) - Chinese BBQ Pork
Learn how to make the perfect, juicy, tender char siu, a classic Cantonese favorite!
  • Prep Time: 20 min
  • Total Time: 80 min
  • Yield: 6 servings
  • 2 lb pork shoulder (

    or a fatty cut, more on this later

    )
  • 1 tbsp garlic salt
  • 4 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 cube red fermented bean curd
  • 1 tsp five spice powder
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp water
  • 0.25 tsp red food coloring (

    optional, see our comparison

    )
Step 1 - Prepare & poke meat↑ Jump to details

We'll cut our pork shoulder (2 lb) into long slices, roughly about 1 inch thick.

We'll aim to cut each slice with uniform thickness so they cook at the same rate.

Afterwards, we'll repeatedly poke each side of each slice with a fork to help the pork absorb our marinade more effectively.

Step 2 - Prepare marinade↑ Jump to details

To a bowl, we'll add:

  • garlic salt (1 tbsp)
  • brown sugar (4 tbsp)
  • oyster sauce (2 tbsp)
  • light soy sauce (2 tbsp)
  • hoisin sauce (1 tbsp)
  • red wine (2 tbsp)
  • Shaoxing wine (1 tbsp)
  • red fermented bean curd (1 cube)
  • five spice powder (1 tsp)

This amount can be adjusted based on the amount of pork you'll be making.

Mix the marinade until it's evenly distributed and smooth.

Step 3 - Marinate pork↑ Jump to details
  • Place the meat into a ziploc bag, pour the sauce in, and massage the pork for about 2 minutes so that the sauce is able to finesse its way into the meat. Afterwards, we’ll push all the air out of the bag and seal it. 

Place the bag in the refrigerator, and let the pork marinate overnight (or around 6 to 8 hours.)

Some notes:

  • My dad says to not let it marinate for over 24 hours, or else it will affect the tenderness of the meat.
  • If you're planning on cooking it on the same day, then you don't need to place it in the refrigerator. The pork will stay fresh due to the marinade.
  • If you refrigerated the pork, let it sit for about 1 hour to bring it to room temperature before starting to cook it.
Step 4 - Prepare char siu for oven↑ Jump to details

Preheat the oven to 425° F or 218° C.

Set up the baking pan by lining the bottom with aluminum foil (so it's easier to clean!), and place the baking rack on top of the foil.

Using tongs, start laying out the pork on the baking rack + pan.

Add 1-2 tbsp of water to the bottom of the pan to help generate some steam as the char siu cooks.

Carefully place it in the oven.

Step 5 - Repeat several cycles of cooking and basting char siu↑ Jump to details

Now, we’ll be placing the pork into the oven and taking it out periodically to lather it again with either our leftover pork marinade, or honey (2 tbsp) diluted with water (2 tsp)

Here’s how my dad split up the cooking time:

  • Cook for 15 minutes and lather both sides with the pork marinade
  • Cook for another 15 minutes and lather both sides with pork marinade again
  • Cook for 10 minutes and lather both sides with the diluted honey
  • And finally, we’ll turn the heat up to 450° F, cook for another 5 minutes, lather both sides with honey, and let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it. 

In total, this was about 50 minutes in the oven. 

Step 6 - Final touches, let cool, cut & enjoy!↑ Jump to details

Once the char siu has finished its last cycle in the oven, we'll lather each side with our diluted honey.

Let the char siu cool for about 5 minutes before cutting into it.

And finally... enjoy!

Step 7 - Take pictures
Whip out your camera (1). Begin taking photos (1,000,000). Pick your favorites!
Step 8 - Share and tag us on Instagram @madewithlau #madewithlau!
Did you have fun making this recipe? We'd love to see & hear about it. (Especially my dad. He would be THRILLED!)

"sāam sāang 三牲"

Before we started Made With Lau, I started noticing this specific pattern of chicken, fish, and pork always showing up on the dinner table as well as the prayer table when we bai sun during Chinese New Year. 

In our video on bak chit gai, my parents also alluded to “sāam sāang”, which refers to an ancient Chinese practice involving a sacrifice of 3 animals to ancestral spirits.

Around 3000 years ago during the Shang dynasty, animals like cattle, sheep, and pigs were often sacrificed. Over time, the sacrifices became less literal, and society eventually gravitated towards honoring the “sāam sāang” tradition through cooking chicken, fish, and pig dishes.

Unlike fish and chicken, there aren't really any specific sayings or superstitions about eating pork. As my mom explains in the video, it's just a good omen to have it on the dinner table during Lunar New Year in hopes that we'll have much more tasty pork and food to eat in the coming year.

Enjoy!

I have so many memories eating this with my family, especially during all of our heartwarming holiday celebrations.

Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories with this tradition with your loved ones.

Cheers, and thanks for cooking with us!

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe.

Watch on YouTube

About Made With Lau

We started Made With Lau to honor and share the legacy of our wonderful parents, Jenny and Chung Sun Lau.

Our hope is that these posts give you (and our future generations) a glimpse into how great they are!