This Char Siu pork recipe is dead easy to make. Sweet and sticky on the outside, tender and juicy within, this Chinese barbecue pork recipe is also very versatile. You can eat it with steamed rice and Chinese greens and use it in everything from fried rice to banh mi.
When we lived in Sydney, we used to love going to Chinatown on the weekend. After we’d finished our shopping, there was always fluffy pork buns, crispy Chinese roast ducks, and luridly coloured char siu pork to take home.
I’ve made pork buns and roast duck over the years and they’re time-consuming and technical. This char siu pork recipe, on the other hand, is dead easy to make, fills your kitchen with amazing aromas, and is very versatile.
You can savour slices of it with a little hoisin sauce and rice, mix it in some fried rice, make some Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches with it, use it for another Vietnamese speciality, cao lầu, or mix it in some Hokkien Noodles.
Char Siu Pork Recipe — How to Make Chinese Barbecue Pork
If you see a char siu pork recipe that starts with using store-bought char siu sauce, move on. Commercial char siu sauces are generally way too sweet to make that shortcut worthwhile. For an extra 10 minutes of prep you can have a far superior homemade sauce, fine-tuned to your own taste.
While my char siu pork recipe won’t have that bright red colour that comes from the food colouring that commercial char siu sauces have, you can add your own if you must make it look like it should be hanging in a Chinese barbecue shop window. For me, however, it’s all about the flavour.
When it comes to char siu — which literally means ‘fork burn’ — I have a solid opinion on my flavour profile, however, I am torn about which cut of pork to recommend. For me, the best results come from pork tenderloin — pork shoulder is a little too tough to keep moist — but I do love doing pork belly char siu.
Many cooks recommend taking the skin off before marinating and cooking, I prefer to leave it on to help keep the shape of the belly strips. You don’t have to try and eat the rubbery skin, but I’ve never stopped trying! You can take off the skin halfway though cooking and base with the marinade if you so desire.
One critical factor in making char siu is how long to marinate the pork for. I recommend at least two hours. Any recipe that says that it’s okay to marinate the protein for only 30 minutes is probably the same recipe that uses store-bought char siu sauce. I personally like to marinate the meat between two to four hours.
I’ve made this char siu pork recipe both in a conventional oven and on a barbecue grill. I don’t mind a little bit of the smokiness you get from the grill, but in terms of controlling cooking times, unless you’re a real grillmaster, the oven is easier.
To make things a little smoky, I use a trick that I often employ, and put a barbecue briquette that I’ve started on the stove on some aluminium foil and leave it in the bottom of the oven while cooking the pork.
Now to the heart of the char siu pork recipe, the marinade. I’ve seen so many variations of this recipe, from the pared back and basic, to the absurd, with ingredients like ketchup and oyster sauce on the list.
Some recipes even suggest that five-spice powder is optional, which is ridiculous. It doesn’t taste like char siu pork without it. However, most recipes agree that the basic ingredients are hoisin sauce, honey, dark soy sauce, rice wine, and five-spice powder.
Some variations use fresh garlic and/or ginger. I use a small amount of garlic. Too much and it becomes a dominant flavour. Some recipes use maltose instead of honey. I like to use both, as maltose helps with getting the marinade to ‘stick’ and it’s not as sweet as sugar, which some recipes recommend.
Many recipes, particularly those not using maltose, don’t mix the marinade ingredients over heat, however, I find this is essential in getting the ingredients to mix correctly.
We’re blessed with having fantastic pork here in Siem Reap, so this char siu pork recipe is made at least once every couple of weeks at our place and then the ‘leftovers’ are used for fried rice, banh mi and so on.
Speaking of which, if you’re planning on saving some pork for cao lầu, when you’re making this char siu pork recipe you need to place an oven tray with a good centimetre of water underneath the pork, which is cooked on a wire rack. The resulting ‘stock’ made from the fat and marinade coming from the pork will be used in the cao lầu recipe.
Char Siu Pork Recipe — How to Make Chinese Barbecue Pork
- 500 grams pork belly or tenderloin
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp maltose
- 2 tbsp Hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
- 1 tsp five-spice powder
- 1 clove of garlic crushed
- Stir all ingredients apart from the pork together in a saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until just combined and slightly warm, usually taking about 2 to 3 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool.
- Pour the marinade into a zip-lock bag with the pork, remove air pockets from the bag and seal. Make sure all the pork is covered by the marinade.
- Marinate pork in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Pre-heat the oven to 190°C and place the pork belly on a wire rack and bake for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes turn the pieces of pork over and brush on more marinade. Cook for another 15 minutes.
- Switch the oven to broil, baste the pieces of pork again and cook for a couple of minutes until you see the desired level of char. Turn over and do the other side. The pork should have reached an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F).
- Rest the pork for 10 minutes, slice into bite-sized pieces and serve with steamed white rice.
Do let us know if you make this char siu pork recipe. I’d love to know how it turns out.