Learn how to easily make the best Chinese-style pork or chicken char siu that is perfectly tender, sticky, and sweet in the oven. Made with natural red color.
Never in million years I thought I could make my own char siu or known as Chinese barbecued pork at home. I thought it was complicated and with the oven we have at home, I didn’t know how it’s gonna turn out. Well, it turned out delicious. I’ve made this char siu several times since.
CHINESE CHAR SIU
Traditionally, char siu is usually made with pork marinated in sauces, usually dyed with red color. The strips of pork are skewered and then cook over an open fire. You will find recipes cooking char siu in the oven too, like in this recipe. Most Chinese restaurants will hang this barbecued pork vertically on the hook and it’s actually part of a “display” when you first walk in the restaurants. In Indonesia, we call it “cha sio” in the town where I grew up. The cha sio is usually served with rice, slices of cucumbers on the side and serve with sweet sauce. I haven’t been able to duplicate the sauce, but this sauce that I made is delicious to drizzle over the meat when you serve it.
WHAT CUT OF MEAT IS BEST FOR MAKING CHAR SIU?
I’ve tried making char siu with pork loin but the family complained that it was too lean and dry. I’ve tried it with pork belly, and while I love pork belly, I found it a bit too greasy for char siu. But you may like it. Finally, I tried to use pork shoulder/butt. This is the best cut for making char siu IMHO. Pork shoulder is not super lean and it has some fat, but not so fatty as pork belly.
CAN I MAKE CHICKEN CHAR SIU WITH THIS RECIPE?
You certainly may. I’ve tried it before and it’s tasty too. Simply substitute the pork with boneless and skinless chicken thighs. I will not make it with breast though. It’s too lean.
WHAT MAKES CHAR SIU RED IN COLOR?
Most restaurants used red food coloring. It’s simply easier. Some recipes use fermented red bean curd in the marinade to give it that natural red color. My mom usually uses red yeast rice that she grinds into powder and hence red yeast rice powder (shown in the photo below). Skip all the coloring if you want, you will still end up with really good char siu.
HOW DO YOU MAKE CHAR SIU SAUCE?
The finished product looks like something that you won’t be able to attempt at home, BUT, making char siu is actually one of my favorites because it’s pretty easy and this recipe is pretty foolproof. The sauce is made with only few ingredients :
CHINESE FIVE-SPICE POWDER
RED COLORING: I use red yeast rice powder. You can use red food coloring as red yeast rice powder is not easy to find here in the U.S. My mom brought it for me when she visited.
DO I NEED MALTOSE TO MAKE CHAR SIU?
What is maltose you would ask? In short, it is a malt sugar and commonly used in Chinese cooking to prepare roast duck and char siu. It gives the finished product a shiny, sweet, and brown crispy glaze on the outside. Do you need maltose to make char siu? No you don’t. If you have one, feel free to use it. This can be purchased at Asian grocery store. I use honey instead, which gives that nice shine, sweet, and sticky feel to the char siu as well.
HOW TO MAKE REALLY GOOD CHAR SIU IN THE OVEN
1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT CUT OF MEAT YOU LIKE
My choice will be either pork shoulder/butt or pork neck, it’s not too lean or too fatty. If you like very lean char siu, you can use pork loin. If you like juicy fatty char siu, pork belly will be your choice.
2. CUT INTO LONG STRIPS
I highly recommend to cut the pork into smaller strips instead of roasting the entire pork shoulder. More surfaces of the meat get marinated instead of one super big piece. It cooks faster too.
Marinating the meat for at least 24 hours is highly recommended. I won’t recommend going over that though. Longer is not always better. Not in this case. Use a plastic bag as I find that this helps to marinade the pork more evenly.
4. LET MEAT COMES TO ROOM TEMPERATURE
30 minute before you plan to cook the pork, pull it out from the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for 30 minutes while the oven is preheating. This will help to cook the pork more evenly.
5. SET THE MEAT ON TOP OF A RACK
The rack helps to evenly cook the pork and fat will drip to the bottom of the pan.
6. BASTING WITH MARINADE SAUCE
Basting the meat with sauces as you cook them will ensure you get the maximum flavor and to create those layers of shiny glaze on the outside.
Once the meat has cooked through, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler and let the broiler char the meat slightly. It gives you that “grill” like result in the finished product without overcooking the meat.
8. REST THE MEAT BEFORE SLICING
When you cut the meat immediately right after it comes out from the oven, you are risking losing all those juices. Resting the meat will give you much moister meat.
HOW TO STORE LEFTOVER CHAR SIU?
I recommend to only slice the amount of char siu you are going to serve. You can store the rest of the char siu strips in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or wrap them up and place in the freezer bag and can be frozen for up to 1 month. Just thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
HOW TO REHEAT LEFTOVER CHAR SIU?
Preheat oven to 400 F. Wrap the char siu strips in a foil and then bake for 10-15 minutes. Rest 10 minutes and then slice.
WHAT TO SERVE OR EAT WITH CHAR SIU?
Now that you have all the tips you need to make some really good char siu at home, you will find that it’s not as intimidating as it looks.
Recipe was originally published in 2015 and updated with new photos.
How To Make The Best Chinese Char Siu (In the oven)
- 3 lbs pork shoulder/butt or use boneless skinless chicken thighs
Cutting the pork:
- Trim off any visible excess fat from the pork. Don't trim all as you want a little bit of that. But I don't like the pork to be too fatty either. Cut the pork vertically into 5-6 long strips, about 4-inch in width is ideal
Marinade the pork:
- Place all the ingredient for marinade in a large ziplock bag (or 2-3 bags if necessary), big enough to place the pork in. Place the strips of pork in. Push out any air and seal. Marinade for at least 24 hours, but no longer than that
Roasting the pork:
- Preheat your oven to 375 F. Prepare a roasting pan and line with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the pork strips on the rack set on the roasting pan and then put them in the oven (3rd from the top). Roast the pork for about 25-30 minutes or until thermometer inserted into the pork reads 145 F
- After 20 minutes of roasting, baste the pork with the marinade juice and let it roast 2-3 minutes then flip and baste with some marinade and repeat until the pork is cooked through
Make the sauce:
- Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl. Place in a small saucepan and cook until the sugar is melted and the sauce is slightly thickened. Have a taste. It should be more sweet than savory. Add more honey if needed
- Turn off the oven and turn on the broiler to low. This part is to create nice caramelization on the outside. When you are happy with the color, remove from the oven. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing
- Slice only the amount of char siu you are going to serve. Drizzle some sauce over or serve the sauce on the side
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