Chinese BBQ pork is one of my favourite things to order when we get takeout. I see those thin slices of pork, with that sweet, sticky sauce, and I just want to hide the entire container on the kids so I don’t have to share it. Obviously, now that they’re getting older, it’s not as viable an option as it used to be. Neither is telling them “You won’t like it”. They’ve figured out that’s code for: Mom has something delicious and doesn’t want to share!
I had to figure out how to make my own Chinese BBQ pork. Our takeout orders were already pushing $70 by the time everyone gets what they want (insane). Adding a second order of char siu seemed excessive, even for me. Plus, when I like something this much, I want to be able to make it myself!
What is Chinese BBQ Pork
aka Char Siu?
If you’ve never ordered Chinese BBQ pork before, you’re in for a treat. The proper name is Char Siu, but it’s usually listed as “Chinese BBQ Pork” on takeout menus. It’s thin slices of pork, about ¼” thick, with a baked on, slightly sweet and sticky red sauce. The slices always look to me like they’re going to be dry, but they never are. They’re incredibly tender, full of flavour, and slightly sweet.
The best part about Char Siu though is how many different ways you can eat it. This can quickly become one of the most versatile meats you make. Chinese BBQ pork is amazing in so many different recipes, and being able to make a big batch ahead of time can really cut back on weeknight meal prep. The leftovers will last for a few days in the fridge. You can cook it once, then eat it in a few different meals throughout the week. Cooked Char Siu also freezes really well. When you have the time, make a giant batch with a pork shoulder, then freeze it in smaller quantities to pull out later and add to different recipes.
We eat this in a bunch of different meals. Sometimes on it’s own with some veggies or white rice, other times I’ll chop it up and add it to some fried rice for the kids lunches. I also love it in stir frys, pasta, soup, etc. Seriously, if you can think it, you can add it.
What type of pork to use:
Typically it’s made from pork neck or shoulder. Really, you can make it with almost any type of pork. You just need to increase the amount of sauce depending on how large / how many strips you’re doing. Larger cuts of pork are better off being baked in the oven then grilled. I put instructions for both cooking methods in the recipe card for you.
If you want a REAL treat, the next time you do some pork belly, use this sauce. Like OMG good, but pork belly is just SO super fatty. Not a great option for me because I love the flavour of this too much. I’d probably knock back a seriously unhealthy about of pork belly in one sitting.
My go-to cut of pork on a weeknight is just a simple pork tenderloin. Actually two smaller pork tenderloins, because there’s 5 of us in this house and one is never enough. Pork tenderloins are skinny enough that I can cook it fairly quickly on the grill and get it on the table within thirty minutes.
How to cook Chinese BBQ Pork
Traditionally, Chinese BBQ pork is cooked over a charcoal or wood fire. On a Thursday night sometime between school and sports, I don’t have time for that. Most people will either throw this on the BBQ, or into the oven. I’m a BBQ girl most of the time. I like the little bit of char and smokey flavour it adds, and it’s quicker than the oven too. Because of the sugar in the sauce though, make sure you have the time to stand there and watch it cook. Sugar equals burning on the grill, so you need to be able to move it around to indirect heat if you need to.
If you don’t have the time to stand there and watch it, or you’re doing a bigger piece of meat, the oven is the way to go. I’ll include instructions for baking it in the notes section of the recipe for you.
Char Siu ingredients that can be tough to find
I wanted to talk about a few different ingredients I’ve started trying to stock in my pantry. These can be tough to find in your average North American grocery store, so I want you to have options. Note, I am not an expert, I just love Asian cooking. Please, any of you with more experience, I’d love your advice and suggestions in the comments!
The first thing a lot of recipes use, including Chinese BBQ Pork, is Shaoxing Wine. This is a Chinese rice cooking wine that is next to impossible to find around me. Your best bet is an Asian market, but those aren’t always close. The easiest substitute is cooking sherry, which should be available in almost all grocery stores in the vinegar section.
Next up, Chinese Five Spice Powder. This is a super flavourful spice blend consisting of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and peppercorns, all finely ground. They should have this spice in the spice / baking section of your grocery store. If not, you can just add a few pinches of what you have on hand. In a jam, I’ve just added 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground cloves, and then 1/8 tsp pepper.
Lastly, that red food colouring. Honestly, it’s totally optional and just gives the Chinese BBQ pork that traditional look. If I have some on hand, I’ll add it in because I like how it looks, but I don’t stress about it if I don’t. Another way to get the colour is to use a tablespoon or so of the liquid from red bean curd. I usually have some of this in the house because I use it in pad thai, and I can get it fairly easily in the Asian food section of my local grocery store.
Ok, I lied, one more thing. This doesn’t really matter for this recipe, use whatever soy sauce you normally do. I recently learned there are different styles of soy sauce though, and they can totally change the flavour. Mainly, dark soy sauce, which is super intense from a longer aging process, and a bit thicker, and slightly more bitter. Light soy sauce is milder, slightly thinner, and a little bit sweet. Light soy sauce isn’t healthier or lighter in calories, it just refers to the colour / flavour. You’ll probably have to hit up an Asian market to find these, but they’re great to have on hand. In this, you would want to use the light soy sauce. If you want to buy one to keep on hand, definitely go with the light soy sauce, it’s more versatile.
Chinese BBQ Pork Recipe
I hit you up with a ton of information in this post, but I hope you found at least some of it helpful. Knowing the “why” behind cooking methods and ingredients helps me make changes when I need to while I’m cooking. Here’s my recipe for Chinese BBQ pork, I hope you love it as much as I do!
- 2 pork tenderloins
Marinade / Sauce
- 3/4 cup soy sauce (I use low sodium)
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup Shaoxing Cooking Wine (or red Cooking Sherry)
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon red food colouring (or 1 tablespoon liquid from red bean curd) - optional
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
- In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the marinade / sauce ingredients. Set aside.
- Cut the pork tenderloins into pieces about 2 inches long. See notes if using other cuts of pork.
- Place the pork pieces into a large ziplock bag, along with 1/3 of the marinade. Place the bag with the pork pieces into the fridge for at least 2 hours, up to 24 hours. If you are leaving the pork in the fridge to marinate for longer than 2 hours, place the remaining 2/3 of the marinade in the fridge as well, in its own container.
- 15 minutes before cooking remove the pork from the fridge and preheat your grill to med-high heat.
- Lightly oil your BBQ grates, and place your pork pieces onto the grill over medium heat. Discard the marinade the pork was in.
- Cook the pork on the grill for about 20 minutes, turning every five minutes for an even cook, until an instant read thermometer reads 145°F. Half-way through cooking, take the reserved 2/3 marinade and baste the pork with it. See notes if you want a thicker sauce, or a dipping sauce.
- Let the pork rest for 10 minutes before thinly slicing and serving.
If you want your basting sauce to be a bit thicker, or to use it as a dipping sauce, it's easy to do. Make a slurry by mixing together 1 teaspoon cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of water. Put the remaining 2/3 of your marinade into a small pot and bring just up to a boil. Slowly whisk in the slurry, a little bit at a time, until you get the consistency you'd like. You might not need all of the slurry, or you may need to make a bit more. It all depends on how much of the marinade you reserved for this.
Pork Shoulder / Baking Instructions:
- Trim a boneless, skinless pork shoulder so that there are no large pieces of fat on it. Cut it into long, thin strips. I aim for about 4" wide, and no more than 3" thick. You will need to double your marinade recipe for this.
- Set aside and refrigerate half of the marinade for a sauce, and put the remaining half in a ziplock bag with the pork for 2 to 24 hours.
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. For easier clean up, line a baking sheet with foil, then put a roasting rack on top of it. The rack will just stop the pork from sitting in the fat that renders.
- Place the pieces of pork onto of the rack, discarding the marinade it was sitting it. Make sure the pork pieces aren't touching. Bake for 30 minutes. While the pork is baking, take the remaining marinade that you had refrigerated and thicken slightly using the "thicker sauce" instructions above. Set aside.
- Flip your pork pieces over and coat with a layer of sauce. Bake for another 30 minutes.
- Flip the pork again, coat this side in the sauce, and bake for a further 20 minutes. If it seems like it's starting to burn, or look a little too charred, cover it loosely with foil.
- Flip and baste one more time, returning to the oven for 10 more minutes.
- Make sure the internal temperature is 145°F before removing from the oven. Let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Once the meat is completely cooled, you can split it up into smaller portions (the amount you would use for 1 meal for your family) for freezing. I use vacuum sealed bags, but if you don't have those, wrap portions tightly in two layers of plastic wrap, then place in a ziplock bag and remove as much air as possible before freezing. The cooked pork will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.