I published my first char siu recipe (Chinese barbecue pork, 叉烧) a few years ago. Since then, I have improved the recipe to make it as close as possible to one the char siu served in one of the best Cantonese restaurants in Kuala Lumpur.

The challenge is not only to carry out a gantlet of tests and figure out the secret combination of the Char Siu sauce, but the limitations to recreate a similar flavor with the small over at home.

Here is a detailed explanation of how do I prepare my Char Siu step by step.

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Step 1- Choose the correct cut of the pork

  • Cut the shoulder loin into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide. Remove the skin if it is still attached. It is a good practice to cut the shoulder loin into pieces with equal thickness, as it will be roasted evenly in the oven.
  • Clean with water and pad dry before mixing with the marinade to avoid dilution of the flavor by the water.

Tips

  • It is vital to use the right cut of pork for making Char Siu. The best part should be containing some fats so that it will not dry out during baking. The fat will render during baking to turn the meat soft and tender.
  • One of the best cuts is shoulder loin. If you have difficulty to get this cut, you can ask for 梅頭肉/中咀肉/上肉/梅花肉/肩胛肉 from the Chinese butcher. The above Chinese characters all mean the same cut, which is shoulder loin in Chinese. The different characters are the result of varying descriptions used by the Chinese in different regions.
  • Besides that, you can also use pork belly for a more fatty version or tenderloin for a lean and healthier barbecue pork. If you use tenderloin, use higher heat and bake for a shorter time as it can turn dry quickly due to lack of fat content. If you do not eat pork, substitute it with chicken breast to make char siu chicken.

Step 2 – Prepare the Char Siu marinade

  • Add some hot water to the red yeast rice. Use the back of a metal spoon to break up the rice. Let it steep for 10 minutes to extract the natural red color, then pass through a strainer to remove the rice.
  • Mix the rice extract, rice wine, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, ground white pepper, bashed garlic, ginger, maltose, and sugar.
  • Bring it a boil to dissolve the sugar, and at the same time to concentrate the sauce.
  • When the sauce is thick enough to coat the spoon, remove from heat and let it colls completely.
  • Pour the marinade into a Ziploc bag. Throw in the pieces of meat to let the marinade cover the park entirely.
  • Marinate the pork in the refrigerator for at least half a day, or overnight.

Tips

  • The marinade of Char Siu comprises of a list of everyday items that are readily available in most of the Chinese kitchen pantry. The only exception here is the red yeast rice.
  • The use of either red yeast rice (or red fermented bean curd 红腐乳 ) is to provide the mahogany hue to the meat, which is the signature color of Char Siu. The red yeast rice does not have any flavor. When it is soaked in water, it will produce a natural red color. The water is then added to the marinade. Alternatively, you can add some red coloring or red fermented bean curd to get the red color. However, I am not in favor of using red fermented bean curd due to its flavor in the Char Siu. Therefore, I prefer to use red yeast rice in the char siu recipe.
  • Other ingredients, such as oyster sauce, soy sauce, and wine is quite common. If you do not have Chinese rice wine, sherry is a good substitute.
  • Maltose is added to this Char Siu recipe to make the marinade thick and sticky. Some other recipes may use honey instead of maltose. 
  • A simple but essential step is to be patient. You need to marinate the pork for at least 24 hours or longer to let the flavor of the marinade penetrates deeply into the inner part of the pork. If you only marinate the pork for half a day or less, the flavor of the meat will be insufficient, which has to depend heavily on the dipping sauce. A good Char Siu should taste fabulously without the sauce.

Step 3 – Bake the Char Siu

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F.
  • Line a baking tray with either aluminum foil or baking paper to prevent the marinade and oil from dripping on the tray. It is tough to clean the baking tray if you do not line it with aluminum foil or baking paper,
  • Remove the Char Siu from the ziplock bag. Arrange the Char Siu on a wire rack. Bake for twenty minutes. 
  • Mix two parts of maltose with one part of the marinade to form the basting sauce. The quality should be sufficient to baste the Char Siu at least three times. 
  • After twenty minutes of baking, remove the bbq pork from the oven and baste with the sauce. Turn the pork over for even cooking. Continue baking for another ten minutes. 
  • After ten minutes, remove the pork to repeat the basting. Repeat once more after another ten minutes. 

Tips

  • Multiple basting is aimed to create a thick coat of caramelized sugar on the surface.
  • The actual baking duration depends on the oven you use. The Char Siu is done when the edges are charred due to caramelization. You may need to bake longer until it achieves this effect. 
  • When it is done, let it cools to near room temperature before cutting so that the juice will not lose.
  • Cut the Char Siu diagonally into thin slices, about one third to half cm thick. 
  • The use of high heat to bake the pork is vital to ensure quick cooking, to avoid drying of the meat as a result of prolonged baking.
Char Siu recipe (Chinese barbeque pork/ 叉烧). Prepare with shoulder loin and marinated with the char siu sauce. An easy way to prepare with the oven.

To serve the Char Siu (Chinese barbecue pork)

Bring the remaining marinade to a boil.

Arrange the Char Siu on the serving plate and drizzle the marinade on top. You can also use it as char siu dipping sauce. You can keep the excess marinade to mix with noodles, drizzle on chicken, etc., which is very flavorful.

This Chinese barbecue pork is best to serve with rice and noodles. You can also make some extra as the filling of the Chinese barbecue pork bun (Char Siu Pao / 叉烧包).  Other serving suggestion includes making char siu fried rice, char siu ramen.

Yield: 2 portions

Char Siu 叉烧 (Chinese Barbecue Pork)

Char Siu 叉烧 (Chinese Barbecue Pork)

This recipe is the Cantonese style Char Siu (Chinese barbecue pork). It is the improved version from the similar recipe that I posted a few years ago.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 400g Shoulder loin

For the marinade (Char Siu sauce):

For the basting liquid:

  • 20ml (4 tsp) maltose
  • 10ml (2 tsp) of the marinade from above

Instructions

    1. Cut the shoulder loin into strips about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide.
    2. Mix the red yeast rice with hot water. Break up the rice and steep in the liquid for 10 minutes to extract the red color. Discard the broken red yeast rice by passing it through a wire mesh strainer. 
    3. Mix the remaining ingredients of the marinade with the red yeast rice extract.
    4. Put the pork and marinade into a Ziploc bag. Marinate overnight.
    5. Line a baking tray with either aluminum foil or baking paper.
    6. Bake the pork at 200°C/390°F. for twenty minutes. 
    7. Mix two parts of maltose and one part of the marinade to form the basting sauce. 
    8. Baste the pork at 20th min and then at 30th min.
    9. Bake until the edges are slightly charred. 
    10. Remove. Let it cools, then cut it into slices and serve.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

2

Serving Size:

2 servings

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 500 Total Fat: 26g Saturated Fat: 4g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 21g Cholesterol: 1mg Sodium: 3218mg Carbohydrates: 45g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 11g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 9g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 12/29/2019

    17 replies to "Char Siu Recipe (Cantonese style)"

    • KP Kwan

      Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

    • Kevin Hill

      Hello kp
      Love your recipes will be making this soon need to go buy some maltose and the red rice
      I down loaded your recipe book
      And enjoy very much
      Regards
      Kevin.

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Kevin,
        You are welcome. Some tips for you:
        1. Use honey if you can’t get maltose, although it is not as good.
        2. Use red fermented bean curd 紅腐乳 to substitute red yeast rice if unavailable.
        I guess all these ingredients should be available at any large major Asian grocery store.
        Best regards,
        KP Kwan

    • Andrea Kilgore

      Hello. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep, so i did what usually do, started researching recipes. I always look for authenticity and quality in recipes which usually makes them more time consuming. But, so worth it. I hate food coloring I have since I was a kid. I’ve always been able to taste it. So glad that yucky stuff isn’t in this! Thank you for posting this. I hope I do well. Happy New year! Andre’a

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Andrea,
        You are welcome. I wish you all the best in 2020 and have an enjoyable experience in cooking.
        Best regards,
        KP Kwan

    • Sonny Hoffer

      I shall use the belly pork as I have never seen boned pork shoulder loin at a butcher shop. Your instructions call for cutting the pork on the diagonal, which means each end produces a strange shape, going from thick at the top to very thin at the bottom. It would seem to me that slicing the meat vertically would make more sense, while slicing it horizontally would produce a bacon-like cut. Please be so kind as to clarify this. Thank you.

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Sonny,
        Please use pork belly as it is also a popular cut for Char Siu. Most of our local shops here sell Char Siu by cutting it slightly diagonal to make it looks bigger. That is not important at all and please cut it straight as you prefer.
        Thanks and enjoy the char siu.
        Best regards,
        KP Kwan

    • Mr Lee J SUMMERSBY

      Can you freeze Char siu

      • KP Kwan

        Hi Lee,
        It is best to eat it fresh, but freeze it after cooking should be fine if you want to consume much later. Let it return to room temperature, and it should be very close to the freshly make one.
        Thanks,
        KP Kwan

    • Elsa Lock

      Thanks KP, so clear video with recipe as always.

      • KP Kwan

        You are welcome, Elsa.

    • Raymond

      Hi KP,
      So interesting to find your recipe. I am staying near to Danau Kota Jalan Genting Klang KL. Where can I get the red yeast rice?

      Thank you.
      raymond

      • KP Kwan

        Hy Raymond,
        You can get it at most of the Chinese Medical Halls. Ask for 紅曲米/紅麴米.
        KP Kwan

    • Laohaus

      I will definitely be making this recipe, my little brother loves cha siu. Your replies to the comments are thoughtful and informative, thank you.

      • KP Kwan

        I hope your little brother will love it 🙂

    • Ashley Anderson

      Hi KP,
      I went to my local Asian grocery store and no one seemed to even know what red yeast rice or the red bean curd was. Even after pulling up pictures of them on my phone. Do you know what area of a store it would typically be in? or if there are any other substitutes? Or would it still be good with out it?
      Thank you 🙂

      • KP Kwan

        Hy Ashley,
        It is a very Chinese traditional ingredient. Fortunately, it is only the natural red coloring to the Char Siu. Please omit it as it will not affect the taste. Most Chinese like red, so that is why it is in the recipe.
        KP Kwan

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