There are a few key points not to miss when roasting a char siu pork at home, like don't skip on the sugar, and ask for a nice fatty cut of pork.
Tammi Kwok

5 Nov 2020 - 1:35 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2021 - 11:03 AM

Char siu or barbecue pork, the sweet/savoury strips of marinated pork, have long been associated with red food colouring and Bain Marie’s at Chinese restaurants. The real deal, however, is beloved by many as a homely childhood favourite, adorning the tops of many other classic Chinese dishes still. If you’ve been dreaming about making those glossy strips of pork hanging at Chinese barbecue shops at home, you’ve come to the right place! 

Here are five key tips on how to make the best barbecue pork at home.

1. It's all about the surface area

Unlike other roasts, Chinese barbecue pork uses long strips of pork belly or shoulder meat, which means that the marinade has lots of opportunities to flavour the meat. You'll notice the depth of colour all the way through each piece, as opposed to the bright white of cooked pork in other recipes. 

If you marinade too much, don't worry. Leftovers are great in steamed barbecue pork buns. Just chop up the leftover pork into a fine dice - you'll have the perfect sauce to meat ratio. Yum!

Steamed barbecued pork buns

Rich barbecue pork fills these little parcels. 

2. Booze it up


Most recipes for barbecue pork call for a dash of rice wine in the marinade, and it’s for good reason! Some attribute the tenderising qualities of the marinade to the rice wine, but we love it for it’s slightly sweet and complex flavour. 

The rice wine really shines especially when the marinade is also used as a sauce, like in this recipe for barbecue pork bao. Fluffy buns sandwiching luscious pork drizzled in a glossy sauce. What’s not to love? 

Barbecue pork belly steamed buns (bao)

This is a modern take on the classic yum cha snack - char siu bao or barbecue pork steamed bun. This version has all the caramel, five-spice and soy sauce flavours of traditional char sui but it's served in an open steamed bun.

3. Sugar is not just a glaze

It might be tempting to lower the sugar amounts in a char siu pork recipe. However, both sugar and salt are essential to help the marinade penetrate the meat, and for that sticky glazed finish, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth tender bite filled with flavour.

If you’re less of a fan of the sweet taste, the best way to enjoy your char siu is in something like a noodle soup, where the sticky glazed coating on the pork is tempered by the hot soup, letting you enjoy all the tenderness of the pork, without the extra sweetness. 

Hawaiian noodle soup (saimin)

This dish combines the best of Hawaii’s Japanese, Chinese and Filipino influences. Usually a fast food, this noodle soup also allows for invention – add and remove ingredients as you please. The only two essentials are noodles and sticky barbecued Chinese pork.

4. Fat is flavour 

Whether you choose to use pork belly or neck, be sure to tell your butcher to pick you pieces of pork that have a good amount of fat on them. This helps protect the lean protein, and renders slightly as it roasts, giving you a luscious finish and better eating experience. 

You can see this come into play with the char siu’ s Japanese cousin, chashu, where pork belly is rolled and braised, before being thinly sliced into meltingly rich and tender pieces.

Five spice roast pork belly

Five spice is a traditional Chinese spice mix that is said to represent five flavours: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty. Combined with hoisin sauce and sugar, it gives a delicious rich brown glaze to pork belly. 

5. Low and slow is the way to go

Char siu pork: the perfect thing to add to garlic bread.

Whether you choose to cook your pork in a barbecue or an oven, it usually works best when cooked at lower temperatures, so as not to cause the meat fibres to seize up, and all your hard work go to waste! Don’t worry about this taking hours, though. Because of the pork being in strips rather than in a large piece, it’ll usually take less than half an hour for the meat to cook through. 

This means that your tender and delicate pork can also be used in the second round of flash cooking, like in fried rice. Just be sure to only leave the pork cooking for long enough to warm up and impart flavour, and you’ll have the best of both worlds!

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