Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Char Siu - Chinese BBQ

When I was younger, my friends and I would always go jump in our ragged cars with our fresh, new driver's license and go eat at Hong Kong Buffet restaurant. Enamored with all types of Asian cuisine and tough choices to put on the plate,  my friends piled their plates with crab legs, I usually high-piled barbequed pork on top of white rice. I loved the smoky, sticky pork pieces. It seemed to go well with anything mixed on my crowded plate.

I never knew the time and effort that went into preparing such a dish. Nor did I know the official name. Char Siu or Cha Shao is a marinated, sweet, slow roasted pork with a deep red color usually found in dim sum-steamed pork buns and in fried rice. Lots of ingredients make up the marinade but each ingredient plays a key role in the final product of char siu.

I took a trip to a local asian market, Thai Asian Market in Menomonee Falls, to pick up the key ingredients. They stock authentic asian products at a very, very reasonable price.

The marinade:

  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of kosher sea salt

  • 1/2 cup of light soy sauce

  • 1/2 cup of dark molasses

  • 1/2 cup of Chinese rice wine

  • 1/4 cup of honey

  • 1/4 cup of dark soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup of kecap manis, Indonesian sweet soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup of oyster sauce

  • 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce

  • 1/4 cup of garlic chili sauce

  • 2 tablespoons of Chinese five spice powder

  • 2 tablespoons of ground annatto
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and mix well. Stir over medium to low heat until the sugar has dissolved. This should take a few minutes. Do not let the marinade heat up enough to bubble and simmer.

For the pork, use boneless or remove the bone of a Boston Butt or Pork Shoulder. Cut shoulder into steak size. Place pork and marinade in a plastic bag or glass casserole container to marinate. I marinaded the pork for 4 days. The longer it marinades, the more intense the flavor. If four days is too much for you, marinade overnight.

The steaks are ready for the grill. Prepare a two-zone grill with the coals on one side and indirect heat on the other side. Place a tin foil pan next to the coals. The water keeps the meat moist as well as collecting the drippings from the meat. Soak and drain wood chips for smoking. Heat up coals and lay chips on the coals. Place steaks on the indirect side of grill grate.

The smoking/cooking time depends on the size of your pork cuts. I smoked the char siu for three hours. You want to cook the interior of the meat to a minimum temperature of 160 degrees. Here is the pork after two hours of smoking.

After you are done cooking, let the pork rest for about 10 minutes. I coated the char siu with a mixture of one tablespoon of hoisin sauce mixed with one tablespoon of kecap manis.

Cut char siu into strips or bits, however you prefer.

Served over white rice with pickled cucumber and radishes with extra hoisin/kecap manis sauce drizzled on top.

The char siu tasted just like I remember from the Asian buffets I used to eat at. Smoky and sticky-tasting with hints of sweetness, the pork tasted great next to the bite of pickled vegatables. The marinade is made up of a lot of ingredients but they all work together and no ingredient outdoes the other. I love how pork can take on a lot of wide scale ingredients and give you a bomb of flavor. The smoke brings a lot of character to the dish as well and it wouldn't taste the same without it. Simply roasting the pork would give you a succulent, tender piece of meat but it would be void of the extra layer of taste and crunch from the bark.

It was a near perfect dish for me. I wished I had minced green onions and cilantro for a little herby, fresh taste. But nonetheless, it was a great dish to prepare for a summer afternoon meal.

Char siu is very versatile as far as incorporating it into dishes. Chopped into fried rice, pillowed in steamed buns, ladled into ramen soup or pho, combined with steamed vegatables, the Chinese BBQ pork will not leave your taste buds wanting more. Man oh man, was that good!


  1. This looks incredible. I have to agree with you on the Asian BBQ. Whenever I go to a buffet it is the one thing that gets priority on the plate. I would now like this in my mouth very much.

  2. Wow, this looks amazing and I love your blog :)