Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)


It’s been awhile since I’ve had really amazing Chinese barbecued pork.  Too long, actually.  Unfortunately, the ones sold in Chinatown here can’t quite compare to the flavorful, moist barbecue pork that are ubiquitous in Hong Kong.  They are often hanging on display in restaurant windows (and some even sitting on the chopping board) for who-knows-how-long, so they often end up dry, tough, and cold.  I still get them from time to time, but I almost always regret it.

What’s the perfect (delicious) solution?  Make them at home, of course!

Char siu is a Cantonese word that translates into “fork burned”, which describes the traditional method of skewering the meat on a long fork and roasting it on spits over an open fire.  To make char siu at home, you can roast the marinated meat in the oven and then place it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get that characteristic char.


I like to use pork shoulder, which has a ton of marbling to keep the meat tender and juicy.  Pork tenderloin is a good choice if you prefer a leaner cut.


I accompanied the char siu with some steamed mustard greens and white rice.  Also good with lai fun (round rice noodles that are commonly served with roast pork, chicken, and duck).  The packaged ones sold here are not that great (unfortunately, again) mainly because they lack that chewy bite.  I’ll be sure to report back if and when I’ve figured out how to make them at home.


Char siu, in its succulent, caramelized, glistening glory.  So, so good.

By the way, if you have any leftover meat, go ahead and make these roast pork pastry bites!

Barbecued roast pork

Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu)
  • 3 lbs pork shoulder, visible fat trimmed
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsps oyster sauce
  • 2 tbsps ketchup, for color (optional)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsps honey
  • 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine, or rosewater
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tsp five-spice powder
  • 1-inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • Maltose, for basting
  1. Cut pork lengthwise into 5-inch thick strips and place the meat in a shallow bowl or casserole pan.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, ketchup, sesame oil, honey, cooking wine, white pepper, and five-spice powder, and bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
  3. Pour mixture over pork, add ginger and garlic slices, and marinate for at least 8 hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.
  4. Preheat oven to 375F.  Line roasting pan with aluminum foil.
  5. Remove the pork from the marinade (discard garlic and ginger slices), and place it in the prepared pan.
  6. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, basting with maltose.  Turn and baste other side, and cook for 30 more minutes, or until the juices run clear.  Place the pan under the broiler, turning and letting the meat char on all sides.
  7. Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before slicing across the grain.
  8. Serve hot with rice or noodles.
*Instead of red food coloring, I used ketchup (which is commonly done in Chinese restaurants on barbecued spare ribs), but it's fine to omit it.

*Maltose, a sugar syrup made from barley, is traditionally used to give char siu that sticky, shiny coating.  Aside from the flavor, a benefit of using maltose is that it is extremely thick and tacky, so you just have to baste once and it sticks onto the meat.  If you can't find maltose, you can substitute with honey.  Just make sure you baste the meat more frequently since honey tends to be runny when warmed.
Serving size: 4



  1. says

    I grew up in Hong Kong and moved to Vegas a few years ago. The Chinatown here is a joke. I’ve always been hesitant to try making char siu at home, but after going through your well laid instructions and inviting photographs, I’ve decided to take it on! Possibly this weekend. I shall return with a comment on my results!

    Thank you so much for sharing your recipes! <3

    • Karen says

      Hi Katherine, thanks for stopping by. I grew up in Hong Kong as well! I think the bar was set pretty high, and nothing here (in New York’s Chinatown) resembles the char siu I was used to eating. If you get a chance to try making it, let me know how it turns out!

  2. says

    I made this last week and it was delicious. However, the maltose was so thick and tacky that it would not spread on the meat at all. I was able to get a few blobs on there, but so much of it stuck to my hands, the spoon, etc. that there was a lot of waste.

    Is there a way to make this more spreadable – pourable? Maybe put it in the microwave for a few seconds?

    • Karen says

      Good to hear that it turned out well! Sometimes I microwave the maltose for a few seconds to make it more manageable (it doesn’t ever become pourable though). I like to handle it with a pastry brush so that whatever is stuck to the pastry brush doesn’t go to waste when I baste the meat with it. You can also scoop a few spoonfuls of the maltose into a bowl and mix it with some hot water until it becomes a bit thinner but still thicker than the consistency of honey.

  3. says

    just started marinating my meat. Looks a tad darker than your marinade and i’m not sure as to why. Hope this doesn’t affect taste! Unless you know what i may’ve done wrong?

    • Karen says

      Hmmm…it might be the brand of soy sauce or oyster sauce (the oyster sauce I have on hand tends to be lighter in color). I hope the flavors turn out the same for you! Keep me posted!