Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork, 叉烧肉)

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The only char siu recipe you need to make juicy flavorful pork with a sweet glossy glaze, just like you’d get at a Cantonese restaurant. {Gluten-Free adaptable}

Char siu pork served on steamed rice close-up

Hailing from Guangdong province in the south of China, char siu or barbecued pork is one of the darlings of dim sum, firmly in the catalog of Cantonese cuisine.

It doesn’t do the dish justice, merely to describe char siu with words. But it is a lean cut of barbecued pork, given a deep red color and shiny coating from the glaze. And it’s famously sweet. However, simply calling it sweet does not convey the complex flavors that result from the long marinating process.

The name Char Siu (or Cha Shao), literally means ‘fork roast’ due to the traditional way of cooking. After marinating, the pork is hung on a special fork and placed in the oven for roasting. During the roasting, the chef will baste the pork with a sugary glaze many times, giving it that appetizing glossy look.

A good char siu should be slightly chewy, juicy, with a vibrant, rich color and an equally alluring aroma. There are so many char siu recipes out there that simply yield a sweet piece of pork. For me, it’s important to create a good marinade base to give the cut a fragrant taste, and add just enough sweetness to complete it. That’s why you will see a lot of fresh aromatics and maybe less sugar in this recipe.

Sliced Chinese BBQ pork on cutting board

Cooking notes

1. Recipe update

The recipe was originally published three years ago. Over the years I’ve been trying to perfect the process. Today I’m sharing an updated version.

In this version I made a few small changes:

  • Added molasses to the marinade to give the pork a better glaze.
  • Reduced the soy sauce to create a thicker sauce, so it hangs onto the pork during roasting.
  • Used maltose so the pork will have a glossy look, like in Cantonese restaurants.
  • Simplified the baking and basting process.

2. What cut of pork for Char Siu

In this recipe I used pork tenderloin which is the lean cut traditionally used in Cantonese restaurants. You can also use pork loin if you want a slightly cheaper cut. Some people enjoy Chinese BBQ pork made from a fattier cut, for example, pork leg, or even pork belly.  You can adapt the recipe according to your preference.

No matter which cut you use, you should cut it into pieces about 2” (6 cm) wide and 1”(3 cm) thick, so the baking time will remain the same.

Homemade Chinese BBQ pork

3. An introduction to Maltose

Maltose is a super thick syrup that’s commonly used in traditional Chinese cooking. It is the secret ingredient that gives the char siu its beautiful glossy look.

Maltose is made from rice and malt. At room temperature, it’s ten times thicker than your regular syrup. It won’t fall from the cup if you hold it upside down. If you dig your spoon into it, it will feel very tough and difficult to stir. It will become more runny once heated up, but still quite sticky. That’s why it gives the BBQ pork a better glaze that sticks to the surface.

Maltose in a jar

To use maltose, I usually microwave the jar for 20 seconds to get the surface softened. Otherwise it’s very hard to measure the correct amount. Once heated up, the sugar gets VERY HOT. Avoid touching the hot sugar with your hand.

A quick tip: coat your measuring spoon with a thin layer of oil before scooping out the maltose. The sugar will fall from the spoon much easier.

These days you can easily get maltose on Amazon, although you can also get a jar for less than two bucks at an Asian market.

If you don’t want to use maltose, you can use honey to replace it. The coating will not stick as well but it will still end up delicious.

4. Workflow

Making char siu is a two-step process. If you plan ahead and get organized, it’s quite simple to make.

(1) Mix the sauce and marinate one day before cooking

  • You will use half of the sauce to marinate the pork. To give the pork as much flavor as possible, make sure to marinate it overnight.
  • Cook the other half of the sauce with maltose. Store it in a jar to use for the glaze.
Prepping for char siu pork

(2) Roast (or grill) the pork

  • Set up your oven or heat up the grill.
  • Brush the glaze over the pork multiple times while roasting (or grilling). To make the sauce stick better, use a brush to dab the glaze onto the pork.
  • Cook until the pork reaches 165 degrees F (74 C) and is lightly charred on the surface.
  • Rest the pork covered loosely with foil. Then brush on the final layer of glaze.

That’s it! Sounds pretty easy doesn’t it?

Bake Chinese BBQ pork in the oven
Sliced Chinese BBQ pork on cutting board close-up

5. Leftovers

Here is the best part. Usually when you have leftovers, they are just waiting to be reheated and consumed the same way. Not with char siu!

If there is any leftover char siu, you can use it to make many popular dishes such as char siu fried noodles, char siu fried rice, steamed char siu bunsbaked char siu buns, char siu pastries, and much more. And you’re not just limited to traditional Cantonese dim sum – Lilja and I just made these scallion biscuits with char siu gravy using the drippings we collected from the pan.


No matter whether you’re planning the menu for your next dim sum party or simply brainstorming for next week’s dinner, Chinese BBQ pork is a great choice. It is easy to prepare ahead of time. It tastes great served either fresh out of the oven or cold. And you can use the leftovers to create so many other delicious dishes.

Char siu pork served on steamed rice


  • 2 to 2.5 lbs (1 kg) pork tenderloin (or pork loin)


  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup oyster sauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 teaspoon garlic , grated
  • 1 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 10 drops red food coloring (Optional)
  • 2 tablespoons maltose (or honey)


  • (Optional) If you’re using pork loin, cut the pork along the grain, into 2 strips about 2” (6 cm) wide and 1”(3 cm) thick. Skip this step if using tenderloin.
  • Prepare the marinade and the glaze the day before you cook.


  • In a large bowl combine the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar, molasses, garlic, five spice powder, salt, and food coloring (if using). Stir to mix well.
  • Transfer the pork into a large ziplock bag. Pour 1/2 cup of the mixed sauce into the bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bag. Massage the bag a few times so the pork pieces are covered evenly with the sauce. Transfer to the fridge and marinate overnight (highly recommended), or for at least 6 hours.

Prepare the Glaze

  • Microwave the maltose for 20 seconds or so, until the top loosens. Do NOT touch the maltose with your fingers. It’s very hot once it’s heated. Grease your tablespoon with a thin layer of oil. Transfer 2 tablespoons of maltose into a small saucepan. The oil coating on the spoon will help the maltose to fall into the pan without stuck on the spoon.
  • Add the rest mixed sauce into the same pan. Heat over medium heat and stir frequently to melt the maltose, until brought to a simmer. Turn to medium low heat. Cook for 5 minutes to thicken the sauce slightly.
  • Once done, let the sauce cool for at least 10 minutes. Carefully transfer the sauce into a heat-proof mason jar or container. Let cool for another 10 to 15 minutes. Cover and transfer into the fridge. The sauce will continue to thicken once chilled.


  • When the pork is marinated and the glaze is chilled, you’re ready to cook.
  • Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 C). Line a large baking tray with aluminum foil and add 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) water. Place a grilling rack on top. (Alternatively, you can grill the pork as well)
  • Transfer the pork onto the grilling track. Drizzle a few tablespoons marinating liquid onto the pork. Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Baste the pork, using a brush to dab the glaze onto the top side. Turn to the other side and dab glaze on top. Bake for 5 minutes.
  • Baste the top of the pork, and bake for another 5 minutes. Once done, you can check the doneness by inserting a thermometer into the thickest part of the pork. It should read at least 145 F (63 C). Return the pork to the oven to bake for another 5 minutes or so if needed.
  • Turn on the broiler. Broil for 3 minutes. Flip the pork to baste the other side. Broil for another 3 minutes. The pork should look glossy, lightly charred, and cooked through.
  • Once the pork is done, brush it with the rest of the glaze. Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
  • You can serve the pork hot over rice as a main dish, or at room temperature as a cold appetizer. It’s super delicious either way.

Storage & other uses

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