Char Siu Pork

There are likely few carnivores out there who don’t know and love Char Siu pork, the ethereal ‘Chinese Barbecued Pork.’ Served with nose-searing Chinese mustard and toasted sesame seeds, it’s not only a killer snack, it’s fabulous in fried rice, or with fresh apple slices and sharp cheddar cheese. By request, I’m republishing this revised version of this post, with more thoughts on which cuts of meat to use, and instructions for cooking inside as well as grilling – Enjoy!

Char Siu Pork makes great spring rolls
Commercial Char Siu Pork

To know Char Siu is to love it, but perhaps not so much the price – an 8 ounce package of the stuff from anybody good can set you back $8 to $12, or a whopping $16 to $24 a pound. You can do far better at home, and make something that becomes your signature version as well – the dish is easy and fun to make.

The Char Siu we know and love has its roots in Cantonese cooking, that which comes by way of Guangdong province, and its capital city, Guangzhou. Good Cantonese cooks are revered throughout China and the world. The hallmarks of the style are fresh, local ingredients, well balanced dishes, and preparations that compliment, but never overpower the star of the show. Unlike many other Chinese cuisines, Cantonese cooking doesn’t use a lot of fresh herbs, relying instead on dried and prepared spices and sauces.

Many of these are so mainstream that they are widely considered generically ‘Chinese’ – everything from Hoisin, Oyster, and Plum sauces, to sweet and sour, black bean sauce, and shrimp paste. The master sauces from which a wealth of dishes spring is reminiscent of classic French cooking, right down to Master Stock, used for braising and poaching meats and fish.

Char Siu is, in fact, one of those master sauces, used for pork, chicken, and wildfowl. The combination of sweet, savory, and exotic is the fuel that makes the barbecued pork so damn good. There are a few things you must put into a Char Siu marinade in order to faithfully reproduce the dish, and a few others you can use if you wish. As with many dishes and cuisines, there really is no one right way – If you like it, make it that way, and make it yours – that’s how cooking is supposed to work.

Traditionally, Char Siu is cooked over charcoal, and when possible, it’s a must do when you make it at home. The meat isn’t smoked, per se, but it does get, (and need), that unique touch of flavor that only cooking over coals can provide. That said, if it’s really icky outside, you can certainly do this in the oven with great success.

One interesting note – What’s often perceived as a smoke ring with this meat, (a la American pit barbecue), is actually all brought on by the marinade – And there are a lot of commercial makers who add some kind of red food coloring to the mix to enhance that effect – Naturally, we’re gonna pass on that latter option.

We often use tenderloin for this dish, but depending on where you are, you’ll find it made from belly, shoulder, or butt as well. What you don’t want is too lean a cut – I know that might seem counterintuitive if what you’ve experienced is only the commercially made stuff like the image above – but have you ever noticed how that stuff is often really quite dry? They use that cut for longevity, not flavor.

Real deal char siu needs some fat for the rich marinade to work with, so choose something that’s got some on board, and don’t trim too much off. Prepare whatever you choose so that it’s maybe 3” thick, tops, and you can go thinner if you want to cook smaller, faster batches. When it comes to grilling or baking, make sure the fat side goes up, so that glorious stuff can render and work it’s way through the rest of the meat as it cooks.

Here then is our spin on Char Siu. We recommend using pork tenderloin for the meat. It has the perfect size, fat to lean ratio, and relatively quick cooking time for this dish.

Char Siu Pork

1 1/2 to 2 pounds Pork (belly, tenderloin, shoulder, or butt)
2 Tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce
1 1/2 Tablespoons Honey
1 1/2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1 Tablespoon Red Fermented Bean Curd
1 Tablespoon Toasted Sesame Oil
2 teaspoons Rice Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon Oyster Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
1/2 teaspoon sweet, smoked Paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients in a small non-reactive mixing bowl and whisk with a fork to fully incorporate.

Place the pork and marinade in a ziplock bag and expel as much air as possible.

Gently massage the marinade onto the pork, coating evenly and thoroughly.

Refrigerate for at least 12 hours, and for my mind, 48 hours is best – The longer you go, the more pronounced the effect of the marinade on the pork.

Char Siu Pork Marinating
Char Siu Pork Marinating

To Grill –

Light a lump charcoal fire in a grill and allow the coals to become white hot.
Set up a two zone grill, with the coals all on one side, and a drip pan only under the other side – This is indirect grilling, and makes not only perfectly roasted meats, but almost eliminates the possibility of burning expensive flesh – Kinda like a convection oven, only way cheaper…

Setting up a 2 Zone Grill
Setting up a 2 Zone Grill

Open the bottom vents on the grill about half way.
Place the marinated tenderloins over the drip pan on the cool side of the grill.

Setting up a 2 Zone Grill
Setting up a 2 Zone Grill

Give them a baste with a little more of the marinade.
Place your lid on the grill, with the top vents over the meat, on the cool side.

Setting up a 2 Zone Grill
Setting up a 2 Zone Grill

Open the top vents about half way.
You do not need to turn the meat; check on it, and baste a bit, about every 10 to 15 minutes.
Use all the remaining marinade to baste.
When the internal temperature of the tenderloin reaches 155° F, remove it from the grill and set it aside to rest for 15 minutes – DO NOT cut into the meat until it rested!

Cut the tenderloin on a bias, at about a 45° angle, and serve with rice and steamed veggies.

For the Oven –

preheat oven to 350° F and set a rack in an upper slot.

place pork in a broiler pan with about 1/4” of boiling water within.

Grab a small basting brush and set the marinade bag in a small bowl beside the oven.

bake pork for 15 minutes, then brush marinade liberally onto the exposed surfaces.

At the 30 minute mark, reduce heat to 225° F, brush in more marinade, and continue cooking.

Cook until internal temperature of the pork reaches 155° F, then remove from oven.

Allow a minimum of a 10 minute rest before slicing.

Devour at will.

Author: urbanmonique

I cook, write, throw flies, and play music in the Great Pacific Northwet.

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