Cha Siu

published Feb 21, 2022
Cha Siu Recipe

In this classic Chinese dish, a boneless pork roast is cooked in a sweet and savory glaze until tender.

Serves6 to 8

Prep15 minutes to 20 minutes

Cook1 hour

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cha siu sliced on a plate
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk

Cha siu is one of my favorite Cantonese comfort foods. When I was a kid, it was almost guaranteed that I would order a steaming bowl of rice noodle soup topped with slices of cha siu when we went out to dinner. Tender, sweet, and savory, cha siu can be eaten on its own at dinner, but leftovers are where its versatility shines, adding a protein hit and flexing into fried rice, noodle dishes, or even baked or steamed into tender buns with ease. I usually just buy cha siu from my favorite Chinese roasted meat joints, but it’s actually one of the easiest Chinese deli meats to make at home. Here’s how you can roast this Cantonese classic yourself.

What Is Cha Siu?

Cha siu is a Chinese sweet-glazed boneless cut of pork that can be found at both restaurants and in Chinese takeaway delis selling roasted meats. It is often called Chinese BBQ roast pork, but that name is a bit misleading, as it is not smoked or cooked over a grill. It’s marinated in a sweet sauce that’s often red in color, then roasted until a bit charred on the outside. Cha siu is the Cantonese name for this dish, but is often also called char siu, which is the Westernized pronunciation. I’ve often wondered when the “r” in char was added to the pronunciation, as that sound is not present in either the Cantonese or Mandarin pronunciations. Let’s all agree to drop the “r,” shall we?

What Is Cha Siu Sauce Made Of?

While you can now buy pre-made cha siu sauce, it’s easy to stir together one with some pantry ingredients. Because it’s made up of a lot of bottled Chinese sauces, it’s worth sourcing good-quality brands to get the right balance of flavor, and the recipe lists a few brands I love (Lee Kum Kee is always reliable). Chinese markets and larger Asian grocery stores are great places to get these sauces from.

Besides easy-to-find ingredients like salt, brown sugar, honey, you’ll need hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine (dry sherry also works), and 5-spice powder. To get the signature red coloring, you can use food coloring and Chinese fermented red bean curd. They’re both optional, but the red bean curd adds an amazing depth of flavor and is often used in traditional cha siu. (Be careful that you buy red bean curd that’s red from red yeast, not from chiles; check the ingredients on the label.)

Stir the ingredients together and use some of it as the marinade and some of it as a glaze when mixed with some additional honey.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk

What’s the Best Cut of Pork for Cha Siu?

Boneless pork butt or pork shoulder is the best cut of pork for cha siu, as the fat keeps the meat nice and juicy, and the grain of the pork absorbs the marinade well. Cut a pork shoulder roast into slabs and do two key things before marinating: Poke the slabs all over with a fork to help the marinate penetrate (a great tip from Made with Lau), and salt the pork. There is salt in the sauces in the marinade, but the pork needs to absorb a little salt on its own to be well-seasoned too.

How to Make Cha Siu

To make cha siu, marinate the slabs of pork for at least eight or up to 24 hours. Roast the pork on a wire rack set over a baking sheet filled with water for about one hour, brushing it with the glaze every 15 minutes. The water helps keep the drippings from the pork from flaring up and burning the cha siu. If you line the baking sheet with aluminum foil first, that’ll make cleanup a bit easier. To clean the rack afterward, flip it over on the baking sheet, fill the baking sheet with warm soapy water, and let everything soak for a little bit before scrubbing.

How to Use Cha Siu

When freshly made, serve cha siu with steamed rice and some stir-fried greens for a quick, easy meal. It’s a great versatile cooked meat to have around and can be used in a myriad of other ways in Chinese cooking. Here are some of my favorites.

Cha Siu Recipe

In this classic Chinese dish, a boneless pork roast is cooked in a sweet and savory glaze until tender.

Prep time 15 minutes to 20 minutes

Cook time 1 hour

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    (about 3-pound) boneless pork shoulder or pork butt roast

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 cube

    Chinese red fermented bean curd (optional, not spicy fermented bean curd)

  • 1/4 cup

    packed light brown sugar

  • 1/4 cup

    hoisin sauce, preferably Lee Kum Kee or Koon Chun

  • 1/4 cup

    oyster sauce, preferably Lee Kum Kee

  • 4 tablespoons

    honey, divided

  • 1 tablespoon

    Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

  • 1 teaspoon

    Chinese 5-spice powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    red liquid food coloring, or 3 drops red gel food coloring (optional)

  • 2 cups

    water

  • Cooking spray

Instructions

  1. Cut 1 (about 3-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast lengthwise into 1-inch thick slabs (do not trim off any fat). Pierce the slabs all over with a fork at about 1/2-inch intervals, poking all the way through. Season the pork all over with 2 teaspoons kosher salt. Place in a large plastic ziptop bag and set aside to let the salt absorb into the pork while you make the marinade.

  2. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves. Place in a medium bowl, crumble 1 cube Chinese red fermented bean curd on top if using, and smash into the garlic with a fork. Add 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar, 1/4 cup hoisin sauce, 1/4 cup oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons of the honey, 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder, and 1/2 teaspoon red liquid food coloring or 3 drops red gel food coloring if using. Stir until combined.

  3. Transfer 1/4 cup of the marinade to a small bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons honey and stir to combine to make the glaze.

  4. Pour the remaining marinade into the bag of pork and flip each slab of pork to coat evenly in the marinade. Press the air out of the bag and seal. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 8 or up to 24 hours, flipping the bag a few times if you can. Cover the glaze and refrigerate while the pork is marinating.

  5. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 425ºF. Meanwhile, let the pork and glaze sit on the counter while the oven is heating. Line a rimmed baking sheet with two overlapping sheets of aluminum foil to cover the bottom and go up all four sides. Pour 2 cups water into the baking sheet. Coat a wire rack with cooking spray and fit onto the baking sheet.

  6. Remove the pork from the bag and place in a single layer on the rack, spacing them evenly apart; discard the bag of marinade. Transfer the baking sheet into the oven. Roast for 1 hour, brushing the pork all over with a thin layer of glaze and flipping the slabs every 15 minutes. The cha siu should be tender, charred at the edges, and have an internal temperature of at least 155ºF in the thickest part (higher is fine). If it starts to char too much before the roasting time is up, tent loosely with foil. If it is not charred enough, broil as needed after 1 hour roasting time, checking every minute or so.

  7. Let the cha siu rest on the rack for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut crosswise into 1/3-inch thick slices (if the slabs are very wide, halve lengthwise before slicing). If not serving all the pork immediately, only slice what you will be eating and leave the remainder unsliced to keep it from drying out.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The pork can be marinated up to 1 day ahead.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days or freeze for up to 2 months.