Chinese BBQ: Cha Siu

Chinese Barbecue Pork - Cha Siu

  • Servings: About one serving per half pound
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For when your local Chinese place is closed for a holiday. So, never.


  • 2 pounds of pork shoulder (butt). Pork loin can also be used.

Marinade for every two pounds of meat:

  • 1 teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon of white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of sweet soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons of maltose (can be substituted with syrup or more honey)
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 ¼ tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • (Optional) red bean curd or food coloring


  1. Trim pork should into 1-inch-tall and 2-inch-wide strips.
  2. Combine marinade ingredients into a saucepan. Bring mixture to a brief boil, then reduce to simmer.
  3. Reserve about a quarter cup and allow marinade to cool before applying to meat. Marinate overnight or at least four hours.
  4. Set up grill for indirect heat and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Cook pork on indirect heat side for about 20-30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Liberally brush reserve marinade on all sides of meat, then sear for up to three minutes until temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Repeat brushing several times.
  7. Serve immediately.

I’ve previously written about making this particular kind of Chinese barbecue before, but I thought I’d revisit it with an actual recipe. I thought I could get away with doing all the requisite research by just asking my mom if she knew a recipe — she didn’t and told me to look it up on the Google. (Thanks mom.)

As I mentioned last time, cha siu is Chinese barbecued pork that you can find pretty easily in most restaurants. It has characteristic red sheen that is completely aesthetic — the color usually comes from either red bean paste or red food coloring, neither of which really add any real flavor.

Now I can make those overdone overhead videos.

Luckily, I still had most of the ingredients from the last time I prepared this dish. Most of it is stuff that never goes bad. The only real addition this time is maltose, a type of syrup used in Chinese dishes and desserts, that I was able to located at the tiny local Thai market. I’ve never used maltose before, so I just assumed that it was like syrup or honey. It actually has a consistency more like felsic lava.

Maltose is a) hard to find at a normal supermarket; b) sticky and; c) has the viscosity of semi-dried Elmer’s glue at room temperature. If you can’t find or want to deal with it, feel free to switch it out for syrup or more honey. The maltose does help make the meat more shiny though.

Plastic bags work too.

Another recommendation is to cut the meat into thin strips about 1 inch thick and 2-3 inches wide. This is aimed at increasing the surface area to volume ratio in order to improve the flavor of the marinade. I didn’t do that in these pictures because it otherwise wouldn’t fit onto the grill and I wanted to get everything done in one go (it was cold outside alright?). This particular cut is “country style” pork shoulder from Costco, which is more fatty than pork loin.

It was cold.

Although pork shoulder is usually cooked low and slow for pulled pork, cha siu is usually okay being more lean, so I usually cook on indirect heat before searing in the end. For this last part, make sure you very liberally brush on the reserve marinade for several coatings, then caramelize the sugar with a sear each time. Don’t burn your brush. Maltose is relatively less sweet than other types of common sweeteners, so you gotta have enough coating the meat to get enough flavor. 

Always 10/10 with rice. 

I like rice, but feel free to substitute with noodles or buns. Be sure to eat some vegetables as well so other people stop worrying about your cholesterol.


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