Char Siu: Chinese Barbecue Sauce

Chinese Barbecue Sauce (Char Siu)

The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Cool: 5 mins
Total: 20 mins
Servings: 16 servings
Yield: 2 cups
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
60 Calories
0g Fat
13g Carbs
1g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 60
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 1%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 817mg 36%
Total Carbohydrate 13g 5%
Dietary Fiber 1g 2%
Total Sugars 10g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 0mg 1%
Calcium 11mg 1%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 73mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Char siu is a style of Chinese barbecue in which a thick and flavorful sauce is used to flavor strips of pork that are then roasted to crunchy and moist perfection. The name refers more to a method of cooking pork than to the sauce itself, but the sauce is what makes the dish. Sweet, savory, smoky, and with the perfect amount of spiciness, char siu is now known worldwide as the Chinese barbecue sauce that makes these pork bits unbelievably flavorful. It's one of the most famous dishes at take-out restaurants, but there's no need to spend lots of money in making your pork dreams come true. Our simple recipe brings you the sauce that you can then use to cook your pork in. Besides, this sauce doesn't have the unappealing red food coloring that some restaurants use. Just simple and natural ingredients, plus tons of flavor.

Unlike American-style barbecue sauces, traditional Chinese barbecue sauce doesn't contain tomatoes. Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, black bean paste, and Chinese five-spice powder are what bring the flavor. This thick sauce is meant to be used on pork first, but we tried it on other meats and the result is finger-licking good. Any grilled or smoked foods, including spareribs, chicken, or turkey, turn out perfectly moist, sticky, and simply great. Like most barbecue sauces, char siu can burn easily because of the sugar content, so use it only at the end of cooking.

The barbecued meat, which is usually pork shoulder, is typically served with a starch, such as noodles, rice, or inside a bun, or as the main dish in more formal restaurants.

"The char siu sauce had amazing flavor. I used Kikkoman hoisin sauce and regular supermarket soy sauce, which is similar to a dark soy sauce. Make sure to taste it before adding any salt—depending on your soy sauce or brand of hoisin sauce, you might want to use less or omit it." —Diana Rattray

homemade char siu sauce, Chinese bbq sauce
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Chinese Barbecue Sauce (Char Siu) ingredients

    The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

  2. Combine all of the ingredients, except for the salt, in a double boiler and mix well. Alternatively, you can combine the ingredients directly in a saucepan, but this method will require more frequent stirring to avoid sticking or burning on the bottom.

    Combine all of the ingredients in a double boiler

    The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

  3. Simmer over medium to medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Taste and add salt, if needed.

    sauce cooking in a double boiler

    The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

  4. Once the sauce has thickened, remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Use right away on your favorite recipes, or let cool off completely and transfer to a container with a lid to store in the fridge.

    Chinese Barbecue Sauce (Char Siu)

    The Spruce / Kristina Vanni

Tips

  • Use char siu sauce on all types of pork and poultry toward the last 5 to 15 minutes of cook time, depending on the size and cut of meat. Watch for burning bits, and always use a rack with a roasting pan underneath to catch the excess liquid and drippings.
  • Serve extra sauce on the side if you prefer, but don't serve any sauce that has been in contact with raw meat—discard any sauce that you used to brush the meat.

Recipe Variations

  • To make the sauce alcohol-free, replace the sherry with orange juice or peach juice.
  • Commercial char siu sauce often includes red food coloring, which leaves a red tinge on the surface of the meat. Add a few drops of red food coloring if you like.



How to Store

  • If making ahead of time or if you have leftovers, let the sauce cool and place it into an airtight container. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week after preparation.
  • To freeze, transfer cooled sauce to a zip-close freezer bag or freezer container and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Reheat the sauce in a saucepan on the stovetop or in the microwave until hot (at least 165 F).



What Does Char Siu Mean?

Char siu is literally translated to "fork roasted," referring to how this dish was originally prepared. Boneless strips of pork, seasoned and skewered on long forks, were placed over a fire to cook. Although you can prepare your pork on skewers, or long metal forks if you happen to have some, it's equally delicious when you simply roast the strips without.