The Right Way To Roast Traditional Pork Char Siu At Home

Pork char siu is an iconic Chinese dish with juicy slices of pork stained red and covered in thick, sticky BBQ glaze. While Americans without knowledge of Chinese cooking might associate the dish more with restaurants, it's actually well within your reach to make at home if you have access to the right ingredients and know a few tricks to get the perfect finish. The sauce can vary by who is making it, but it's based around hoisin sauce, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, five spice, and red bean paste (where that color comes from), along with sweeteners like honey or brown sugar. Getting that sauce right is the key to great char siu, but the best result isn't just about what you put in it, it's also about how it gets roasted in the oven with the pork to achieve that perfect finish.

Homemade char siu gets roasted in the oven, and there are two things you need to do. The first is to prop up the pork on a roasting rack, or if you don't have one, some rolled-up foil that can elevate it off your baking sheet. In order to get that thick sauce it needs to caramelize all over the outside of the pork and that means getting even heat distribution. Char siu that isn't elevated will end up wet and soupy on the bottom instead of burnished and sticky, but a rack or foil will give you the even airflow that can fully cook the sauce.

Elevate your char siu over a tray with water to get the perfect finish

While getting that pork elevated is the biggest step towards well-cooked char siu, there is one other critical precaution to take. In whatever rimmed sheet you are cooking your pork above, you should line it with foil and fill it with a cup of water. This serves two purposes. First the water will heat and create steam, which will maintain a moist environment in the oven and help keep the pork juicy. The second is to prevent drippings from burning on the hot pan and creating smoke. Char siu is made with very fatty cuts like pork shoulder, which is where so much of its flavor comes from, but that means fat will start to melt and drip out as it roasts. The water will catch those drippings.

Finally, to get the charred finish in the oven you want to roast your char siu at a high temperature and on an upper rack closer to the heat. You can roast as low as 425 degrees Fahrenheit, but go up to 475 degrees Fahrenheit if you want to get more charring. Just be alert to how quickly the pork is cooking if you need to adjust the temperature downward. You want those edges starting to singe and change color without actually burning, but if it's underdone you can always turn on the broiler to finish. With just those few tips you'll be in BBQ roasted pork heaven.