Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu), Homemade Five Spice

Are you familiar with Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu}; that flavourful, luscious, sticky-sweet, bright-red pork served in House Special Soup, fried rice, and on skewers at Chinese restaurants? I have a serious fixation on the stuff. I can’t get enough of it. The problem with satisfying my need for it is twofold:

  • I don’t live near a Chinese restaurant. No. Really… It’s fifteen miles round trip to the nearest one and the nearest one is not worth driving fifteen miles round trip.
  • I’m not super fond of food dyes. They kind of weird me out, honestly… That’s why you don’t see a lot of things calling for food colouring here on Foodie with Family.

With these issues in mind, I started making my own Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu} a while back and I think it tastes vastly superior to what I can get at many restaurants. I use red beet powder because that not only adds a little sweetness, but adds a little red to the party without using food dye. Hey- I like pretty foods as much as the next gal,I just don’t like artificial food colouring! Does anyone else feel like diving face first into that plate?

Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu} made without food colouring!


I had a very pregnant friend visiting when I was plating this Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu}. She happily helped me dispatch of the evidence after I snapped a couple shots. Her daughter -who normally doesn’t love meat dishes- assisted in the effort, too. It didn’t take us much time to make that dish look as clean as it did before I threw a pile of food on it.

Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu} made without food colouring!

Are you wondering what in the world you’d do with four whole tenderloins cooked into Chinese Barbecued Pork {Char Siu}? Aside from slicing them and serving over rice as pictured and serving to your pregnant friends, you can dice them and toss it into fried rice or onto salad, slice thinly and add to your own House Special Soup or put on split rolls with a slaw for Chinese Barbecue Pork Sliders… I’m sure there are other options I haven’t thought of yet. How would you serve these?


Cook’s Notes

  • I have to say a couple of words about the ingredients out of which the marinade is made. Don’t skip the Five Spice Powder. I used to think I couldn’t stand the stuff. It turns out -unsurprisingly- that what I hated was the little jars of indeterminate age that I got from the regular grocery store that then languished in my spice drawer for years on end. Homemade Five Spice Powder is a revelation, to say the least. Made of cinnamon, fennel seed, Szechuan (or Sichuan) peppercorn, star anise, and clove, it might sound a little odd to add to a savoury dish, but I tell ya, it does something special to pork. Chances are you’re pretty familiar with all or most of those ingredients. If I were a betting woman, I’d say the ingredient that most people haven’t used is the Szechuan peppercorn. It’s a key flavour in most Szechuan food. Unlike black or white peppercorns, it’s not known to be spicy or hot, but rather, it’s citrusy and numbs the tongue a bit. All in all, after making my own Homemade Five Spice, I have to say that I’ve done a 180° on my stance and I now sprinkle a little bit of it into nearly everything! If you don’t want to make Homemade Five Spice, you can use five spice powder purchased at an Asian grocer or a well-stocked grocery store.
  • Don’t marinate your pork for less than 12 hours, but you also don’t want to go too far beyond 24 hours. The marinade will have done all it can do at 24 hours and anything beyond that is not going to do anything good for your pork.
  • This is a two part grilling process, but don’t let that intimidate you. You begin them over a low heat portion of the grill and finish them (while brushing with honey) over high heat. This is done most easily by building a bed of hot coals to one side of the grill if using wood or charcoal, or simply having a couple of burners on high and a couple on low in a gas grill.

Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu} made without food colouring!

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Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu), Homemade Five Spice
Fragrant, moist, and full of flavour (garlic, ginger, Sriracha, ) with a sticky-sweet, slightly charred glaze, this Szechuan Chinese restaurant standard is worlds better made at home! This recipe is for four pork tenderloins, leaving plenty to freeze for fast meals at a later date!
For Homemade Five Spice Powder:
  • 2 teaspoons Szechuan Peppercorn
  • 8 whole star anise
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
For the Chinese Barbecue Pork:
  • 4 good sized boneless pork tenderloins (about 4-6 pounds total weight)
  • ½ cup hoisin sauce
  • ½ cup soju (Korean rice liquor) or light rum
  • ⅓ cup brown rice syrup or honey, plus additional for brushing while grilling
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons granulated onion or onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons red beet powder (can omit or substitute with 1 teaspoon red food colouring)
  • 1½ tablespoons Homemade Five Spice or purchased five spice powder
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated garlic or garlic powder
To Make the Homemade Five Spice:
  1. Put a clean, dry, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium low heat. Add the Szechuan peppercorns and shake the pan back and forth until the peppercorns are fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately add them to a spice grinder with the fennel seed and star anise. Grind until the mixture is as finely powdered as you can make it. Shake it through a fine mesh strainer. Discard what remains in the strainer. Take the sifted spices and stir in the ground cinnamon and cloves. Return this mixture to the spice grinder and grind momentarily to better combine the spices. Store in an airtight container in a dark, cool cupboard. For most potent flavour, use within three months.
To Make the Chinese Barbecued Pork (Char Siu):
  1. Add everything but the pork tenderloins and the spare honey to a large, resealable, zipper-top bag. Seal the bag and use your hands to gently squish and combine the ingredients until it is evenly mixed. Open the bag and add all of the pork tenderloins. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can, reseal it, place it on a rimmed baking dish and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours, turning the bag halfway through the marinating process.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the tenderloins on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. While the tenderloins are roasting, begin preheating a grill, using high heat on half of the grill and low heat on the other half. When the tenderloins have roasted for 20 minutes, transfer them to the HIGH heat side of the grill. Drizzle honey over the tops of the tenderloins and use a heat-proof pastry brush to distribute the honey. When the bottom of the tenderloin has good colour, about 4 minutes, flip it over, drizzle it again with honey and brush to distribute. The second side should colour up more quickly than the first as it was brushed with honey. When that has nice colour and a couple of charred bits, transfer it to the LOW heat side of the grill, flipping it over in the process. Continue drizzling with honey, brushing, and grilling until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the tenderloin measures at least 145°F (medium rare). Transfer the cooked tenderloins to a clean, rimmed baking dish and lightly tent with foil. Allow them to rest for at least 3 minutes before slicing or chilling.
To Serve Immediately:
  1. Slice or dice the pork -hot, warm, or room temperature- and serve over rice, in soup, or on sandwiches or salads.
To Freezer for Later Meals:
  1. Chill the cooked Chinese Barbecue Pork (Char Siu) before wrapping tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of foil. Place the wrapped pork on a baking sheet and put into the freezer. When the pork is frozen firmly, place the wrapped pork in a labeled, resealable zipper top bag and freeze for up to 6 months.
To Reheat:
  1. For best results, remove the desired number of cooked tenderloins from the freezer, remove the foil and double layer of plastic wrap, and thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a 350°F in a foil covered rimmed baking dish until heated all the way through, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. If you're in a hurry, remove the foil and one layer of plastic wrap, then defrost gently in the microwave. Remove the last layer of plastic wrap, place in a rimmed, microwave safe dish, cover the dish with plastic wrap, venting one corner, and reheat on medium temperature until hot all the way through. The timing of this will depend on the strength of your microwave.


Here is a list of marginally difficult to find ingredients available for purchase on

This post was originally published on June 17, 2013.

Chinese Barbecue Pork {Char Siu} made without food colouring!


  1. BethD says

    I have 6 kids and can think of so many ways we’d use this, but I personally would use it the most in the kitchen! I’m always hauling our laptop into the kitchen when trying out new recipes and it’s just too bulky!

  2. BethD says

    I have 6 kids and can think of so many ways we’d use this, but I personally would use it the most in the kitchen!

  3. Yasmin says

    I have a two-month old and we’ve already started tinkering with the idea of homeschooling. It sounds like an iPad would be handy!

  4. Esther McCurrry says

    I keep a family blog and it seems like an iPad would make updating that so much easier! Especially since we just had our second baby 8 days ago. :)

  5. Conrad says

    Talk about luck! Here I sit with two pork tenderloins wondering what to do with them… This recipe sounds really good and is scheduled ASAP when I can find the Szechuan Peppercorn. This recipe goes into my recipe file to join over 100 others attributed to you, Rebecca.
    With regard to the iPad: Yeah, I’d like to win it but I’m afraid to do so because I’d have a device smarter than me!!

  6. jeri says

    I always make an extra pork tenderloin or two. Once they chill, you can slice them super thin for sandwiches.

  7. says

    I’m going to BlogHer’13 for the first time this year. I would love to win an iPad to take with me! I have a fresh pork tenderloin in the freezer I bought at the farmers market this week, I may just try the recipe – and the bacon jam one too!

  8. says

    We made this the other night with some fresh-off-the-stalk sweet corn that one of our farmer-friends gifted to us. It was delicious! I liked how sweet it was. My Handsome has requested that next time, I try to make it a little more savory by making the jalapeno substitution for the red pepper and also trying red onion for the sweet onion. Looking forward to having some for lunch today. Also, tried it as a topping on my burger and it was delicious! :-)

  9. Kate S says

    To be honest??? I’d probably use it as a recipe book that I could prop up on my kitchen counter and reference all these awesome recipes–without having to worry about spilling flour, sugar, or sauce into my keyboard (I do that more often than I care to admit) OR worry about having paper to print it off. Also, I would probably cave to the inevitable requests for doggy videos from my one-year-old, and possibly My Little Pony (don’t judge me ;p) from her big sister.

  10. AlysonRR says

    I would let my children (age 11 and 14) use a new iPad almost exclusively – they enjoy their grandmother’s iPad very much!

  11. Marjorie says

    I absolutely love this blog. Make-Ahead Mondays has saved my but more than once! Can’t begin to tell you the number of cool things I could do with an IPad…

  12. Karen says

    We love Chinese style pork and this looks like a good recipe to try. I know how convenient and i-Pad would be to cooking as we have a desk top that is upstairs and a kitchen that is downstairs! I’m always running up the stairs to check a recipe I’ve read.

  13. Audrey B. says

    I would use the ipad for all the on-line recipes I have, instead of trying to read them off my tiny cell phone.

  14. Sharon says

    I would use the ipad in the kitchen for recipes. Also, I would use the ipad when my daughter and I are in Austin looking for vintage shops and directions!
    Thanks for your blog. What a joy it is to read.

  15. Crystal K says

    As always it looks delicious and an ipad would be great so my kids would stop using my phone and laptop :)

  16. Ninfa DePalma says

    I’d use the I-pad in place of my PC which is running hot and ready for the recycle bin. Thank you for the Char-Sui recipe, I’m going to surprise my husband with it. He as been dreaming of eating Char Sui like he used in NYC. Thank YOU!!!

  17. Peggy Nagy says

    To read Foodie with family of course. :) Also I have seen some interesting apps that I might be able to use for the boys’school.

  18. Fiona says

    Educational games for the kiddos; easy access to recipes in the kitchen; and email/web anywhere – thanks for the recipes!

  19. Kimberly says

    The BBQ pork recipe sounds delish…I don’t have an ipad so if I win one I would use it for recipes, and the constellation app sounds like something my kids and I would enjoy. Thank You!

  20. Susan Jalosky says

    An iPad would allow me to keep all these really delicious recipes handy and help me feed my family in a much better way than all the processed stuff.

  21. EllenFitz says

    I would use an iPad as an electronic recipe book for online recipes (with Facebook and email usage in between). :)

    • says

      Thanks so much, Amy! There is a link to the sumac in the body of the post, but maybe I should make that more obvious with a bigger link and pic at the bottom of the post! Will fix when I’m back in front of my computer!

  22. sil shu says

    I salute you for striving to avoid food coloring! However, I believe one of your ingredients: HOISIN SAUCE contains food color: FD&C RED COLOR NO.40. I haven’t found any hoisin sauce with no color so far and therefore I try to not use Hoisin Sauce.


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