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!


    • says

      I won’t lie… I wish I had another one just for me to use while traveling for the blog. But since I’m telling the kids to share, I guess I have to share, too :-)

  1. Leah Eldridge says

    This recipe looks great! I would probably use an iPad to help with recipes, rather than have dozens of printouts all over my kitchen. It would make a much easier way to organize!

    • says

      Good plan, Leah! If you win, I highly recommend an Otterbox to protect it and keep the flour off of it. (Says the voice of experience.)

  2. Megan B says

    This looks really tasty! I’ve recently been on an Asian kick lately as I ventured out to an Asian grocery store the other day with my 4 month old. I think we were both equally fascinated with everything there! I’d use the iPad for recipes while cooking (much easier than having to print everything out) and also I’ve secretly been wanting one so that when aforementioned little guy gets older I can use some of the great learning apps for kids.

    • says

      I hear ya, Megan! And you know what? My kids can navigate the iPad better than me in every single way! I’m telling you, too, this pork is so outrageously good that I made a full batch while my hubby was on a business trip and hid it in the freezer. I left for BlogHer the same day he got home, and when he called me on the cell phone to ask what to give the boys for dinner, I didn’t say ONE WORD about the existence of the Char Siu in the freezer because I knew it’d be gone by the time I got home. Is that evil?

  3. LaLaLand says

    This looks great, will try it this weekend. An IPad would be very useful in my kitchen – I could get rid of all the paper recipes.

  4. Allison says

    I am in love with this recipe and can’t wait to make it. The iPad I would actually give to my husband as a belated Father’s Day gift. That wonderful man unbegrudgingly gave me his laptop after mine died pretty decidedly on Friday. He would love it.

  5. Stef Stein says

    I am grill-less, but definitely think I have to try this with the oven (and maybe a super hot cast-iron pan replacing the grill?). Hoisin sauce is dangerous for me to keep on hand, though: when I do, suddenly there’s no savory food that can’t be improved by a swipe of the stuff.

    An iPad would be awesome for watching movies, writing, and preparing presentations for my volunteer work (all things I’ve tried to do on my smartphone and found possible, but too frustrating)

    • says

      I’d TOTALLY try the hot cast-iron pan! Be careful, though, it may want to splatter. And I’d grease the pan pretty well, too, to prevent VERY sad stick-age. :-) Hoisin is equally dangerous for me. I should’ve shared my homemade Hoisin sauce recipe which is also dangerous. Sigh. Good luck with the giveaway!

  6. Karen Taverna says

    Wow, this is an exceptional prize! As a homeschool family this would help our family save so much money! Plus, I love the recipes I have found on this site. Yum, yum, yum!

    • says

      It really does save a lot of money on educational materials. Even the priciest app is cheaper than curriculum materials!! Good luck, Karen!

  7. Amy B. says

    It will be used to cut down fighting over the other computer in the house. Cuts down on “unfun” excitement and that’s a good thing!

  8. Joan Wissert says

    Can;t wait to make this for daughter #2…loves pork + loves Asian food + your recipe = Can’t miss! As for the iPad, TED talks, recipes, who knows what else!

  9. Julie B says

    I will be using it to sneak in some tv after my daughter goes to bed ;) and the rest of the day, it will most likely be hers

  10. Caitlon Smith says

    I would use the iPad for all kinds of things, I’m a college student who loves to learn new things so the possibilities are endless!

  11. Kelly says

    I will use the iPad to entertain my two toddlers. Wish I had a more exciting answer, but such is the life with two kids under 4!!

  12. Emilie says

    It would be great to have the iPad. Right now I always have to track ours down and pry it out of my kids hands, or find where they have stashed it, to look up recipes on.

  13. Jeanene says

    What wouldn’t I use an iPad for is a better question! :) that star walk app sounds amazingly fun.
    and OH MY! I must make that pork!! YUM! :)

  14. Hanna says

    I will probably use an iPad to assist in all things culinary, replicating Foodie recipes on my favorite foodie blogs!

  15. Lisette says

    Well I was JUST wondering how to make that stuff, now I have to try it! As for that iPad, oh I am sure we would use it for just about everything, but it would be especially helpful for entertaining Miss Thing with preschool activities while the others are trying to concentrate on their own!

  16. says

    I would use it as a Kindle, I think, as well as fill it with early learning apps for my tiny daughter:-) Thanks for the chance to win!

  17. kate C. says

    Looks really good! I don’t usually like five-spice and I think it’s because of the fennel (which I just can’t bring myself to like). If I made it myself I could leave that part out!

  18. Alissa says

    Oh, I’d use it for all sorts of things. Homeschooling, Netflix, following a recipe while in the kitchen, trying to identify bugs or plants in my yard….

  19. Traci says

    One can be locked in the fisher price case (that I am currently typing on!) and the one I win can be just for me :)

  20. says

    This pork looks a-ma-zing! I used to cook a lot of Chinese, but now I’m veering more toward Indian, so I have many different kinds of spices on my shelves. I love to mix my own, too! I would use the iPad to save my recipes and cook them all up in the kitchen :) also to help homeschool my grandkids, to read books, to listen to my favorite music, oh — just everything!

  21. Erika Q says

    That recipe for Char Siu looks amazing, and make it sound easy enough that I might even try to make it! I would probably use the iPad for cooking, and lots and lots of reading.

  22. Yvette N. says

    Wow, what a wonderful giveaway. I would have to have my grandsons
    show me how to work an IPAD.

    I can’t wait to try the recipe, too. The beet powder sounds intriguing. I didn’t know there was anything out there like it. I don’t like to use food dyes either. It’s nice to at least you have control about what goes in to your foods.

  23. April says

    I could totally use the Ipad. Let me husband take the one we have on travel with him and my kids are threatening mutiny if I ever do that again.

  24. Hannah B. says

    I’m an events coordinator and would LOVE to have an iPad to help me check emails and keep up with to-do lists while on the go!

    Also, your dish looks excellent!!


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