Char siu or Chinese BBQ Pork, but make it easy! This air fryer char siu recipe is for all my lazy folks out there who want restaurant-quality char siu without having to put in extra time and effort. My dad, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, approves of this recipe, so you know it has to be good!!
This classic Cantonese favorite was a staple in my home and large family gatherings growing up and I’m so excited to be sharing this approachable yet delicious version that you can make at home. I guarantee this air fryer version will be your new go-to char siu recipe!
Why you’ll love this recipe
Sweet, savory, tender, and juicy – how could anyone resist a plate of beautifully cooked char siu?
Best of all, this recipe is pretty much effortless, starting from the sauce. After multiple rounds of testing, I found that using Lee Kum Kee’s char siu sauce as the base yields a tastier flavor that is most similar to the ones you can find at the restaurant. I felt like it was still missing something so I added a few extra ingredients to elevate the flavors for what I feel is the most balanced and delicious sauce. Of course, you can use the char siu sauce right out of the jar but it won’t quite be the same.
In terms of preparation, love using the air fryer for this recipe because it cuts the cooking time by more than half – which is *amazing*. It takes about 12 to 14 minutes to air fry, making this a quick, easy, and approachable recipe.
Alternatively, you can cook it in the oven, which is the more traditional route however it will take longer. For the oven method, bake the char siu at 425°F (220°C) for 40 to 45 minutes while basting with the honey marinade every 15 minutes. Then, broil for 10 minutes or until charred. Now, compared to this method, doesn’t the air fryer recipe seem easier and effortless?
Not only is the air fryer version a time saver, but it’s also easy to clean up compared to the traditional method of cooking it in the oven. Ditch the baking trays – all you need is the air fryer basket! Regardless of what method you use, I’m confident that the char siu will turn out delicious every time. So prepare to have extra rice ready because this char siu recipe will keep you coming back for more!
How do I prepare Air Fryer Char Siu?
To make restaurant-quality char siu, start by following the steps below:
Step 1: Prepare the pork
Cut the pork shoulder or butt into 1-inch thick slices. Using a fork, stab the pork on all sides to tenderize the meat and allow the marinade to penetrate deeper.
Step 2: Mix the sauce marinade
In a bowl, combine the char siu sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, grated garlic cloves, honey, Chinese five spice, and white pepper powder together and mix well.
Step 3: Mix the honey marinade
In another bowl, set aside 2 tablespoons of the sauce marinade. Then, add honey and water before mixing well. You’ll use this honey marinade for basting the pork later while cooking. Set this aside in the fridge until ready to use.
Step 4: Marinade the pork
In a Ziploc bag or container, add the pork and sauce marinade. Rub the marinade into the pork to coat well. Let it marinate in the fridge for 12 hours or up to 48 hours (the longer, the better!).
Step 5: Air fry the pork
Preheat the air fryer to 400°F (205°C). Place the marinated pork in the air fryer in one layer, making sure there is enough space on all sides.
Step 6: Baste the pork
Air fry the pork for 3 minutes, then baste it with the honey marinade. Flip the pork and baste the other side. Then, let it air fry for another 3 minutes. Repeat the steps 2 more times for a total cooking time of 12 minutes. Depending on the thickness of your pork, you may need to cook it for another minute or two. To check if the pork is cooked thoroughly, I recommend using a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the center or thickest part of the pork. If it reads 145°F (62°C), then it’s ready!
Step 7: Rest the char siu
Once the char siu is done cooking, remove it from the air fryer and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting. If you cut it any sooner, the juices will be released, resulting in a dry char siu.
Step 8: Pour the sauce drippings
This step is optional, but if you want your char siu to be more flavorful, save the sauce drippings from the bottom of the air fryer pan/tray and pour it over the cooked char siu.
Step 9: Plate and serve
Transfer your sliced char siu to a plate and serve it with a fresh bowl of rice and your favorite vegetables. Enjoy!
Cooking Tips for Air Fryer Char Siu
To make the most delicious air fryer char siu every time, here are a few helpful cooking tips to keep in mind:
- The preferred cut of meat for char siu is pork shoulder or pork butt because it has the ideal ratio of meat to fat. This keeps the meat juicy while imparting flavor.
- Traditional char siu usually contains red food coloring to achieve its vibrant red color. While I didn’t add it to this recipe, you certainly can get that iconic color.
- Alternatively, if you want a natural additive to achieve a deeper red color, you can also add fermented red bean curd. This will also add extra flavor and deepen the flavors of the sauce. Fermented red bean curd is sold in jars and can be found at your local Asian grocery store or on Amazon. Add 1 to 2 cubes along with a few teaspoons of the brine.
- I highly recommend resisting the urge to cook the char siu sooner than the recommended marinating time. For the best flavor and result, allow the marinade to penetrate deeper, which requires a longer marinade time.
- When placing the char siu in the air fryer basket or tray, make sure that they are placed in one layer and not overlapping. It is also important to leave space around each piece so they cook evenly.
- The honey marinade that is based on the char siu will caramelize and create a beautiful char. This is important for a delicious char siu so if you see some charring on the outside, it’s perfectly normal!
- Letting the char siu rest for 10 minutes after cooking will allow its juices to reabsorb and redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring the char siu is juicy.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Pork shoulder (or pork butt): char siu is usually made with pork shoulder or pork butt because it has the perfect ratio of meat to fat. I don’t recommend using any other cut of meat.
Dark soy sauce: dark soy sauce adds a savory flavor to the char siu and helps deepen the color, but you can also substitute it with soy sauce.
Shaoxing wine: Shaoxing wine deepens the flavor complexity of the char siu with its sweet and sharp flavors. But you can also substitute it with sake, mirin, or dry sherry.
Garlic cloves: fresh garlic cloves enhance the flavors and aroma of the dish. Feel free to add as much garlic as you’d like, but definitely not less!
Chinese five spice powder: Chinese five spice powder adds warm and deep flavors to round out the sauce. It’s a combination of sweet, citrusy, and spicy flavors which enhances the sauce. If you don’t have Chinese five spice powder, you can also make your own at home if you have this combination of spices: Sichuan peppercorns (or black peppercorns), star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds. Combine the spices in a spice or coffee blender and blend into a fine powder.
White pepper powder: white pepper powder adds a hint of spice, but you can also use black pepper powder.
Honey: honey is used to sweeten the sauce which is used to baste the char siu as it air fries. I prefer using wildflower honey for its neutral taste but you can use any honey that you prefer. Alternatively, you can also use white or brown sugar as a substitute.
Water: water is used to slightly loosen up the honey and marinade mixture.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is char siu sauce made of?
It will depend on the brand, but pre-made char siu sauce will typically contain hoisin sauce, soy sauce, honey (or sugar), Chinese five spice, and sherry to give the char siu its iconic flavors.
Where can you buy char siu sauce?
You can buy char siu sauce at your local Asian grocery store or online at Amazon. While I personally prefer the Lee Kum Kee brand, feel free to use your preferred brand of choice!
What is Chinese five spice powder made of?
Chinese five spice is a mixture of star anise, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, and Sichuan peppers. It adds a combination of sweet, citrusy, and spicy flavors to the char siu. Feel free to buy pre-made Chinese five spice powder at the store or make your own blend at home!
Can you store & reheat leftover char siu?
If you make a big batch, you can store leftover char siu in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days. You can reheat it in the air fryer or microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until the pork is thoroughly warmed. If you like, you can also add to fried rice, as I did in my Char Siu Fried Rice recipe.
Looking for more easy and delicious Cantonese-inspired recipes? You must try these!
1. Preserved Duck Egg Congee – this classic 30-minute congee recipe is the ultimate comfort food and my short-cut method makes this even more satisfying. The combination of the century egg with the marinated pork adds a major flavor bomb that keeps you wanting more!
2. Hong Kong Mango Mochi – if you’ve got room for a sweet and refreshing dessert after a big meal, you must try this 10-minute mango mochi recipe. They have the perfect sweetness and QQ bounce, and the best part is that it’s an explosion of mango flavors!
3. Lap Cheong Fried Rice – I’m a firm believer that Chinese sausages (lap cheong) make everything better, especially fried rice! Everything comes together in just 15 minutes. If you are looking for a no-frills quick and easy weekday meal, this is one.
4. Honey Walnut Shrimp – This dish is a classic Cantonese staple and for good reason – it’s served with crispy shrimp, honey walnuts, and fresh broccoli and tossed in a delectable sweet mayo sauce. Make this restaurant-quality dish at home but even better and cheaper!
5. Oyster Mushroom Stir Fry – for a nutritious dish that doesn’t compromise on taste, this quick and easy stir-fry recipe is perfect for you. You can use any vegetable you like to complement the oyster mushrooms!
Air Fryer Char Siu
- 1 1/2 lbs pork shoulder or pork belly
- 5 tbsp char siu sauce Lee Kum Kee brand
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp Chinese five spice powder
- 1/8 tsp white pepper powder
- 2 tbsp sauce marinade from above
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp water
- Cut the pork into 1 inch thick slices. Using a fork, stab the pork on all sides to tenderize and allow the marinade to penetrate deeper.
- In a bowl, mix the sauce marinade ingredients together.
- In another bowl, set aside 2 tbsp of the sauce marinade. Add honey and water and mix well. This honey marinade will be used to baste the pork while it's cooking.
- In a Ziploc bag or container, add the pork and sauce marinade. Rub the marinade into the pork to coat well. Let it marinate in the fridge for 12 to 48 hours (the longer the better!).
- Preheat the air fryer at 400F/205C. Place the marinated pork in the air fryer making sure there is enough space on all sides.
- Cook for 3 minutes, then baste with the honey marinade. Flip and baste the other side. Cook for another 3 minutes. Repeat 2 more times. Cook for a total of 12 minutes. Depending on the thickness of your pork, you may need to cook it for another minute or two.
- Remove the char siu from the air fryer and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting.
- *Optional* Save the sauce drippings from the bottom of the air fryer pan/tray and pour it over the cooked char siu.
- Serve with jasmine rice and your favorite vegetables!
- To cook in the oven, bake the char siu at 425F/220C for 40-45 minutes while basting with the honey marinade every 15 minutes. Broil for 10 minutes or until charred.
- Feel free to substitute pork shoulder with pork belly.
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