Sticky, fruity, sweet and salty. And comes together in 15 minutes. Can you guess what it is? Yes, it is the world-famous Char Siu sauce, which is also known as Chinese BBQ Sauce. Flavoured with ginger, garlic and Chinese five-spice, this is a versatile recipe to use as a sauce, a marinade or as an ingredient in Asian-style salad recipes!
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What is Char Siu Sauce?
Char Siu sauce, also known as Chinese BBQ sauce in the Western world, is possibly the most widely used Asian-style sauce with roots in Cantonese cuisine. Fruity, sweet and salty, with just a little warmth coming from the ginger, it makes the most delicious sauce, dip or marinade for a range of meats! Typically made with hoisin sauce, traditional Char Siu is fruity and has plum flavour embedded in it.
Whilst you can get it in most Chinese restaurants, takeouts and Asian stores (Lee Kum Kee Sauce is our personal favourite), our homemade version is a lot tastier. Since it only takes 15 minutes to put the best char siu sauce together, we encourage you to make your own – you won’t regret it!
Fancy a more traditional barbecue sauce? Try this gluten-free BBQ Sauce recipe!
What is Chinese BBQ Sauce Used For?
This condiment is not only for char siu pork! It is actually a hugely versatile sauce. Homemade BBQ Sauce is absolutely delicious used with a variety of meats, jackfruit or tofu:
- Use it as a sauce to coat your crispy chicken or pork.
- Brush it on your grilled meats (perfect with grilled pork tenderloin or pork chops).
- Char Siu sauce is perfect for glazing ribs or slow cooker pork belly!
- Tip it in with pulled pork or jackfruit and use it in bao buns. Head to our Char Siu Bao Bun With Chicken recipe!
- Perfect for slow-cooked pork shoulder or pork butt! Just stuff it into a burger bun and enjoy!
- Use as a marinade for BBQ meats or tofu.
- Use it in a stir fry (noodles or char siu fried rice).
- Drizzle your duck and pancakes with homemade char siu instead of hoisin sauce.
- Use in Asian-style salad dressing (it goes extremely well with cabbage slaw).
- You can also use it as a dip (head to the Recipe FAQs section to learn more)!
Ingredients in the Homemade Chinese BBQ Sauce Recipe
What is Char Siu sauce made of? Here are all the key ingredients that you will need:
- garlic: we highly recommend using garlic cloves here for maximum flavour, but if you only have garlic paste, it will work too.
- ginger: we used about 30g of fresh ginger in this sauce. Once peeled, chop the ginger very finely. Not only will the ginger add mild heat to the sauce, but it will also make the BBQ sauce look extra pretty with the little specs of ginger.
- hoisin sauce: by nature, hoisin sauce is rather sweet. However, these days you can get two general types of this delicious condiment: hoisin sauce or sweet hoisin sauce. If you are using the latter, I would recommend reducing the amount of sugar in this recipe or even omitting it altogether. If you cannot find hoisin sauce in your supermarket, head to your local Asian grocery store!
- apple cider vinegar can be substituted with rice vinegar (rice wine) or white wine vinegar. Dry sherry will work too.
- soy sauce: both light and dark soy sauce will do the job but choose light soy sauce for the slightly less salty Chinese BBQ Sauce. It’s just our personal preference.
- dark brown sugar: it adds a molasses-like flavour to the Char Siu Sauce, but if you’ve run out, you can substitute it with other types of sugar, agave nectar, honey or maple syrup.
- Chinese 5 spice: for us, it is what makes the homemade Char Siu sauce what it is – deliciously Oriental!
Find the quantities and full instructions in the recipe card at the bottom of the post.
Peel and finely chop the ginger. Mince the garlic. Add them to a small sauce pan, followed by the hoisin and soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and Chinese five-spice. Stir to combine and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.
Once bubbling, reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sauce has slightly reduced and thickened.
Leave this flavorful sauce to cool down, or use hot to coat crispy chicken, in bao buns or stir-fries.
Storage & Leftovers
Cool the leftover char siu sauce down to room temperature first. Then spoon it into an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. You may also freeze Chinese BBQ sauce for up to 3 months.
Absolutely! This sauce is strong-flavoured though and isn’t for the faint-hearted. However, you can use it as a dip for pretzels or even pizza crusts. We do recommend thickening the sauce a little more to be used as a dip. Simple mix ½ teaspoon of cornflour (corn starch) with a teaspoon of water and stir it into the sauce after the sugar has dissolved. Cook for a few more minutes to thicken. It will thicken further as the sauce cools. When served at room temperature you should have a sticky char siu that coats well.
It can be! Make sure that the hoisin is gluten-free and use tamari instead of soy sauce to make it celiac-friendly.
Char Siu sauce and Hoisin sauce are distinct condiments with unique purposes. Char Siu sauce is specifically designed for marinating and glazing meats, often used in barbecue dishes, while Hoisin sauce is a thick, sweet, and dark sauce primarily employed as a dipping condiment or for enhancing the flavour of stir-fries.
The red color in most shop-bought char siu sauces comes from red food coloring. You may add some if you wish, but it will do nothing for flavour in this char siu recipe. Traditional recipes for more authentic sauce use fermented red bean curd or paste that gives this Chinese barbecue sauce its red hue.
Whilst the flavour of the sauce will be different, you can try mixing oyster sauce with an extra ½ teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder instead of using hoisin.
Other Chinese Recipes To Try
If you loved our Chinese BBQ recipe, we encourage you to delve deeper into Oriental-Inspired cuisine:
- Chinese Salt And Pepper Chicken
- Crispy Chilli Beef | Chinese Takeaway Favourite Recipe
- Chinese Pork Roast
- Chinese-Style Crispy Pork Belly
Chinese BBQ Sauce (Char Siu)
- 3 cloves of garlic minced
- 3 cm ginger very finely chopped
- 150 ml hoisin sauce
- 30 ml apple cider vinegar
- 100 ml soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- ¾ teaspoon Chinese five spice
- Mix all the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes until the sauce has slightly reduced and thickened.
- Leave the sauce to cool down, or use hot to coat crispy chicken or pork.