Perfect char siu (barbecued pork) using sous-vide

charsiu sous-vide

I am a char siu addict. But I am also a char siu snob. I absolutely hate artificially colored, dried out, flavorless char siu. It’s like eating cardboard that someone’s poured syrup and food coloring on. Yech. But good char siu, char siu made from wonderfully fatty cuts of pork, char siu that has been marinated properly and for the right amount of time, and char siu that has a wonderful crisp char while still remaining moist inside… that’s pork heaven.

But I am also getting old. So while pork belly char siu is all the rage — and I admit I do love it when done well — I can’t actually eat too much of it. When I make char siu at home these days, I tend to use pork neck (ideally Kurobuta).

charsiu

Six years ago, I posted a char siu recipe that I still swear by. But these days, I tend not to roast the pork in the oven for the full cook, but instead cook it sous-vide and then only finish it off in a hot oven. This lets me do two things. Firstly, it means I can prep a huge amount of char siu, each portion individually packaged in a vacuum sealed bag. Once cooked, I freeze these beautiful pieces of pork. This then gives me then the ability to defrost a portion when I need it and have char siu pretty much whenever I want. Secondly, it helps me ensure that the pork stays super moist and tender. It locks in flavour and the result is a pretty spectacular piece of meat.

charsiu rice bowl

Finishing off the pork is easy. Use either a super hot oven or a blowtorch. You will need to coat the already cooked pork with a combination of hoisin sauce and honey. This then ensures a nice sweet, savory flavour on the char.

I love having slabs of pre-cooked char siu in the freezer. It makes coming up with a simple but satisfying meal super-easy. For example, the rice bowl pictured above was something I made for my wife and myself for lunch recently. All I had to do was cook a few eggs sous-vide, defrost the pork and finish it off, and serve that with pickles (which is another thing I usually have in the fridge) and voila, easy-peasy.

 

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his two kids!

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22 Comments

  1. Ben 31 August 2015

    Hey Aun,

    Do you usually defrost the char siu by putting it into a sous vide bath before finishing it off in the oven?

    Cheers
    Ben

    • S 21 September 2015

      I actually defrost overnight in the fridge if I plan ahead. If not, then yes, he likes to use the water bath. 🙂

  2. Yf 26 September 2015

    Can I please ask if there is any reason you put water under the roasting rack? What is the consequences of not doing so?

    • Aun 28 September 2015 — Post Author

      If you don’t, when the oil drips from the meat, it tends to burn on the dry roasting pan. That creates a lot of smoke. If there’s water for the oil to drip into, it won’t.

  3. N 20 January 2016

    Would you be able to sous-vide this in a slow cooker instead?

    And if you use a blowtorch, will you also need a similar set up e.g. with wire rack on top of a pan filled with water?

  4. judy 2 February 2016

    Hi…I am keen to try your recipe, can you please tell the temperature to set for sous vide cooking.

    Thanks

  5. Fong 22 February 2016

    I used regular char siu cut from wet market butcher in HK. marinade for 36 hrs in bag and in fridge.
    then leave in 57.5c waterbath for 24-25 hrs.
    (noticed lots of water extracted from the meat during marinade, but i leave them on anyways for curiosity)

    when done with waterbath, pat try and post searing using blow torch.

    Results: the fat didnt render at 57,5%, meat was slightly stringy and dryer and overcooked than i had from commercial BBQ char siu.
    ( i check post searing temp on meat, it was at low 40c)

    Please advise on problem? I suspect it was from marinading process?

    • Aun 22 February 2016 — Post Author

      Hi Fong, I don’t marinate in a sealed bag. I take the pork out of the marinade and then vacuum seal it. That might make the difference.

      • Fong 22 February 2016

        is there any reasoning behind marinating in an open bowl vs in a seal bag? curious due to the desire for less washing up 🙂

        • Aun 22 February 2016 — Post Author

          Honestly, for me it’s so I don’t waste a bag. You don’t want to cook the meet swimming in liquid. So if you do seal it in a bag with the marinade, you’ll need to cut open the bag and transfer it to a new bag.

  6. Faye 25 July 2016

    Thanks for the great recipe, Aun!

    It was with pride as I sliced through the succulent strips of pork and served it with a 63-degree egg. Only thing I didn’t manage to get was the dark, sticky crust. It could be due to the pan of water creating more of a steam effect rather than dry heat.

    I cooked it in its marinade in a ziplock.

  7. Daniel 25 August 2016

    Thanks for sharing the recipe. I have one question though, the skin should be left on or removed at some point? Thank you!

  8. Jack Tanksley 12 December 2016

    Ann, thanks for the recipe. I’m using a pork loin, not a pork tenderloin. It’s twice as wide as a pork tenderloin. I was thinking of cutting it in half lengthwise and marinating each half separately then using my souls vide cooker. Will I need to cook this for 24 hours? That seems like long time when I see tenderloin cooked for one hour. Any advice is appreciated. Thank you, Jack

    • Aun 16 December 2016 — Post Author

      Definitely don’t cook loin for so long. Not tenderloin for that matter. The long cook time is for really tough cuts. If you look at my recipe, I call for pork neck. For a loin, suggest 55 degrees to 57 degrees at about 3-4 hours.

  9. David 1 March 2017

    Hi, this recipe looks delicious. One question, I see you are already cutting the pork into strips before even marinating or cooking? Am I understanding that right? Shouldn’t it be cut after it’s done cooking and ready to serve?

    Thanks
    David

  10. J 25 July 2017

    I put the marinade the pork in a bag seal it and sous vide the whole thing for 3+ hours , cool the pork strain the marinade,add sugar and beet juice and make a glaze . Then I take the cooled pork , put it in a 450degree oven and glaze it until it chars on the edges and serve. It’s not perfect,but it’s on the table in 4hrs and damn good

  11. David 14 September 2017

    Where do you get the pork neck. I’ve been looking for it and can’t seem to find it anywhere.

  12. T 22 September 2017

    Hi Aun,
    Awesome recipe, did it last night and was great. Question: what about finishing on grill instead of oven? You see any problem with this? Any extra tips if I do so? Also when you sous vide do you take all the marinade out so that it’s basically just the meat? I read from Jenji of ChefSteps, if I recall, that sous viding meat in liquid will actually dry it out? Thanks

    • Aun 23 September 2017 — Post Author

      Hiya, I do remove most of the liquid. That is why it’s important to marinate for a while before cooking. Thanks.

  13. Steffan 24 September 2017

    Gave this a run with my Anova, ended up in the bath for 28 hours. Texture was fantastic; great flavour from that marinade as well. Next time I will double the quantity for the finishing sauce as it was a little small. Thanks for the great recipe, Aun.

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