Char Siu Chicken

char siu chicken 2

I’ve always enjoyed char siu pork when dining out in Chinatown.  It is a Cantonese version of barbecued pork served in a wide variety of ways including in steamed buns or with noodles (so good in Singapore noodles, but that’s another post). Char siu pork ribs are also a favorite item, found in most Chinese take-out restaurants.

One day while looking for different barbecue ideas, I came across a recipe for char siu chicken in Saveur. To say it looked delicious was an understatement. The rich, red color characteristic of char siu contrasted wonderfully with the dark char left from grilling the chicken. Paired with some grilled napa cabbage lightly tossed with rice vinegar made for a great dinner.

The distinctive red color in char siu comes from red food coloring, but Saveur had a great idea to replace the food coloring with beet powder. Great idea! I found that the homemade beet powder was the hidden star in the dish. It provides a nice rich color and another level of sweetness to the marinade. I should note that although homemade beet powder is easy to make, it does take time. Just peel and cut a beet into thin slices (think potato chips) and bake in the oven at 200°F for about 2 hours or until the chips are completely dried out. Then purée the dried chips with a food processor. According to Chef Chris Sheperd who’s recipe was profiled in Saveur, 1 pound of beets makes about 2 tablespoons of beet powder. You actually might want to make a bit more, as the cooked beet chips are great for snacking on.

As a cooking note, plan on 2 days for the chicken to marinate.

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Char Siu Chicken (Chinese BBQ Chicken)
Serves 4


  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. ketchup
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. soft brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. beet powder
  • 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil
  • 3 lb. bone in chicken breasts and/or thighs.
  • Canola oil, to coat


  1. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Liberally coat the chicken with the marinade, cover and refrigerate for 2 days. I like to use Ziploc gallon bags for my marinade as they takes less room in a small fridge.
  2. Preheat a gas (or charcoal) grill to medium-high heat. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, rub with oil then grill skin side down for about 3-5 minutes until charred. Reduce heat to medium and cook for another 10 minutes. Turn and cook bone side down (breasts) for another 15 minutes or until the internal temperature is 165°F. Remove from grill and let rest for about 5 minutes.
  3. Serve on a bed of quickly grilled Napa cabbage lightly tossed with a dash of rice vinegar and a side of hot jasmine rice.

Liberally inspired by Saveur.


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