The char siu (Chinese BBQ pork) cook-off

My friends and I did a char siu cook-off on Canada Day last week. The char siu recipe that we have doesn’t require a lot of ingredients and is definitely a winner. But if you don’t cook Chinese food that often, you might not have items like soya sauce, hoisin sauce and Sichuan peppercorns in your pantry.

Recipe for making homemade char siu

Recipe for making homemade char siu

My friends and I saw Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce at the grocery store and were wondering if it was any good so we decided to do a side-by-side comparison to see if making char siu sauce from scratch was actually worth it.

We also recently become fans of brining our meat (chicken and pork) so we decided to do a comparison of that as well.

Here are the three types of char siu we prepared:

  • Char siu made with homemade char siu sauce (not brined)
  • Char siu made with homemade char siu sauce (brined)
  • Char siu made with Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce (not brined)
marinading the char siu

Measuring out the ingredients for the char siu sauce

The pork shoulder had to marinade overnight so we prepared the sauce the day before. We noticed that the Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce was thicker and sweeter with a more vinegary/sour flavour. The homemade char siu sauce was much more fragrant and multi-dimensional. But we weren’t sure if this would be noticeable after cooking the meat on the barbecue for 45-60 minutes.

char siu on the barbecue

Busy barbecuing three types of char siu for our taste test

We invited a bunch of friends over for a barbecue the next day to do a blind taste test. They tried each kind of char siu and voted for the one they liked the most.

charsiuABC

Order from left to right: Homemade char siu sauce (not brined); homemade char siu sauce (brined); Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce ((Photo credit: Liz Yeung))

The majority of people preferred the char siu that was made with the homemade marinade and brined pork. They noticed that it was more moist and saltier. However, some people said they couldn’t taste that much of a difference between the brined and unbrined pork and wouldn’t bother with this extra step so it really depends on personal preference (and if you can taste the difference).

Most people thought that the char siu that was made with Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce tasted too sweet. However, there was a cohort that actually preferred the taste of this marinade to the homemade one. They also liked characteristic red colour that this char siu had (which is from the food colouring that is in the product).

So there you have it, most people prefer char siu made with homemade char siu sauce (and brined pork if you want to do this extra step) but if you want a short cut, don’t want to invest in a whole bunch of Chinese sauces and condiments, or prefer to do smaller batches at a time, feel free to give Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce a try.