BBQ BAKED Pork Buns, and The Tale of a Painting

I’m madly in love with BBQ pork buns, especially the baked kind.  I’ve been known to go out of my way to stop at Chinese or Korean bakeries to pick up varieties of their lovely, soft buns. and there’s always at least two pork buns in the bag when I leave.  There’s one in my town now, and I have to steer clear or else I’ll be buying bags of  assorted buns several times a week, resulting in one big bun, the one in which I sit on.

Char Siu Bao (Baked BBQ Pork Buns)

Well..whaddya know…

How to Make Baked Char Siu Bao, known also as Chinese BBQ Pork Buns

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles ! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

Mmmm, Char Siu Bao, also known as BBQ pork buns.  Char Siu pork and I go way back, well. way back two years ago.  I was actually going to recycle that photo of my Char Siu pork into this post, but once I made it again, I decided to  get at least one shot to show I actually did make it again.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Ever pick the pieces of it out of your fried rice to eat individually?

I do.

Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)

So I’ve made Char Siu pork before, with pork shoulder, and Char Siu Bao before, steamed and baked.  I knew this was a challenge I couldn’t miss, not only because I’ve had great success with both steamed and baked pork buns, but because Char Siu Bao aka BBQ pork buns have gone up $1.25 since I last walked out of the local Chinese bakery mentioned above.

On a whim, I decided to do something a little different with the Char Siu pork buns this time.  I gussied them up a bit with some Chinese characters for Love, Strength, Peace and Harmony. I mixed matcha powder with a little egg yolk, painted the characters on the pork buns, let them dry, then repainted over the lettering on the buns after they rose, since it split a bit, before baking.

Oh, I forgot to add, I nixed LOVE after 2 pork buns.

Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)

The Chinese character for LOVE has too many lines and details for such a small area.  It looked like scribble scrabble, so I let it fly solo.  The LOVE is in the buns, baby.

SO, as I was painting each character on top of the pork buns, a memory came stompin’ back, with clunky high-heels.

A few years ago, I decided to completely redo the breakfast nook at my parent’s house.  Every time I was over there, I could hear the strains of 1980’s synthesizers when we sat in that room.  It was far past out-of-date; it was Boy George in long braided, mu mu drag; George Michael doing the jitterbug in day-glo, fingerless gloves, out-of-date.

I pulled up every tile of the black and white checkerboard floor, stripped as much of the bright blue paint off the walls (I know, sounds tacky, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t tacky in the 1980’s), then sanded off the rest, sealing cracks and holes with compounds and putties, (add more sanding) and finally rolling and brushing on two coats of an Arabian sand color I thought was perfect.

Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)

I took down two doors, sanding off the burnished, worn stain, then sanding again, and staining and shellac..finishing them off with shiny, bright new doorknobs.  It was tough work for one girl , umm..person, and I still have no idea how I managed it, but within a month, it was completed.  I bought a pot rack and hung their pots and pans between the nook and the kitchen, then stood back and admired what I’d done.  Trading Spaces? Pffft.  Eat your hearts out!

SO…there was one problem, it needed art, a few paintings to tie it all up.  Maybe one by me to sort of sign my work on the room.  Yeah, that sounded cool, really cool.  I felt somewhat cool for once in my life, I think.

I found a bunch of old acrylic paints and brushes in their basement (I used to draw and paint a bit..well, a lot), but no canvas, and it was too late to go out and get one.  I walked around the house looking for something..anything; I really needed to paint at that moment; I needed to put my final seal on the room before reveal day.

Out of the corner of my eye, there it sat, one of those vertical, ‘three in a row’ mallard prints that nobody, outside of Grizzly hunter man living in a log cabin, puts up on display (or so I thought).  I pried open the wires holding everything together since I planned on using the back of this canvas for my painting.  I was confused as to why there were so many layers to get to the canvas, and why was this cheap print numbered and signed? Was someone actually proud of painted mallards on a canvas set in ugly dark green cardboard frames?

Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

I finally got to the back of the canvas, pulled it out, and started painting a kaleidoscope of colors to fit, but add ‘pop’ to the room.  I’d already decided I was going to paint the black Chinese characters for Love, Health and Happiness on top of those colors because they’re so beautiful.  After hiding it to dry for several hours, I came back and painstakingly painted on each character, using some computer print-outs as a reference.  It turned out beautiful, and once it was fully dry, I put it back into the frame, minus the dark green cardboard cut-outs.

I hung it in the perfect place and beamed at my resourcefulness.  Turning a cheap, factory-made mallard painting into something beautiful! I couldn’t wait for them to see!

They loved the room, and I was thrilled.  They also loved my painting, but after several compliments, my father asked..

“Where did you get the frame for it?  I was given a numbered, signed painting by (insert name of famous mallard artist whose name escapes me at this moment) a few weeks ago as a gift for the holidays, in a frame very similar to’s very expensive.”

Update: I know who it is now but absolutely refuse to name him in fear he will see this post via Google and read how I completely annihilated his work thinking it was cheap, worthless and ugly. Shudder.


I felt faint.

He saw my eyes and his face took a turn for the worse. His smile stretched into something between a grimace and a glower, almost as if someone had painted it on with a fine brush in one deft stroke, not once slipping off track.  In fact, I’d never seen it stretch that wide.

“You didn’t take that painting out of the frame, did you? If you did, show me where everything is so we can put it all back together, we’ll get another nice frame for your painting, ok?” He said with faux, hopeful cheer.

Now I’m going to throw up.

He saw my face turn a light shade of green.  He knew.

I’m not going to get into details outside of some yelling and “Do you have any idea how much that painting is worth now and will be worth in several years??” “Do you have any idea how rare it is?  Only 5 exist!” exclamations.

Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)

To this day, my painting sits in a box in my parent’s basement, never seeing the light of day, err, room, again.  He didn’t need to be reminded of it during his morning coffee for the rest of his life.

I get it.

OK..back to the pork buns! This was a good recipe and the dough was absolutely wonderful to work with.  However, I made a few small changes.  When I saw the recipe for the pork filling, I didn’t think there would be enough sauce to really moisten the pork inside the buns, so I doubled it.  Turns out I was right, as some mentioned the pork filling being dry after it was baked and/or steamed.

Second change: I wanted a lot of filling in the pork buns, like the ones I get at my local bakery, so I made 9 pork buns instead of 12 pork buns, no 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon amount here, just what I call a heap, or whatever amount I can fit onto the dough-round and seal without leaking or tearing.

I like big buns and I cannot lie…

Third change: I let the pork buns rise for an hour before baking.  This recipe eliminated a rise, for a thinner shell of bread.  I like a little bready fluff around my pork filling.  I also baked them at 350 F for 15 minutes, instead of 200 F for 15 minutes.

Finally, I sprinkled the top of the pork buns, without the characters, with a little bit of Maldon flake sea salt.

Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns)

By the way, I have to tell you this. A friend of mine makes Char Siu PORK CHEEKS. Hmm. I prefer cheeks for kissing and pinching, but it’s worth a try, right?

SO, the final result? Big, fat, fluffy pork buns with lots of saucy, tender. perfectly spiced pork filling.  It really doesn’t get any better than that as far as BBQ pork buns go. NOW just keep them away from me!!


BBQ BAKED Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 10 Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)
Prep time does not include the time it takes to marinate the pork and the rising of te dough..
Char Siu Pork
  • 1 pork loin (about 1½ lbs)
  • 4 large cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1½ tablespoons maltose* (You can substitute honey, if you can't find maltose, so 3 tablespoons honey total)
  • 1½ tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce*
  • 1 teaspoon oyster sauce*
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing cooking wine*
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon five spice powder*
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil*
  • ½ teaspoon red food coloring
Char Siu Pork Buns
Filling Ingredients
  • 12 ounces of the char siu pork, finely diced (about 1½ cups) (recipe above)
  • 2 green onions/scallions finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • ½ tablespoon vegetable oil
Dough Ingredients
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg slightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoon oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Egg wash: 1 egg beaten with a dash of water
Make the Char Siu Pork
  1. Trim the pork loin to remove fat and tendon and slice lengthwise so you have two long pieces, then cut that in half. By cutting the pork in to smaller pieces to marinate you will end up with more flavorful char siu. If you want to leave the pork in one piece you can do this as well. Place in container that you will be marinating them in, or a ziplock bag.
  2. Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. If using maltose, place it in the microwave for a few seconds to make it easier to work with. Maltose is a bit hard and sticky.
  3. Cover pork well with ⅔ of the marinade mixture. Marinate for a minimum of 4 hours, I find it is best left to marinate overnight. Place the reserved ⅓ portion of the marinade covered in the fridge. You will use this to baste the pork when cooking it.
Cooking Method 1 - Oven
  1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  2. Cover a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Place on top of this a rack on which to cook the pork.
  3. Place pork on the rack and place in oven.
  4. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, basting and turning .
  5. Turn the heat up to 375 degrees F (200 degrees C) for the final 20 minutes as this will aid the charring. Cook until cooked through.
Cooking Method 2 - Seared in pan, and then into the oven
  1. This method is supposed to give a better charred finish with a lot of interior moisture.
  2. Preheat oven at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  3. Cover a baking pan with foil or baking paper. Place a rack on top of the pan and oil it lightly.
  4. Place pork in a hot frying pan or wok. Sear it quickly so it is well browned
  5. Remove from pan/wok and place pork on the rack and place in oven.
  6. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, basting and turning until cooked through.
Cooking Method 3 - BBQ
  1. This method I heard gives the best result. If you have access to a BBQ use it. The pork supposedly has a better BBQ flavor and is also very moist.
  2. Place marinated pork loin on the grill of your BBQ
  3. Cook on a medium heat, approximately 15 minutes, until cooked through.
  4. Be careful to watch that you don't burn the pork.
Make Pork Buns
Filling Directions
  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or pan.
  2. Add diced char siu to the wok/pan and stir then add green onions, cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add hoisin, sauce dark soy sauce and sesame oil to the pork mixture, stir and fry for one minute.
  4. Mix cornstarchand stock together and then add to the pork mixture.
  5. Stir well and keep cooking until the mixture thickens, 1 or 2 minutes.
  6. Remove mixture from wok/pan and place in a bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.
Bun Dough
  1. Place the sugar and warm water in a bowl, mix until the sugar has dissolved. Add yeast and leave it for 10 - 15 minutes until it becomes all frothy.
  2. Sift flour in to a large bowl.
  3. Add yeast mixture, egg, oil and salt and stir. Bring the flour mixture together with your hands.
  4. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for approximately 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and slightly elastic. (Of course you can do this in your standmixer using the dough hook.)
  5. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise until it is double in size. This will take from 1 to 2 hours depending on weather conditions.
  6. Once dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into 10 portions, then shape each portion into a round ball.
  7. Use a rolling pin to roll out each ball to a round of approximately 2-inches . Then pick the piece of dough up and gently pull the edges to enlarge it to about 4 to 5-inches (I usually try for 6-inches because I like big buns and I cannot lie).
  8. By doing this it keeps the dough slightly thicker in the center. This means when your buns are cooking they won't split on the tops.
  9. Place a good sized (I used a heaping tablespoon) tablespoon of filling on the dough circle. Then gather the edges and seal your bun
  10. Place the bun seal side down on your baking tray. Continue with rest of dough to make 12 pork buns.
  11. Once all buns are complete brush surface with egg wash.
  12. Place in oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

I’m submitting my Char Siu pork buns to Yeastspotting, a weekly bread baking showcase hosted by the incredibly talented Susan of Wild Yeast.

I’m also submitting the pork buns to Bread Baking Day #45, hosted by Cindy of Cindystar.

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38 Responses to BBQ BAKED Pork Buns, and The Tale of a Painting

  1. Mmmhhh, fabulous! I love the calligraphy…



  2. chef_d says:

    Excellent job for this month’s challenge, and I enjoyed reading your post…even the part where your dad got mad 🙂
    I love the calligraphy on the baked buns…beautiful!

  3. Yes your story about the painting is so interesting and stunning I don’t know what I would of done in the situation. I love your steam buns and yes I agree with your tweaks (extra filling sauce and the temperature changes). I really adored the dough for the steamed buns. And the characters on the buns are so cute and a charming addition to the recipe. A happy Christmas to you and your family. Cheers from Sydney Australia.

  4. Renee says:

    A delectable post, enjoyed it, both pictures and words. Nice work. : )

  5. It is siu, got to love a typo with the most exposure it could possibly get! Glad you enjoyed the challenge anyway.

  6. Nice post! Love the story and the pictures.

  7. Dan says:

    Not a huge pork fan but love the story. I am sure your characters are nicer than the mallard ducks no matter how much it might be worth. Your photos are fantastic and really show how you do things. Great job!

  8. What a story to go with your plump buns! That, the calligraphy, and voluptuous amount of pork, make them extra special 🙂

  9. Jenni says:

    As always you did a fantastic job! I love the chinese characters and the mound of filling in each bun!! And what a story about the painting… oh man! That is too funny and too horrible all at the same time!

  10. fieldsofcake says:

    gorgeous food, heart stopping story. Thank you for sharing!!

  11. Jamie says:

    You know how much I love you and the whole painting episode – not to mention the incredible buns (THESE! Not yours!) – just show why. You are so incredibly talented yet not infallible. Ha ha ha – always funny, always turning out amazing food. I want. Now.

  12. Love your design on your gorgeous buns, but I loved the story even more. You must have felt so bad about the painting. I wish someone would come redo my house for me.

  13. Suz says:

    I actually gasped reading that story. Oh no! And after all your hard work.

    Those are such beautiful pork buns, so shiny and golden. I love the calligraphy on top. I made the char siu, but unfortunately I ran out of time and didn’t get around to the buns. I definitely want to have another go now!

  14. Liz says:

    Perfectly done…beautiful and delectable!

  15. Claudia says:

    Your painted buns are just lovely. And, what a good story as well. Just glad it wasn’t me.

  16. Shelley C says:

    Eeeek! What a story!! All that hard work…
    Well, the hard work was well worth it for those beautiful and delicious looking buns. Now I want to go make another batch… 🙂

  17. Cher says:

    Great post. It’s funny how the best of intentions sometimes don’t work out…
    Your buns came out beautifully – very clever idea!

  18. Your buns are just making me drool (I know that sounds bad, but you know what I mean;)Your painting is gorgeous. So talented and I wish I had a couple of them right now to sample. Great story about the painting:)

  19. Loveforfood says:

    I love your site and your food!

  20. I adore the way you’ve painted those characters on the buns – it’s so inspired and makes them look even more gorgeous! What a wonderful post 🙂

  21. Monkeyshines says:

    LOL – I always pick the little bits of pork from my fried rice and eat it separately. the peas too.

    Those buns a little heaps of gorgeousness. Stuffed to the brim gorgeousness, which is how it should be! Great job as always!

  22. These look gorgeous . . . love the painting. Your story didn’t have such a happy ending, but I think it was incredibly nice of you to work so hard to redecorate your parent’s breakfast nook. Hey, your heart was in the right place.

  23. Valerie says:

    Oh my Lord, what a nightmarish memory! I’m still traumatized by the yelling session that took place when I accidentally made a scratch in my mother’s dining table with a cutter (and I’m fairly sure that table was never worth very much), I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d tampered with a priceless painting! But I guess those memories are what make us who we are…

    I really wanted to do this month’s challenge, as I love pork buns, but I can’t seem to do any real cooking these days. Plus, I have a cold, so I’m not tasting much anyway. But your bao look incredible! Beautifully decorated, with a perfect shiny crust… Yum!

  24. Mary says:

    I’m in awe of your Chinese characters–I can never get them just right. I do have a Japanese name stamp around here somewhere–maybe I can use that on something. Great story about the duck paintings–sometimes the most hideous stuff is the most valuable. Did you get any fried rice made? I finally got around to it today, then realized I had eaten all the char siu. Looks like I’ll be doing this again soon…

  25. Kim Bee says:

    I can’t stop looking at these. So cool!

  26. Lora says:

    Those buns look delectable and that duck painting story is a doozy.

  27. Suzanne says:

    Those pork buns look so great! Your story of the painting is so sad…oops! But I was quite impressed by your resourcefulness too 🙂 Your Asian characters look so pretty on the pork buns what a good idea. Great job Lisa! xoxo Suz

  28. Oh my favourite snack, any left?

    Loving the chinese characters, brilliant.

  29. Lisa, what a brilliant idea to do Chinese calligraphy on top! They look beautiful! I went to Chinese school for a few years and it looks like the writing that we were all aiming for! 🙂

  30. Lisa~~ says:

    Wow, three posts since I’ve been away, you’ve been one busy cook. I love your story in this post but I’m loving the pork buns more. Wishing you could send me a care package of your gorgeous pork buns. Another wonderful post. Give a call when you have some free time.

  31. Evelyne says:

    Lisa you always have the craziest stories! And yes lots of ugly art is actually an investment. At least your parents are still talking to you 😉 Those buns looks amazing and love the matcha symbols. I love those bakeries too.

  32. shaz says:

    Oh Lisa, what a story! You are indeed very resourceful though 🙂 And the buns look fantastic, bravo.

  33. samology says:

    Wow, that’s quite an entertaining and interesting story! mmm.. I love your Char Siu Paos! They’re usually steamed instead of baked so I would consider the baked ones a treat for me! 🙂 Also, good job on your calligraphy!

  34. MC says:

    I love the story and the buns are perfect! You are a most creative baker…

  35. cinzia says:

    Lovely buns and very good idea Japanese calligraphy for a festive message.
    Love the story and can hardly imagine your father’s feeling and your embaressement, but I am sure your love for each other is beyond any material disaster! 🙂
    Hope you had a reat festive time, wish you a sparkling 2012, full of joy and serenity, bbd recap will be on-line soon, I am working at it! 🙂

  36. Pingback: BBQ Pork Buns – Char Siu Bao – with Meaning of The Tale of a Painting | What2Cook

  37. Sheila says:

    I made these for our 4th of July cookout. Everyone was so impressed! Outstanding! Thank you!

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