100 Techniques

Technique #86: Make Chinatown-Style Roasted Barbecue

To achieve home success replicating Chinese-style barbecue without setting off alarms, we developed our own methods using moist heat followed by dry heat.

Published Aug. 7, 2023.

This is Technique #86 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

Each technique is broken into three sections: why it works, key steps, and recipes that use it. Learn these recipe building blocks and you'll be set up for a lifetime of cooking success.

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You’ve seen them hanging in the windows of Chinese supermarkets. Mahogany-colored ducks all in a row, with paper-thin, crispy, salty-sweet skin and moist, juicy meat.

Or char siu, slabs of Cantonese barbecued pork with their lacquered red sheen, hallmark chewiness, and spiced, caramelized flavors.

Attempts to replicate the traditional cooking method of slow oven-roasting for both of these dishes lead to a lot of smoke alarms going off.

So we developed our own technique that uses moist heat first to produce delicious, savory dishes without disaster.

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For Duck, Steam and Grill It

When making duck, we first pierce the skin all over and steam the bird, allowing much of its abundant fat to render. We then grill-roast it, keeping the cooking environment (and the meat) moist while allowing the fat to continue to render and the skin to turn crisp.

Placing the bird over a disposable pan ensures that the fat doesn’t hit the coals, reducing flare-ups.

We also employ a two-step glazing method. A sweet glaze is crucial, but the traditional honey burned and turned the duck skin black on the grill.

So the first glaze has soy sauce, sesame oil, and five-spice powder to flavor the bird as it cooks. The second glaze of honey, vinegar, and soy sauce goes on last, to darken to that deep mahogany color.

For Char Siu, Marinate Then Roast with Water

Char siu literally means “fork roast,” since it is usually skewered with long forks and roasted over a fire. Instead of marinating whole pork belly slabs or rib racks for hours and then slow roasting, our technique calls to cut rib racks into individual ribs and braise them right in their salty, glutamate-packed marinade before roasting.

The heat helps the potent flavors penetrate the meat quickly, so the braising time doesn’t need to be long. Then, further reduce the braising liquid to a flavorful glaze and use that to baste the individual ribs for roasting.

Arranging them on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet with a bit of water in the bottom both allows for even heat circulation and catches the drips of fat and glaze that would otherwise cause billowing smoke.

A sheet of glazed Chinese-style barbecue spareribs on a baking sheet with a wire rack in it.
Breaking up the ribs before roasting and glazing means that every side can absorb the savory-sweet sauce.
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Step by Step: How to Grill-Roast Chinese-Style Duck

Follow these steps to replicate Chinese-style roasted duck at home on the grill.

Step 1: Pierce the Skin

Prick duck skin all over. Place breast side up on V-rack in roasting pan.

Step 2: Steam the Duck

Add water to pan, bring to boil on stovetop, cover with foil, lower heat, and steam until partially cooked and fat beads on skin.

Step 3: Dry Then Glaze

Lift duck from rack and pat with paper towels to remove excess fat and moisture. Brush first glaze all over duck.

Step 4: Prepare the Grill

For charcoal grill, arrange coals on either side of disposable pan. Set wood chip packet on coals. For gas grill, place wood chip packet on primary burner. Place disposable pie plate over other burner(s). Turn all burners to high and heat until chips are smoking. Leave primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s).

Step 5: Grill the Duck

Place duck, breast side up, on grill directly over pan or plate. Cover and cook until skin is crispy and richly browned.

Step 6: Glaze Again and Heat

Paint with second glaze and heat briefly. Carve and serve.

Now that you've mastered duck, try cooking along with our Chinese-Style Barbecued Spareribs recipe.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to put your newfound knowledge to use? Apply it in these recipes.


Charcoal-Grill-Roasted Chinese-Style Duck

Notoriously fatty duck is tricky to cook. Are you better off heading to Chinatown?
Get the Recipe

Chinese-Style Barbecued Spareribs

Cantonese restaurants employ lengthy marinades and specialty ovens to produce these gorgeously lacquered ribs. Could we create a version that could be made in 2 hours with common cookware?
Get the Recipe

Chinese Barbecued Pork

Char siu is usually bought from stores and restaurants that specialize in such meat dishes, but our version is actually "barbecued" in the oven, making these lacquered strips of pork easier to make at home than they might seem.
Get the Recipe

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