Bak kwa 肉干 is the Chinese version of pork jerky, made by thinly sliced or minced pork, seasoned with soy sauce and sugar, and grilled over charcoal with open fire. Bak kwa, as pronounced in Hokkien, is my favorite snack, especially during Chinese New Year.
The idea of making bak kwa leads me to an extensive search on the internet and books for the best recipe.
Living in an apartment also means I have to forgo the idea of grilling it on the barbecue pit.
Here is my surprisingly simple method to make bak kwa. it gets universal approval from all my testers for its tastes and is comparable to any famous brand in town.
If you want to try your hand making bak kwa, this recipe will likely be the easiest and delicious one.
As usual, I will unfold all the tricks and alternatives to suit your taste buds.
Let’s get into the details.
1. The beat choice of meat for making bak kwa
The most popular meat for bak kwa is pork. You can substitute it with chicken meat for a pork-free version. In this case, chicken thigh meat is better than breast meat because it is juicier.
The more elegant bak kwa is made with thinly sliced pork, which is pricier and regarded as of better grade. However, it is difficult to make it at home because you need to slice the large pieces of meat thinly.
The more common bak kwa is made with ground pork. If you mince the pork yourself, I suggest using pork butt, which has some fat. Cut the pork into small pieces and ground it to a paste with the food processor.
As an alternative, you can save time by using ground pork sold at the butcher. Make sure it has a fat content of 20 to 30 percent. Bak kwa made with lean meat alone is dry and hard.
2. The best seasoning for making bak kwa
The main seasonings for bak kwa are sugar and soy sauce. Sugar provides the dark caramelized color and the flavor is complemented with soy sauce.
Regular sugar is good enough to make bak kwa, but adding some honey can improve the flavor. Some recipes also use maltose, which is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. Reduce the amount of sugar accordingly to get the right level of sweetness If you want to use sugar or maltose,
Two types of soy sauces can be used to make bak kwa. Dark soy sauce darkens the color to make it look more attractive. Light soy sauce improves the flavor and is a better choice to provide saltiness to the pork jerky. Since I use fish sauce in my recipe, I have decided to omit the light soy sauce, but you add some if you like its taste.
Red bean curds, red yeast rice, and artificial coloring are included in some recipes to give it a reddish color. I do not use any of these items as my bak kwa looks attractive without these ingredients.
Note: The amount of seasonings in the following recipes is based on my preference. You can use it out of the box or adjust the amount to suit your taste buds.
3. Combine the ingredients and rest
The preparation of bak kwa is straightforward. All you need is to mix the seasonings and the ground meat. Mix it very well with a pair of chopsticks, or use the traditional method by lifting the meat paste and smash it into the bowl repeatedly. This step alters the meat’s texture and helps the meat absorb the liquid seasonings, and turns into a gooey paste. I use this ‘smashing’ method to prepare my Chinese meatballs.
Let the meat paste rest in the refrigerator for an hour until the meat absorbs all the liquid seasonings.
4. Spread the meat paste to a thin sheet
Once the meat paste is ready, spread it to form a thin layer on a piece of baking paper.
Here are the steps
- Cut a piece of baking paper slightly larger than nine inches (23 cm) square.
- Place 5 oz (150g) of the meat paste on the baking paper.
- Cover the meat paste with a piece of cling wrap or plastic sheet. (I prefer using plastic sheets, which can be washed and reusable).
- Place your hand on top of the plastic sheet to spread out the meat paste.
- Roll out the meat paste evenly with the rolling pin and shape it into a nine inches square.
- Straighten the four sides with a dough cutter.
- Remove the plastic sheet, and transfer the meat paste together with the baking paper to a baking tray.
- It is easier to use your hand to feel the thickness than depending on the rolling pin. Even thickness is essential because any thinner part will get burned quickly while baking (or grilling).
- An easy way to straighten the sides is using a dough cutter to push back the meat paste to the center
- 150g of meat paste is the ideal amount to roll out to a 9×9 inches square. This square will eventually cut into four square pieces, producing the size and thickens similar to those selling in the stores.
5. How to grill the bak kwa with the oven
Baking the bak kwa is a two-step process.
a) First grill: to form a sheet of cooked meat
- Preheat the top and bottom heating elements of the oven to 160°C/320°F.
- Place the tray of raw meat paste on the middle rack to grill for 15 minutes.
- The color of the meat will darken slightly, and the size will shrink significantly. It will eventually turn into a sheet of cooked meat that is elastic and pliable.
- Transfer the cooked meat to the chopping board. (Caution: Hot!).
- Cut it into four smaller squares.
b) Second grill: to grill it until reddish-brown with some charred marks
- Prepare the basting liquid by combining four portions of honey with one portion of water.
- Brush the honey liquid on both sides of each half-done bak kwa.
- Arrange it on a wire rack with small gaps in between.
- Adjust the temperature of the top and bottom heating elements of the oven to 230°C/ 445°F.
- Grill at the center rack. The duration varies as it depends on the distance of the bak kwa from the heating elements. In my case, it takes about six minutes to start sizzles.
- Once it starts to sizzle, open the oven’s door and turn over the bak kwa. Do this every two to three minutes to ensure even grilling.
- Once the edges start to char, remove it immediately from the oven.
- Please note that not all the bak kwa will change color simultaneously, as it depends on the heating element’s position and the placement of each piece.
- I prefer grilling the bak kwa with both top and bottom heating elements. Some recipes suggest using only the top element to broil them. I tried this method and found that they can burn quickly. Since broiling only works if the meat is positioned on the top rack and close to the top element, it is difficult to get an even browning with slight charring on the edges.
Options available after the first grilling
There are a few options to proceed after the first grilling session.
- If you don’t have a barbecue pit, you can proceed immediately to the second grilling session with high heat, as in this recipe.
- If possible, grill the half-done bak kwa over a BBQ pit. The finished product will look the same as what I did in my oven, but you will get the signature smoke flavor like those purchased from the sellers. BBQ is the ideal method that I wish, but unfortunately, it is not possible with my kitchen’s limitations.
- If you want to make a large batch of bak kwa in advance for the Chinese New Year, wrap each piece (after first grilling) separately with wax paper or separate them with a thin plastic sheet, and keep in the freezer. When you want to consume them, just grill them the second time as in this recipe, or finish it over the barbecue pit.
Many street vendors who sell bak kwa in Malaysia during the Chinese New Year season do not make them from scratch. They get the half-done stock from the wholesale supplier and BBQ them later. That is why the taste from various street vendors is nearly identical.
Bak kwa can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 1-2 weeks. You can store it in the freezer for an extended period of up to a few months. When you want to consume it, remove it from the freezer, wait until it returns to room temperature, and then microwave it until it gets warm.
Other related recipes to Bak Kwa (and Chinese New Year)
If you like this Bak Kwa recipe, you may also want to look at the related recipes, which are all popular dishes during Chinese New Year.
Buddha’s Delight is the ultimate vegetarian dish for the Chinese New Year. It is almost universal that each family will cook this dish or its variants on the first day of the New Year.
Braised chicken with mushrooms will be the choice of meat for this festive season. It can be prepared in advance a day or two to ease out the busy cooking schedule on a festive day.
Pineapple tart is a must-have snack during Chinese New Year because pineapple is the homonym of the phrase ‘prosperity is arriving’. Therefore, it is most fitting for Chinese New Year as it signifies prosperity.
- Mix all the ingredients, except the honey water. Mix until the ground meat absorbs all the liquid seasonings and become a gooey paste.
- Store in the refrigerator for one hour or longer.
- Place 150g of the meat paste on a piece of baking paper. Place a plastic sheet on top and flatten the meat paste with your hand.
- Roll out the meat paste with a rolling pin to form a nine inches square. Remove the plastic sheet.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C/320°F, top and bottom heating elements.
- Place the tray of raw meat at the middle rack, bake for 15 minutes.
- Remove and cut it into four smaller squares.
- Apply the basting liquid on both sides of each half-done bak kwa.
- Arrange the bak kwa on a wire rack.
- Bake at 230°/ 445°F, top and bottom heating elements.
- Once it starts to sizzle, turn over the bak kwa every two to three minutes to ensure even grilling.
- Once the edges start to char, remove it immediately from the oven.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 114Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 25mgSodium: 240mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 0gSugar: 8gProtein: 7g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 1/4/2021