Bak kwa, or Chinese Pork Jerky, is 1 of the most popular Chinese New Year snacks in Singapore & Malaysia. Save yourself time and money by making your own using this super simple recipe with easy-to-find ingredients!
Before Chinese New Year (CNY), Chinese households are all getting busy shopping and making CNY snacks such as Chinese peanut cookies, almond cookies and bak kwa.
Note: If it's just you cooking, here is a CNY menu that 1 person can easily prepare for a crowd.)
⭐ Why This Recipe is a Star
- It saves time and money: As bak kwa is so popular during Chinese New Year, the long queues can be horrendous- making your own tastes just as good and saves you time! The Bak Kwa business booms and thus prices tend to go up before CNY so making your own is more economical too. If you're curious about how bak kwa is made commercially, click here.
- The recipe is super simple, but people are always impressed when they hear "homemade bak kwa": this is your chance to be the Hostess with the Mostess and impress your friends and family during the festive season! (Instead of getting all the disapproving looks because you're not married/ no kids/ not in the right job/ too fat/ etc etc. Speaking from experience here!)
- It's very versatile: it can be eaten alone or used in anything from kimchi fried rice, shrimp Mei fun to 1 of these leftover bak kwa recipes!
Note: this is also a popular food souvenir from Singapore. Famous Singapore Bak Kwa Sellers are Bee Cheng Hiang, Kim Joo Guan, Peng Guan and Lim Chee Guan.
🐷What is Bak Kwa?
Also known as Rou Gan (肉干 literally Meat Dried), Bak Kwa is a Chinese pork jerky. The name "bak kwa" is from the Hokkien dialect, where "bak" means "rou" or meat and "gwa" means "dried" or "gan."
However, unlike Western jerky, Bak Kwa is a thin sheet of meat which is both savory and moist, which is why it's a favorite snack of many Asian kids (and adults!)
Fun fact: It was considered a luxury in the past, thanks to the copious amounts of sugar used!
You will need:
- ground pork with a good amount of fat: if your pork is too lean, the jerky will be hard. I recommend about 15-25% of fat. You can also cut and blend your own pork mix if you want to control the exact amount of fat in the recipe. (Some people make chicken or beef jerky instead of pork. Or use 1 of the vegan substitutes, such as mushrooms, that I mention below, under the recipe card.)
- sugar: key for the sweet taste and for extending the shelf life of the meat! Some recipes use honey but heat kills the nutrients in honey so I prefer to save money and use white sugar instead. You can use less sugar if you're trying to be healthy but note you won't be able to keep the jerky at room temperature/ for as long.
- dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and fish sauce: light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Taiwanese thick soy sauce and sweet soy sauce (Kicap Manis) are all different so don't get them confused! If you don't have dark soy, sweet soy is an acceptable substitute but you'll need to reduce the amount of sugar used.
- Chinese Rose Wine (Mei Kwei Lu): If you're tried my Chinese Braised Chicken Thighs recipe, you'll know how much I love this aromatic rice wine (and why!) If not or if you can't get it, you can use hua tiao, shoaxing or even XO brandy- they're not as fragrant, but will do the trick.
- 5-spice powder: for maximum flavor- supermarket spices can be old and blend- make your own five-spice powder (click through for my recipe!) Leftover can be used in Singapore Braised Pork or 1 of these 5-spice recipes.
- white pepper: do not be heavy handed as the flavor is super strong! (And black pepper is not a substitute for white pepper, although you can use black pepper instead if you like the flavor. It goes well when making halal beef jerky.)
- salt: you can omit this if your soy sauce is already very salty. To test the saltiness, pinch off a bit of your meat mixture and fry it till cooked then taste and adjust from there.
- sesame oil: do not use olive oil as a substitute! Instead, it would be better to skip the oil and use a fattier minced meat.
- Optional, Red Food Colouring: fermented red bean curd, red yeast rice and artificial colouring are some options to give you the auspicious and classic red colour of bak kwa. Alternatively, beetroot powder and tomato paste are easier to get (outside of Asia) and healthier alternatives. I didn't use any of these in the bak kwa, as I'm not fussy about the colour.
- Optional, liquid smoke: Some people use liquid smoke in the marinade. It gives the jerky that char-grilled flavor despite cooking in an oven, not a grill. I try to use natural ingredients where possible and skip this. You could also use a smoked sugar (instead of regular) but that can get quite expensive, unless you have your own smoker!
For the glaze: Maltose is traditional and vegan, albeit a little difficult to find outside of an Asian grocery. If you can't get it, you can use maple syrup, a neutral honey or sugar to glaze the bak kwa instead. You'll need about ½ Tablespoon (mixed with a bit of water to make it easy to apply) per pound of meat.
Note: this recipe is really forgiving. You can experiment with using oyster sauce instead of dark soy sauce too!
🔪 Step-by-Step Instructions
1a. Mix the pork with all the ingredients, except for the glaze. Stir for a few minutes till it turns into a gooey and sticky mess. (No mixer needed- you can do it by hand!)
Note: you can bake it straightaway as the seasonings are pretty flavorful but it'll definitely taste better if marinated!
1b. Cover with plastic wrap then refrigerate for 4-8 hours (overnight.)
Note: it is normal for some juices may leak out after marinating.
Preheat the oven
2a. Scoop some meat mixture onto parchment paper (the paper you are going to use to bake later. I recommend Parchment not Silpat for quicker drying in the oven. (It's thinner.))
2b. Next, cover with a Silpat (more sustainable) or plastic wrap then use a rolling pin to roll flatten the meat into a thin sheet of 2-4 mm. Place the parchment paper on a wire rack or baking tray.
Note: if your meat is too thick, some juices will ooze out later. Don't worry and just dry it with a paper towel. If it's too thin, the meat will shrink and form holes (see below.)
2c. Repeat till all the meat is used up.
2d. Bake at 250F/ 120C for 20 minutes till the meat forms a dry sheet. Blot off any juices that ooze out with paper towels. (The time will vary a little depending on the moisture and thickness of the meat.)
Tip: if you want charred edges around each slice, cut each sheet into the desired sizes now (about 6 pieces per sheet.) If not, just skip to the next step.
2e. Increase the oven temp to 425F/ 220C, glaze the pieces then grill them for 4-9 minutes, watching carefully to make sure it doesn't burn (the concentrated sugars means it will char easily.)
2f. Remove the trays from the oven, flip the meat with tongs, baste again then grill the other side for 3-5 minutes.
2g. When charred to your desired color, remove and allow to cool, and cut into 6 squares.
🥡 How to Store
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days. Bak Kwa can also be frozen if you want it to keep for longer.
Generally, bak kwa is eaten at room temperature and not reheated. However, you could give it a quick pan-fry or blast in the microwave to soften it if you want it warm. (Cold bak kwa is tough!)
Note: some people leave it in an airtight container at room temperature for no more than 2 days but your meat will have to be baked till very dry if you want to do so.
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
Tip #1: Be careful when you open the oven to turn the trays around (there are hot spots in the oven) as there will be a lot of very hot steam.
Tip #2: Placing the parchment paper on a wire rack over a baking tray makes it easier for you to pour out the extra juices that ooze out after the 1st bake.
Tip #3: Watch the bak kwa carefully once the glaze is on as sugars burn very fast. You want chargrilled jerky, not burnt-to-a-crisp ones!
Tip #4: If you have a pizza roller to cut the bak kwa, that would be perfect. If not, you can cut the jerky with a pair of scissors- you need to make sure it's pretty dry and firm before you cut, if not the jerky will break into small pieces which is NOT what you want!
💭 Recipe FAQs
Vegan jerky can be made with several plant substitutes such as young jackfruit, tempeh, mushrooms, fruits/ fruit pulp and vital wheat gluten (seitan.)
🥗 Other Chinese New Year Recipes
Enjoyed this easy Bak Kwa Recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below! If you REALLY liked this Chinese pork jerky, please consider supporting it by buying me a coffee! 🙂 (No obligation though!) Thank you and have a great day!
Bak Kwa (Chinese Pork Jerky)
- Large bowl and cling wrap
- Oven and 3-4 baking trays
- parchment paper
- 2 lbs ground pork 15-25% fat. I recommend minimum 20%. Substitute: some people use thinly sliced pork instead of minced but it takes skill to get the meat so thin!
- ¾ cup white sugar Substitute: honey but I find it a waste as the nutrients get destroyed in the heat!
- 2 Tablespoons rose wine Substitute: shaoxing, huatiao or brandy
- 2 Tablespoon dark soy sauce Substitute: sweet soy sauce but you'll need to reduce the sugar or the bak kwa will be sweeter.
- 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon white ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon 5 spice powder Click through for homemade 5 spice for the tastiest results- extra can be used in these recipes
- salt optional. omit if your soy sauce is salty. To test, pinch off a bit of the marinaded meat, fry, taste, then season accordingly.
For the glaze
- Maltose traditional and vegan, but a little difficult to find outside of an Asian grocery. Substitute: maple syrup, a neutral honey or sugar to glaze the bak kwa instead. You'll need about ½ Tablespoon (mixed with a bit of water to make it easy to apply) per pound of meat.
Making the mixture
- Mix the pork with all the ingredients, except for the glaze. Stir for a few minutes till it turns into a gooey and sticky mess. (No mixer needed- you can do it by hand!)Note: you can bake it straightaway as the seasonings are pretty flavorful but it'll definitely taste better if marinated! If not marinating, skip the next step to "Roasting"
- Cover with plastic wrap then refrigerate for 4-8 hours (overnight.)Note: it is normal for some juices may leak out after marinating.
- Preheat the oven to 250F/ 120CScoop ⅓-¼ of the meat mixture onto parchment paper (the paper you are going to use to bake later. I recommend Parchment not Silpat for quicker drying in the oven. (It's thinner.))
- Next, cover with a Silpat (more sustainable) or parchment paper/plastic wrap then use a rolling pin to roll flatten the meat into a thin sheet of 2-4 mm. Place the parchment paper on a wire rack or baking tray.Note: if your meat is too thick, some juices will ooze out later. Don't worry and just dry it with a paper towel. If it's too thin, the meat will shrink and form holes (see below.)
- Repeat till all the meat is used up.
- Bake at 250F/ 120C for 20 minutes till the meat forms a dry sheet. Blot off any juices that ooze out with paper towels. (The time will vary a little depending on the moisture and thickness of the meat.) Tip: if you want charred edges around each slice, cut each sheet into the desired sizes now (about 6 pieces per sheet.) If not, just skip to the next step (easier as you don't have to worry about whether the meat is firm enough to be cut easily.)
- Increase the oven temp to 425F/ 220C, glaze the pieces then grill them for 4-9 minutes, watching carefully to make sure it doesn't burn (the concentrated sugars means it will char easily.)
- Remove the trays from the oven, flip the meat with tongs, baste again then grill the other side for 3-5 minutes.
- When charred to your desired color, remove and allow to cool then cut into 6 pieces.
For Vegan Bak Kwa
I actually entered a business competition proposing vegan Bak Kwa made of food pulp. (Alas I didn't win though I did make it to the semi-finals (or at least Round 2!))
Vegan jerky can be made with several plant substitutes:
- young jackfruit
- fruit pulp
- Vital wheat gluten (seitan)
Mushrooms are my preferred choice as they have a lot of umami, are sustainable and more readily available than young jackfruit and tempeh, so you can make this even if you don't have access to any Asian supermarkets.
Don't use the dried mushroom stems as they're tough. The only drawback is that mushrooms contain a LOT of water, so the vegetarian bak kwa will be in the oven for a long time- to make your electricity use more efficient, either make a huge batch at 1 go, or pop something else in the oven that can be cooked at the same temperature!
Some mushrooms stems are very woody and flavourless, so as I haven't experimented with all the different mushroom stems out there, I'd suggest still using king oyster mushrooms (eryngii) as the majority base with whatever mushroom stems you have around tossed in to bulk things up.
Note: It can take HOURS to dry off all the water, depending on the thickness and water content.
Blending the mushrooms
If you have a food processor, use it as it'll make your life much easier. If not, you can do as I do and use a blender. The trick to blending your mushrooms is:
- Dicing the mushrooms before you put them in the blender
- Having the right quantity of mushrooms in the blender: too little (e.g. 1 handful, and I have big hands!) and there's not enough to go round the blades, too much and you'll end up with unevenly processed mushrooms
- Scrape, scrape, scrape: the mushrooms are going to collect around the bottom of the blender and not move, so those will become super mushy and the ones at the top will be too big. To make sure your mushroom mix is of the right consistency, scrape every 5-10 seconds, making sure to clear the area around the blades.
You want to blend the mushrooms until they're just thicker than puree- they basically look like pork mince which has been stirred many times, but a few bigger pieces here and there are fine for bite.
But make sure you don't leave the blender going till you get mushroom juice! As a guide, it took me about 10-15 minutes to blend 800g of mushrooms. (It will probably take you less time with a food processor.)
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Dorene chew says
Useful recipe as bak kwa prices have shot up
Thanks, yes I totally agree!