Steamed Pork Bun

5 from 33 votes
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Traditional Chinese steamed pork bun recipe (char siu bao). Each soft and tender bun is filled with sweet and savory barbecue pork. You don’t have to leave home for some dim sum!

Steamed Pork Buns

The Chinese lunar calendar is based on a 12-year cycle represented by different animals (except the majestic dragon) and their characteristic attributes. To celebrate the new year, I thought it would be fun and festive to make a classic steamed pork bun recipe, also called char siu bao.

The filling is made up of tender pieces of pork marinated in various Chinese spices and sauces giving tons of flavor in each bite. You can take a look at my Cantonese char siu recipe to see how I made the pork.

Pork filled bun before steaming

Showing Pork filled bun rolling process

The buns are made from a yeast-raised dough, the yeast acting as the leavening agent. The magic that happens to help make the dough rise is fermentation. Yeast is living organisms, so just like us, they need food to grow. During fermentation, the yeast eats the sugars in the dough, and the result (by-product) is the creation of alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol evaporates during baking, and the carbon dioxide assists in leavening.

The absolute most important step in making yeast-raised dough is not to kill the yeast. It is one of the first steps in the process and the most integral. Yeast dies at temperatures above 138°F!

To shape the bun, each piece of dough is gently hand-rolled to create a round surface, 1 tablespoon of pork filling is placed in the center, and then the bun dough is carefully pleated until the filling is encased in the dough. The buns are covered and allowed to rise for about 30 minutes to yield a lighter and more tender bun after steaming.

pork buns in a steamer basket

Steamed Pork Buns on a cutting board split into two showing the filling inside

The steamed pork buns are cooked for 8 to 10 minutes in the steamer, and expand almost double in size! Once uncovered, the buns are piping hot and extremely tender and soft, making it hard to eat only one! The steamed pork buns reheat very well too. I have some in my freezer for any time I get a craving!

The pork in this steamed bun recipe can be substituted for any of your favorite fillings, in one of my other favorite recipes I made steamed custard buns, also known as Nai wong bao.

pork bun split in two revealing the inside meat

This is my go-to steamed bun recipe, it has worked perfectly every time I’ve made the buns, and I promise that your friends and family will be very impressed! You can learn how to make the basic steamed bun recipe and how to shape the buns in the video below.

Temperatures between 100 to 110°F is optimal for hydrating active dry yeast. In the recipe, I indicate to combine warm water at 105°F with sugar and yeast. When the yeast mixture is allowed to sit for 10 minutes, you can see fermentation in action! The mixture starts to foam from the yeast eating the sugar and creating carbon dioxide. If you do not see any foam created, your yeast has died. Start over and make sure to use a digital thermometer to test the temperature before you add the yeast to the water.

Steamed Pork Bun (Char Siu Bao)

Traditional Chinese steamed pork bun recipe (char siu bao). Each soft and tender bun is filled with sweet and savory barbecue pork. You don't have to leave home for some dim sum!
5 from 33 votes
Prep Time4 hours
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time4 hours 40 minutes
Servings 24 buns
Course Entree
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients  

  • 2 cups barbecue pork, ¼-inch dice, char siu

Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

Filling Base

  • 4 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 4 teaspoons shallots, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 12 tablespoons chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

Bun Dough

  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup water, warm (105°F)
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons lard, or shortening
  • ½ cup granulated sugar, extra-fine (pulse in a grinder for 30 sec)
  • 1 cup whole milk, warm (105°F)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder, mixed with 1 ½ tablespoons water

Instructions 

Filling Base

  • For the filling base heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the shallots 2 minutes or until light brown. Add the flour, stir to combine, and cook 1 minute.
  • Add the chicken stock, stir well, and cook 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and cook one minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cut pork and seasoning ingredients (oyster sauce, sugar, peanut oil, and sesame oil). Chill until very firm.

Dough

  • Dissolve sugar in warm water, sprinkle yeast over; let stand 2 to 3 minutes and then stir to mix well. Let set until it starts to foam, 10 minutes.
  • Sift flour and make well in the center. Whisk together the lard, sugar, yeast mixture, and milk. The fat will not completely dissolve into the liquid.
  • Combine liquid mixture with the flour; gradually incorporate the flour with the liquid to make the dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, sprinkling with flour as necessary.
  • Use the oil to grease the outside of the dough; cover and let rest in warm area 1 ½ hours or until double in size.
  • Punch dough down and flatten out to about ¾-inch thick. Spread the baking powder mixture evenly on the dough (this acts as a stabilizer). Roll the dough up and knead about 10 minutes, or until smooth and satiny. The dough should be firmer than regular white bread dough. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.

Dough Breaking

  • Divide the dough into four equal parts. Roll one piece by hand to form a rope approximately 9-inches long and 1 ¼-inch in diameter. Mark into 6 equal parts, 1 ½-inch long.
  • Holding the dough with one hand, grip at the first mark with the thumb and index finger of the other hand and tear away to break off a small piece. Continue breaking until you have 24 pieces.

Dough Rolling

  • Flatten each piece of dough with your palm. Using a rolling pin, roll each into a round disk, making a quarter turn with each roll.
  • Roll to leave the center thick; thinner edges are easier to pleat.

Assembling

  • Place about 1 tablespoon of filling at the center of each dough round, flat-side up.
  • Gather the edges by first pleating counterclockwise, and then twisting to seal securely. Place the bun round-side up on a square piece of parchment paper (2.5 X 2.5 inches). Let buns rest, covered for at least 30 minutes.
  • Steam on high heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not uncover the steamer any time during the steaming. If a flat lid steamer is used, wrap the lid in a kitchen towel to prevent condensed steam from dripping on the buns.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 24 buns
Calories 264kcal (13%)Carbohydrates 41g (14%)Protein 8g (16%)Fat 8g (12%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Polyunsaturated Fat 2gMonounsaturated Fat 2gCholesterol 13mg (4%)Sodium 257mg (11%)Potassium 83mg (2%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 9g (10%)Vitamin A 50IU (1%)Vitamin C 0.1mgCalcium 50mg (5%)Iron 1.8mg (10%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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38 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Diane says

    Thank you for this wonderful recipe! These are just like the manapua I used to enjoy when I lived in Hawaii. It was in the 70’s, and there was a shave ice/manapua truck near the school bus drop off. Fond memories! I really haven’t tasted any manapua nearly as good until we found your recipe–and I have been to Hawaii many times in search of them. This recipe takes a lot of time, but it is so worth the effort because your instructions are perfect. My husband made me these for Christmas this year–what a special gift that I hope will be a tradition! They are fantastic!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I love hearing your wonderful food memories! I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoy my recipe and it’s become a tradition to make the steamed buns.

  2. Jacquie says

    I commented on this steamed bun dough back in 2015 and still use it today, it’s absolutely wonderful! I have a question about freezing them. Do you thaw them out before steaming them again, or steam from frozen? How long do you steam them when reheating? Thanks again for this recipe! I’m always amazed and proud of myself when they come out of the steamer so fluffy and light!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you, Jacquie! I’m proud of you too! I Actually wet a paper towel, wrap a frozen bun in it, or cover a few placed on a plate and microwave in 15-30 second intervals. After about a minute they are soft and steamy, just like fresh! If you steam in a pot, don’t defrost.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Joyce- I have not tried gluten-free flour for this recipe. It can be a bit tricky to ferment and requires the addition of gums to create the starchy network to trap the air for tender pork buns. Let me know if end up trying it out!

  3. Hazel S says

    Hi Jessica,

    These look so interesting and authentic, can’t wait to try them out! I’m worried about the high altitude though. We’re here 5,200 ft above sea level in Colorado. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thanks and looking forward to see more of your recipes!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      If needed, I would cook the buns in the steamer for longer due to the high altitude. Keep an eye on the change of size of the buns as they steam and puff up, and adjust time accordingly. You may need to add more water if cooking a large batch, so just check the water level after the first steaming. Let me know how it goes!

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