Making Chinese BBQ ‘Pork’ Steamed Buns With Wild Game (Moose Char Siu Bao)

Chinese BBQ pork buns (char siu bao) are part of my Cantonese heritage. Making authentic-tasting char siu bao out of moose or wild game is a rewarding and delicious learning experience.

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I’m Chinese-Canadian and my family is from southern China, where steamed BBQ pork buns (char siu bao) are from. Eating char siu bao is part of my cultural food heritage; I have deep flavor memories of eating them with my family and friends all my life. Making these char siu bao from scratch using wild game meat was a special experience, one that’s difficult for me to express. I hope you give making char siu bao a try.

Note: I don’t rewrite the char siu recipes I referenced in this post, I just write about how I adjusted them to use wild game meat. Please see in-text links or ‘recipe sources’ at the end to find exact measurements and ingredients.

Assembling wild game moose char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork steamed buns) at home
Assembling wild hunted moose char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork steamed buns) at home

Using Wild Game Instead of Pork in Chinese BBQ ‘Pork’ Steamed Buns

Making Chinese BBQ ‘pork’ steamed buns using wild game like venison, moose, or elk is doable, but key recipe changes are necessary. Replacing store-bought meat with wild game isn’t a 1:1 switch. Wild animals like moose, venison and elk are leaner, tougher and usually older than raised animals. You can’t cook wild meat the same way you’d cook pork and expect to have the same results. Walking through my thinking may explain these recipe modifications and help you adjust recipes using wild game, too.

When modifying ‘normal’ or traditional recipes to use wild game, it helps to think about the dish’s characteristic traits. Char siu bao filling is salty-sweet, sticky and is so tender that it seems to melt in your mouth. The bao dough is steamed until pillowy, not doughy. Eating a bao should be an airy and light experience, yet substantial and savory at the same time.

Based on char siu bao’s traits, I suspected that I couldn’t start by cooking a moose roast-cut in the style of Cantonese BBQ pork (char siu). Char siu is traditionally made with whole roasts of fatty pork. But the high heat and cooking time necessary to get char siu’s traditional smokey, sticky and glaze at home would make moose roast too tough and gamey. Plus, moose roast isn’t fatty enough to get pork char siu’s marbled texture and chew. I tried to make moose roast char siu (Hong Kong-style BBQ pork), but it wasn’t quite right.

For char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork teamed buns) I needed a soft, tender cut of wild game that could still be infused with traditional Cantonese BBQ flavors. So I used stew-cut moose as a closer substitute for BBQ pork roast in these steamed buns. Though it’s not the closest 1:1 pork to wild meat replacement, I think the end result is much closer to the authentic char siu bao experience.

I used stew-cut wild hunted BC moose to make these char siu bao. I believe that the strong flavors and preparation would allow a lot of variation for Chinese BBQ pork steamed buns. Basically, you want to use a wild game cut that becomes tender, soft, and shreddable after a long cook time.

Here are wild game butcher cuts and animals that could be used IMO:

  • Moose, venison (deer), elk, possibly sheep or goat
  • Stew cut meat (preferred, least amount of bone and gristle discard)
  • Shoulder blade roast cut (bone, silver skin, tendon, gristle discarded)
  • Shank cut (bone, gristle, silver skin, tendons discarded)

For this char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork bun) recipe, you’ll need:

  • Pressure cooker (Instant Pot / electric or stovetop)
  • Steamer setup (DIY with plate, metal can / mason jar ring, pot with lid)
  • Wild game meat (I used approximately 4 pounds moose stew meat)
  • Recipe ingredients for char siu, char siu filling and bao dough
  • Optional additions: sweet Hungarian paprika (red color); Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce
Frozen char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork steamed buns) made with wild game moose at home
Folded and stuffed wild moose Chinese BBQ buns (in the style of char siu bao), frozen and ready to be gifted, steamed, and eaten

How to Modify Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu) Recipe Using Moose or Wild Game

I modified The Woks of Life’s “Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)” recipe using wild game (moose) in the following ways:

  • Meat: Used approximately 4 pounds wild moose stew meat (or substitutes listed above), not pork shoulder/butt. Stew cut meat is a better substitute in BBQ pork steamed buns than roast cut
  • Ingredient changes: omitted red food coloring; used honey, not maltose
  • Marinade time: Marinated defrosted stew-cut meat for 24 hours instead of overnight. Longer marinade intended to tenderize leaner, potentially stronger-tasting wild game compared to farmed pork meat
  • Marinade and cooking method:
    • Did not reserve extra marinade for glazing
    • Removed minced garlic from marinated meat pieces
    • Added 250 mL cool water to Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker; can also use stovetop pressure cooker) along with stew meat to prevent burning
    • Pressure cook on HIGH for 20 minutes and natural release
  • Prep for char siu bao (BBQ pork buns):
    • Shred meat with forks or fingers (meat should be tender and soft), discard any gristle or silver skin
    • Keep covered to prevent drying out
Marinating moose for char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork steamed bun)
Marinating stew-cut moose in char siu (Cantonese BBQ pork) marinade
Pressure cooked wild game meat (moose) for char siu bao (BBQ pork steamed bun) recipe
Pressure cooked stew-cut wild game in diluted marinadewater broth
Cooking char siu bao filling (pulled moose meat) for Chinese BBQ pork buns
Pulled and shredded wild moose meat cooking in modified char siu (Chinese BBQ pork) filling

How to Modify BBQ Pork Steamed Bun (Char Siu Bao) Recipe Using Moose or Wild Game

I modified the char siu bao filling from The Woks of Life’s “Steamed BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)” and bao dough from Marion’s Kitchen’s “Chinese BBQ Pork Steamed Buns” to use wild game (moose) in the following ways:

  • Bao dough: I used 750 grams of mixed all-purpose flour and corn starch as a substitute for cake pastry flour and increased remaining ingredients by 150%. I prefer to use weight and a food scale (instead of volume measurements) because it’s more accurate and less dishes. You can just use this recipe if you use volume instead of weight when baking.
  • Char siu filling – ingredient changes:
    • Used approximately 2.5 cups shredded moose meat, not 1.5 cups diced BBQ pork meat
    • Used heaping 1/3 cup white onion, not shallot or red onion
    • Used chicken bouillon mixed with water, not chicken stock
    • Used corn starch slurry (1:1 corn starch to water) instead of flour
    • Added 1 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika for characteristic red color (paprika flavor isn’t noticeable)
    • Added approximately 1/3 cup Lee Kum Kee char siu sauce for redder color, boosted ‘char siu’ flavor, to compensate for greater amount of meat than recipe called for
    • Added approximately 1-2 tbsp honey to adjust for sweetness and stickiness
  • Char siu bao assembly:
    • I made rough estimate of how many char siu bao I could make with the amount of dough and filling
    • Divided the dough into 40-46 grams pieces using a food scale before rolling them out into circles
    • Used chopstick instead of rolling pin (I don’t own a rolling pin)
    • Used a little over a teaspoon of chilled char siu filling per bao dough circle
    • This made 27 char siu bao that were approximately 1.5 inches wide, around traditional dim sum size
  • Storage (if not eating right away):
    • Chinese BBQ pork buns (char siu bao) can be frozen on silicone liner / parchment paper lined baking sheet in freezer when raw (before steaming). When fully frozen, remove from sheet and store in air-tight container(s) for later
  • Cooking / steaming time:
    • Set up steamer setup and steam water on high
    • Put each char siu bao on parchment paper or lightly-oiled aluminum foil squares to prevent sticking
    • FROM FRESH: Steam covered for 8 minutes
    • FROM FROZEN: Steam covered for 9 minutes
Filling bao dough with wild game moose char siu filling
Chinese BBQ bun ready to be folded into a bao bun shape
Folded and pleated wild game char siu bao (Chinese BBQ pork bun) made with moose
Folded Chinese BBQ bao stuffed with char siu-style wild moose. My bao pleating skills are a work-in-progress
Steamed wild game moose Chinese BBQ pork steamed buns (char siu bao)
Steamed moose Chinese BBQ bun ready to eat (‘char siu bao’). Vintage plate was gifted to me from my Gung Gung, my grandfather on my mother’s side

Chinese BBQ Pork Steamed Bun Recipe Sources

I’m a self-taught home cook and I won’t pretend that I was born with the knowledge of how to make char siu bao from scratch. BBQ pork buns are part of my cultural heritage, as char siu bao is a Cantonese dish invented in southern China, and I’ve eaten them my whole life. I trusted my instincts and adjusted for taste and techniques based on my knowledge of this dish and wild game cooking. I adapted char siu bao for moose meat by modifying these excellent recipes:

This post was originally published on February 15, 2021.

Posted by Arielle

Arielle is a passionate urban homesteader and hunter located in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

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