Air Fryer Char Siu Chicken. Tender juicy chicken thighs air fried in the best and most delicious barbecue sticky glaze! Ready in 25 minutes!
Minimal Effort, Big Flavor!
This is one of those simple recipes in Cantonese cuisine that results in incredible flavor with minimal effort! Popularized by social media, this is one of those Chinese dishes that will become a timeless classic! Served best with white rice and leafy greens.
Easy to make!
Today’s recipe is an easy Chinese BBQ chicken. This air fryer char siu chicken recipe is perfect for a busy weeknight meal when time is of the essence. You can prepare the chicken in 15 minutes or less (or the night before) and air fry for just 9 minutes!
No Air Fryer? Bake it!
If you don't own an air fryer, you can use a conventional oven to make this oven-roasted chicken. Check out my Baked Char Siu Chicken. Also, roasting instructions are available in my recipe card below.
Similar to Char Siu
This recipe is very similar to authentic Char Siu (aka Chinese BBQ Pork). But we won't be using pork, we will be using boneless chicken thighs with the skin on! The char siu marinade and basting sauce are so versatile and add an incredible flavor to the chicken.
History of Char Siu
Char siu, or sometimes spelled as "Cha Siu" or "Char Siew" is a flavorful BBQ pork dish that originates from Guangdong, China. It became so popular that is spread across the world, specifically Asia, with many countries having their own version such as Malaysia and Japan. You'll find the classic version sold all over Hong Kong.
Commonly it's served with steamed rice, cabbage or leafy greens or in soup noodles. It has been around for many years with each household or restaurant having its own traditional recipes on how to make it. Some historians believe it wasn't always made with pork. In fact, Chinese home cooks would use the marinade on any cut of meat and cook it on skewers. Back in the day, it was roasted over a fire.
You can find this barbecue meat sold at the Chinese BBQ takeaways or Chinese restaurants. The red color is iconic to this Chinese food. The cut of pork is usually made with pork shoulder (aka pork butt). However, you can use pork tenderloin, lean boneless pork loin, or pork belly.
This recipe for char siu chicken recipe requires the below ingredients. ***Please scroll down to the below Recipe card for full measurements***
- Chicken thighs with skin: I prefer using chicken thighs for this recipe for a higher fat content, so you'll have juicy chicken. You can also substitute with boneless skinless chicken thighs but please reduce the cooking time to 6-8 minutes. My simple marinade works for chicken breast, chicken wings, or chicken drumsticks. Please see recipe card (Notes section) for air frying times per cut of chicken.
Marinade & Basting Ingredients:
- Red fermented bean curd: This offers that natural red color. My version is made without red food coloring. Most Asian grocery stores or select online retailers, like Amazon, will carry this ingredient.
- Hoisin sauce: This gives the chicken that signature sweet barbecue flavor. Most Asian grocery stores or select online retailers, like Amazon, will carry this ingredient.
- Brown sugar: The brown sugar gives the meat that sugary sweet taste and helps the skin become charred.
- Regular soy sauce: Just your regular all-purpose soy sauce. The label will just say "Soy Sauce". Do not substitute with "dark soy sauce" or "light soy sauce". Your Asian market, select Western grocers and online retailers, like Amazon, will carry this item.
- Honey: The honey is another helpful sweetener which helps the crispy skin char.
- Shaoxing wine or dry sherry wine: A wonderful cooking wine often used in Chinese cuisine. If you can't find this ingredient, replace with any broth of your choice. Your Asian market or online retailers, like Amazon, will carry this item.
- Chinese five spice: This spice is fragrant and is commonly made with cinnamon, fennel seeds, star anise, and cloves. The fifth spice usually varies between white pepper, ginger or Sichuan peppercorns. Popularly used in Chinese roast meats. Your Asian market, select Western grocers and online retailers, like Amazon, will carry Chinese five-spice powder.
How to make Air Fryer Char Siu Chicken
Below are visuals to show you how to make air fryer char siu chicken thighs. ***Please scroll down to the recipe card below to find full instructions and details***
- In a large bowl, combine marinade ingredients. Use a fork to help you smash the fermented red bean curd. Set aside.
- In a separate small bowl, combine basting sauce ingredients. Set aside.
- Pat dry chicken thighs with clean paper towels. Debone chicken thighs leaving skin on. Transfer thighs to a large bowl or into a resealable plastic bag.
- Pour marinade over thighs. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap or seal your resealable plastic bag ensuring any air is squeezed out. Marinate for at least 15 minutes in the fridge. For the best result, marinate overnight.
- Optional: Spray air fryer basket with cooking oil or cooking spray.
- Place marinated chicken skin side up in a single layer in air fryer basket. Do not overlap. You may need to air fry in batches. Brush basting sauce on top of the chicken skin.
- Tip: To make cleanup easier, line the base of the basket with parchment paper but ensure the paper does not touch the heating element to avoid any burning or possible fires. If you don't have parchment paper, you can use aluminum foil.
- Air fry for 9-10 minutes in total at 375 degrees F. No flipping needed. Cook until an internal temperature of 165F or juices run clear. Remove from air fryer, slice into pieces and enjoy!
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease with oil. Place chicken skin side up on top and baste with basting sauce. Bake for 20 minutes. Until you reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F or juices run clear.
Below are frequently asked questions about this recipe:
Can I bake this instead of using the air fryer method?
Yes! Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil, parchment paper or lightly grease baking sheet with oil. Place chicken skin side up on top and baste with basting sauce. Bake for 20-23 minutes on the middle wire rack. Until you reach an internal temperature of 165F, or juices run clear. The skin should be slightly charred.
How long will this last?
Up to 4 days stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
How long should I marinate this for?
At least 15 minutes or overnight for best flavor.
Can I substitute the fermented red bean curd with red food colouring?
Yes! But only add just enough to see a shade of red and do not replace with the full amount.
May I use the leftover marinade for other dishes?
Yes, feel free to use it as a marinade for other meats. You can also boil and simmer the marinade over high heat until it bubbles and use as a finishing sauce.
Can I use other cuts of chicken?
Yes you can use this same marinade on chicken wings, drumsticks, or breast. Scroll down to the recipe card below and read under Notes to find out how.
Are there other ways I can enjoy this meat?
Yes, there are a few other ways to enjoy these delicious, marinated chicken thighs:
- Fried rice
- Soup Noodles
- Noodle stir fry
- Bao Buns
Other Chicken recipes you may like!
If you enjoyed this easy air fryer char siu chicken, you may like these other chicken thighs recipes:
- Air Fryer Soy Sauce Chicken
- Maple Soy Glazed Chicken
- Soy Hoisin Chicken Thighs
- Chicken Adobo
- Mongolian Chicken
- Lemongrass Chicken
If you enjoyed my Air Fryer Char Siu Chicken, please leave a star rating and share it with your family and friends or on social media! Take a picture of your re-creation and make sure to tag me @ChristieAtHome in your feed or stories as I would love to see it!
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The BEST Air Fryer Char Siu Chicken
- 1 lb chicken thighs with skin on
- In a large bowl, combine Marinade ingredients as listed above. Use a fork to help you dissolve the fermented red bean curd. Set aside.
- In a separate small bowl, combine Basting Sauce ingredients as listed above. Set aside.
- Pat dry chicken thighs with clean paper towels. Debone chicken thighs leaving skin on. Transfer to a large bowl or resealable bag.
- Pour marinade over chicken thighs. Marinate for at least 15 minutes in the fridge. For the best result, marinate overnight.
- Place marinated chicken skin side up in a single layer in air fryer basket. Do not overlap. You may need to air fry in batches. Brush basting sauce on top of chicken skin. Tip: For easy cleanup, line the base of the basket with parchment paper but ensure the paper does not touch the heating element to avoid any burning or possible fires. If you don't have parchment paper, you can use aluminum foil.
- Air fry for 9-10 minutes in total at 375 degrees F until an internal temperature of 165F or until juices run clear (no flipping needed). There should be slight char marks. Note: Depending on the size of your chicken thighs and air fryer model, the cooking time can range so check your chicken at around the 9 minute mark. Mine was done at 9 minutes. If you like less charring, reduce air frying time.
- Remove chicken from air fryer to slice and enjoy!
To BakePreheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease with oil. Place chicken skin side up on top and baste with basting sauce. Bake for 20 minutes. Until you reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees F or juices run clear.
Air Frying Instructions for Other Cuts of Chicken
- Skinless boneless chicken breast: preheat air fryer at 375 F. Air fry chicken breast for 6 minutes, flip over and air fry on the other side between 3-8 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of 155-160 F and remove chicken from air fryer so that the residual heat can continue to cook it through. Chicken is safe to eat at 165 degrees F, but I prefer to remove my chicken from the air fryer at a slightly lower temperature so the residual heat to finish it off.
- Chicken wings: Air fry for 8 minutes at 400 degrees F on one side. Flip the wings over and air fry for 4-5 minutes on the other side. Cook until an internal temperature is 165 F or until juices run clear and meat is cooked through. If not cooked through, air fry for another minute.
- Chicken drumsticks: Air fry on one side at 375 F for 9-10 minutes and flip over and air fry for another 9-10 minutes.