Bak Kwa - Sticky smoky salty-sweet barbecue meat jerky

By Goz Lee •

Bak Kwa is a typical Chinese New Year dish. Just hearing the name makes many Singaporeans homesick.  Now you can discover how to make this much loved dish in a fun post from Goz.  Warning elbow grease is required.  


For some reason, if you were coming from Singapore and asked any Singaporean overseas what he/she wants back, there’s a pretty good chance he/she would ask for bak kwa. In Singapore, for all your convenient snacking needs, they even sell it individually vacuum sealed in tiny bite sized packs, looking, as the astute observational skills of an English colleague of mine noted, uncannily like packets of meat condoms (I tsk tsk’ed him and his gutter mind but… he does have a point).

The easiest way to describe it is that its a sweet savoury sticky smoky meat jerky. Despite being available in shops in Singapore all year round, for some bizarre reason, it is most often eaten during Chinese New Year (probably because it has been deemed an auspicious thing to eat then due to it being reddish in colour thanks to the innovation of marketing and food colouring) for no rationale reason at all. Round about now, if you wandered around Singapore, chances are you will walk right into a silly snaking queue of people waiting to buy this grilled meat product (and probably get tsktsk’ed for trying to cut the queue).

You can eat it on its own, grilled, heated up in the microwave, between slices of toast, with scoops of rice, whatever. Incredibly moreish and probably not the best thing to have within reaching distance if you are on a diet. And definitely not the best thing to confuse with your regular contraceptive. Well, unless you are weird kinky like that.

[Bonus shameless plug! Look out for our cookbook coming out end of this year! A SINGAPOREAN SUPPERCLUB COOKBOOK (Or how to subvert Singaporean Culinary Misconceptions, Avert Stir-Fry Calamities, Make your Nyonya Grandmother Weep with Joy and other Badass Kitchen Skills)”  With a title like that, you KNOW it will be better than ALL your other cookbooks. And you will get a free hug too! WOW!]


650g minced pork belly

100 g runny honey

150g light brown caster sugar

3tbsp Chinese rice wine

3 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp light soy sauce

1 tsp dark soy sauce

1 tsp five spice powder

a few drops of red food colouring (optional)


Put all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and, using your hands, mix well.

The next step requires some serious elbow grease so roll up those sleeves, flex those biceps and take a deep breath.

Once it has been mixed well and looks like a firm dough, punch and whip it viciously and pick it up with both hands and slam it back into the mixing bowl repeatedly (if it helps, imagine your boss, ex-girlfriend, mother-in-law, that bully at school – whatever it takes) until it turns into a gooey/ gluey paste. It may take anywhere between 5 or 15 mins depending on the level of brute force berserkness exerted on the meat clump.

Now spread the meat paste thinly (about 3mm) onto a greased baking sheet or large flat baking tin. I use the back of a spoon to flatten it. And leave it uncovered in the fridge to dry out and also marinate overnight.


The next day, you need to dry out the meat. If you are lucky enough to be in a hot country with constant sun, you can leave it out in the sun to dry out, hiring a local GAP year student to fan any flies. If however, you are stuck in some forsaken part of the world which never sees the sun, invert the meat paste sheet onto a wire tray and put into a preheated oven at 100 deg C for 20 mins with the oven door slightly ajar. 

When it is relatively dry, remove from the oven and cut into required shape – squares, circles, oblongs, pig…. (You can now store these in the freezer to keep for at least 3 months and take it out when you want to eat it.)

If you are lucky enough to have access to a barbecue, grill it over a hot charcoal to give them a good smokey flavour and good char marks.

Alternatively, if you don’t, fear not. Grill them in the oven grill at 200 deg C or the highest setting you have for 10 mins, until it is slightly charred.

Inspired? For more Chinese New Year recipes visit Great British Chefs collection.


Debs @ The Spanish Wok
One of my favourites too, thanks for sharing.
10 February 2013

Goz Lee

Goz founded the successful plusixfive over a year and a half ago to generally dispel myths of Singapore cuisine - like how we do not eat curry powder flavoured radioactive yellow Singapore fried noodles! And also generally challenging the boundaries of what people eat, serving up all sorts of traditional Singapore favourites to astonished and converted foodies all round!

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