Vegan BBQ "Pork" Buns (Char Siu)


I'm very excited to share this recipe with you all! It's definitely one of my more involved recipes, and one that I have spent weeks working on so I really hope you all enjoy it. As you may know if you've been following me for a while,  I love recreating recipes I ate before I was vegan, and one of my favorite things to eat at Asian restaurants was chinese barbecue pork. Traditionally, barbecue pork is a sweet, tender protein and is immediately recognizable by its classic pink color. 

Something that I didn't know before researching char siu is that typically it is artificially dyed to give it a vibrant pink color. I thought long an hard about whether I wanted to dye my seitan and even tried natural dyes in place of store bought (vegan friendly) food coloring but ultimately I decided to use the dye for aesthetic purposes. You can opt out of coloring all together, but if you want to achieve the red color without artificial dyes, I recommend making a beetroot dye. See the notes to learn how. 

So I decided to whip up some steamed buns to put the seitan in, but there are many ways you could serve this. Both of these recipes stand on their own so if you don't have the time or energy to commit to making both the seitan and the buns, you could use the seitan in a stir fry or perhaps in a sandwich. Or if you wanted to make the buns but don't care to make seitan, you could always use the marinade for tofu. But what I like to do is prep the seitan the day before and let it it marinade overnight so all I have to do the day of is make the buns. 

That said, I think it's well worth the effort to make the full recipe, because truth be told it sounds a lot harder than it is, and you will definitely impress your friends and family if you whip this out at a dinner party. Be sure to read the full recipe in its entirety before starting! I've written each recipe out separately but included some notes to help with efficiency. 

prep time: 2 hours, cook time: 40 minutes. makes 8 buns. 



  • 1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tbs nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice blend (see notes)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce 
  • 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth

Char SIU marinade

  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar 
  • 2 tbs agave nectar (or sweetener of choice)
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice blend 
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 tsp red food coloring (optional, see notes)


bao toppings

  • Sliced carrots and cucumber 
  • Cilantro
  • Siracha mayo (if homemade: 1 part Siracha, 3 parts vegan mayo)


For the BBQ seitan

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the vital wheat gluten and spices and whisk until fully combined. Add wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Turn out onto a clean surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until the dough is a little firmed up and springy. It will be wetter than a typical bread dough but should hold its shape well. If your dough is too wet, knead in sprinkles of vital wheat gluten until you get the right consistency. 
  2. Cut dough into three sections and flatten each out with a rolling pin so that they resemble skirt steaks. 
  3. Roll the steaks up in tin foil, but be sure not to misshape them. Place the wrapped steaks in a large pot fitted with a steamer basket and let steam for 1 hour, refilling the water as it boils off throughout the cook time. *I recommend you start on the steamed buns now*
  4. After the seitan is finished steaming, remove from the tin foil and allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing into 1/2 inch strips.
  5. For the marinade, combine brown sugar, agave, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, spice blend canola oil and food coloring (optional) in a medium sized bowl and mix well. Add sliced seitan and allow to sit for at least 5 minutes to absorb all the flavors. You can leave in the fridge overnight if you're prepping the night before, but  5-10 minutes will suffice.
  6. Cook seitan on a large skillet over medium high heat for just about 2-4 minutes on each side. Once the seitans are a bit darkened and the sugars in the marinade have caramelized, remove from heat.

For the buns

  1. In a microwave safe dish, heat the soy milk until it is warm to the touch, but not super hot. Stir in the instant yeast and sugar and allow to sit for 5 minutes for the yeast to bloom (you don't technically have to do this with instant yeast but I just like to make sure that the yeast is alive before wasting an hour waiting for it to rise). 
  2. In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the sesame oil to the liquid ingredients and pour the soy milk/yeast mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough, then turn out onto a clean floured surface and knead for around 10 minutes until the dough is soft and springy, and no longer sticking to your hands. Reserve about 1/4 cup of flour to periodically sprinkle over the dough (as needed) while you work it.  You will know its done when you gently poke the dough with your finger and it bounces back. 
  3. Form dough into a smooth ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it and allow it to proof until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. This would be a good time to prep the seitan marinade.  
  4. Once the dough has doubled in size, separate into 8 equal pieces and form each piece into a neat balls. It's important to make these as smooth as possible because any imperfections in the dough will be magnified once they steam. So try to make the balls as smooth as you can.
  5. Using a rolling pin, roll small dough balls into 1/2 inch thick circles. Lightly coat the surface of the dough in oil and fold them into half circles. Make sure not to press down hard so that the two halves stay separated. 
  6. Place dough into a steamer lined with parchment paper, careful not to pack them too close together, and allow to rise once more for 10 minutes. I used a bamboo steamer for this but you can use a metal one as well. Once the dough is slightly puffier, place steamer over water and turn stove to medium high, lowering it to medium once the water starts to boil and steam starts to come out from the pot. Steam for about 10 minutes until buns are fluffy and dry to the touch. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute before stuffing with barbecue seitan. Enjoy plain or with sliced carrots and cucumbers and a drizzle of Siracha mayo.


  • So I picked up my Chinese five spice blend from a random bodega in Chinatown, and I suggest you do the same. But if you don't have access to such a place where you live, I've linked a blend that seems to be as similar as possible to the mix that I have, which is cinnamon, citrus peel, aniseed, cloves, and "fructus tsaok," which is apparently a type of cardamom.   
  • As I mentioned in the intro of this blog post, typical Chinese barbecue is dyed red with artificial food coloring. This is a totally optional step that you can take if you'd like to have your dish look as authentic as possible. You can use this recipe from Minimalist Baker for homemade natural food dye, or you can use a store bought, vegan friendly food dye.
  • When I make this full recipe, there is always some seitan left over, but never enough to justify doubling the bun recipe.  With this in mind, you have a few options: you might stuff your buns with more seitan than I do (I just put about 3 strips in each), or you could use the seitan later in sandwiches or stir fry, or you could just marinade two of the seitan steaks and save the last one for later. It should last for a week in the fridge, and at least a month in the freezer and I can imagine it being very tasty in other Asian dishes! 


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