Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homemade Bak Kwa / BBQ Meat Jerky (自制肉干)

It's been 2 weeks since I last started the CNY goodies blog hop and since I last posted something. Actually I have kept myself busy all this while trying out different types of goodies, one of which is Bak Kwa.

Bak Kwa or BBQ meat jerky or Rou Gan 肉干 is something that Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese will never miss during Chinese New Year. It is immensely popular there and wikipedia describes it as a sweet-salty dried meat product similar to meat jerky, originating from the Fujian province in Southern China. That's not surprising, as that was where most Chinese immigrants from Singapore and Malaysia hailed from.

Being a 3rd generation Chinese immigrant, I grew up in Singapore munching Bak Kwa every Chinese New Year. CNY would never be the same without Bak Kwa (and pineapple tarts). Never have I ever thought of making Bak Kwa until I moved overseas few years ago. I remember making it once in the year 2010 when I first started this blog and it's been 4 years since I last made it. 

So here is my version of Bak Kwa. I first tried a chicken version, by using minced lean chicken meat. But the minced meat was so lean that it just didn't taste juicy enough. Partly because I wasn't quite confident of the grilling, it didn't really turn out the way I wanted. Not willing to give up so easily, I tried a few days later using some mixed minced pork and calf meat.

Here is how my 2nd batch of Bak Kwa looked like. I was so happy with the results that I called them "Bee Chin Pang Bak Kwa" (美真香肉干). My friend said that the real Bee Cheng Hiang 美珍香 may sue me for infringement of copyrights, LOL.

Some take-away points from this 2nd batch.
1) It is imperative to know your oven very well. Try grilling a small piece to test out the temperature, oven mode and timing. It's worthwhile to spend the extra time to test out a small piece than to let the whole batch of minced meat end up being charred, just because you follow the timing and temp blindly without adapting it to your oven. Note that it is not necessary to use the grill mode, you may use the normal fan mode too, the grilling temp can vary from 200C to 240C, depending on how hot your oven is.

2) Always choose minced meat with some fats. How to know if the meat is fatty? The more white specks there are in the minced meat, the more fatty it is.

3) Try not to use raw minced meat that has been frozen. Because after being thawed, it will exude more moisture than fresh minced meat. And don't wash your minced meat before baking, just marinate it without rinsing the meat. It is however Ok to freeze meat that has been cooked but not yet grilled.

4) Watch the oven very closely during grilling, do not go for long toilet breaks unless you enjoy eating charred meat.

5) You may remove the bak kwa as soon as it starts turning charred at the sides even though the meat may still not look dark enough. The meat will continue to cook a little after you remove it from the oven and the colour will turn darker.

6) If you use minced chicken, the colour will be lighter than minced pork or beef and the meat will be leaner, meaning less juicy. You can either add more colour by adding dark caramel soya sauce such as kecap manis (which is actually not salty) or adding hoisin sauce/oyster sauce/char siew sauce for colour and flavour. 

7) If you intend to use a greater or lesser amount of meat, do re-calculate the surface area you need to spread the meat over. The meat needs to be spread very thin, and it is 13 inch by 13 inch (or 33 cm by 33cm) for 450g of meat.  It is ok to use a tray or baking pan of another dimension, just make sure the surface area is sufficiently big and the meat is as thin as possible. If it is too thick, it will end up as luncheon meat/spam instead of bak kwa/meat jerky!

8) The purpose of using rice wine or dry sherry is to remove the porky smell. You may omit it for religious or allergy reasons. You may also use XO or brandy or whiskey for extra ummph factor.

9) The grilling can be done not just in an oven, it can be done in a non-stick wok on a stove too. In fact both the drying out and grilling can be done completely in a non-stick wok as shown HERE in my facebook, in fact I did it during my first batch. It can also be done in a rice cooker as shown HERE in my blog. 

10) After the 1st bake, pls remember to drain off excess liquid flowing from the meat and line with a fresh sheet of baking paper, otherwise it will be too wet and it will take much longer to grill to perfection.

11) If you find your bak kwa hard and rubbery, it could be that your oven temperature is too high or your meat is too lean. This happened to me when I first baked my chicken bak kwa, the meat was too lean and it was not tender and juicy. But when I changed it to minced pork + calf meat, the bak kwa was nice and tender due to sufficient fats.

12) Please allow for at least 24 hours for the full taste to develop, do not finish eating all the bak kwa right after grilling. They will taste better the next day and even after a few days! Many people have been advised to keep bak kwa in the fridge and reheat it in the microwave or oven just before eating. Actually this is not advisable as the bak kwa will tend to lose its juiciness and turn dry, according to an article by Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost blog.

Ok, these are the take-away points I picked up after trying a few times. Don't be afraid to try and re-try until you get the hang of it. I don't enjoy smelling like a bak kwa after each attempt, but I do enjoy eating my homemade bak kwa and sharing some with my friends! :)

Recipe adapted from Nasi Lemak Lover, Bake for Happy Kids with thanks!

Ingredients for marinade
450 to 500g minced meat, preferably with 10% fats (I used mixture of minced pork+calf meat)
100g fine sugar
1/2 tbsp fish sauce - omitted
1 tbsp light soya sauce, Lee Kum Kee brand
1 tsp dark sticky soya sauce, ABC kecap manis
0.5 tbsp dry sherry or chinese rice wine (you can use brandy or XO too)
1 tbsp hoisin sauce (you can use oyster sauce or char siew sauce)
2 tbsp runny honey
1/8 tsp chinese 5-spice powder
1/2 tsp salt (or 3/4 tsp)
a dash of pepper

1) Using fresh minced meat, add all the ingredients in a big bowl and use a pair of chopsticks to stir in one direction (for 3 min) until the meat sticks together and resembles a gooey paste. Keep it covered in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight. (The purpose of mixing is so that the meat will stick as one piece after the first step of drying out at 160C.)

2) Line a 13 inch by 13 inch baking tin or baking tray with greaseproof baking paper and spread the marinated minced meat thinly with the back of a spoon or rubber spatula. Then cover with clingwrap and use a rolling pin to roll it thinly and uniformly. (You may wish to spread it with your finger but I find the rolling pin a better tool. Note that for my 2nd batch, I used only 300g so the pan I used was also relatively smaller.)

3) Preheat the oven to 160C. Remove the clingwrap and place it on the middle rack to bake for 15 min. The meat is ready when it is dry to the touch, it appears to be cooked and can be lifted as one complete piece. Remember to drain the excess liquid emitted from the meat, otherwise your bak kwa will be too wet and it will take a long time to grill. (After this step of cooking and drying out the meat, you may wrap the meat in greaseproof baking paper, keep them in ziploc bags and store them in freezer to grill in the future.)

4) Remove from oven and preheat the oven to 220C (fan mode). Slice the meat into (9) equal square pieces and arrange them back into a tray lined with a fresh piece of baking paper. (9 pieces for 450g and 6 pieces for 300g.)

5) When the desired temp is reached, place them on the middle rack of the oven. Grill at 220C fan-forced for 7 min. Flip them over and grill for another 5 min or until the meat turns slightly charred at the sides. (Note that the original recipe stated 240C grill mode (top heat only) for 10 + 7 min, but I am using 220C normal fan mode, not the grill + fan mode, and I did it for 7 + 5 min. The temp and timing varies based on your oven temperament, so pls try grilling a small piece first to be sure. )

6) Remove the grilled bak kwa onto a cooling rack. Allow them to cool completely, before packing in between sheets of greaseproof baking paper and storing in airtight containers.

This photo is taken under the lights of my kitchen stove and with camera flash in my dimly lit kitchen.

I am submitting this post to "My Treasured Recipes #5 - Chinese New Year Goodies (Jan/Feb 2015)" hosted by Miss B of Everybody Eats Well in Flanders and co-hosted by Charmaine of Mimi Bakery House.


  1. 很有形的肉干。好棒,好棒。。。。。。

  2. Miss B,
    I know, living overseas will have such food craving. Wow ! Your Bak Kwa surely looked and tasted like famous XXX brand ^-^!
    But eating Bak Kwa during CNY in Singapore is a luxury cos the prices are rocket high. Perhaps I should also learn to make them.

    1. Not just are the prices of Bak Kwa rocket high before CNY, you have to queue for a few hours under the hot sun. I think I would rather use the time to bake them at home, it may not taste exactly like the real thing, but I think the taste is close enough to give the bak kwa shops a run for their money, just have to try a few times to finetune the grilling time and temp. Do give it a try if you have the time !

  3. This looks good! Will be trying out your recipe soon.
    Haven't bought bak kwa Singapore during CNY for years... high price and queues.. tsk tsk...

    1. Xinxl,
      Do give it a try, I'm sure it will give you a great sense of satisfaction. :)

  4. Looks yummy! Bak Kwa price is unreasonably high during CNY. This is in my to-do list. Hope to do it this year. :)

    1. It's really quite easy and it gives me a big sense of satisfaction, do give it a try!

  5. 我孩子看到了,说妈咪我要吃肉干。。。这肉干魅力可真大哦

    1. 是呀,对我们这些居留在外地的人,有了这个食谱真的是太方便了,随时想吃就做来吃。

  6. I love bak kwa!! Wanted to try but always got too much bak kwa from friends and relatives :D
    BTW I can't add my cookies link in your link too. Wonder why?

    1. Hi Ann,
      Thanks for informing me, can you view the button "Add Your Link", can you see the entries added by other bloggers? Pls see if you can add directly via this link If you still encounter further problems, do let me know again. Thanks!

  7. Can i check with you if i use the above recipi of 450 - 500gm of minced meat, how much is the weight i will get for the end product which is after the grilling. I noticed that the meat will shrink. do you have any idea how much i will get in term of gm.

    thank you.

    1. Angie, I only weighed the marinated meat before baking, it's about 700g with the sugar and all the marinade if you use 500g meat. I have no idea how heavy it is after baking because I didn't weigh them. I tried minced pork+calf meat 2x and it did not shrink as much as pure pork which I happened to try yesterday. Pure beef will also shrink a lot and you need to bake at a much lower temp.

  8. Miss B, I am Angie. thank you for your prompt reply. I would like to check again with you if we can bake 2 trays of bak kwa at the same time. I am having a fan forced oven. thank you.

    1. Hi Angie,
      I haven't tried baking 2 trays at 1 time. If It's your very first time baking, i suggest u do 1 tray 1st, then as you become confident, you can try 2 trays with 1 or 2 pieces each just for testing. Maybe put 1 tray in the middle, and another below the middle rack. Don't forget you have to flip at half time. Once the tray on top Is done, remove it and move the lower tray higher to the middle rack and grill till nicely coloured. This is something I have never tested, i hope it works.

  9. Hi Ms B

    Its been a long time since I wrote on your blog :)

    I'm going to try out either this weekend or next. I intend to try 300gm of meat first, for the marinade, I had tried to reduce proportion but I got weird number (*_*) think I have to use the 'agar agar' measurement from there.

    Will let you know the result after I tried.

    Wendy C

    1. Wendy C, long time no see, coincidentally I also have a friend called Wendy Chun.
      Why don't you use 250g and take half of the marinade? :)

    2. HI,

      I know my maths is not good, now even my mind not good. Just half the recipe will do, right? LOL (shaking my head).......

      Anyway, time to submit report ... hahaaa....

      1st trial 1st batch, I 'blur blur' put in the upper level and 'grill' too close to the upper heat. Most turn charcoal (*_*)

      2nd batch, I move them to the middle level. This time better, not burnt too badly. But still a bit at edge, have to learn to see when is the time to flip over. Like you advise, I have been sitting right in front of the oven and look and disturbing my lips.

      Taste wise, find not enough (my friend do the same and hers was okie). Than I realised, aside from grilling skill, does it have something to do with the meat? The meat I got have more fat in it (had ask my Dad to help buy it), its like 40-50% fat, do you think this cause the marinade ingredients not absorb enough?

      I'm not good in cooking, thus, really have no clue in this :(

      Note: Happy that you reach here safely, enjoy your stay and enjoy the crowd here... getting overcrowded..... :)


    3. Meat with 40 to 50% fats is probably too fatty. You have to marinate the meat as long as possible, preferably overnight. When you mean the flavour is not enough, do you mean it's not sweet? My family finds it too sweet, yet a friend who used the same recipe found it not sweet enough, guess it depends on whether you have a sweet tooth or not.

  10. Hi, I tried it yesterday with chicken thigh meat and cognac! yums!

    1. Cognac, wow! I must go get one bottle at Changi Airport Duty-Free :)

    2. Yes! My mum couldn't resist reaching for a 2nd helping!

  11. Hi Miss B, Angie here,

    I have tried using the two trays at 1 time. just that the placing of tray was not according to what you mentioned, as i overlooked it. my oven have 5 slots and i put the tray on the 2nd and 4th slot and i only flip during the cooking session and not the grilling session coz i don't want to open the oven too many times as the temperature changes. anyway, according to my son, still ok-lah.

    my question is, should i change the placing of tray to 3rd and 4th slot as to what you mentioned putting 1 tray in the middle, and another below the middle rack.

    earlier i was told to oven-dry first as it last longer. so i oven-dry using 80C for 10mins and it turn out to be very hard, dry and burnt.

    by the way, how long can we keep this bak kwa, mine only lasts for 5 days.

    thank you.

    1. Angie,
      My oven has 5 rack slots and I meant the 3rd and the 4th one, however I have told you before i have not baked more than 1 tray at a time. You have to flip during the grilling session. There is no need to do what you called the "oven-dry" as the first bake should already dry out the meat.
      I would strongly recommend you do only one tray at a time, the result will not be satisfactory if you do not stick to the instructions given. The bak kwa shops also have to grill piece by piece painstakingly, there is no shortcut.

    2. sorry, you did told me that you have never tried baking more than one tray. Is just that I wanted to try if I can make more using less electricity. Now i know that the first bake is actually drying out the meat, my friend really take me to holland-lah, in fact I was earlier told to sun-dry for 7 hours, then oven-dry.

      This time I will try again based on your exact instruction. Will let you know the outcome.

      BTW, what is the shelf-life of this bak kwa.


    3. Hi angie,
      If you sun-dry, you dun need to oven-dry. Those who do sun-dry, it's bcos they dun have oven, and they do the 2nd step of grilling over a charcoal stove or BBQ grill. The shelf life, in my case, is at least 2 weeks at room temp of 20 degrees in Belgium. If you keep it in the fridge, it will last longer but it will be hard n dry, you would have to warm it up b4 eating.

    4. Do you mean yours turn mouldy after 5 days in Singapore? Oh then I better place the bak kwa I baked in Belgium in the fridge in Singapore. Actually you have to make sure it's grilled until it's dry, it should not be wet. And the bak kwa will improve in flavour after a few days, so dun be disappointed if yours turn out too hard and dry on 1st day. Let it rest for at least 24 hrs before tasting, it will taste better.

    5. Hi Ms B,

      Thanks for your fast reply. BTW, I am from Malaysia and the weather here is very hot around 30-32C, you can get heat stroke if you stay outside during the afternoon. Can i keep it in the fridge, i thought i saw your take away points no 12, saying bak kwa will tend to lose its juiciness and turn dry, according to an article by Dr. Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost blog". what temp and how long to set just to warm up b4 eating? sorry to ask but i am not very good in cooking so i want to be precise. thank you very much.

    6. Hi Angie,
      If you want to keep it for long, you have to put in fringe, there is no choice, but I would suggest u keep for 2 to 3 days at room temp, and taste it after 2 -3 days, so u know how it taste like at room temp. This will also allow the flavour to develop at room temp. For warming up, you just need to heat up in microwave for 30 to 60 sec. For oven, I'm not sure but maybe 80 to 100 degrees until it's warm. You may also heat it up in the rice cooker on top of the rice after the rice is cooked.

  12. Angie here again. thank you for your reply. okay, i will take your advise to only bake one tray at a time but i would like to try for one more time, using the 3rd and 4th slot and flip during the grilling session coz i think the one that is not so good is from the 2nd slot, too dry.

    Silly me, i don't know that the first bake was considered as dry out. thank you for enlighten me.

  13. sorry I really need to try for one more time so need your confirmation on the statement "flip during the grilling session" is meant by flipping the meat or switching the tray from 3rd to 4th and vice verse.

    appreciate your clarification. thanks.

    1. Pls ignore my comment about the 4th rack since you are baking 1 tray only, which is what i eould recommend. Just place your tray on the middle rack (3rd one in your case). Flipping means turning the meat so that both sides get grilled equally.

  14. HI

    Contd from my above posts box (tried to cont'd reply from original post but no response after click).

    Father teeth not strong and few left, thus, I think maybe more fat so maybe easier to bit in after dry out.

    Yup, diff people have different taste bud, I got one colleague said not sweet enough, another said not salty enough (*_*). To me, the taste is neither sweet nor salty, taste good just a bit mild and Father find taste not enough (think elderly people like stronger taste in food).

    Therefore, I wonder should I add a bit more on same type of meat (so that the fat in the meat can absorb the marinde more?) or should I reduce the fat in the meat (which I'm also worry about the leaness in meat will cause it harder for Father to bit in).

    Oh, I have marinade the meat for more than 24 hrs (about 10.15am on Sat, and bake the meat on Sun after 12pm).

    Today is Li Chun, and there's many people quening to bank in money into their bank account. Did you join in the Q in Singapore? :)


    1. Hi EC,
      Yes I have joined the crowd and deposited some money, actually I asked my sis to do thatn
      You can add a little more fish sauce (if not already added), increase the honey if you find it not sweet, increase the salt if you find it not salty, or even increase the 5 spice powder. Cant advise you on the exact quantity, bcos taste differs from individualtp individual.

  15. Hello miss b,

    Why didn't I find ur blog earlier (during my years living overseas. I have been away for a decade, and always misses singapore food. Shipped boxes of local delight to wherever I went. Now I'm back in singapore, I hope to learn some local food, so that I don't have to ship any food next time I move. I'm going to give ur ba kwa recipe a try this weekend. Hope it turn out well. Thanks again.


  16. wow i didnt know it was so easy to make bak kwa.....just shared this with my Singaporean frens who stationed overseas! Just need find a wine to pair with hehe...


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