Pickles and Tea Adventures in Asian American Cooking

Asian BBQ Sauce and Pulled Pork Sandwiches

At the start of the summer grilling season, I never fail to recall childhood backyard barbecues when the adults swilled cold beer and we children devoured sweet, fresh watermelon, juice dripping down our chins.

Instead of the ribs and hamburgers that were de rigueur in 1980s America (and perhaps even now), my mom (I call her Ma) churned out chicken wings soaked in honey-soy dressing, juicy pork chops grilled to caramelized perfection, and the star of the show: sticks of satay, bite-size chicken pieces marinated in sweet soy sauce spiked with a potent combination of lime leaves and lemongrass.

Ma’s grill feasts were so rich and flavorful I was often dismayed at the lackluster options–think pale, unmarinated chicken wings and flimsy hot dogs–offered at other barbecues.

Ma always went big and bountiful. At first I suspected she simply didn’t know how to guesstimate food portions. She was constantly going around to our guests encouraging them to eat more. Many obliged.

Most likely, she wanted to send guests home with doggie bags, which they inevitably did.

Yes, there were times I was embarrassed by Ma’s ostentatious food show, and resentful of the days I was stuck indoors helping her prep (7-year-old me would much rather have been out playing!). However, judging from the number of double-fisting satay eaters, it was obvious our guests were happy. And no one went home hungry, that’s for sure.

pulled pork sandwich

Pulled pork sandwiches are one of my family’s favorite meals. I tweaked this American classic and paired it with Asian-inspired bbq sauce.

With my own family, barbecues aren’t quite as elaborate. I may attempt to make satay, or more likely the sticky-sweet honey-soy wings which are a cinch to make (I marinate, husband grills). I’ve also created new favorites melding my love of Asian flavors and the foods my American-born and -bred husband adores. The pulled pork sandwich is one said example (although it’s not usually cooked on the grill!).

One rule stands steadfast though: no one goes home hungry.

Asian BBQ Sauce

bbq sauce dripping

This has all the sweet, savory, sour notes you’re looking for in a classic barbecue sauce with the zip of ginger and spice. Slather it on baby back ribs, toss it with buffalo wings or dip your fries in it! Or serve them the way I like to, with pulled pork sandwiches (below).

Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 1 cup

1/2 cup ketchup (preferably one that only contains ingredients you understand)
¼ cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Squirt, or 2, Sriracha or other chili sauce
2 teaspoons grated or minced garlic (2 large cloves)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger (2-inch-long piece)1/4 cup brown sugar
Large pinch 5-spice powder (optional)

  • Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium-low heat for about 5 to 6 minutes until the sugar completely dissolves and the mixture thickens. Cool to room temperature and serve or cook as desired.
  • Keeps for up to one week in the refrigerator.

Easiest Pulled Pork

pulled pork2
I love this pulled pork recipe! It’s really, really easy and very versatile. It’s great for pulled pork sandwiches, tacos and enchiladas. If you’re a sucker for crunchy bits like I am, crisp up the shreds in a pan with a little pork fat or vegetable oil before serving.  If you’d rather do all the cooking outdoors, try cooking the pork low and slow on your grill.

Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes active
Makes: 10-12 servings

1 tablespoon ground smoked paprika
3 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chile powder (or more to taste)
3 to 3-1/2 pound boneless pork butt/shoulder

  • Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F.
  • Mix the spices and salt together in a small bowl and rub the spice mixture all over the pork. Make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies.
  • Place the pork in a Dutch oven, cover and bake in the oven for about 3–1/2 hours, until the pork is so tender it falls apart when you prod it with a fork.
  • Transfer to a large platter, shred and serve.

To assemble pulled pork sandwiches:

You can either toss the pulled pork with the bbq sauce and divvy the sauced meat over the buns. Or pile dry pulled pork onto buns and let everyone help themselves to bbq sauce for drizzling. Serve with slaw or salad.


  • c00ller

    Just tried this recipe. It was sooo tender and flavorful, even before adding BBQ sauce! Now when I see pork shoulder butt at the grocery store, this will be my go-to recipe for it.

    • Pat Tanumihardja

      So glad you liked it! It’s definitely my go-to recipes for feeding a crowd or if I want to cook once and eat over a few days. Enjoy!

  • Joseph Chai-whan Kim

    My favorite way to eat pulled pork is to spice things up with some Sriracha sauce!

  • Eric Rodgers

    The directions for the bbq said heat until the sugar disolved, but there was no sugar in ingredients. Am I missing something?

    • Pat Tanumihardja

      Hi Eric, the brown sugar was on the same line as the ginger which made it difficult to see. I’ve fixed it. Thanks for pointing it out! Cheers, Pat

    • Cooking Diva 1

      The brown sugar is at the end of the sentence before last; it’s a run-on.

      • Eric Rodgers

        Oh, I see that now. Sorry to bother. It’s on my list for tomorrow, Thank you

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  • Filed Under

    July 3, 2014
    Comfort food
    Course-type    Entrees    
    Culture    Fusion    
    Main ingredient    Meat    
    • Posted By

      Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Pat Tanumihardja writes about food, travel, and lifestyle through a multicultural lens. Pat especially enjoys covering topics that converge on food, history and culture and has been published in numerous international, national and regional publications. Her cookbook, The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook—Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens is a treasury of family recipes and stories spanning over a dozen Asian cultures.

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