Classic beef stir fry is a quick, easy, healthy meal for busy weeknights, combining tender strips of beef with mixed vegetables in a tangy, savory, slightly sweet stir-fry sauce to enjoy with rice or noodles!
Any time I’m struggling for a quick, easy, yet healthy meal on busy/lazy evenings, I love turning to stir-fries like chicken stir-fry, vegetable stir-fry, and this classic beef stir-fry recipe. They come together from scratch in as little as half an hour (beef freezing time aside), are loaded with lean meat and veggies, and are perfect for satisfying Chinese takeout cravings in a healthier, cheaper way.
I’ve already shared several similar recipes, like beef & broccoli and pepper steak, but this time, I’m focusing on a classic homemade beef stir fry. In this recipe, thin strips of beef soak in a cornstarch-baking soda mixture for as little as 15 minutes to tenderize and make it more velvety before cooking it.
Finally, cook the veggies (which are super adaptable!) and combine them all in an umami-rich stir-fry sauce. Serve it with rice or noodles for a satisfying meal the entire family loves.
What cut of beef is best for stir fry?
I prefer to use tender, lean cuts of beef like flank steak, skirt steak, flat-iron, Denver steak, or sirloin steak. These cuts will cook quickly and soak up stir-fry sauce well to become super juicy and packed with flavor.
Tougher cuts, like chuck or brisket, are more economical but require longer marinating with an acidic ingredient/baking soda to break down tough muscle fibers and tenderize the meat.
What’s in this beef stir fry?
There are three main elements to make the best beef stir fry recipe, all of which require only simple, primarily pantry-staple ingredients.
- Beef steak: I like to use sirloin or other tender, lean cuts of beef like flank steak, skirt steak, or flat-iron. You can buy it in larger pieces or already pre-sliced. Meat labeled “stir-fry beef” will also work but is often less tender.
- Sesame oil: Toasted sesame oil adds a wonderfully toasty, nutty flavor.
- Cornstarch: This helps to make crispier stir-fried beef with a more velvety texture.
- Baking soda: This will help break down tough fibers and tenderize the beef.
- Sea salt.
Other stir-fry ingredients
- Oil: Use a neutral, high-heat cooking oil. I.e., vegetable oil, peanut oil, canola, to cook beef stir-fry.
- Vegetables: I used mixed bell peppers and onions, but you can experiment.
E.g., broccoli, green beans, baby corn, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, shredded cabbage, snow peas etc. Pre-prepared stir-fry packs or frozen stir-fry mixes also work.
- Scallions: (Green onion) to garnish for a hint of color and freshness.
- Sesame seeds: Raw or toasted (or cashews) to garnish with extra flavor and crunch.
Simple stir-fry sauce
- Aromatics: Garlic and ginger make a super aromatic, flavorful stir-fry base.
- Soy sauce: Use regular or low-sodium soy sauce (or a combination of light and dark soy sauce for flavor depth). Use tamari/coconut aminos for a gluten-free alternative.
- Rice vinegar: To add bright tang. Apple cider vinegar/Shaoxing wine might work, too.
- Hoisin sauce OR oyster sauce: This enhances the beef stir-fry sauce’s savory, tangy, umami-rich flavor.
- Brown sugar: Or honey/maple syrup/a brown sugar alternative for subtle sweetness.
- Cornstarch slurry: A combination of cornstarch + water will thicken the sauce. Arrowroot or tapioca starch work for a corn-free, whole30, paleo version.
Make the sauce spicy with the addition of either red pepper flakes/hot sauce. Add some low-sodium beef broth (and extra cornstarch to thicken it) for a saucier sauce.
How to make beef stir fry
If you’re not using pre-sliced beef, first freeze it for 30 minutes to make it easier to cut.
Then, cut the beef into thin (1/4-inch) strips, against the grain (across the long lines of muscles in the meat).
Once cut, add the beef to a bowl with the sesame oil, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt, and mix well, massaging it with your hands.
Set aside for 15-30 minutes to “marinate”.
Prepare the sauce and vegetables
Meanwhile, mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and the cornstarch slurry into a separate bowl.
Then, mince the garlic and ginger. Cut the green onions so the green parts are cut lengthwise (into long strips) and the white parts are sliced into rounds. Slice the bell peppers (removing the ribs/seeds) and onions (pole to pole) into even-sized strips.
Stir-fry the beef
Add 1/3 the oil to a large skillet/wok over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the beef in a single layer (cook in batches if necessary) and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, untouched, until it’s no longer pink.
Add another 1/3 of the oil to the pan and stir-fry the peppers and onions until tender-crisp (2-3 minutes).
If you decide to use other veggies too, add them to the pan in order of how long they cook (e.g. hard veg like carrots and broccoli first).
Then, heat the remaining oil, reduce the heat to medium, and sauté the garlic and ginger for just 1-2 minutes.
Then add the stir-fry sauce and cornstarch slurry (mix/whisk well beforehand) to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it becomes glossy and thickens.
If the sauce isn’t thick enough, add more cornstarch slurry. If it’s too thick, add beef broth.
Add the cooked ingredients back into the pan along with the green onions, toss, then serve – enjoy!
Top tips for the best beef stir fry
- Freeze the beef: Just 30 minutes in the freezer will firm it up enough to make it much easier (and quicker) to slice (against the grain).
- For super tender beef: Marinate it for 30 minutes and don’t omit the baking soda.
- Use a wok if possible: It provides more even heat distribution than a skillet.
- Use a HOT pan: This ensures the beef cooks quickly and achieves a sear while remaining super juicy. Ingredients should sizzle as soon as they hit the pan.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan: It’s best to cook beef stir fry in a single layer, in batches if necessary, to ensure it cooks evenly and produces browning/a sear for the best flavor.
- Stir-fry the meat and veg separately: So no ingredient ends up undercooked. Likewise, depending on the veg you use, add them to the pan incrementally so they all finish at the same time.
- To avoid overcooked veggies: Make sure they’re still tender-crisp before adding the sauce, as they’ll continue to cook when heating in the sauce.
- Tweak the flavors: Adjust the sauce ingredients to your taste buds (i.e., more salty, tangy, sweet, etc.).
How to serve
This dish already provides fiber, protein, and several nutrients and is perfect for serving with a carb/starch dish like:
- Rice (white rice, jasmine rice, basmati, etc.),
- Fried rice,
- Noodles (glass, ribbon, soba, lo mein, chow mein, etc.),
- Crisp rice paper dumplings or a side of crispy spring rolls.
Ways to store
You can cut the beef and veg a day in advance and stir the sauce ingredients (not the slurry).
Once cooked, leftovers store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Leave it to thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
I like to reheat stir-fry on the stove over low or medium-low heat. A microwave, at 50% power in 30-second increments, will also work. Stir well between each increment, and note that the veggies will soften more as they reheat.
More Asian dinner recipes
If you try this easy beef stir fry recipe, let me know how it goes in the comments below. I’d appreciate a recipe card rating and would love to see your recipe recreations – tag me on Instagram @Alphafoodie!
Easy Beef Stir Fry Recipe
For the Beef
For the Sauce
- 3 tablespoon hoisin sauce or oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce regular or low-sodium soy sauce (or a combination of light and dark soy sauce); OR use tamari/coconut aminos if gluten-free
- 2 tablespoon rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar/Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey/maple syrup/a sugar alternative
For the Cornstarch Slurry
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot flour/tapioca starch
- 1 tablespoon water
- Large wok or a large skillet
Prepare the beef
- If you're not using pre-sliced beef, first freeze it for 30 minutes to make it easier to cut.
- Cut the beef into thin (1/4-inch) strips, against the grain (across the long lines of muscles in the meat).
- Once cut, add the beef to a bowl with the sesame oil, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt, and mix well, massaging it with your hands. Set aside for 15-30 minutes to "marinate".
Prepare the sauce
- Meanwhile, mix the sauce ingredients (minus the garlic and ginger) in a small bowl. Mix the cornstarch with water into a slurry in a separate bowl.
- Mince the garlic and ginger. Cut the green onions so the green parts are cut lengthwise (into long strips) and the white parts are sliced into rounds. Slice the bell peppers (removing the ribs/seeds) and onions (pole to pole) into even-sized strips.
- Add 1/3 the oil to a large skillet/wok over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the beef in a single layer (cook in batches if necessary) and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, untouched, until it's no longer pink.
- Add another 1/3 of the oil to the pan and stir-fry the peppers and onions until tender-crisp (2-3 minutes).
- Heat the remaining oil, reduce the heat to medium, and sauté the garlic and ginger for just 1-2 minutes.
- Add the stir-fry sauce and cornstarch slurry (mix/whisk well beforehand) to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until it becomes glossy and thickens.If the sauce isn't thick enough, add more cornstarch slurry. If it's too thick, add water/beef broth.
- Add the cooked ingredients back into the pan with the green onions, stir, and serve – enjoy optionally sprinkled with sesame seed.