Beef stir fry is the perfect weeknight meal. It’s fast, easy to modify, and uses a lot of common vegetables, but getting it just right can also be a challenge. Many of us after a stir fry are left thinking, “Okay that was good but how in the world do restaurants get it to taste the way they do?”
There are all kinds of techniques and secrets within the world of stir fry, but buying the right ingredients — especially the right beef, is the first step to success.
We’re going to quickly cover the stir fry basics and then get into which cut of beef is best for stir fry.
What is stir fry?
Stir fry is a broad term for a Chinese cooking method that involves high heat, a little oil, and usually, a rounded pan called a wok.
In most stir fry dishes, vegetables and some sort of protein are tossed together in a sauce and then served over rice or noodles.
Some popular types of stir fry include:
- Beef With Broccoli
- Chicken Fried Rice
- Moo Goo Gai Pan
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Black Pepper Steak
- Orange Chicken
- Sweet and Sour Chicken
What is the best cut of beef for stir fry?
Flank steak is the most common cut for stir fry. It’s like the pork shoulder to pulled pork sandwiches or brisket to corned beef — it’s what people use most often and associate with the cooking.
The flank is taken from the flank primal, which is located below the loin primal. The flank is the closest primal to the bottom of the steer if you exclude the shank, which most people don’t cook with.
Flank is known for its meaty flavor and tough consistency, so while it takes a bit of care and love to tenderize this meat, the flavor is worth it.
While flank is the most common choice, it is by no means the only one. You can also sub chuck steak, skirt steak, or any other lean or sirloin cut.
Depending on the cut, you may need to trim the fat to get lean slices similar to flank. You also may have to cut it differently to make sure you get the right-sized pieces and can cut against the grain, but it’s not much more work.
Best practices for choosing stir fry meat
Knowing what cut to choose is the first step, but what about sourcing? There’s a big difference in taste and texture between industrial beef fed with GMOs and true grass-fed and grass-finished beef.
Buy grass-finished beef.
It’s not a big secret anymore, but pasture-raised or grass-finished beef is better for your body, your world, and your taste buds. If you’re serious about cooking and promoting small businesses, then opting for quality and sustainability is the only way to go.
Make sure it’s fresh.
Buying beef that’s sat in a meat locker for months isn’t going to give you the best results. Shop at active meat companies and markets that turn over a lot of inventory and clearly care about quality.
How to cook stir fry like a pro
Now for the good part. If you’ve ever wondered how Chinese restaurants get their beef to be so tender and rich, here are a few tips to make your stir fry taste like the takeout you love.
1. Slice against the grain and at an angle.
When chefs say to slice against the grain, they mean to cut perpendicular to the long strands that line meat. Those strands are proteins and connective tissues, and when you cut them, they lose their tension — just like snapping a rubber band. This is an important step to making your meat more tender.
2. Season your meat in advance.
There are two big secrets in stir fry cooking: using cornstarch to give the meat a glossy texture and using baking soda to tenderize your meat before you cook it. The recipes we include below go into this process in detail, but here’s a brief overview of how to do it:
- Add 1 tsp of baking soda per pound of beef.
- Add enough water to barely cover the beef.
- Mix around to distribute the baking soda.
- Let the meat sit for an hour or two.
- Rinse the meat thoroughly to get rid of any baking soda taste.
3. Trim any white muscle membranes you find.
Muscle membranes are tough and can make your meat gristly. Look through the steak you get and slice or snip away any of those tough membranes that can hide in cuts.
4. Match the size of your vegetables to your meat.
Uniformity is important for presentation and making sure everything cooks at the same time together. This dish comes together fast, so you don’t want to accidentally overcook or undercook your ingredients because they are different sizes.
5. Freeze the beef for 20-30 minutes beforehand.
You don’t have to do this, but if you don’t have super sharp knives this can make it easier for you to get even slices.
6. Don’t crowd your wok (or pan).
Crowding the pan prevents browning and causes meat to cook at different speeds. Instead, cook your meat in batches if you need to.
7. Prep your ingredients in advance.
Once all of the ingredients are prepared, stir fry comes together in just a few minutes since it involves cooking at such high temperatures. Prep all of your ingredients in advance so you can just toss them in when the time is right.
Our favorite beef stir fry recipes
The catch with stir fry recipes is that it is really easy to get filtered down versions of these meals that won’t taste like restaurant stir fry. We’ve taken the time to do some research and find what we think are the best stir fry recipes on the internet.
1. Chinese Stir Fry Sauce
If you want the perfect sauce to make in advance for easy weeknight meals, look no further than this all-purpose stir fry sauce. You may have to invest in some of the Chinese cooking staples like Shaoxing cooking wine, but once you have them on hand they will last a while and are used in a bunch of recipes.
2. Szechuan Beef Stir Fry
Sweet, sour, and spicy are great words, and when they’re combined? Watch out. This recipe is incredible and pairs a rich sauce with crispy beef — all without deep-frying. Give this one a shot and really take your time with it. It’s worth it.
3. Beef With Broccoli
Make the ultimate classic the Chinese way with this authentic Beef and Broccoli recipe. This post is great for getting into the gritty details of how Chinese people make their stir fry taste so good. Remember to use fresh broccoli and grass-finished beef for the best results!
4. Easy Beef Stir Fry
If you don’t have an international market around or aren’t looking to go all-in on the classic flavors, then no problem. This recipe uses more conventional ingredients and is great for a healthy weeknight meal. Swap any of the vegetables for in-season veggies for the best results.
5. Black Pepper Beef Stir Fry
This recipe is a slightly simpler spin on beef stir fry while keeping a lot of the essential “secret” ingredients like Shaoxing and sesame oil that make a good stir fry. Try adding a spritz of lime and some peanuts or other crushed nuts and chopped cilantro to make this dish have even more depth.
The bottom line
Flank steak is the most popular and common choice for beef stir fry, and chances are it’s what your local takeout place uses. You can also sub skirt steak, sirloin cuts, or any other steak if you prepare it correctly, though!
Of course, the best beef stir fry starts with the best beef, and US Wellness Meats’ stir fry beef is cut from the sirloin and is a tender treat for your favorite stir fry recipe. This is a great all-around cut for stir fry, but we also have amazing grass-finished flank steak for you to try as well.
Believe us when we say you’ll taste the difference.
Try 100% grass-finished beef raised on the finest grass in the world.
Nathan Phelps is a writer, ethical foodie, and outdoors-aficionado hailing from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.