Easy Hunan Beef — Skip the takeout and make this popular Chinese-inspired recipe at home! Hunan-style beef is spicy, sweet, tangy, and loaded with tender slices of beef and veggies. Best of all, it’s ready in just 40 minutes!
Best Ever Hunan-Style Beef Recipe
This Chinese takeout-inspired Hunan beef recipe is exploding with flavor — salty soy sauce, smoky-spicy Fresno peppers, and tangy rice vinegar make for the most incredible stir-fry sauce that I could slurp up with a spoon!
The perfectly silky Hunan sauce coats every nook and cranny of the broccoli, bell peppers, and onions, and water chestnuts. The variety of veggies provide that irresistible crunch I love in hearty stir-fries like this one.
And I can’t forget the beef! Thinly sliced flank steak is briefly marinated in a mixture of sesame oil and soy sauce before being seared over high heat in a sizzling skillet. The beef cooks through in a flash, which is what keeps it so tender.
If your usual takeout order is Mongolian beef or Szechuan beef, you NEED to try this Hunan beef at home! It has a similar flavor profile, but is uniquely salty, sweet, and tangy.
It makes for perfect planned leftovers and the recipe can easily be scaled up and customized using whatever veggies you have on hand!
What Is Hunan Beef?
Hunan beef comes from — you guessed it! — the Hunan province of China, which is located in the southern part of the country. The region is known for its spicy and sour dishes, and Hunan recipes typically feature plenty of chiles.
Authentic Hunan beef is made with dried smoked beef, a blend of chile peppers, and fermented black beans.
As delicious as authentic Hunan beef is, most of us can’t get our hands on most of the traditional ingredients needed in hunan cuisine to make it where we live so consider the recipe I’m sharing in this post a Hunan-inspired beef recipe.
Chinese takeout-style Hunan beef is made with thinly sliced flank steak, stir-fry vegetables, and a sweet and tangy sauce. And this version beats my local takeout restaurant by a mile!
Hunan Beef Ingredients
This better-than-takeout version of Hunan beef uses ingredients you can easily find in your local grocery store. If you don’t typically cook Asian-inspired recipes at home and are wondering whether some of the following ingredients are worth stocking up on, the answer is YES!
I have tons of Asian-inspired recipes on my site that use ingredients like soy sauce, sesame oil, and chile paste. There are really no substitutes for these ingredients, and without them your stir fry will lack that salty-sweet, deeply umami flavor that Hunan-inspired food is known for!
For the Marinade and Stir-fry:
To make the beef and veggie stir-fry, gather the following ingredients:
- Low-sodium soy sauce
- Corn starch
- Sesame oil
- Flank steak
- Olive oil
- Fresno peppers – They’re just slightly spicier than jalapeños but slightly more fruity in flavor. You can sub with jalapeños if needed.
- Broccoli florets
- Bell peppers
- White onion
- Green onions
- Water chestnuts
- Sesame seeds
For the Hunan Sauce:
To make the silky Hunan-style sauce, you’ll need:
- Beef broth (reduced sodium recommended)
- Low-sodium soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Chili paste (I use Sambal Oelek)
- Rice vinegar
- Light brown sugar
Note: All ingredients amounts are listed in the recipe card section when you keep scrolling down.
How to Make Hunan Beef
This Chinese takeout-inspired dish takes just 40 minutes to prepare from start to finish!
Rice Cooking Tip
If you plan on serving this dish with rice, be sure to turn on your rice cooker before beginning this recipe. Or start a pot of rice on the stovetop the traditional way. That way, you can plate everything up as soon as the beef is done!
Check out the recipe card at the end of this post for detailed instructions on how to make takeout-style Hunan beef. Below is an overview of this quick and easy stir-fry recipe:
Step 1: Briefly marinate the steak. Toss the sliced flank steak in a mixture of cornstarch, light soy sauce, water, and sesame oil. Set that to the side to marinate until you’re ready to cook it. I suggest 30 to 60 minutes.
While the beef marinates, take this time to prep all the veggies. The stir-frying process happens quickly, so get everything prepped in advance!
Step 2: Stir-fry the beef. Heat a little oil in a large skillet. Once the oil starts sizzling, add the beef to the pan in an even layer. It needs to cook for just 2 minutes on either side. You might want to set a timer on your phone because 2 minutes goes by quicker than you think!
Tip: Don’t crowd the pan and do this in batches!
Step 3: Stir-fry the vegetables. Remove the beef from the marinade and set it on a plate. Add a drizzle of oil to the skillet if it looks at all dry, then add the veggies and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Don’t overcook them or else they won’t turn out perfectly crisp-tender!
Step 4: Add the sauce. Pour the Hunan sauce over the veggies, then return the beef to the skillet. Keep cooking everything until the sauce thickens up and coats the beef and veggies evenly.
Step 5: Garnish and serve. I like to serve the beef stir-fry over rice noodles, cauliflower rice, or steamed white rice. Garnish with additional green onions and sesame seeds, then dig in!
Tips and FAQs for The Best Hunan Beef
Hunan beef is uniquely spicy, tangy, and sweet. The sauce is very rich and has a distinct umami flavor to it that I can’t get enough of! Although there’s oyster sauce in the recipe, you can’t taste it, specifically. The oyster sauce just adds depth to the beef that soy sauce alone can’t achieve.
You can make this beef stir-fry as spicy or mild as you want by adjusting the amount of chili paste in the sauce.
As written, this recipe has a definite kick to it, but it’s not burn-your-mouth spicy. I think the spice keeps this recipe from tasting flat, and you need some heat to round out the sweet and tangy flavors from the sauce and chili peppers!
The combination of hot and sour / tangy flavors makes Hunan-style recipes stand out, and this Hunan beef recipe is no different!
Great question! The biggest difference between Hunan beef and Szechuan beef is that Szechuan beef is made with Szechuan pepper (also called Sichuan pepper or sichuan peppercorns). If you’ve ever taken a bite of Szechuan beef and immediately felt your mouth go numb, that’s the effect of the Szechuan pepper.
Hunan beef also packs in some heat in the form of chili peppers, but it’s not a numbing heat whatsoever and I like to think of it as the milder cousin to Szeuchuan beef.
Another favorite beef recipe of mine, Mongolian beef is much sweeter than Hunan beef. It also lacks the tangy flavor that sets Hunan beef apart.
Mongolian beef also originates from Taiwan, an island off the coast of China.
You’ll want to use flank steak for this recipe. It’s a lean cut of beef that works perfectly in stir-fries when cut thinly against the grain.
When sliced thinly, flank steak cooks in under 5 minutes and stays perfectly juicy and tender!
No wok necessary for this easy Hunan beef that rivals your local Chinese restaurant.
You can use a large nonstick skillet such as a 12-inch Green Pan nonstick skillet or similar nonstick skillet.
You can also use a stainless steel skillet if you know how to cook things in stainless steel so they don’t stick. This takes a bit of practice but if you’re a decent cook and you want to make this in stainless steel, I have done so many times including in my P.F. Chang’s Mongolian Beef (Copycat) recipe. I use an All-Clad D3 3-quart pan.
Absolutely! Baby corn, zucchini, snow peas, and mushrooms also work well in this recipe, but feel free to use up any vegetables that are currently languishing in your produce drawer!
Just note that heartier veggies like carrots, celery, or bok choy may require more time in the skillet, so you might not be able to everything to the skillet in one fell swoop like the recipe says to do.
The secret to a great authentic tasting stir fry is to not overcook the beef which cooks very quickly because it’s sliced thinly – in just 3 to 4 minutes total.
Apart from that, don’t overcook the veggies. Even though after just 2 minutes of cooking the broccoli and various peppers they may not seem very done at all, don’t worry. They continue to cook after you add the green onions and water chestnuts an cook another minute or two, and they continue cooking when they simmer together with the beef and the Hunan sauce.
We want those lovely fresh vegetables to stay crisp-tender and not turn mushy by the time it’s all said and done and to ensure that, don’t overcook them in the first phase.
You’ll want to store the beef and veggies in an airtight container. Leftovers will last up to five days in the refridgeator.
I do not recommend freezing this recipe, as the veggies will change texture once frozen and I don’t imagine them reheating well.
If you made rice or noodles to go with the beef, take care to store them in a separate container so the sauce doesn’t make anything soggy.
What to Serve with Hunan Beef
Treat yourself to an Asian-inspired feast by pairing your homemade Hunan beef with one or more of the following:
1 hour 10 minutes
- 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce*
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 pound beef flank steak, thinly sliced against the grain
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
- 2 Fresno peppers, thinly sliced
- 1 cup broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 green bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 white onion, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4 green onions, sliced into 1-inch segments; divided
- 8 ounce can water chestnuts, drained
- 3 to 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 to 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, optional but recommended for garnishing
- 1/2 cup beef broth (I recommend reduced or lower sodium)
- 1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce*
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons chili paste
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar, packed
- Marinade – To a large bowl (or to a large ziptop bag), add the soy sauce, water, cornstarch, sesame oil, and stir to combine.
- Add the beef, stir to coat, cover with plastic wrap and marinate for 30 to 60 minutes. If using a bag, seal the bag, and squish the ingredients around to mix and coat the steak evenly and place bag in the fridge. Tip – While the steak marinates, you need to chop and prep all the vegetables so they’re ready to go because the recipe moves fast once you begin cooking. I also recommend mixing the Hunan sauce together and just setting it aside so it’s also ready to go.
- Stir Fry – Make sure all ingredients are chopped, cut, or diced before moving on to actually stir frying.
- Beef – To a large skillet such as a 12-inch nonstick skillet (or for more experienced cooks, you can use a stainless steel skillet if you know how to make sure food doesn’t stick), add the olive oil, and heat over medium-high heat until sizzling.
- Remove the beef using a tongs from the bowl (or from the ziptop bag), and place pieces of beef in the skillet. Tip – Make sure not to overcrowd. You don’t want to steam the beef, you want to sear it. After you add the beef, don’t stir it unnecessarily and mess with it. Just let it sear, flip, sear second side, remove it.
- Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side, flip, and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes on the second side, or until done. Set aside on a plate while you repeat the process with the remaining uncooked beef. Add additional oil as needed. Discard the marinade after you’ve removed all the beef from it. Tip – The beef is thin and cooks very fast. Make sure not to overcook it.
- Vegetables – Add the Fresno peppers, broccoli, bell peppers, white onions to the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes; stir intermittently.
- Add half the green onions, all the water chestnuts, garlic, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes; stir nearly continuously so you don’t burn the garlic. Tip – Make sure not to overcook the vegetables in either step 7 or 8 because they’ll also continue to cook as they simmer with the beef and you want to maintain their appetizing and authentic crisp-tender texture, and not mushy.
- Hunan Sauce** – As mentioned, I strongly suggest having this mixed up and ready so you’re not scrambling. After the vegetables have been stir frying, evenly add the Hunan sauce over all the vegetables and stir to combine.
- Add the beef and stir to combine and coat with the sauce.
- Simmer for 2 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens a bit and coats the vegetables. Tips – Because the sauce has cornstarch in it, it will thicken after you add it. There is a point when sauces with cornstarch when placed over a hot burner, begin thicken at a rapid rate. It’s a bit of a judgment call how thick you like your sauces, but they will always appear thinner in the pan than out of the pan when the cool and begin to set up more. Note that this isn’t a super thick sauce, but just something a bit more than watery-like soy sauce and beef broth.
- Garnishing – Evenly garnish with the remaining green onions, optional but recommended sesame seeds, and serve over rice, with noodles, or as desired. Leftovers will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days. Freezing isn’t recommended because the texture of the vegetables will change during the freezing/thawing processes.
*Soy Sauce – I strongly recommend reduced sodium or lite soy sauce for both the marinade and in the Hunan sauce so the dish doesn’t accidentally become too salty. You can always add salt at the end if you for some reason you feel it lacks saltiness although I highly doubt it will be necessary.
**Hunan Sauce – I suggest having this mixed up and ready to go before you begin the recipe so that when things are moving quickly and the veggies are cooking, that you’re not worried about mixing this.
Amount Per Serving:
Calories: 437Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 90mgSodium: 1304mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 5gSugar: 8gProtein: 37g
More Easy Better-Than-Takeout Recipes:
P.F. Chang’s Mongolian Beef (Copycat) – The recipe comes together in 20 minutes, it’s EASY, and makes for a great weeknight meal! Even picky eaters will love this, and any leftover sauce can be served over rice.
Mongolian Beef Stir-Fry Bowls — These EASY Chinese-inspired Mongolian beef stir-fry bowls are ready in just 10 minutes!! Loaded with rich savory flavor, crisp-tender vegetables, and served over rice! Faster than calling for takeout when you’re craving Asian food!!
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