Hunan-style beef stir fry—a dish popular across the country. This is the authentic Chinese version you can make at home easily.

hunan beef stir fry|

🥘What’s Hunan beef

Hunan beef stir fry is the top beef stir fry from Hunan cuisine. It is made with beef slices, garlic, ginger, and a large number of fresh peppers and pickled pepper. As a foodie who loves spicy food, Hunan food is one of my top choices. It has a lovely Chinese name “小炒黄牛肉” meaning a small beef stir fry. We name small because it is only a short list of ingredients. is quite strong, dense, and appealing.

What does Hunan sauce taste like?

The flavor of Hunan beef is quite strong, dense, appealing, and spicy. Because it uses lots of fresh facing-the-heaven peppers (actually with similar hotness to Thai peppers). This dish is quite hot with a very faint of sour taste bought by the pickled wild peppers.

What cut of beef to use

You can definitely choose the expensive steak to make this Hunan beef, but it is unnecessary. We use tenderloin for most of the Chinese beef stir-frying dishes. As long as the beef is well-velveted, the cheap cut can be tender and juicy too.

🌶Pickled pepper and substitute

There are several versions inside China, mostly with essential pickled yellow pepper. We call this 小米椒. It might be difficult to find outside China. This little pickled yellow pepper enjoys really high popularity in China in different cuisines (mainly in Hunan and Sichuan cuisine). It presents a unique sour flavor bought by the fermentation. If you love to make some at home, check out this guide to pickle it at home.

pickled chicken feet|

Substitution: if you don’t have pickled wild pepper, you can replace it with other types of pickled peppers. Or add around 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar with fresh peppers to copy the faint sour taste.

Szechuan cuisine vs Hunan cuisine

Hunan and Sichuan (Szechuan) are two of the most iconic Chinese cuisines that are famous for their hotness and large amount of aromatics including ginger, garlic, and scallion. However, they differ substantially from one another. Hunan cuisine distinguishes itself by its assertive flavor, with heavy use of chili peppers. The food is known for its robust taste and intense heat. In contrast, Sichuan has a cuisine that is renowned for its unique numbing quality created by the addition of Szechuan peppercorns. Sichuan dishes are complicated but less hot than Hunan dishes.

hunan beef stir fry|

Pick the side ingredient – celery

Traditionally, Hunan beef uses celery as a side ingredient. And celery can be replaced with coriander. Celery can add freshness and a lovely crunchy texture to Hunan beef.


  • Beef cut- you can use steak or beef tenderloin for this Hunan beef stir fry
  • Aromatics (ginger and garlic) play a very important role and thus we need a large amount.
  • Fresh Thai peppers are the main source of hotness and aroma.
  • Pickled wide peppers enhance the hotness and give a lovely faint sour taste.
  • Light soy sauce is used to marinate the beef slices
  • Oyster sauce is widely and commonly used in beef stir-frying dishes. If you don’t have oyster sauce by hand, you can use light soy sauce + sugar as a substitute.
  • Celery is my top choice of side ingredient. Can be replaced by other crunchy vegetables.

How to make Hunan beef

Marinate the beef

Marinating beef is the key step to make sure you can make the beef tender after stir-fried. It is a technique widely used in Chinese cuisine. We use starch (cornstarch or other types) to coat the beef slices to create a lovely tender texture. You can simply mix everything up one time but we have a better way for the best result.

  1. add salt, oyster sauce, shaoxing wine, and white pepper. Mix the beef for a while to make sure the flavors are well attached.
  2. Then add cornstarch, which performs as the protecting layer of the meat.
  3. Finally, add some vegetable oil to coat all of the seasonings and protect the starch inside. This also helps to avoid the sticky problem.
how to marinate beef|

Fry it up

  • Prepare all the side ingredients, cut peppers, celery, garlic, and ginger.
  • Heat the wok first and then also heat up cooking oil in a wok until warm and then spread the beef slices for around 30 seconds. Transfer out.
hunan beef stir fry|
  • Return the extra oil to the wok, and fry garlic, ginger, and all the peppers until aroma.
hunan beef stir fry|
  • Add celery and sprinkle a pinch of salt too. Return beef, add oyster sauce, and give a quick fry. Transfer and serve with steamed rice immediately.
hunan beef stir fry|
hunan beef stir fry|

What to serve with human beef

It is a very hot dish and thus the best serving way is to serve it with steamed rice or even noodles. I also love to serve it with rice noodles, making such an appealing bowl.

How to reheat it

I actually don’t believe there will be leftovers because it is so delicious. Each stir-frying can only be made with a small batch at home. But if you need to reheat it, the microwave is the best option. Re-heating in a wok can cause the separation of the cornstarch and make the beef chewy and old.

Other Chinese beef recipes

hunan beef stir fry|

Hunan Beef -A Spicy Beef Stir Fry Popular Across the Country

Hunan style beef stir fry–a classic and popular Chinese beef stir fry recipe
5 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Beef, stir fry
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 2
Calories: 555kcal
Author: Elaine


  • 200 g beef tenderloin
  • 5 Thai red peppers , or taste
  • 5 pickled yellow pepper , or replaced by thai chili peppers (Note1)
  • 1 bunch celery , cut into small sections
  • 2 garlic cloves , chopped
  • 1 thumb ginger , chopped
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
  • 3 tbsp. cooking oil

Marinating sauce

  • 1 tbsp. cooking wine
  • 1 tbsp. oyster sauce , can be replaced by light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. dark soy sauce
  • small pinch of salt , around 1/8 tsp.
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1 tbsp. starch
  • 1/2 tbsp. vegetable cooking oil
  • 2 tsp. light soy sauce


  • Cut beef into thin slices (as thin as possible). If you are not skilled at cutting, frozen the beef for around 10 or 15 minutes before cutting.
  • Transfer beef into a large bowl and then add salt, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, cooking wine, and pepper. Mix competely and set aisde for 15 minutes. Then add starch to mix well. Coat with vegetable cooking oil.
  • Prepare all the side ingredients, cut peppers, celery, garlic and ginger.
  • Heat the wok first and then also heat up cooking oil in a wok until warm and then spread the beef slices for around 30 seconds. Transfer out.
  • Return the extra oil to the wok, and fry garlic, ginger, and all the peppers until aroma.
  • Returan the beef in; add celery, oyster sauce and sugar too. Give a quick fry. Transfer and serve with steamed rice immediately.



Note 1
If you don’t have pickled wild pepper, you can replace it with other types of pickled peppers. Or a simpler way is to replace it with fresh Thai pepper and add around 1/4 teaspoon of rice vinegar or lemon juice in the dish.  


Calories: 555kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 21g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 2803mg | Potassium: 625mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 350IU | Vitamin C: 78.5mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 3.3mg

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  1. 5 stars
    Have just discovered this site and I am blown away about how good it is.
    Your English is good enough for me. Thanks again for the great recipes.

  2. 5 stars
    I love this recipe. I used chicken instead and it came out delicious. I didnt find anything you said hard to understand and definitely not weird. Keep up the good work!

  3. i am so excited to try this recipe tonight!

    i have all ingredients at hand except for the pickled yellow peppers. are they hot (spicy) peppers? i’m trying to see if i can substitute latin american pickled peppers (which are very spicy) for the chinese peppers.

    1. Those pickled yellow peppers are quite spicy too. I believe the version you mentioned can be a good substitute. It is actually pickled wild peppers. Let me know how it turns out. Happy cooking!

    1. Matt,
      That seems workable. By the way, if you get fresh peppers, you can pickle them at home.

  4. 5 stars
    Great writing. I am so impressed, also i never imagined Hunan Regional Cuisine was this well known worldwide.
    Do you think is very similar to Szechuan Cuisine? Love your Blog, keep the good job going!

    1. They two might be a little bit similar for people who are not so familiar with the two ones. But Sichuan peppercorn is not frequently used in Hunan cuisine to create the numbing taste. In addition, the two cuisines have different pepper preference.

  5. Hi Elaine,
    This looks like a great recipe. I have a question about the beef. In the US, tenderloin is a very expensive cut, very tender but little flavor. Is that the same cut as you use for Hunan Beef recipe? Thanks!

  6. 5 stars
    Our local Asian markets have been carrying Chinese celery, so I’ve been using it in all these delicious dishes. I used a homemade hot sauce made from smoked hot peppers and garlic instead of the pickled peppers. Delicious!

  7. 5 stars
    I made this the other day. I saw the recipe and just so happened to have some celery that needed using up. The other thing that attracted me to the recipe was the way the celery was cut up. I julienne everything, but never did it to celery before. I didn’t have quite enough celery (and my lovely wife isn’t crazy about celery) so I added sliced bamboo shoots and the yellow pickled peppers were nowhere to be found so I used pickled Thai peppers. It turned out fantastic. It was even better the 2nd day for lunch.

    1. Yes, it should be even better in the second day because all the flavors are well combined. Haha, you get this Nick.