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Best Beef for Stir-Fry ?

Can someone recommend a cut of meat that stays tender in a stir-fry? The pre-packaged cut meat I've been getting at Whole Foods has made for some embarassingly tough-to-chew meals.

Any stir-fry tips appreciated too. Perhaps I'm cooking the beef too long? I usually have it in there 6-8 minutes.

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  1. Flank steak usually. Filet for a few special dishes. Either way, cut into strips across the grain.

    I cook the meat only until it just changes colour. And on most domestic ranges, which have about a quarter of the output of a typical wok burner, you're best off keeping quantities small and not stir-frying but letting the meat sit until it browns/chars, then flipping it to brown/char again, then stirring until all outward signs of rawness have disappeared.

    1. Top round steak, thinly sliced, works very nicely too in stir fry dishes.

      1. The Slanted Door, a restaurant in San Francisco, does a wonderful "Shaking Beef" stir fry with filet mignon, garlic, watercress and red onion. I've made it a few times, the first time from a kit they sell out of the back of the restaurant, in a place called "Out The Door." They cut the filet into 1" chunks, not strips, and it comes out wonderfully tender and moist. Not an everyday stir fry, but a nice treat once in a while when the budget can swing it.

        5 Replies
        1. re: djh

          You're right that the meat's cut into cubes but it's filet and the cubes aren't *that* big. And they also use the cooking technique I mention above (wonder whether they do in the restaurant). Here's a link to the script, btw. It's a great dish to serve with a gutsy California pinot noir.


          1. re: carswell

            editing post ... see link above for recipe. 1"x1" filet mignon. Thanks for the link! Saves me the guesswork next time I make it.

            1. re: djh

              Sorry, I forgot to paste the link. Now done.

              Filet mignon and tournedos are steaks cut from the narrow end of the filet, aka tenderloin; other filet cuts, such as chateaubriands, are also suitable. Don't think non-filet cuts would work in this recipe, at least not cubed.

              1. re: carswell

                As noted, shaking beef (bo luc lac) is a bit different than a typical stir fry. It's more like a stand-in for a good steak than an actual stir-fry, and that's why you want very tender meat like filet. I've made it before, though, with whatever meat I had around, even skirt steak, and just cut smaller cubes if the meat is tougher.

                For ordinary stir fries, a much cheaper flank or top round works great, but I definitely would not cook it more than a few minutes. So it doesn't toughen up by steaming, I usually need to cook the meat, take it out, then cook the vegetables and combine everything back at the last minute.

          2. re: djh

            Mark Bittman wrote about this dish a few years ago in the NYTimes:


            His accompanying take on the original, for home cooks without serious BTUs:


          3. Flank steak, in strips, cut very thin, cooked as little as possible.

            1. Growing up, my mom used the cheapest cuts of beef she could find, and they always turned out tender. Personally, I usually use sirloin or flank steak. Here are some tips, regardless of what cut you use:

              - Cut the beef against the grain and cut the strips thin and evenly sized. The easiest way to cut thin strips is to partially freeze the beef before slicing.

              - After slicing the beef, add some soy, cooking sherry (or wine) and a couple of teaspoons of corn starch. Stir. The beef only needs to marinate for 15 - 20 minutes before cooking, so by the time you cut up your veggies, you'll be ready to go.

              - HOT oil! Add garlic and/or ginger for a few seconds, then add beef. Stir fry for just a minute or two (not 6 - 8 minutes!). Basically, once the pink is almost gone, it's done. Remove the beef from the pan to a bowl and set aside.

              - More hot oil in pan if needed. Stir fry veggies. When almost done, add beef (and collected juices) back into the pan, along with whatever additional "saucy" ingredients you want.

              I promise your beef will be tender. Good luck!

              9 Replies
              1. re: TorontoJo

                Yep, all great tips, just what I do, except I leave out the corn starch and put in a little sugar.

                1. re: ChinoWayne

                  I'll have to try it with sugar. My understanding about the corn starch is that it actually helps break down the meat fibers and acts as a tenderizer (which is why you shouldn't add it more than the 15-20 minutes I mentioned, otherwise you will end up with mushy beef). Do you know if sugar does the same thing?

                  The other thing I like about using corn starch is that it acts as a thickener for the final sauce. Just me being lazy! :)

                  1. re: TorontoJo

                    Don't know about tenderizing, but I wouldn't think it needs it. I'm not in to putting corn starch in my stir fries very often, I'm more interested in the taste and feel of the meat and taste and crunch of the vegetables. I'm also afraid that with my heavy-hand, if I added corn starch to anything, I would end up eating a viscous pudding.

                    1. re: ChinoWayne

                      That's probably why I like it mixed into the meat. It seems to avoid the possibility of viscous sauce that you can get when you add the corn starch at the end of the stir fry. I only ever get the slightest thickening of the sauce -- just enough that the sauce coats the ingredients slightly, rather than being so thin that it just sits at the bottom. Regardless, I agree that there's nothing like a good stir fry with tender meat and crisp veggies!

                      1. re: ChinoWayne

                        the secret to chinese cooking IS cornstarch. It makes the sauce, glossy and not-watery, and it IS a tenderizer for beef. Sugar should be very minimal in any authentic chinese dish.

                        1. re: kongrid

                          What in cornstarch acts as a tenderizer?

                          1. re: KTinNYC

                            The cornstarch doesn't act as a tenderizer as such, but what it does is seal in the meat juices which keeps everything tender when the meat cooks.

                            1. re: TastyPete

                              TastyPete is right. I will tell a restaurant technique: baking soda. Put a little baking soda in your marinade.
                              Sugar is to help in two ways, 1. the taste wouldn't be just "dead salty". 2. preventing water in the meat to leak out into the marinade.
                              Cutting is the most important thing in stir fry. Cutting against the grain make the biggest difference. Then it's the marinade.
                              Massage the meat with the marinade. Do not just soak the meat in the mixture. The idea is to get the sauce into the meat, but many people at home marinade in the wrong way just to achieve the opposite - they dehydrate the meat because the salt causes the water in meat to flow out. This is why you need to have a little water and sugar in the marinade, and massage it.

                  2. re: TorontoJo

                    Good advice. I've used flank steak, skirt steak, top round, eye of round, tri-tip, and probably a few others that I don't recall right now. Just remember to cut across the grain. With some cuts of meat, such as tri-tip, you need to be careful because the grain goes in different directions.

                    Also, if you want bigger pieces of beef, follow the methodology described by TorontoJo, but cut at an angle. This means that your knife should not be perpendicular to the cutting board. This technique is difficult with skirt steaks because they are so thin.

                  3. I don't think cornstarch has any tenderizing qualities. Maybe you are thinking of baking soda? That is often used as a tenderizer.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: KTinNYC

                      True. But the cornstarch will help thicken the sauce.

                      1. re: KTinNYC

                        Haven't you ever seen wok with yan? You add corn starch to EVERYTHING. ;)

                      2. I chime in for flank steak cross cut thinly. I've also started experimenting with rib-eye cross-cut.

                        Marinade: (for about 1 lb of meat)
                        Soya sauce, 1/2 cup
                        Honey, 1/2 teaspoon
                        Mustard, 1/2 teaspoon
                        Black pepper, your preference
                        Brandy, 1 teaspoon
                        Cornstarch, about 1 tablespoon
                        Tepid water, 2 tablespoons

                        I usually add everything (except the starch and water) with the sliced meat and mix until evenly coated. I then mix in the cornstarch and water.

                        Cooking method as per TorontoJo.

                        1. I think the best for stir fry is flank steak. Place it in the freezer for a while and then slice paper thin across the grain.You can then cut the slices into shreds.The freezing makes it much easier to slice.

                          I do the same thing for Fajitas, slicing the beef a little thicker, then cutting into lone strips.

                          1. If you have an electric stove (as I unfortunately do), or just want a blisteringly hot pan for stir frying, you can preheat your wok or frying pan in a 500 or 550 degree oven. Just make sure you use a pot-holder or towel!

                            1. Thanks for your question. I was just making some Whole Foods stir fry beef and decided to google the same question you asked. Whatever cut they use is just plain impossible to chew - I cook it for a very short time, maybe 1.5 minutes, and it's still impossible to chew. Every single piece seems to have a muscle tissue or casing or something running through it that makes it impossible to chew. Is it sirloin? Not sure, but I think it's time we united and complained to the Whole Foods Gods.

                              1. I use Whole Foods sirloin tips which are very tender. I usually stir fry the aromatics, add the meat, in batches depending on the quantity, until it is just browned. I remove the meat from the wok and stir fry more aromatics, the vegetables and then the sauce. When the vegetable are done and the sauce is finished I add the meat back. Just toss it with everything else to warm, finish cooking and coat with sauce.

                                1. Another cut I have used in stir fry is what the grocer lables London broil. As someone else pointed out you partially freeze the meat. This makes it easy for VERY thin slices (on a bias), and I think that the key.

                                  2 Replies
                                    1. re: jfood

                                      London broil and a good marinade.

                                    2. flank seems to be the clear favorite, but i've made very tasty and tender stir fries from skirt steak, too.

                                      1. Flank Steak. Put it in the freezer for a little while; it makes it much easier to slice.

                                        Slice very thin against the grain . Marinate and stir fry. If the meat is thin enough, you won't need to cook it more than a few minutes in a wok. It comes out very well.

                                        1. The secret of keeping the beef tender is the speed at which it is cooked. To facilitate slicing, the beef is slightly frozen, enough to get it to begin the freeze, then it may be easily sliced very thin so it quickly cooks. Cutting the meat across it’s’ grain makes tougher cuts of meat seem tenderer.

                                          A commercial wok is 55,000 to 85, 000 BTU which is probably at least 3 or 4 time hotter than your stove top. Don't despair! Take a cast iron or heavy copper bottomed fry pan and preheat it with out oil, until a drop of water will dance on its surface. Add oil, then immediately, as the oil smokes, add your thin cut beef. It will cook in under 2 minutes. Now add it to your wok and serve. If you watch Martin Yan marinate beef, notice is is always a short period (10 minutes), else the meat soaks up too much liquid which lowers the temperature of the pan excessively. Meats with little connective tissues shrink less when cooked. I use top sirloin.

                                          Steve Salkow
                                          Author - Generations of Cooking

                                          1. I'm sure the best would be prime tenderloin but outside Ina Garten, I doubt anyone is gonna pay $25 a pound to stir fry.

                                            I have been using Top Sirloin lately because angus and prime have been on sale where I live in Austin.

                                            I wouldn't hesitate to use New York or Rib Eye if it was on sale.

                                            I can't find it but I understand whatever Cook's Illustrated calls Flap meat would be good but I can't find it anywhere.

                                            Tri tip would be a possibility.

                                            If you start getting any tougher than that you might want to buy it pretty thin and use one of those multibladed tenderizer and marinate the beef with your soy sauce longer.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: tonka11_99

                                              Olivier's Butchery in San Francisco, always carry Bavette. It's another cut for Flap meat

                                            2. I like my beef done medium-rare, so I use this method and it's super tender every time. Take a whole flank steak and marinade for a few hours to your liking, taking care to include something acidic like a T of lemon juice or vinegar. Then, heat a cast iron or heavy pan on super-high heat until it's blistering hot. i.e. as hot as possible without burning the place down. Slap the flank steak in their and stand back. Let it sear/char for maybe 2 or 2.5 minutes and then flip. Another 2 mins and it's done. Set aside and finish the rest of your stir fry (wipe the pan if it's full of blackened drippings). Then, slice it thinly across the grain and serve atop your veggies and rice. Works great in a fajita recipe too.